A vast, dark and uninhibited comeback

Ambition and rigorous hard work take centre stage as White Lies emerge unshackled to make a vast, dark and uninhibited comeback.

The icy concoction of trepidation and unease that permeates their lyrics leaked into the minds of White Lies as they set about making their second album, ‘Ritual’. “Of course we were worried,” frontman Harry McVeigh explains. “My main concern was that we’d forget how to write music, it had been two or three years since we’d written anything, so I thought we might have forgotten how to,” he laughs, a relaxed tone creeping into his voice now the album is in the can.

The album’s yearning, visceral noir adds intricate electronic sophistication to the widescreen gloom the band have made their own. Motorik clunking, delicate synths and Kompakt-referencing beats are woven into McVeigh’s booming vocal, glossy guitars and rhythm section, pushing the band’s sound forward into 2011. The whole thing is dripping with ambition, an observation the singer is keen to grapple with.

“It feels good to have finished the record. We’ve been a lot more ambitious and taken it a lot further than the first one,” he begins, mentioning the A-word for the first time. “The electronics are something we felt confident enough to try,” he says, describing how he and band mates, bassist and lyricist Charles Cave and drummer Jack Lawrence-Brown, shared responsibility for the extra machinery. He makes the point that they’re not boarding any electronic bandwagon, comparing his band’s need for a few more plug sockets to Tears For Fears before shrugging off the complexities of the album’s blips and bleeps. “The most complicated thing about synths isn’t what you’re playing, it’s the sound,” he adds, “I do the more involved keyboard parts, but we all collaborated with it.”

The sonic change is mirrored by the band’s graduation from fresh-faced west London scamps to a trio hardened by two years of relentless touring and all that comes with a critically acclaimed debut. McVeigh explains: “It feels like we’re much older now, we’ve learnt a lot about writing, performing and recording and how to approach working in general. That’s really had an impact on the band and our music.” This more mature character manifests itself throughout ‘Ritual’, and when Harry reels off the records they’ve been listening to (Spiritualized, Nine Inch Nails, Crocodiles), his excitement is genuine. “That whole palette of sounds and influences is vital when you’re writing; it’s really cool to draw on things that have affected you but it’s hard to pinpoint exact artists, it’s more a subconscious cross section,” he says.

Produced by Alan Moulder (NIN, My Bloody Valentine), the album is loud enough to knock heads clean off, but was written and recorded according to a strict nine to five timetable. The singer reinforces the importance of structure, discipline and desire to reach the finish line. “We were all focused on the same thing and worked so many hours in the day because we felt really liberated by the process and wanted to make an ambitious record.” A hint of uncertainty sneaks in as he admits, “I enjoyed making it much more than I though it would.”

But Harry McVeigh won’t dwell on jangling nerves, unable to prevent positivity glinting through the shade; he’s excited by what’s to come. It’s not long before that buzzword pops up again. When pressed on ‘Ritual’’s grand, metaphor-packed syntax he says, “It’s good to write about things that mean something, at least to us. There’s definitely ambition to make something big and, dare I say it, bombastic!” he smiles, aware of his adjectives.

A grandiose second album and more globe-trotting nudge White Lies towards the big leagues, but Harry’s not convinced. “I don’t want to grow too big for our boots. I want to feel comfortable - everyone talks about arenas and stadiums but…” he tails off. “We’re still young. I’d like the album to reach a few more fans and for people to realise the ambition that’s gone into it and enjoy that aspect.”

Prodigious talent nurtured by expansion and experience could make for one of the biggest stories of 2011, White Lies are on a precipice - where they end up will be defined by Harry’s favourite A-word.

Words by Ben Homewood
Photo by Emilie Fjola Sandy

Read a review of White Lies' new album 'Ritual' from the current issue of Clash Magazine HERE.


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