Having released the album Friends last month to rave reviews, the post-punk London trio are currently on an extensive UK and European tour. They play Manchester Albert Hall, 25 Nov, Liverpool O2 Academy, 26 Nov and Leeds Stylus, 30 Nov.
What informs your music and songwriting?
There is this golden ratio to songwriting that Paul Simon has talked about before – that is, the balancing of cliché with a sense of weight and importance. It’s a very difficult balance to achieve and not made much easier through repetition and experience. But it’s the search for that golden ratio that spurs me on the most. I think White Lies have achieved it before (our song First Time Caller is probably my favourite), and it usually crops up once or twice on a record if we’re lucky. So much about conventional songwriting and composition or arrangement is inherently cliché, so that part is easy. You use a word like “dream”, or “love”, or “tonight”, and you’re pretty much knee-deep in cliché already. But it’s only when you marry that with some illusive and almost supernatural sense of weight that a song can truly move people. Imagine Only Love Can Break Your Heart – let’s face it, quite a clichéd lyric to begin with – and imagine that sung by some X-Factor contestant reading off an autocue, albeit singing perfectly in tune, etc. It just wouldn’t work. It’s Neil Young’s fractured voice and distinctive arrangement that transforms that cliché into something that continues to move so many of us. When you get it right, there’s no better feeling of accomplishment, despite knowing much of the success must be put down to luck, good timing, etc. And that makes it a hugely exciting pursuit.
How has the band evolved over the years?
“Our entire songs E.S.T and Bad Love are absolute drivel.”
I think we’ve found a way to make dramatic music a little more graceful than we used to. Our brush strokes are more considered, and the songs, on the whole, are getting better. That’s not to say we don’t still love the first songs we wrote, and it’s the total naivety and innocence in something like Death that makes it so appealing. It has been so encouraging to be touring our new album Friends and finding songs from the record actually going down better live than many of the old ones. I wish I could tell you specifically what it is that has changed, but will have to put it down to a kind of maturity and confidence in the songwriting. We seem better at allowing songs to write themselves rather than force them into shapes they don’t naturally bend into. I think that comes across. I am genuinely so excited for the sixth or seventh White Lies album.
What are you up to at the moment artistically?
I’m learning how to write properly! I’ve been taking writing courses for a year and very much enjoying writing stories.
What’s it like to operate in the music industry today?
It’s the same as ever. The business has always been a two-way exploitation, and that’s absolutely fine. I think what has changed is that there is more responsibility on the artist to know how to exploit what’s available to them. Before, all that work was done by managers or other personnel. As a musician now, you would have to be pretty gutsy to think it’s OK to not know how to record and mix your own music to a releasable standard. You’d have to be pretty gutsy to expect all your artwork and videos to be done by someone else. The industry has morphed into something that is very unforgiving of laziness on both sides. You’re an A&R person that hasn’t signed a good act in two years? Get out, you’re fired. You’re a young singer-songwriter that’s written a couple of beautiful songs, but you say you need an expensive studio, producer and mixer to record them properly? Move over – someone else has got songs just as good as they can record them in their bedroom, and then do some overdubs at a friend’s studio in exchange for recording some backing vocals on something they’re working on.
What’s on your rider?
A friend of mine once had to prepare a rider for Wu Tang Clan and told me they had 150 condoms on it. The mind boggles. Those guys are athletes. On the White Lies rider we have Czech beers, milk chocolate and Greek yoghurt.
Tell us your most embarrassing or surreal experience.
I wasn’t embarrassed by it at all but many years ago I “had” to fake an orgasm. I don’t need to tell you that I famously scored 99 per cent in my drama A-level performance.
What’s your worst lyric?
Christ, there are so many! I would say the entire song E.S.T and the entire song Bad Love. Absolute drivel.