White Lies' singer Harry McVeigh may have no idea what day it is but when we caught up with him in Manchester ahead of a sold out gig in one of their favourite venues Albert Hall he was as chipper as ever.
The polite west Londoner has every reason to be, with the post-punk band touring their fifth album, celebrating 10 years together and preparing for a busy festival season.
Harry, bassist and lyricist Charles Cave and drummer Jack-Lawrence Brown are an especially tenacious trio, deciding to self-fund and produce their fifth album, simply titled 'Five', banking on their decade of experience and solid fan base to carry them through.
We chatted to Harry about how he’s survived the unsparing music industry while others have fallen by the wayside, and we celebrate 'Five' by asking Harry to give us a track by track breakdown.
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So you’re mid-tour, how are the energy levels?
I think we’re all still feeling pretty good at the moment. It’s an exciting time being in the middle of a tour because you’re still figuring out the set and every night you know something will probably go wrong so you quickly adapt to it in the middle of the show but we all enjoy that part. It’s the fun of performing and you can be fresh and make things exciting.
Describe what its like being at a White Lies gig in 2019?
We have people from all different backgrounds and age groups which I love. We try to put on a bit of an event, we bring a big lighting rig with us and it’s a long set of songs from across all our albums. It’s been going down great so far.
Happy anniversary! How does it feel to have reached a 10 year milestone?
It’s mad to think we’re still going. We never expected it to happen. We’re nostalgic about it though and it’s nice to tour almost exactly 10 years that the first album came out. We get to see people at our gigs who were there from the start.
How do you think you’ve changed personally over the years?
Our sense of humour is still the same. In a band you don’t grow up. We didn't go to university or anything so we don't have any proper life skills we just hang out and play music together. On a personal level our lives have changed a great deal, two of us are married, I’ve lived in San Francisco and moved all over the shop. At the core our friendship is still the same. Musically we’ve matured and learned a lot more about how to write and record. I still think we’ve got a lot to learn.
What about your perspective as a band?
We know what to expect now and we don’t have any huge ambitions to step up into arenas or stadiums like we did before, we’re happy to just play where whoever will have us. I think it’s an unrealistic goal to want to be the biggest band in the world like all bands do when they start out. When you’re on a major label, your ego is boosted and you’re told you’re going to make it big in America, for example, or round the world and these things don’t always pay off. We’ve learned that and we’re realistic about who we are and what we do as a band now.
What has been the hardest time?
Probably right at the start. We were so young when the band took off and had a number one record and we were travelling around the world all the time working so so hard and to be honest if that started happening again now I think we would flat out say no. It was tough. We were rabbits in headlights, young kids. Suddenly you have a whole diary full of stuff you have no control over.
You took back control and have self-produced your latest record. It’s inspiring you had the guts to do that and I think it’s important for other bands to know other options are out there.
It was a weird one for us. It wasn't necessarily our choice that we did it, but I’m really glad that we did because it taught us a lot about how to manage the process of making an album - choosing the right studio and people, for example. I don't think we’d have been able to do that five years ago.
But on our last album 'Friends' we started to do that - we had people give us budget to make the album and we just went and did it with little interference. On this album we didn't have a label at all and it allowed us to do exactly what we wanted. 'Five' was self recorded and self funded, we paid for and sourced everything ourselves and we signed a record deal just after making it to distribute and release it. I recommend to any band to do it if they have the experience and know how to produce a record, it’s a great way to work.
Do you think you’d do it again?
Yes I think it’s the way we are going to be making albums now. We had to try and raise the money ourselves and it’s a boring way of thinking about it but our band is our business and our business is playing live shows. In order to do that we have to put new music out there and keep moving forwards. It’s about how can we keep our fans engaged. It’s worked out really well we’ve got a label tour lined up - we’ve very busy.
What’s the best advice you've had from a musical elder?
We work with a producer called Ed Buller who is a father figure to the band. He taught us so much how to make music, record, write, how to put a good song together, what to expect from the music industry. He made our first album with us when we were 19 years old and we worked with him again in L.A. on 'Five'. His advice was to never get fussy about the gear you play on because songwriting is the most important thing.
We took that on, and we’re all about nailing the songs first and foremost.
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Here's Harry’s breakdown of 'Five'...
‘Time To Give’
This song surprised us - I think it’s the most unique song we’ve ever written. It’s pretty prog rock, and has such a strange ending. I love how climactic it gets, its like being in a a car accelerating fast. In fact it’s a great driving tune.
We were listening to a lot of New Order when wrote this song. It’s a bit Echo & The Bunnymen and similar to all the post-punk, Manchester late 80s/early 90s bands we often get compared to. It’s going down really well live.
This is the first time we’ve really used acoustic guitar. From the start of writing this song it was clear it was going to be acoustic. We recorded it early on and I’m pleased how it turned out.
Very inspired by 70s prog rock. We were striving for a Pink Floyd, psychedlic, drugged out sound. We had an amazing pianist called Gabrielle who came and worked on it. We’d not had the space of ability to try something like that before so it was great to get other musicians in to play.
A big 80s pop song. We didn't want to shy away from that so we just went all out; there was nothing too cheesy that we wouldn’t try for that track. ‘
'Jo' came together at the end and we weren’t sure it would make the album at first. It’s one of the fastest songs we’ve ever written and we wanted Alan who mixed it for us to make it sound like a Queens Of The Stone Age track. I’m a huge fan of QOTSA and always really enjoyed their big, heavy, fast guitars.
Ed Buller helped us out with that a lot. I love the tender, vulnerable vibe of it. I’d not been able to sing those kind of vocals before and I’m still learning a lot about how to be vulnerable when you’re singing. It’s quite difficult and I’m usually bombastic and in fifth gear with the vocals.
We wrote this song with the nostalgia of having been together for 10 years in our minds. It touches on a lot of stuff we were doing on the first album, that early White Lies sound. We collaborated a lot with Flood on this album and he programmed a lot of the synths on 'Believe It'.
‘Fire And Wings’
My favourite track on the album. We wanted to get a bit weird with it. I wrote the guitar first and then our approach was to try and make it sound like Scott Walker, who we are huge fans of. The melody is so reminiscent of him, but then we just went as big as possible in the chorus. Charles and I are huge metal fans and this is the closest we can get to putting metal in White Lies, haha!
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White Lies are headlining Y Not Festival, which runs 25th - 28th July in Pike Hall, Derbyshire.
Words: Lisa Higgins
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