How the indie stars kept their cool and found a thundering new sound on latest album Ritual.
It’s a cold, dark night at the end of 2010 and White Lies are taking to the stage of east London boxing venue York Hall to showcase material from their highly anticipated second album, Ritual. Vocalist Harry McVeigh stands defiantly at the front of the stage, his deep, powerful voice booming through the majority of the record’s ten tracks. The singer is flanked by band mates Jack Lawrence-Brown (on drums) and Charles Cave (bass) while above the stage a coat of arms displays the words “From great things to greater.” It’s a motto that could easily describe White Lies themselves – it quickly becomes apparent that they have taken the grandeur and drama of their 2009 debut, To Lose My Life…, and amplified it all to a near-biblical level for their second offering. While playing one of the new tracks, the walls of the venue shake with the bass from the guitars, McVeigh’s vocals thunder over the music and the strobe lights behind the band blaze to a blinding level. It’s pretty transcendental.
When Wonderland meets the band at a later date, we confess to having had something of a spiritual experience. McVeigh’s dismissive: “God could probably hit five octaves. I can only do three.” So then, despite a chart-topping debut, and overwhelmingly positive reviews for Ritual, the guys haven’t let success go to their heads.
“I just think we are very realistic people,” offers Cave. “We’re very aware that all this could just disappear and if it does we’ll go and do something else with our lives. We don’t have great plans for the future – we just work in the present and work hard.”
White Lies formed in 2007, since when they’ve supported A-list acts like Coldplay and Jay Z, but now they’re playing their own shows, at major venues. For the new record, the band’s drafted in legendary producer Alan Moulder, who has worked with everyone from Depeche Mode and Placebo to Nine Inch Nails and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, and who’s helped to beef up the White Lies sound into something richer, more mature, more layered. Lead single “Bigger Than Us,” with its reverby synths and chugging bassline is a prime example.
This is all a far cry from a project that was intended as nothing more than a hobby for three friends to get involved in. “We never talked about wanting to be a famous, successful band,” continues Cave. “We just enjoyed making music and got on with it. If we stopped enjoying it, we wouldn’t do it.”
Accolades followed White Lies’ debut: Q named them Best New Band, Mojo gave them their Breakthrough Award and they also picked up a Best Rock Band trophy from Eskra, a Polish magazine (White Lies have a huge Polish following). Cue: sex, drugs, rock & roll? “To be quite honest,” says Cave, “I think we do experience the rock star lifestyle, but in 2011 it’s fairly mundane. It’s not very cool to be in a band anymore. From the 60s to the 80s girls were flinging themselves at musicians…” there is a pause while he thinks before concluding tactfully, “it’s not a very justifiable thing to be doing with your life.”
Lawrence-Brown has his own concerns: “There’s quite a family vibe between us and all our crew,” he says. “If any of us started doing anything too rock and roll either our crew would take the piss out of us or we would take the piss out of each other. We’d feel a bit awkward.”
McVeigh simply can’t be bothered. “I don’t even go out when I’ve got time off. I’m a really lazy person that way. I love going to the pub – that’s one of my favourite places to be but I would never go to a club or anywhere loud. I might go to the odd gig, but that has been kind of ruined for me as we’ve played so many it kind of takes the mystery away.”
Success has given the band a golden ticket to some of the biggest events in showbiz, but despite sharing billing with big names and bumping into icons like Yoko Ono and ZZ Top, they’re admirably cool about it all. However, they are not immune to being star struck. “Dave Grohl gave me a back rub!” McVeigh says gleefully – apparently it was part of a plan by their tour manager to “weird out” the front man. “It didn’t weird me out – it just made me very excited,” McVeigh continues. “I love Dave Grohl. He’s one of the best drummers in the world and he’s a really nice guy. He’s honest and not an arsehole and doesn’t slag people off.”
Photography: Alex Sainsbury
Words: Seamus Duff
This article first appeared in Wonderland #25, February/March 2011