Jack Lawrence-Brown is a bit stressed. It’s mid January. In less than two weeks White Lies hit the road for four months. They’re playing 55 dates across Europe and North America. They’re marking the 10th anniversary of their debut album. Oh, and they’re launching a new LP.
“This is always one of the toughest parts,” the drummer admits, looking ahead to the release of Five on 1 February. “It’s all done, you’ve had it done for a little while, and you’re just drip-feeding songs to people, constantly checking the internet to see what they’re making of it all.
“Once it’s out, it’s out and you can’t do anything about it. I much prefer that situation – I’m still nervous at the moment, to be honest.”
But Lawrence-Brown and his band mates, singer-guitarist Harry McVeigh and bassist Charles Cave, are also quietly confident.
“We really feel like we couldn’t have done any more with the record – we’re all very, very pleased with it. As it stands, the record is exactly the record we want now,” he says of the self-produced, self-financed LP. “We’ve got complete creative freedom over the whole thing. You can’t ask for much more than that, I think.”
That confidence isn’t misplaced. Five is, quite simply, their strongest album yet: ambitious, thrilling, and undeniably self-assured.
“I attribute that to many things,” says the drummer. “Maybe it’s just that Harry and Charles were on a roll when they were doing lots of writing. Or maybe it’s as simple as they’re better songwriters: Charles’ lyrics are better than before, I think that would also be true.”
Experience also contributed to the self-assurance. Already having self-produced 2016’s Friends, they were less worried about going it alone. And, in turn, no record label involvement meant they could take bigger risks.
“We were super confident with the songs. We were really happy with how they were demoed, and we knew that if we were going to do it this way we had to be pretty bold and pretty committed to every single thing we put down.”
Helping along the way, and giving them a confidence boost in the process, were the owners of Assault & Battery Studios, producers Alan Moulder and Flood.
“We didn’t have the budget to get Alan Moulder to mix it, but he did it as a favour. He said: ‘I’d love to do another record for you guys, and I know that you’re not going to be able to pay my usual rate I charge the Smashing Pumpkins, but I’ll make it work’,” Lawrence-Brown remembers.
Flood, who’s worked with everyone from U2 to Depeche Mode, joined in after Moulder played him a few of the album demos.
“He literally came in for half a day and just messed around on his synth,” underplays Lawrence-Brown. “He said: ‘I’m just going to come and do it for a laugh.’ And when somebody does that, when they’re going out of their way because they like you as a band or as people, it does make you more confident in what you’re doing.”
The final cheerleader, and sometime critic, was long-time collaborator Ed Buller. The Suede and Pulp veteran, who produced White Lies’ debut album, was essential during pre-production for his no-nonsense approach.
“He was brutal with us from day one,” laughs Lawrence-Brown, thinking back to their first meeting in 2008. “But he doesn’t mean it in a negative way, he just wants you to know.
“When you take a song to him, he doesn’t spend half an hour talking about all the great things about it, he immediately says what’s wrong with it and works from that. So, when you play songs for him, you basically brace yourself because he’s going to tell you a lot of it’s bad, and then you’ve got to try again.
“That’s the creative process with Ed and for us it’s great. We’re over the point now where we’re scared or intimidated by people in studio and basically we know he’s only going to say that to us because he wants it to be good.”
Take Time To Give, Five’s seismic opening track. Almost eight minutes long, it’s easily the most ambitious song in the White Lies catalogue. But it wasn’t always that way.
“We had a song that was a verse and a chorus, so about two minutes long. After he heard it, Ed said: ‘That’s really boring, that song needs so much doing to it.’,” laughs the drummer.
Buller suggested they make it three times longer and use what Lawrence-Brown describes as “a never-ending ascending chord progression”. So they did.
“By the end, it became a bit of a joke for us to see how many times around we could go with a slightly different progression each time,” he explains. “We wanted to draw it out to the point of ridiculousness and see what happens.”
Initially, they laughed off the final demo as “a bit mad”. But, after some more work in the studio, the trio realised they hadn’t “ruined the song by trying to do too much with it”. Instead, he says, “that song is about us pushing the boundary of what it could be and turning it from a fairly boring two-minute concept into the longest song we’ve ever written and one of the most interesting”.
It’s certainly not a song White Lies could have written for To Lose My Life… But Lawrence-Brown is justifiably proud of their debut LP, released when all three members were still teenagers.
“I genuinely think it’s an amazing record,” he admits. “I can say that now with some distance to it because there was definitely a period between 2012 and 2017 where I sort of fell out of love with a lot of those songs just through overplaying them, to be honest.”
Now he’s grateful for the endurance of songs like Death and Unfinished Business.
“If we never make another album that’s considered as good as that again, then I don’t really care. That’s fine. If people consider that to be our high point, then that’s nothing to be ashamed of,” he elaborates. “It’s just stayed with people in a huge way and a lot of bands never get that at all. A lot of bands will never have that moment, so if we’ve had it once and if it’s only going to be once, that’s still absolutely fine by us.”
Lawrence-Brown’s memories of the time following the album’s release are slightly more fraught.
“There were times in the first three years for sure when members of our band were close to burnout and we were getting to ends of tours just about without somebody having a breakdown,” he grimaces.
“That’s just due to the fact that we had a number one record and we were being paid by the label to fly everywhere to do everything. There was no point where someone said: ‘Maybe it would be nice for you to have a few weeks down just to get your headspace back.’”
Instead they were sent from city to city on the seemingly endless cycle seen in virtually every film about a rock band on tour.
“Honestly we wouldn’t be able to do that now, physically or mentally,” admits the drummer. “Everything since then has been a bit more on our own terms and a little more relaxed, which has definitely helped a lot.”
When Lawrence-Brown says “relaxed”, it’s all relative of course. White Lies will be spending the next four months touring relentlessly.
“It’s going to be a tough one for sure, physically and emotionally,” he confirms. But he’s looking forward to playing live again, especially since the songs from Five are already hitting the mark with fans.
“I’m especially excited about Tokyo,” the drummer says. “Along with Time To Give, it could be one of maybe three tracks off the new record that could really be big euphoric moments in the show.”
White Lies UK tour dates
31st January: Brighton, Concorde
1st February: Bristol, SWX
3rd February: Leeds, Academy
4th February: Newcastle, Boiler Shop
5th February: Glasgow, QMU
7th February: Liverpool, Olympia
8th February: Manchester, Albert Hall
9th February: Nottingham, Rock City
11th February: Edinburgh, Liquid Rooms
13th February: Cambridge, Junction
14th February: London, Forum
15th February: Birmingham, Institute
Interview with White Lies by Nils van der Linden. Portraits by Pauline Di Silvestro.