In the interview, the drummer talked about this tour & their other recent tours, overseas tour plans, their latest record, Britt Daniel (of Spoon)-produced It’s Frightening (QRO review), new bassist Brian Betancourt (also of Frances, Hospitality), ‘graduating’ from openers to headliners, songs they don’t play, Letterman, power going out at Bonnaroo, strawberry shortcake, and more…
QRO: You just toured in June – why another tour so soon afterwards?
Matt Clark: It’s the best way to get your music out there. And sitting at home really isn’t a respectable option.
QRO: How was that summer tour?
MC: It was great. [Tourmates then] The Subjects (QRO spotlight on) are a really great band who are really talented and hard working. Music needs more bands that understand the work you need to put in and aren’t looking for that ‘debut album’ to get them to the point they want to be at.
QRO: How were the festivals, like Bonnaroo & All Points West – and NYU’s Strawberry Festival (QRO Festival Guide)?
MC: All were great. The power went out on us at Bonnaroo, which I think we handled as well as it could have been and All Points West was a lot of fun. I think people were more into the shortcake than us at the Strawberry Festival, but I definitely had a good day that day.
White Rabbits playing "While We Go Dancing" live @ NYU Strawberry Festival on May 1st, 2009:
QRO: How does it feel to have ‘graduated’ from being the opener on tours, to now headlining them?
MC: Just the fact that people are paying attention to what we create is great. And we are happiest when playing, so it is cool to be bumped up to doing headlining tours based on just doing something you enjoy doing. They is more pressure to make sure everyone has a good time and is taken care of, but it’s worth it.
QRO: How did making It’s Frightening compare to making debut Fort Nightly (QRO review)?
MC: We didn’t know what we really wanted when we were recording Fort Nightly. There was a lot of time spent in the studio changing parts and figuring out the songs. On Frightening we tried to learn from that and have the songs and ideas in place before going into the studio. Which saved us time, money and sanity.
QRO: How did you get Britt Daniel to produce?
MC: We were talking about it as a band and immediately accidentally sent him a text message at 1:00 AM.
QRO: What was he like as a producer?
MC: Amazing. I really can’t think of a point in the studio were I couldn’t understand him or vice versa. Most importantly he would listen and not try to tell us what works.
QRO: Did you feel any extra ‘second record’ pressure?
MC: Not while recording. I think when we were done writing and recording I felt some, because you can’t change anything at that point. But our label [ATO Recordings] and everyone around us just let us create the music we wanted to create. Which if you don’t have someone telling you that "You need more songs like your last songs…", then you can just get in your space and write and everyone is better off when there aren’t those hurdles.
QRO: Were you at all worried that Frightening might be too complicated or ambitious for people who loved Fort Nightly? How do you lead the audience along in your own development?
MC: Not at all. We just grew up a little bit. We really just tried to make the songs that we wanted to hear and that we weren’t hearing from anybody else. The first couple of shows playing the new album was weird because we hadn’t really played any of the new songs live and they do sound somewhat different, but we really believe in what we are doing, and people can tell when a band cares about what they are doing. We trust that the people that listen to and enjoy our music to get the big picture of what we are trying to do.
White Rabbits playing It’s Frightening‘s "Lionesse" live @ special preview show for the new record at Mercury Lounge in New York, NY on February 19th, 2009:
QRO: Singer/keyboardist Steve Patterson does most of the lead vocals on Frightening, while the duty had been more split between him & singer/guitarist Greg Roberts on Fort (Patterson also plays more guitar on Frightening). Was there anything specific behind this shift?
MC: It was just the way that the songs came out. We have never shied from switching things up a bit, but it just depends on what works for the song.
QRO: How do you balance Frightening & Fort in the set list?
MC: We play the songs we enjoy playing and that work well for the set. What we have is a pretty good mix of old and new. But don’t be upset if you don’t hear "Navy Wives".
QRO: Are there any songs you don’t play anymore – do you feel you still have to play [Fort Nightly single] "The Plot"?
MC: "Navy Wives" & "Sea of Rum" are a couple. We won’t play a song if it’s not moving us and we are just going through the motions
White Rabbits playing "The Plot" live, on their current tour, @ Maxwell’s in Hoboken, NJ on October 11th, 2009:
See also them playing It’s Frightening‘s "The Company I Keep"
QRO: What happened to "Sea of Rum"? Before Frightening, when you were still touring off of Fort Nightly, that was often the ‘new song’ in the set list – yet it wasn’t on It’s Frightening.
MC: Yeah. It just didn’t fit anymore with what we were doing. That song would not fit on It’s Frightening.
White Rabbits playing "Sea of Rum" live @ Bowery Ballroom in New York, NY on December 13th, 2007:
See also them playing "Tourist Trap"
QRO: Do you have any new, post-Frightening songs?
MC: We are working on stuff, but with our schedule it’s really hard to get time to work on songs on tour. We are constantly changing the songs we are playing live. We like being able to change up things since we tour a lot. Don’t want to play the same set both times your in the same city.
QRO: You all have two or more of everything – two singers [Patterson & Roberts, two guitars [Roberts & guitarist Alex Even], even two drummers [Clark & multi-instrumentalist Jamie Levinson], but it was your (sole) bassist Adam Russell who left. What happened?
MC: He wanted to live his life a certain way and that conflicted with what we were doing as a band.
QRO: How has new bassist Brian Betancourt been working out?
MC: Brian is amazing. We weren’t looking for a hired hand but a close friend and Brian is that and more. Brains and the talent.
QRO: You just got signed to Mute Records (A Place To Bury Strangers, Grizzly Bear), outside of North America. Will you be touring overseas soon?
MC: In November and beyond. Not sure of the dates. I’ve always been a fan of Mute and their roster and history. So it’s really exciting for us to be a part of what they have been doing for so many years.
QRO: How was playing Late Show with David Letterman – again?
MC: You don’t think your going to get a second chance to do something like that. So you can relax a little bit more… just a little bit.
QRO: Were you at all worried about being bumped? That happened on Letterman, to Grizzly Bear (QRO live review), two nights later…
MC: We heard and felt awful for those guys. From what I had heard they worked really hard and couldn’t do anything about it. But they’re doing all right besides that.
QRO: Is it true what Letterman said, that Brooklyn bands are cheaper for the New York-shot Late Show?
MC: Yes. I think it was a very honest joke.
White Rabbits will be appearing on the L.A.-based Jimmy Kimmel Live on 11/3/09 – QRO Indie on Late Night TV
White Rabbits playing "Percussion Drum" live @ Bowery Ballroom on May 21st, 2009: