In the midst of an NME tour, and after reaching #1 on the U.K. album charts, White Lies singer/guitarist Harry McVeigh talked to QRO.In the conversation, McVeigh discussed this tour, their upcoming tour of America, making To Lose My Life (QRO review), their current success and how to handle it, family and friends, changing into White Lies from their old band, Fear of Flying (which apparently “sucked…”), Europe vs. America vs. Japan, karaoke, and much more…
QRO: How has this current NME Awards tour in the U.K. been going?
Harry McVeigh: Really well. We’ve been playing with some great bands. We’re playing with a very up-and-coming act in the U.K. called Florence and the Machine and two other bands called Friendly Fires (QRO album review) and Glasvegas (QRO album review).
QRO: You’re going to be mixing stops between U.K. and the rest of Europe. Why is that?
HM: Our album’s been out in the U.K. and a couple of other countries in Europe, and it’s about to come out in the rest of the world. So we need to try to play to as many people as possible. People need to connect to the music, I think, need to see a visual kind of thing, to see that we can do it live. So it’s important to play all the places that potentially buy your album. So that’s why we’re doing it.
QRO: After that, you’re headed to America. How much have you played America before this?
HM: We’ve been to America twice before, in 2008. We came out for Lollapalooza Festival last year, and then a second time we played in New York, part of the CMJ Festival (QRO festival recap), we played in the Bowery Ballroom, which was amazing. And we did a few dates around the Lollapalooza show and also the CMJ show.
QRO: Do you notice any differences between American and European crowds?
HM: Oh, definitely – well, it’s weird: it’s kind of the same, every country you’re in, the bigger cities have much more music in them. Cities like New York and L.A., I guess, in America, the crowds are much more reserved. When you get out to sort of the more remote cities and places, people tend to get more excited about your music, because they tend to have much less of it kind of thing.
When you play remote places in America, it’s kind of like playing remote places in England, and sort of like the more remote places in Europe as well.
QRO: When you’re coming to America, you’re going to be touring with Friendly Fires. How did you meet them?
HM: They’re just a great band. We met them in early 2008 on another NME Tour, actually, called the NME Noise Tour. We toured with them for about two weeks. We’re on this tour with them as well.
The music is fantastic, and they’ve got a really good album. They’re really nice guys, and we’re looking forward to touring with them for like a month in America. It’s going to be great – we’re sharing a bus and everything…
QRO: When you’re playing two nights in New York in March, you’ll be alternating as headliners. What are you going to do for the rest of the tour?
HM: I think it’s going to be much the same as that; we’ll be alternating as headliners. Some territories, I think, Friendly Fires are probably slightly bigger than we are, and some territories, we’re going to be slightly bigger than Friendly Fires. I think we’re just going to alternate the headliners, see what feels right. Depends what city we’re playing in.
QRO: You’re going to be starting at SXSW. What do you think of ‘industry showcases’ like that, or CMJ?
HM: I think they’re great! I think it’s really cool – especially if you’re not in the industry. People in the industry might know about those bands already, but if you’re going there as a member of the public, it’s cool. You get to discover some really amazing new music.
We love being a part of things like that. We’ve got quite a few of those festivals in the U.K., and they’re always really good fun to play. People are very receptive to new music, and people can just wander from venue to venue and just see some great bands. You can see like six bands in a night, which is amazing, a really cool idea for a festival.
We’ve never played SXSW before, and that’s the biggest one of these in the world. We’re really excited about that, really excited to be checking out new music when we’re out there.
QRO: And you’re going to end the tour at Coachella, but your music’s relatively dark. Is it difficult to play outdoors, during the daytime?
HM: It depends, I reckon. If people are into the music, it doesn’t really matter where you’re playing, what setting you play in.
I suppose our music does lend itself to playing indoor venue, or at least playing at night outside. We have quite a cool light show, and we really focus on that, pride ourselves on that.
But Coachella, I’ve heard the setting is amazing to look at, a vast expanse, and I think our music lends itself quite well to that, as well. When we played a festival called Fuji Rock in Japan in 2008, and that was set in these amazing mountains. It was quite bright, and we were outdoors. Our music fit with the place, and it was cool. Same thing with Lollapalooza, huge buildings around us.
Our music is quite big, I guess, quite grand. It fits with the place we’re playing in.
QRO: You’re also going to be playing Tokyo after America. What is playing Japan like?
HM: Crazy. It’s a definite culture shock. When you go there, it’s so different from anywhere else in the world, really. It’s like stepping onto another planet. When I was in Tokyo, it reminded me very much of Bladerunner. It was like going into the city in Bladerunner.
The Japanese crowd really gets into their music; they’re really fanatical about it. Last time in Japan, we’d had an EP out for a like week, and there were people waiting at our hotel to get it signed. It’s really flattering for bands; it’s a really cool thing to be involved with. It’s great to have a following in Japan, amazing.
QRO: What was the recording process like for To Lose My Life?
HM: Well, we had two months to record that record, and we had five songs before when we went into record it; we had to write and record another five songs when we were in the studio.
So it was quite a stressful experience, I guess, for us, writing and recording five songs in the studio, and also recording the rest of the songs on the record. But
It was stressful, but we looked at that time as it was definitely the proudest moment of our lives, to be involved in making that record is really cool.
QRO: How did that compare to making music as Fear of Flying?
HM: Completely different. I think the main difference between the bands is that the songs are much more accomplished and coherent with White Lies than they ever were with Fear of Flying.
The way we approach writing songs is completely different. Now, me and Charles [Cave, bass/backing vocals] will sit on keyboard and we’ll map out basic chord structure and melody lines, and then we’ll work on it after that, together as a band. Whereas with Fear of Flying, every time we wrote, we were always trying to write it as a group, we were trying to put everything on it at the same time, and it ended up sounding very messy, and didn’t really make sense.
The way we approach writing songs and recording songs as White Lies is completely different, and that’s why the band sounds so different. I think that’s why White Lies sounds so much more coherent, and the songs are so much better put together and recorded.
QRO: What was it like, changing from Fear of Flying to White Lies?
HM: I guess it was kind of like growing up.
With Fear of Flying, we didn’t think at the time, obviously, but we spent three or four years learning how to play our instruments, learning how to record, learning how to perform. With White Lies, once we knew how to do everything, everything slotted into place. We wrote our first song, “Unfinished Business”, and then we realized that it was something so much more coherent, so much better written than anything we’d done before.
So we used everything we learned as Fear of Flying, and wrote whole new songs. And that’s how we started White Lies.
QRO: What was that first show as White Lies like?
HM: That was an amazing experience for us. We’d started the band about six months before we played that first show. So in that six months, we were writing and rehearsing loads, and doing a few demos. Because we put so much work into it, so much effort into it, that when we finally did it – and there were a lot of people we knew there, friends and family, as well as people in the industry – when we finally did it, it was the best release for us. It was amazing. It was so good to finally get it right, to prove to people that we were a good band.
I think that was probably one of the best moments we’ve had as a band, was playing that first show and getting it right. It was great.
QRO: Do you ever get requests for Fear of Flying songs?
HM: Um… no. Not very often. Maybe once, and we ignored that very strongly, because Fear of Flying kind of sucked…
QRO: What do you say to people who liked Fear of Flying?
HM: Usually they’re lying. Because they want to say,
So when they say that, we just say, “You’re lying…”
QRO: Have you written any post-To Lose My Life material?
HM: No, we really haven’t had time to do that. We’ve been touring pretty constantly ever since we recorded the record, and we need a lot of time and a lot of space to write and record new material. So as soon as we get that, probably in early 2010, we’ll have a chance to start writing some new stuff, I think.
QRO: You’ve had pretty serious success in the U.K. over such a short period of time. What has it all been like?
HM: Um, well, it’s pretty hectic – we’re obviously very busy.
But it’s cool, really flattering that people are connecting with our music. It makes us feel like we’re finally doing something right. We recorded the album last summer, in 2008, and to have the album finished and ready to go for six months without actually releasing it is kind of frustrating. So when we finally got it out and it went to number one in the album charts, that was an amazing feeling for us. Finally we felt like we were doing something right.
And now touring, people know the songs, people know the record, and that’s amazing to play to. Before, we were just playing a whole bunch of new songs that no one had ever heard to a crowd, whereas now, people are kind of singing the songs back to us, which is really cool.
QRO: How do you ‘keep it real’ and avoid going all ‘rock star’?
HM: We all have long-term girlfriends, we all have very strong relationships with our families and our friends back at home. It’s just important when you go back to home to hang out with people close to you, and do normal stuff. Usually, when I get home, I sit in my sitting room and watch films, and with my girlfriend, go out to restaurants in the evening and stuff.
It’s very easy, with the boredom of touring… The hardest thing about going on tour is the fact that, most of the time, you’re not really doing anything. And it’s very easy to fill that time with getting drunk or taking drugs, and I’ve seen it happen to so many people. So you have to try to keep yourself entertained, and not think about that. Otherwise, you can very easily to slip into that on tour. That’s something we definitely want to avoid.
QRO: You all grew up in Ealing, London. Do you still live and practice there, so close to home?
HM: The other two guys in the band live in Ealing; I live in a place in West London called Shepard’s Bush. Yeah, we do – we all still live at home.
‘Cause we’re never there. Maybe for two or three months of the year, we’re at home, and the rest of the time, we’re away. So to try and buy our on place or get flats would be throwing money down the drain.
But we all still live at home, and we all rehearse in northwest London, the same place we’ve rehearsed for five years. And we probably always will; it’d be pretty cool.
Eventually we’ll get our own place; we don’t plan to stay with our parents forever. But we’re only twenty…
QRO: How did your families and friends feel about you deciding to make music instead of starting university?
HM: We’ve been really luck with that, actually. Our families have always really supported us through our choices and career, and our choices of what to do with our lives. They always have been, even when we weren’t successful or doing anything right. And now that we’ve done it, our family and friends are just really proud of us, and have a lot of respect for what we’re doing, which is really cool. It’s great for us.
I think we’re very lucky in that respect. A lot of families would want their kids to go to university and carry on their education. But I think we’re learning so much more, doing this, and I think our family recognizes that. I think we’re very lucky.
QRO: Have the worldwide economic collapse affected you guys at all?
And it’s too expensive to go out, so if you buy a CD, you can be happy for a couple of months.
I know, when I’m not happy with something, whether it be doing my job or anything, music is the first thing I turn to. It’s the best distraction.
QRO: How do you make sure your equipment isn’t broken or lost when you fly?
HM: The answer to that is that you can’t. You can’t every make sure. You have to get good insurance. It hasn’t happened to us yet, and, fingers crossed, it won’t happen. Otherwise, we’re a bit screwed, really.
All you can do is make sure you label it properly and put it in good fly cases. ‘Cause the guys on planes, the baggage handlers, just throw stuff around. Even our fly cases, which are really tough, get damaged sometimes.
QRO: You guys have been touring a lot – how do you fight ‘tour burnout’?
HM: Just make sure you rest. I think the main thing is, actually, you have to eat a lot of food, because you use a lot of energy on tour, even when you’re traveling.
Try not to drink too much, try not to do too much of anything that’s not good for you, and then you kind of keep yourself on top. We’re not like ‘health freaks’ – we don’t exercise a lot. You just gotta try not to do anything that’s too bad for too long.
QRO: Are there any songs that you particularly like playing live?
HM: There’s a song called “Fifty On Our Foreheads” on the record, which is my favorite song on the record, and also my favorite song to play live. I think it’s really powerful, and emotional, has a lot of emotion. I love playing it live; you can see people’s reactions to it when you play it. It’s very powerful.
QRO: Are there any songs that you can’t play live, because of the arrangement, or just don’t like to play live?
HM: There’s a song called “Nothing To Give” on the record that we haven’t learned how to play live yet, just because it’s very complicated. It’s going to take us a long while to do that, to figure how to do it. But we will sometime, be able figure it out. It’s just gonna take us a little time to rehearse.
QRO: What cities or venues have you really liked playing at?
HM: Well, New York is my favorite place in America. I love playing in that city, I love the people there, I love the music scene there, and I especially love the Bowery [Ballroom – QRO venue review], which we played the last time we were in America. It was fantastic. I’m really, really excited about going back there for two nights. It’s gonna be amazing.
Obviously, cities like Tokyo, and even London, our hometown – the big cities in the world are just amazing to play in. The crowd doesn’t necessarily go crazy, but you have such knowledge of what they can see, and it’s really flattering that they’ve chosen you over everything else that’s on that night.
QRO: Do you have a favorite tour story?
HM: You know what? I think just being in Japan, I’ve mentioned it a few times before, really, but being in
I suppose, one night in Japan, we had a few drinks, and we went to a karaoke bar. And they take karaoke over there very seriously, so we went up to our own private room, with like five thousand songs on the song list there. And we had waitresses bringing us drinks. They take it really seriously, but it was such a good night out.
QRO: Do you feel any extra pressure when you’re doing karaoke, since you’re an actual singer?
HM: Haha… No, because, by that point, everyone’s kind of wasted. So you can kind of do what the fuck you want and they’re not going to really care. I was doing M.C. Hammer…
QRO: Are you only going to be playing one date in Japan? Is it weird to fly all the way over there just for one show?
HM: No, I think it’s definitely worth it. Good to play a different territory, as well. I don’t know whether we’re doing just one; we might be putting some other ones in.
It’s good to get out there and do all the press, and all the promo, all the TV shows and such. We’ll be doing that as well.
QRO: How do American and British music festivals compare?
HM: The ones in America are loads better, man, because in
America, it’s the weather, for me, is much better for music festivals.
QRO: When you play music industry showcases, do you get any support from the British government for something like that, or at all?
HM: No, we don’t. I’ve heard that bands in Canada do. I think it’s a really good idea. I think they should. It’s such a huge industry, music; so many people are employed in there. Maybe they should support bands more.
The label company has enough money, so I think we’ll be all right, but maybe they should support bands more.