We were lucky to meet the amazing White Lies for a chat all around their new album ‘Friends’ and got to listen to the brilliant record that’s out on Friday the 7th of October. Not only that we had a great time speaking to Charles Cave and Jack Lawrence-Brown we were also invited to meet them at the Teufel and Raumfeld showroom at Bikini Berlin, where we were treated in the sweetest way and definitely got to listen to the new record in the appropriate sound quality!
White Lies are Charles Cave, Harry McVeigh and Jack Lawrence-Brown from Ealing in West-London.
After a bright start in 2008 the band played numerous festivals and shows prior to their much anticipated debut release in 2009, which instantly launched at number 1 position in the UK album charts. The band worked really closely with producer Ed Buller on their first album as well as the hymn-packed third release ‘Big TV’. They actually describe him as ‘part of the band’, who has a very clear idea of what the band should sound like.
Before the guys started working on their 4th album, they signed with the label Infectious/BMG who gave them a lot of freedom and space in terms of where to go with the new record. The three Londoners didn’t waste the rare chance to work in Bryan Ferry‘s private Studio in London’s Olympia, being surrounded by loads of vintage synths, some of them belonging to Brian Eno, and an environment that certainly had a huge impact on the sound.
Check our interview with Jack and Charles below to find out how and what else inspires one of our favourite bands!
Hi guys, first of all thank you, we really appreciate the opportunity to have you around. I think there’s been some significant changes for you prior to recording the new album, you signed with a new label?
Charles: Yeah, not before we worked on it but before we recorded it. So we’d written pretty much all of the songs. And yeah, it was a very different process to last time when we were 18, when we were a new band it was like very old fashioned, getting taken out for dinner to meet labels and them sort of fighting amongst themselves about who’s gonna sign us and all that kind of things. This time it was just like, I think our managers just said ‘Oh I think you should sign with this label’ and we were just like ‘ok, we trust you whatever’ and that was it, kind of just done. I think it was not more than just two e-mails and we were like, sounds good, fine.
Jack: We’re good though, they had no interest in tampering with anything that we were doing, so we recorded the album sort of independently. I think Korda (Marshall) the owner of the label came down once during the sessions and he said expressly like ‘I don’t wanna hear anything, don’t play me anything’, so I was like ok, because that’s quite rare, normally when somebody is putting their money into something to be successful they’re more keen to sort of tamper with it or get involved with it. But it’s really good.
I think you also worked closely with Ed Buller for your debut album and ‘Big TV’ and this time you went without a producer, is that right?
Charles: We did, but actually Ed did help quite a lot in the end, he did the synthesizers recording with us and recorded quite a lot of the vocals as well with Harry. Ed is just sort of a member of the band, really. And we always have consulted with him for whatever we do, he is a wise, mad, but very wise man and he’s been so important in our career and in the most important part of our career which is the songs. On the first record he had such a clear vision of how he thought we should record our songs and it was definitely the right idea. He helped make a lot of our fans’ favourite record of ours, we are totally okay with that, knowing that our first album is still some people’s favourite, that’s fine. And then when he didn’t work on the second record with us but when he came back for Big TV, he just stepped back into the role so quickly, like right, let’s make another great album. Because I think we all felt a little bit indifferent about the second album, there was some good parts but some parts we maybe regretted a bit. So with this one we knew we’d have a bit of help or a little bit of guidance from him but we didn’t really have the money to get a producer this time to be honest with you, not to get a producer and an engineer and someone good to mix it. And we decided that the most important thing was to record it very well and someone to mix it very well and with a bit of guidance from a few different people whilst we were writing the songs and also with the experience that we’ve had with the records we’ve done before we thought, we know how to produce an album.
And it worked out very well.
Charles: Yeah I think we did a perfectly fine job, and also it’s good because I know there are a few things on this record that I know Ed would have never ever let happen.
Jack: Oh yes!
Charles: Some sounds, some keyboard sound that I just know he would hate.
Jack: He does, even when he came into the studio like two or three days, he was just telling us off and like ‘Yeah but you can’t have that on the final version right’ ‘I think it’s gonna be the final version, Ed’ and he was like ‘No no, you can’t have that’! Previously, on the third album, he had felt that way about a very particular sort of cheesy piano sound that we used and he actually did make us take it off the album, because he said it was just too bad and I think we would have liked to have kept quite a lot of it, so we kept everything we wanted this time, so it’s all our fault.
We think it’s brilliant, we got to listen to it today, especially the synth- and keyboard sounds are really good. I think you got to work at Bryan Ferry’s private studio? That’s special isn’t it?
Charles: It was very special! It’s nice because there are lots of artists at his level who have their own studios but they’re often really impersonal and just like very expensive looking. Like Mark Knopfler’s one and Peter Gabriel’s place, they’re all super slick, state of the art studios, but you wouldn’t go in there and think you’re actually in an artist’s working environment. It’s more kind of scientific, space. Whereas Bryan’s is the opposite, loads of stuff doesn’t work, things are just like making weird noises when they shouldn’t do and it’s just more like a home, like a living room feel, slightly dated carpets everywhere, just bits and stuff, collections of stuff. Which is good, I like hat. We’ve recorded in a couple of different places in the past and when you go into a really clinical studio, it’s really difficult to feel inspired and warm and comfy about the music you make you just hope it’s as perfect as the equipment.
Jack: With Bryan’s place it also immediately sets limits on what you can do. The drum-room for example, we usually have done that in big drum rooms, so that we had a big live drum sound. But Bryan’s studio just had small drum rooms, so that immediately dictates you can’t do what you used to do and you have some different limits on what you can do, like Charles said type of stuff doesn’t work but that’s fine, if it doesn’t work try another synth, that’s cool. Bryan’s a nice guys as well.
Sometimes it’s good to have limited possibilities…
Charles: Definitely! Always. It’s so important, even like at home with the computer that I write music on at home I make sure not to have to many plugins and options and instruments and stuff like that because then you sit down and think you could use on thousand of different things, it’s so much better to always set yourself restrictions. I mean even Harry and I would do that when we’re writing, we sort of joke about it at the time, but if there was ever a part where we would have 2 different synth sounds in one of the demos, it was like ‘Oh we’re being really naughty’, we shouldn’t be allowed to have more than one keyboard sound. Because if the song was good, it should be able to be presented in this way, really. I think that’s how we mature as a band, really. It’s getting more confident in the individual parts, so we don’t need to have so much of them. I said yesterday, perhaps now Harry can play just one really great guitar part on a song and that’s enough, rather than in the past perhaps we played seven or eight pretty good parts. I love the idea when people hear this White Lies record that there are a lot of moments where people can hear every single instrument. It’s not just a big wash. I like music like that, I like very dramatic music and big sounding, but that I do find these days that when I hear a lot of new music that just has this big kind of space, “reverby” thing, space orchestra, I find myself like I’m just a bit lost already. it’s very easy to make a beautiful kind of lush, backdrop to sing over and it can be really lovely. But especially with a solo singer, I always feel much more drawn in if what grabs me is the space that they’ve left so that you listen to the voice.I think it’s Jessica Pratt, artists like her, who could very easily sing over huge orchestration if they wanted it but actually almost always choses a kind of low-fi guitar and it really makes you hold your breathe, it’s so exposed.
Jack: You can still get your own style into that, it’s totally her own style. Which is quite cool too.
Charles: I’m not the biggest fan, but I do have a lot of respect for The Police, I listen to the them a lot recently because they managed to always write these really great pop-songs that always sound pretty rocking, pretty big and dramatic and lush but there’s never more than like four things happening, very rarely. Just one guitar part, bass, drums and maybe some keyboards on some of their later albums. So they’ve got this sort of like punk-rock setup but make really tuneful pop songs with it, it’s just some that reggae stuff that I’m not really a fan of… (laughs) So yeah, it’s really doable and I love the idea of going more that way and getting a bit more stripped back.
Did you have something like a particular theme for the album in mind? From what I heard the lyrics this time seem to be a lot about relationships changing and ending?
Charles: Yeah, well not ending, but changing, yes. And being at a certain point in our lives where a lot of our friendships with different people are sort of having to be kind of weighted up when perhaps people move to other countries and you can’t see them in the way as you used to there’s new responsibilities and life changes and it just forces you to kind of think ‘how important is my friendship with that person and actually I shouldn’t feel to guilty if I decide, she’s not as important as maybe I thought she was’. Maybe there’s just certain people you just hang out with because it’s kind of easy rather than actually genuinely having a sort of great bond and reciprocal love I guess. But it’s an interesting time for us to be kind of aware of all that because a lot of our friends and people around us are sort of moving about with their lives and changing.
And it’s still you writing the lyrics?
Would you say that life and all the things happening around you is also the biggest inspiration for the music you make?
Charles: Yeah, I think the kind of lyrics that I like to hear has really changed since I was 18, when we produced our first record, I mean it’s pretty understandable, we just finished high school, when we produced our first album. You know you have a very different view of how lyrics should be at that point. I think I am really glad though that when I was quite naive I was writing slightly bullshitty goth romantic lyrics than other bands at that age were kind writing like sort of laddy, night out kind of lyrics about drinking and stuff…
You definitely could have done worse!
Charles: Yeah I am glad that I went for that, I think there’s a couple of ways you can go at that age with lyrics and songwriting, you either go to play to really being a teenager, which I always found to be much more effective in american, like Blink-182 kind of thing, I think ‘Enema of the State’ is just an amazing teenage album, I mean really they were not teenagers when they made it, but for me I listen to those lyrics, and…I guess it’s because we all grew up on those films, American Pie and those kind of things, I think when we were at that age, you almost kid yourself to thinking that you’re in one of those films, even when your english life is so different and just nothing like that.I mean, we went to house parties…
Jack: Yeah you based everything you did on the film experience, like how a house party should look would come from american film. We just really tried to approach this stupid culture (laughs).
Charles: I remember when Jack and I, when we first went to America we were in Texas and it was Jack and I got asked to DJ in an event that was in Austin one night after a gig and I think it was sponsored by magazine but it turned out to be a house party happening in an apartment in Austin, a big apartment that had like a pool outside. And we didn’t really know what to expect but when we got there it was just like an apartment block, we knocked on a regular apartment door and some jock openend the door with one of those red plastic cups and we saw all the others with the red cups and we both said to each other immediately ‘Red cups, they’ve got the red cups! We’re actually here!’ like we were in American pie, shit! I was kind of weird because even that was like four years after when we did all those house parties, this was like that’s it, this is what we were dreaming of the whole childhood, we’re finally at one of those great house parties. It was actually not that much of a great party.
Jack: I remember the first ever gig that, not White Lies, but that we played together when we were 15 was at one of our best mate’s houses when his parents went away for the weekend, we had a huge house party and the three of us played like Talking Heads covers, four or five songs and a lot of people will still remember that gig, because it was actually amazing. I think that was quite close to an american house party. Because didn’t some kids break in and started a fight downstairs?
Charles: Probably (laughs).
Jack: Wondering what the question was, but it definitely wasn’t about house parties.
Charles: Lyrics, I think. Yeah so now I’m definitely not particularly interested in lyrics in sort of fantasy or fairy kind of flamboyant use of language and that. But you just change. We jsut did another interview talking about the new Nick Cave record and I am big Nick Cave fan but I am the first one to admit that there’s a hell of a lot of times about his music and they lyrics where I just think like ‘Come on man, turn it down’, especially with the older albums, there are all kind of midgets and carnivals and gremlins and people getting murdered, same with lyrics as it is with the music, simpler the better these days for me. The ones that usually speak to me are the kind of almost domestic sort of real life kind of music. I actually think Björk is one of my favourite lyricists, because everyone associates her with being extraverted, very flamboyant in her visual side of what she does and also in the music production, but actually a lot of her lyrics are just so simple, very articular and just great sentiment put in a direct way. Especially on Vespertine, on that one a lot of the songs are about like missing her husband when he’s away or dreaming, but not like describing the dream as such, more like waking up and having had a strange dream, normal things, I really like and rate her as a lyricist. And the most recent album was hard hitting, when she was in a painful place, but she did it so well.
What was the last record you bought?
Charles: I am a bit of a nerd for the ECM record label, kind jazz. They’re german based I think. Produced by Manfred Eicher, he’s the owner and anyway, you can’t get their records on any streams, but you can listen to samples of everything on their website, so like twice a year I go through their last like 30-40 records, because they release records a hell of a lot, just samples of them and I can very quickly decide, that sounds interesting, no that’s got saxophone in it I won’t like it and I bought two really strange Scandinavian, half folk, half jazz, modern classical things, odd, but I like it.
Jack: The last album I bought was yesterday and it was a pre-order of White Lies’ new album ‘Friends’. I do that, because I love receiving it in the post and everything, but that’s probably not of any interest. But I did buy one the other week, I hadn’t bought a vinyl for ages, I still like the old vinyl, I’m not the sort of guys who spends a lot of time racking their shelves with vinyls they never listen to. But I bought this one, one because it’s a very good album, two because it’s by a guy who we used to do gigs with years ago, he had a punk band called Video Nasties, a guy called J Churcher. who released his solo album and it’s just a really good album and it took me by surprise because I wasn’t expecting to hear anything from him after his old band finished like eight years ago. He must be in his mid thirties now, but he’s been doing painting and decorating to fund making this album. And then I thought well, I’ve listened to this album three or four times on Spotify now and actually of all the people I’ve ever met, he’s one of the people you can actually imagine really appreciating people going to a shop buying his album and I really like this and he’s put his money time and heart in this record, so I probably should go and buy it. It’s a very good album, it’s called ‘Borderland State’ by J CHURCHER.
That’s cool. We’ve got a bit of a different question here, do you have any childhood heroes, apart from the music scene?
Jack: I was and still am a huge fan of David Attenborough, who did the BBC nature documentaries, he’s a legend. He’s been doing them since forever and I used to be into wildlife and I used to sort of own all of his videos. And the thing I like so much about David Attenborough is, he’s still doing it and he really doesn’t need to because of his age but he still puts out like three series a year, because he found something that he’s super interested in like one particular bird or some kind of fish and I kind of love how much obsession he has and the quality of him and what the people around him put together as well, I really like that stuff.
Charles: I think the earliest childhood hero that I could think of is Bruce Lee. I did karate for a while, I was really into martial arts. I used to watch all the Bruce Lee films, I just thought he was such a badass. That thing when you lie on your back and just flip up. I just thought how can anyone ever do that, I was trying that on my bed for a while just like how is that possible. I think when I was about nine years old, I really wanted to learn Kung-Fu, I didn’t wanna do Karate, or Judo or anything that’s lame. I wanna do Kung-Fu. And I remember actually writing to my local council because it was before the internet where you could have just looked it up so I remember actually writing a letter to my council ‘Hi this is me, I am this age, is there somewhere were I could learn Kung-Fu?’. And I waited for like two weeks every day like is there any post for me?! And I eventually got a letter back from them saying ‘Thanks, no.’ There was even bloody Kendo with sticks, but no Kung-Fu. But I guess Bruce Lee.
You’re actually not the first one to answer Bruce Lee on that question, I think it was Jagwar Ma who just recently said pretty much the same.
Jack: I think there is a lot of kids looking up to these characters, who just wanna…fight.
Charles: Yeah just being a badass really.
Thank you very much for the interview guys, we really enjoyed it!
Everybody else please make sure you get your hands on White Lies’ new album ‘Friends’ this on Friday the 7th of October! It’s the perfect soundtrack to the season but surely has some surprises left for you as well.
We would also like to say thank you to Teufel and Raumfeld at Bikini Berlin for hosting the event in a beautiful manner, making it something very special and we are looking forward to further cooperations in the future.
xx smoke and echoes
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