"We all need some teenage excitement!"
It's nigh on ten years now since White Hills first began dredging deep space for the dark matter that is their cosmically-charged, psychedelically-spun spacerock. Having successfully orbited Ireland’s most southern city for the first time in March of last year, founding member and guitarist Dave W. (admittedly "blown away by the support received there" last time out) and bloodred booted bassist Ego Sensation's ever changing live project reenters Cork’s atmosphere for the second time this Wednesday night. Thousands of tour miles clearly hasn't detracted from the energy and excitement that gushes from Dave as he chats enthusiastically over Skype from his sunkissed New York apartment.
The G-man: You’re up bright and early talking to folks like me, what is a standard day like in the life of White Hills? Using the word standard incredibly loosely of course.
Dave W.: (Laughs hysterically) Standard day? I don't really live what someone would consider a normal life. Lately it's get up and work on the new record, working from the moment I get up to the moment I go to bed. Every day I am doing something related to this band. This last year has been really busy for us in that we did a lot of touring but we have been back in New York since the end of November so it's been the longest period I have been back in New York in the past year. Since we've been back it's really been all aobut the new record. We recorded a bunch of stuff in August before we went to Europe, but didn't have the time to work on it until we got back. Then we did another session about a month ago so that's pretty much what I do. And coffee. Very important. In my kitty cup [which Dave proceeds to exhibit].
The G-Man: Does it break the flow when you have to stop recording and possibly even come back in a different mindset?
Dave W: No, I don't think it breaks it up because the way we work we just go into a studio and lay some basic tracks down live. Then overdubbing happens at our studio which is just not set up to record a full band - the space just isn't right for it so we go elsewhere to record the full band. Mixing and overdubbing happens at our space. Recording something and then having the time to let it sit there and not listen to it - you come back and hear it differently. It can either open doors or close doors but I don't find it a hindrance at all.
The G-Man: So the UK tour starts in Ireland. Looking forward to coming back?
Dave W: Of course. It was the first time we were in Ireland last March and we were all blown away by the support that we were given there. We didn't realise there were so many fans.
The G-Man: Before that show in Cork there was a great buzz, a real teenage excitement about the place.
Dave W: Good! We all need some teenage excitement.
The G-Man: I know it might be just routine at this stage but what does it mean to be able to fly half way across the world and folks pay money to come see you guys rock out?
Dave W: It's the greatest thing in the world. To make a choice to do something like this...it's not an easy choice and that's why not everyone survives at doing this or can continue doing this if they think this is what they want to do. So to continue to bust your ass and be received that way in Ireland...it's one of the ultimate gratifications.
The G-Man: You have said in the past you always felt that European audiences would appreciate White Hills more, or get you. Did you feel in some way ostracised then when first starting out making music?
Dave W: No, not at all. This is kind of a clichéd statement but I really do it for myself more than anything else. Not that I haven't wanted to achieve what I have achieved with it. I don't think you can have any sort of longevity in this business if you are not getting pleasure out of it. To answer your question no I didn't feel ostracised. I had spent a number of years playing in various bands in America and just concentrated on touring in the US and had never been able to get over to Europe. When I started White Hills I used it as a vehicle to get there. I always felt that the kind of music I was involved in would be better received in Europe partially because I was way more into European bands than american bands when growing up.
The G-Man: Has you noticed any change Stateside regarding White Hills?
Dave W: Yeah. America's still a strange beast. You can play somewhere in the middle of nowhere and a ton of people turn up and then you play in a great urban centre and there's no one! We did a lot of touring in the US; You put a lot of miles under your belt and it's very taxing. I think that's what it is. We want to play music so it doesn't matter how many people are there. We have had the opportunity to play some really big venues and then continue to play really small places so I think we get the best of both worlds. Touring in america is...(sighs exasperatedly) it's just the sheer amount of miles that you have to travel. It's very taxing.
The G-Man: It can be common in Ireland for bands to have to leave, make a name elsewhere and come back again before they get recognised or at least the attendances are amped up.
Dave W: It's like us living in New York city, this urban mecca. The same thing happened to us. We played shows in New York city that weren't well attended but once we started to pick up steam in Europe crowds in our hometown started to get bigger.
The G-Man: Will some of the new tracks be road tested on the coming tour?
Dave W: In October when we were on mainland Europe we started playing them then.
The G-Man: Is there a tentativeness present when showcasing new material, maybe a worry new compositions are just not there yet?
Dave W: No. It's not an issue. It always changes, ever so slightly but it's never exactly the same. Once things get recorded and then what they become once we play them live - it always ends up changing. I kind of like playing stuff before people get to hear it as then you get to see people's reactions to something they have never heard before. The list of songs we have to choose from on this tour is something like 28 songs. We're even bringing out some songs from the past that we have never played live before.
The G-Man: That must be pretty exciting?
Dave W: Yeah! This label Immune Recordings just reissued a tour CDR Abstractions and Mutations on vinyl and that was put together from out-takes from Glitter Glamour Atrocity and Heads on Fire sessions back in 2007. That stuff we've never played live so we have a handful off that record that we are playing now.
The G-Man: What different strengths do the two of you bring to the songwriting table?
Dave W: I have said this before but it's kind of stupid: I don't think of myself as a singer. I think of myself as a guitar player. A lot of time I have difficulty figuring out how I want to sing the lyrics I have written but Ego is very good at that. She'll come in and say "maybe you should sing it like this, phrase it like that". "You're too wordy! You gotta cut out things!" and whatnot. She's really imnportant in that process for me. Usually I end up putting the things together and mix it and shoot over a rough mix to her and she'll be like "oh maybe you should do something like this, maybe a melody line". We bounce ideas off of each other.
The G-Man: Does having someone you can trust mean the pressure can be relieved at times?
Dave W: I do bounce the ideas but ultimately it is up to me. The pressure I have in doing a new record is only personal pressure. Pressure to make something is in the point in time. Pushing yourself. When I'm within it, it doesn't always feel the best but that's not necessarily a bad thing. You have to put pressure on yourself.
The G-Man: The appreciation of music is of course subjective. Has a White Hills fan ever surprised you with their interpretation of your music?
Dave W: I think that happens all the time. That's the beautiful thing about art in general. Anybody that holds dear to themselves any sort of art allows it to become personal. That's a beautiful thing.
The G-Man: How did the film Under Skin Or By Name with Jim Jarmusch come about?
Dave W: Oh god...(laughs) He was curating an ATP event in New York and asked us to play. I had no idea that he was a fan of the music at that time but when we played that day he came up and introduced himself and was gushing at how much he really likes what we do, was very thankful that we had played. We went on and did our thing and when the last record came out I sent him a copy. I think it was perfect timing. We were on his mind, he was in the process of putting a film together, knew he wanted a specific scene and he thought: I should ask these guys to do it. I don't know what he actually thought, that's just my take on it going by the way the events happened. I sent him the record and within a month his people were contacting our manager and asking him were we available to shoot. You'd have to ask him what he was thinking...
The G-Man: What was it like seeing him at work?
Dave W: Oh god it was amazing. Ego is a film maker herself so for her it was like a kid in a candy store. We watched the entire filming of every bit of that scene. It was the greatest thing in the world. What blew my mind about was how he approached filming. It was like how I approach putting a song together or making record. You have this idea and then, when you are within it, other things come to mind or some things aren't working so you try something else. I suppose it's how it involves when you are within the process.
The G-Man: How did the idea for White Hills Radio come about?
Dave W: Ego and I were sitting down one night and we were looking over what our potential schedule was for this year. Both of us were feeling a bit anxious about this perceived inactivity at the time. Last year was so busy that we didn't have that much downtime and then here we are in this chunk of months of downtime. We were thinking of different things we had wanted to do. Both of us have fairly extensive record collections. and I've always wanted to be a DJ in some way. It's a way that we can do something that we love and maybe turn some people onto some music they hadn't been turned on to before and maybe even turn it into a vehicle for us to keep our name out there.
The G-Man: An necessary evil of today. Still you are keeping your name out there in a creative way...
Dave W: Exactly. I can't stand all the social networking crap. To me spending time on a computer, constantly posting something on facebook or twitting. There are so many ways I would rather spend my time. Like you were saying, unfortunately that's how a lot of people find their information, that’s how a lot of people see you. This was a way to do something we felt was being creative and not necessarily being stuck sitting on your ass looking at your newsfeed on facebook.
The G-Man: And even the way the radio show was produced with effects-laden presenter voice etc, allows you to retain that little bit of mystery and mystique which is pretty cool.
Dave W: Yeah it is. There’s nothing better than getting outside of your little hole and experiencing what's out there. As much as computers have made some things really good ultimately it's done a lot of bad. I come from a time when I found out about bands from reading about them in magazines.
The other thing is when you look at the demise of massive music chains. Virgin's gone, we had Tower Records here it's gone. HMV's in peril [I butt in to inform Dave that HMV is now gone in Ireland too and dangerously balanced on the precipice of closure in the UK]. But then you look at independent record shops who are thriving and I think the reason they didn't die is there's so much to be said about someone walking into a store, hearing a record they wouldn't have heard in a HMV or Virgin and having a personal interaction with someone within that store. I can't tell you the countless number of bands that I was turned onto when I was a teenager by going into the local independent record shop where I grew up. It was vital to me. I hung out there. After school it was straight down to the record store, scraping up whatever change I could find to buy whatever record that was turning me on at that moment. You can't get that from a computer.
The G-Man: It was actually Plugd Records in Cork that introduced me to you guys.
Dave W: When I lived in San Franciso I worked in a used record store for years at a time when the dot com was booming in California and everyone was 'ebay this, ebay that' blah blah blah. The guy who owned that store always said to me 'this store will never die. Stores like this will never die.' People need human contact and a screen will never replace it. People need to go into places like record stores and he was right - that store has survived and has been there 30 years.
The G-Man: What's the best part of being White Hills
Dave W: For me, it's being able to see results from all of the hard work that I have put into it. It's everything: being able to go over to Ireland, play shows and have people be really into you and really be thankful that you're there. It's having Jim Jarmusch like your band and want you to be in his movie. It's Wayne Coyne [of The Flaming Lips] coming up to you and telling you how he's a huge fan of your music. It's all these little things. I think anyone that is determined at doing something - especially something like music - just wants their art to be appreciated. All these various things makes me realise I have touched people's lives in some way. It's something that I have always wanted but never thought would happen. I am so grateful that it has and thankful for it. It's really inspirational and keeps me going.
The Skype conversation is concluded with a cheesy-yet-enjoyable virtual handshake.
Full tour dates:
- Wednesday, 3rd April – Cyprus Avenue, Cork
- Thursday, 4th April – Bourke's Bar, Limerick,
- Friday, 5th April – Dublin, The Grand Social (also with Twinkranes)
For more on White Hills visit:
- White Hills play Cyprus Avenue Wednesday, 3rd April
- Tickets are priced at €12.50
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