U.K. trio White Lies may have been making music for a decade, but that doesn't mean they're done growing. Their latest album, Five, has pushed the post-punk band to expand their sound into new territory.
Yet, the band is not afraid to look back. While White Lies continue to tour in support of Five, they're making space to celebrate the 10th anniversary of their debut, To Lose My Life, playing a special tribute show in Utrecht this fall.
The Recording Academy chatted with the White Lies' bassist Charles Cave and lead vocalist/guitarist Harry McVeigh ahead of their set at Corona Capital Fest in Guadalajara about how much they love to tour Mexico, why FIVE is the best album they've done since their debut and what's kept them playing together for more than a decade.
How has Mexico been treating you so far?
Charles Cave: It's great. We always look forward to coming to Mexico. In some ways the U.S. provides a nice slide into Mexico. Not that we don't enjoy being there but it's kind of hard work, it's pretty difficult for us, for any band, I think, of our level to be in the U.S., but you come to Mexico and in a nice way it feels like Europe. There's the same kind of real passion for the arts and for music and you see an enthusiasm from Mexican people towards British music. I don't know at what point in time Mexico just really latched on to some British music, but I know that Morrissey is a massive hit [here].
The Beatles were huge here.
Cave: Beatles, right, exactly. So if we could tour here all the time we would, we love it.
Harry McVeigh: We come here every time we release an album. I think in the last couple of records our profile has just grown a little bit in Mexico and it's made it really viable for us to be here and to make it work. And as Charles said, we love coming here, the crowds are great, people love music and it's very passionate. So we love being here. We come here as much as we can.
So you're playing Corona Capital today—a festival that really wants to get more international acts in cities other than just Mexico City, which tends to be the main destination for touring acts. How does it feel for you to be able to being your music to Guadalajara?
Cave: It's just great. I think the fact that there are festivals like Corona Capital and other things like that in Mexico that are able to bring international acts over, I just think it's great because there are a lot of countries that we would love to play, and we know we have fans where there aren't so many opportunities like that.
For example, in places in South America, in Brazil and Argentina, it's not yet quite so easy for us to get there. Whereas here in Mexico, as Harry mentioned earlier, our profile has risen quite a bit over the last couple of records. Actually, before we did this trip with the U.S. as well, there was the option for us if we wanted to do it of just basically getting on a plane and coming to Mexico and just doing a tour of Mexico and then going home.
We added the U.S. in the end, but it's great to know that we can do that and I think that it's wonderful that Corona Capital and other institutions out here are putting on these international events because in this day and age I think nobody wants close-minded festivals that feel like they're only just having local acts and things like that. All the festivals we play in Europe have acts from all over the world as well.
Tell me about your latest album Five. What or who influenced this album?
McVeigh: It's very hard to say ... It's very hard to pinpoint any specific thing really. We always have a lot of plans as to what we're going to do on the album before we start writing, but they tend to just go out the window as soon as we start working together, Charles and I. And I think that we're influenced by all sorts of different things. Obviously music, but we listen to so much different music and we have very varied music tastes. We spend a couple of hours every day listening to music and trying to find little moments of inspiration. But everything in life could influence how you approach the music and the creative process in general. We read a lot, we watch a lot of movies, we ... I don't know, we go for walks like experience nature.
It sounds quite hippy-dippy to say stuff like that, but it's everything in your life that influences what you make. I suppose it's a representation of where your mind's at and how you're feeling in that particular moment. It's always a very difficult process making music and I think that that's because it's hard to make good music. At the same time, we really enjoy it and we love that creative process for that reason. It really distills your mind at that moment and you can kind of put down how you're feeling and your thoughts into what you're doing and that's really wonderful for us.
Every album we've released has marked a moment in time. Like the first album definitely feels very kind of angsty. It was a lot of teenage angst in there. And as we've got older, I think the albums have really been a good representation of where we're at in our lives. Which is nice for us when we listen back to them, they can transport us back to how we were feeling at that time.
That's a great segue, I was going to ask how you feel like you've grown since your debut 10 years ago.
McVeigh: I think that we've got very good at being self-critical over the years. We really hold ourselves to a much higher standard now then I think we did when we started. Just because perhaps we didn't even really know how to do that when we started. And I think on the first album we were very lucky. People will always say this on your first album: "You have your whole life to write it up until the moment you start recording it, and from then on you only have the time you have in between each album to make the next one." We were very lucky to find really good people to work with, especially [producer] Ed Buller, who's worked on most of our records. He's kind of like a father figure to the band. He really shaped the sound of the band and the music.
But I think since then we've made a few mistakes, especially on our second album, and we've learned from them. I think that we've grown a lot through those mistakes. I really feel that the album we've just made, Five, is the best of all of our albums since the first one. And all of the things that we've learned over the years have really gone into making Five the record that it is.
Cave: Yeah, well I agree. But I think as well as learning to be self-critical, you develop a more subtle stroke with your brush in a way. Like, you learn how to say and do things musically without necessarily having to be so over the top and bold about it. That's not to say that our music has got kind of subtle, it isn't really, but I think that as Harry mentioned before, you know with the first album being 18 years old certainly lyrically and in some ways musically, perhaps at times it's a little bit ... there's not a lot of nuance there, it's pretty in your face, pretty bombastic. Whereas I think on Five, songs like "Time To Give," we just never ever would have been capable of writing pretty much any other time but now.
I don't think we would've written that song with Friends, I certainly don't think we would've written it back when we were 18. For want of a better term, it feels kind of "adult," and it's a nice place to be at.
True, and 10 years is a long time to be in a band. How do you find new ways to be creative together?
Cave: I think we were very lucky. I talk about this quite a lot to actually other musicians as well. We were very lucky that we were friends first, basically. And I'm not saying that's the only thing that keeps bands together, but touring especially is quite a strange existence. I'm not saying it's a bad one but it's strange. You don't really have a home or at least your only home is a bus, basically. And I think that if you're doing that with people that you just get along with okay, I think that would be very lonely.
I also think that we don't take ourselves seriously at all. We take our music very seriously, but in terms of each other and ourselves, we've kind of just big kids. And we go out of our way to sort of take the piss as much as possible. I would say that's a pretty crucial part of White Lies really, is the level of just mucking around.
McVeigh: Yeah, and I will only add one thing to that, which is that I think that we know how to disagree with each other. We know how to have a good conversation about things that perhaps ordinarily other bands might find quite difficult.
What's next after Corona Capital? What are you up to?
Cave: We're playing a headline show at Monterrey. Then we're going to go play hopefully two sold-out nights at Plaza Condesa in Mexico City. And then we're going to go to Queretaro for the first time and we're going to play PULSDO Festival there. So we've got a nice week in Mexico, basically.
And then we get home and we have five days off at home and then we have a show at a festival in Manchester. Then we have a few more days off and then festivals start and we just play festivals quite a lot on the weekend all summer. And then we go to Russia and Ukraine.
Anything else you'd like to add before you go play?
Cave: Only that we're just so grateful to all our fans and to anyone that supports us out in Mexico. We love coming here. It's just a wonderful country to be in, and it's amazing that we can actually come and play music and not just come on holiday. So please keep coming to shows and we'll keep coming back.