INTERVIEW: Harry and Jack of White Lies look back on their time spent in Boston, approach to touring “Five” and much more!
Back in 2009 is when I first fell in love with music. Everything to do with it. Discovering new music, going to shows, writing labors of love about new records that I heard, the bug was bit. I started accepting band friend requests on Myspace (i.e. fully aging myself) and went all out. One of those first bands that requested me? The boys in White Lies who were releasing their debut album and now ten years later, the band just put out their fifth full length album, aptly titled “Five”, and just completed their latest North American run in support.
It all came full circle when I sat down with Harry McVeigh and Jack Lawrence-Brown from the band just before their sold-out Boston show. A city where they don’t know what to expect considering in my own words, we’re a sleepy little city at times, but the crowd fully came out strong for the band that night. Harry and Jack looked back at their history in playing shows here as a band, the first show of their tour that had gone down in NYC the night before and oh, so much more. Find our chat below and stay those dedicated fans they’ve always had. For those who are new to the band, get hip, because this talented group shows no signs of slowing down.
Diving right into it, I know this is only the second show of this US run, but your kind of packing it into this week. Toronto as well, going to California, so I’m sure it’s been a little hectic. With you, Harry, being in the states now.
Harry McVeigh: Oh, I don’t, I just moved back actually.
Oh, you just moved back. Never mind then!
Harry: Yeah, beginning of this year but yeah, I was in San Francisco for a couple years.
Then how was last night? I know it was a sold-out show, tonight’s sold out. How was last night, being the first US show for “Five”.
Jack Lawrence-Brown: In all honesty, it was really nerve wracking for us. We had all sorts of technical issues that you get on the first show of a tour. Because we don’t travel with all our equipment, we have to rent bits and pieces, so boring stuff but the soundcheck was stressful. We didn’t even really get a proper soundcheck in the end. We went on stage slightly, very anxious. Certain members of us enjoyed it more then others. Me, it was okay and my sound on stage was good. Actually, the sound on stage was really good, I know that because I’m the sort of boring person who goes through all the Instagram videos where people tag us. Watch these little minute clips of the show and it sounded good. Actually, you wouldn’t have known.
Harry: I enjoyed it, myself.
Jack: We really liked it; it was just really stressful for us.
Harry: You couldn’t really move around the stage very much. Basically, the problem was we couldn’t really use our in-ear monitors. They weren’t working so I had to be plugged in. I had a cable attached to me.
Jack: You had a little tail.
Harry: I had a tail yeah, to the whole gear.
Jack: You had this sort of four-foot radius.
Harry: Yeah, so that was very different for me. In the first song I stepped forward to the front of the stage and went, oh I can’t go there. That’s a part of the stage that’s off limits to me now for the rest of the show. But it was good in the end. It felt nice! It felt like people had been, to me anyways, waiting a long time for us to play again. In the States and New York. Everyone was excited and were up for it. Very friendly crowd, nice crowd.
That must have felt good then with all the anxiety going on in the background.
Harry: For me, the anxiety disappears after the first song anyways. Whatever the state any of our gear is in, when you get into the set of the show, you just must get on with it, don’t you? Put those stresses in the back of your mind. And we are supposed to be professional musicians but yeah it was fun. It was a nice venue and New York is amazing. It’s been a long time since we had been there and it’s always quite overwhelming when you get there and you kind of forget how the city feels I suppose. It feels like being on a film set or something.
We’re a little sleepier in Boston.
Jack: But it’s cute around here. It’s nice! We’ve been coming here to Boston for years as well.
Harry: Yeah, we did it on our first ever tour here. I think even before the Friendly Fires tour and I think we played next to the Red Sox stadium. At a bar somewhere.
Jack: Yeah, we played a pub around the corner. We have good memories of coming here. It’s the best place and it’s one of those old things, I guess it’s because it’s a big college town, but it’s nice to find places where you don’t really expect to sell shows out. Because they aren’t huge shows. It’s not a give in for us as a band when we come to play America to sell shows out. New York and LA are bigger shows where we get close to selling out, but everywhere else just feels like, who knows? It could be fifty people there; it could be five hundred people there. You don’t really know, but it’s nice that this one is sold out far in advance. I feel like it will be a good night tonight because it’s a Friday as well. I heard the Celtics are playing too, I guess that’s important to people.
Both teams are in playoffs, yeah, the Bruins and the Celtics.
Jack: Harry understands it.
Harry: They’re doing well this year, the Celtics, right? I was supporting the Warriors in San Francisco. It felt good arriving in the city just the best basketball team in the US being there. So, I didn’t have to feel too guilty about supporting them because they were right there. We went to see them play a couple times; it was quite lovely. I got really into basketball it’s the one American sport I can understand.
I mean you lived in a city where they had such a winning team.
Harry: Yeah exactly. I never watched the baseball I couldn’t get into it. The Giants aren’t bad either.
Too long of a game.
Harry: Too long of a game yeah.
Jack: Well I like cricket. Cricket is tedious to people who don’t understand it but I love it.
I’m sure! Then coming into this tour, it is just a handful of dates. It’s something special for these cities and fans that have been supporting you for a long time, like Toronto and San Francisco, Boston, New York. The album is still so new, I want to say just over three months old, February 1st. Is it a big focus in this set? Obviously, it’s a big, exciting chapter for you guys, a departure for you guys. How much is it integrated into the set?
Harry: Yeah, we’re playing a lot of the record. We didn’t have our hearts set on it to be honest. We’ve never really been precious about our shows. We just try to play what people want to hear and I think we kind of get an understanding of that as the tour goes on. At the start of the tour we were playing eight out of the nine songs just to see which one’s kind of landed. And now I think we’re playing probably seven of the nine. But yeah, the response to the album has been good and people seem to be enjoying the songs live. We’ve been really happy to play them, so it’s been nice for us. That we can play them, play new stuff rather than just focusing on the old songs. We play a lot of the old songs as well, try to get a good mix of all the albums.
Jack: We got overexcited at the start of this tour actually because we were doing sets pushing towards two hours. Just because we couldn’t work out what songs to cut, then like Harry said, when you’ve done something a few times, you can start to understand which songs aren’t necessary there. Which ones stop the set flowing, so we’re down to about an hour and thirty, hour and forty minutes now, which still feels like a long set. It’s still a long set, but we’re not entering The Cure territory yet so it’s fine.
Perfect, then you’ve been a band I believe since 2007. I’m sure you started writing ‘Five’ not two months before it came out. It’s something where you’ve been a band about ten years. Even though you’ve been a band for so long, do you think the writing process still changes, maybe something new you tried on this record? I know for it, you were here (in California), you recorded in London, but you also were recording in California, so obviously that’s different.
Harry: I think we always start each record in the same way. Charles and I just work from home mainly, my house in London. We don’t really have any goals in mind when we start writing or rather, sometimes we do but it never really comes to fruition. It sounds so cheesy, but you have to go where the music takes you. You can only write in the moment and you just have to cling on to anything you do that’s good and let that kind of guide you. So yeah, we’ll often have plans before we start writing, of things we want to try to do, and very few of them ever turn out well in the end. I think that we’ve got better at writing and I think that’s something that we work quite hard on. I think that comes from turning a critical eye on ourselves and trying to really dig into the songs and think how about if they’re really actually good. And whether they stand up on their own, without any consideration or production or sounds, just the pure song. I imagine we will at some point try lots of different things, new things, but I think so far in our career, it’s been more about honing our process. And trying to improve it incrementally and in small steps. That goes across everything, from the writing to the recording and who we work with and where we work. I think on this last album; we got the full immerse as perfect as it’s ever been and there’s probably still some work to do.
But if it works, it works. Obviously, you’re comfortable with each other, you’re still doing it this long down the road.
Jack: Exactly, and without too much drama. That’s the main thing and we’re still friends which is nice.
Always good! Then speaking of ten years, you have an incredibly sold out show coming up at the end of the year. The ten-year anniversary of your debut album. An almost five thousand capacity room to come here to play to five hundred cap rooms.
Harry: Well, we haven’t played venues that size for a long time. We played Brixton on the first album ten years ago. We wanted to try and recreate that show, that feeling from ten years ago. We were a much bigger band then basically then we are now.
But it must feel good to have it sell out. To know the fans are still there.
Jack: Yeah! And it will be a special show. For us, on a personal level, I think we’ll be able to enjoy that show so much more than we would have enjoyed the shows at the time. Just because we were really young. We put on good shows, people loved our shows, and they were exciting but just for us, it was so adrenaline fueled that it felt like they were over in a blink of an eye. It will be fun to go do those songs again and play a range of stuff. Because we’ll do two parts, we’ll play a bunch of stuff from the remaining four albums. Give people just a really special night, something that you don’t see every day. There’s a definitely a difference between doing those shows and doing shows like this here but they all require quite a lot of work. And the way you go about it is maybe slightly different. Tonight’s show, we have much more of a direct connect with the crowd then when you’re in Brixton but our shows in America over our career so far have been really positive. It’s a shame that it’s hard for us to get here and it makes sense for us. If we were doing a little better then this, maybe a 1,000 people, it would be easier for us to get here. But at this stage we kind of have to do it on our own dollar to a degree. Which is frustrating. The demand is obviously there, we’re just not quite the level that we need to be to come here more basically. Which is a shame. I would encourage anyone who fancies a proper night out in London in December to book their flights to come over and see the ten-year anniversary show. You won’t regret it, we promise.
There’s a lot of people traveling to it. I can see on our online store where people are buying tickets from for those shows and it’s from all over the world. There are people from Singapore coming in, like every post we ever put on the internet, there are a thousand comments of “Come to Brazil!” There’s people coming from Brazil to the show. They’ve understood that no matter how many times they ask us to come to Brazil, we’re still not quite able to come to Brazil right now. It’s great! There will be people from everywhere in the world at our show and it will be a real communal event.
Harry: And a celebration for us.
I know a girl personally that lives here who’s going to Reading and Leeds for one band.
But they’re literally from the states, they’re called Night Riots. They just haven’t played a show in Boston in a while.
Jack: Well it’s a good festival.
It’s a great festival, and I see all these videos, I mean I cover American bands too obviously, but I see these videos of bands like Deaf Havana or Architects, who I’m interviewing in a few weeks when they’re here. I know they’re so different from you being metal but these shows that you guys get to play over there and the energy at these festivals is incredible. We just don’t have that here.
Jack: It’s a whole different vibe.
Harry: There’s a long history of festivals in the UK as well. I don’t really know why it didn’t take off in the same way over here. Because you have these iconic festival moments, you think about the Isle of Wight Festival in ’68 and then Woodstock here. But then its kind of carried in the UK. It didn’t really stick in the same way as it did in the UK. I don’t know what that is though. Maybe people can just put up with the rain better. The monotony of the UK.
We have one festival in Boston and it’s right over here by Harvard at their Athletic Complex, but it’s not at all like anything that you guys have.
Jack: Is it not a camping thing?
No one camps yeah, everyone like takes the T in, which is the subway here. It’s very different.
Jack: That’s like a rite of passage when you’re growing up in London especially. All of us in the band, after we get our exam results in school, we’d get the train to Reading Festival. Camp there for the weekend and just have the hugest party, it’s so fun. It’s just the weekend where you’re allowed to be really naughty and then have to go back to real life.
Then I keep saying, this North American run only goes to the 9th. Are you flying to the dates?
Harry: Well, originally, our managers were having us on a bus between Toronto and San Francisco but we’re actually going to fly. It will be nice to spend a couple of days in that city again.
Well than maybe after this US run, you just did a huge tour around Europe from what I saw for “Five”. You have the festival announced, Pinkpop, so you obviously have some things coming up. That big show at the end of the year, but maybe some focuses or goals for White Lies in these next few months?
Harry: Don’t know really. The tour at the beginning of the year really took it out of me, I think. I felt really sort of wrecked after it so I’m looking forward to a few weeks off. Barren weeks where we’re not doing very much. My wife and I just bought a new house as well so we’re going to be moving in as soon as we get back from this tour. And I’m going to be doing a lot of D.I.Y, I think. Just trying to build a sort of domestic life. I imagine at some point this year we’ll do a bit of writing. Try to get into the studio again at some point. And yeah, think about the future but it’s not too stressful for us now. I think that was one thing that we really gained from “Five”, perhaps more so than we ever have, is the feeling that this is a proper sort of career now. With the fifth album out and ten years in, it feels like you can do it kind of indefinitely. Which is nice, it’s good.
You’ve reached a milestone that a lot of bands will never reach.
Jack: Absolutely, it’s a really good feeling. I think that’s testament to our fan’s commitment as much as anything else as well. They’ve really stuck with us since the very first record and would have been easy for a lot of them to turn it off or tune out. For whatever reason, our music has stuck with them for a long time and it’s great!