White Lung talks “Paradise”, and punk rock elitism

White Lung (Photo: Rick Rodney)

White Lung (Photo: Rick Rodney)

Growing from their punk roots, White Lung returns with their fourth studio album Paradise, which follows their critically acclaimed 2014 LP, Deep Fantasy. The album, which is set for release today (May 6th) via Domino, features the single, “Hungry”, whose music video stars Amber Tamblyn (Sisterhood Of The Traveling Pants, The Ring, 127 Hours, House).

Gradin says the video “plays with identity and perception, and the idea that sometimes public attention can create more isolation and delusion,” adding that it focuses on a self-obsessed girl as she struggles to seem important, while being haunted by the ghosts of fame, until her eventual epiphany of disposability.

In our new interview, lead singer Mish Barber-Way and guitarist Kenneth William tell us about the writing and recording process of Paradise, punk rock elitism, and more!

You said that you did a lot of things unnatural to rock records on this album. Can you expand on that a bit? Did it have anything to do with wanting to differ from the comparisons people have made?

Kenneth: Yeah, first of all, we couldn’t do all of us in a room with a bunch of microphones rocking out, because there was only three of us and we didn’t really finish writing the song before we got in the studio. (laughs) We recorded it all on ProTools, so we recorded a bunch of little pieces and added some over dubs after.

There was a lot of re arranging and pitch shifting guitar parts and stuff, running them through a ton of pedals. Some of the stuff that is on the record is actually samples that were recorded on my iPhone. We did a bunch of stuff on the computer. We just wanted to mess around with a bunch of equipment, maybe do things purposefully wrong sometimes, just to give it an edgier, more unnatural sound for this record.

Mish: We had the main goal of not wanting to work with a producer that was nostalgic, or making things sound old, or anything like that. So Lars was on board right away with, “okay, lets take the basic set up of drums, bass, guitar, and vocals and play with it using all the technology that we can to make it sound like it’s not just those instruments all the time.”

Something that is really important for our band is that we’re able to duplicate things live. Because we extended and did things that we’ve never done before, that was a whole new challenge when it came to making the songs live, but we championed that. You have to keep challenging yourself, or else it gets boring.

Kenneth: I feel like a lot of times bands get “oh this band really loves the 90’s, or 60’s garage rock,” so to make it sound a bit fresher and newer, we used a bunch of stuff that didn’t exist back then. (laughs)

Mish: Yeah, exactly. People associate our band with bands and eras that I don’t think we sound like at all, it maybe has a lot to do with me personally with influences. You say one thing four years ago and it gets recycled forever, because people are lazy. We always get compared to 90’s bands, we don’t sound anything like 90’s bands. 90’s bands played chords and then they had one guitar player on top.

Kenny has never played chords in his life. Maybe on this record on “Hungry”, [but] that’s the first time. We don’t have that sound, people don’t actually listen to the music. They’re just listening to the emotion, it’s stupid. We really wanted to make the record bright, clean, and modern, not grasping at an era that passed by.

I’m sure it could be frustrating being compared to bands that you don’t even like, or wasn’t what you were trying to accomplish when you put the song out there.

Mish: Yeah, of course, but that’s just the nature of criticism and review, because everyone has a different catalogue that they’re pulling from. Everyone’s got a different block of references that they know, so I could think that Viet Cong sounds a bit like Royal Trux, but if some other doesn’t know who Royal Trux are, then they don’t get that reference. Everyone is working within the confines of their own music catalogue that they pull from. So it’s fine, it’s just the nature of what it is. You can’t take it too personally, or get too mad about it.

Lars Stalfors produced the album and you said he was the right producer and right influence. What would you say he brought to the album and how did he influence your process?

Kenneth: I would say the biggest thing about it was the freedom of writing in the studio, arranging it all in ProTools and having the freedom to mess it up and use a bunch of different pedals. He’s someone who’s very modern and current I think and that’s what we wanted.

Mish: Yeah, and he said to me, I remember, when we first met him, “look, quote unquote on punk records, the vocals are always thought about as this after thought and they’re not really treated with the same care, so let’s really work on the vocals. Let’s make the best melodies.” Because I told him I like a lot of feedback in the studio, I want to work together, I don’t want you to leave me alone, I want you to make me a better songwriter, and he definitely did that.

He really helped me to make the best melodies I could and challenge myself. Lars is really good at his job and he’s going to be very, very successful. He had a nice hand in this record and I don’t think it would’ve turned out quite the same without him. I loved working with him. He’s also not afraid, like there would be stuff that we were afraid of and he would push us past all our worries. He’d convince me first and I would convince the other two. “Hungry” almost got cut because Anne-Marie [Vassiliou] thought it was a snooze. It’s a great pop song, so stuff like that.

White Lung released their new album, Paradise, on May 6th via Domino.

White Lung released their new album, Paradise, on May 6th via Domino.

You decided to go more in a pop/synthy direction with this album. Was that solely because you wanted it to sound like it was a 2016 album, or were there other influences?

Mish: There was no synth on this record, that was all guitars with weird pedals that Kenny is using. Kenny is a big fan of electronic music and I know that’s him treating the format, we were treating the songs in a way like they were electronic and I just mean that in the sense of, “okay we’ve made a song and now we can cut and paste using ProTools and move all these parts around to see what works better here. Maybe this guitar part is better here.” That’s all I mean about that, this is still a rock n’ roll record.

Kenneth: There was definitely that kind of stuff, but I feel like that’s for the best. If the entire time I was writing this record I was listening to old Dead Kennedys songs or whatever, it would sound re-hashed, so I tried to bring in some other stuff. A lot of the stuff that sounds like synthesizers is just guitar pedals, or some of it we re pitched on the computer.

Many punks really do have a certain thick skulled mindset that growth and genre hopping is almost like betrayal of their fans, but the album does still feel like rock and roll record and has a bit of a punk heart to it. What do you think that spawns from and do you think your fans will receive the change well?

Mish: That kind of mindset is very specific to underground genres, because you come up different. The whole idea is that you’re doing this not because you want attention, or because you want money, you’re doing it because you love it. So you play in basements, you toil your way across the country, you sleep on floors, that’s your whole thing, and fuck everyone else. So if you make a jump, then you’re betraying. I spoke on a panel with Nate from the Foo Fighters and Walter who did the Gorilla band. Because they were all in the 90’s, we were talking about selling out and betrayal and all that stuff and I was just like, this is only specific to the punk rock genre. Maybe some very elite noise, or other genres like that, but those genres stay… noise stays where it is. You become big in a cult way.

No one ever (laughs) dogs on a pop star for taking an endorsement, or making a bigger record, because your goal to begin with is to be huge, and to be a star. When you start in punk, your goal isn’t to be a star, or it’s not supposed to be. So it’s this weird thing, but it’s super irrational and super illogical, because if you didn’t care about anyone hearing your music, you wouldn’t take all of these opportunities that arise.

We never called ourselves a punk band. We played in that circuit when we began, because that was the only place to play, we liked playing that and we kept playing the only places that would take us. We were never like, “we’re a punk band!” We don’t have that bratty, juvenile, ridiculous attitude. We’ve never had that attitude.

Kenneth: Yeah, it’s just not the type of thing people should care about.

Mish: No! So elitist and dumb!

Kenneth: I don’t understand why you’re doing it if you’re doing it to please. It’s not something I think about a lot.

Mish: No. Like you don’t want me to become a better songwriter and challenge myself? Why? You weirdo. That’s like a parent being excited that their kid never graduated kindergarten and can’t move on. “Oh I’m so glad that you’ve never progressed.” We’re not genre hopping to the point where this whole record is all acoustic and electronic, we’ve thrown our guitars out the window and we’re making stuff with computers. It’s still a White Lung record, it’s just better than the last one. Big freaking deal.

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