Interview: White Hills



How has the European tour been?

It’s been amazing!

Any reason for that?

Well I think it’s a few different things. With every release we have a  higher profile – we’ve also been touring over here for some years now, so each time it gets better and better.  We’ve seen a big bump in our audiences in the Netherlands this time around. I think that has to do with playing Roadburn a couple of times. In short it’s just boils down to us busting  our ass, you know? The more you’re out there, the more records you release, the more people are writing about you…it all  translates to better tours.

I imagine that Supersonic will do the same for you as it has in the Netherlands.

Yeah, I hope so.  However, the UK has always been good to us. It is the first place that we came to outside of the U.S.; the third show White Hills ever did was opening up for Julian Cope  at Koko in London, so we’ve always had a fairly strong presence here, and we’ve always had good crowds here. I’m sure playing Supersonic will help to bump it up a bit more. We’ve also seen a big bump in our exposure here with our last album [Hp-1], so that’s nice as well.

I get the impression that the new album attempts to convey a live sound – the sound “as is”.

All the albums are pretty much done live. I’m not a believer in spending a lot of time in the studio or spending a lot of money and fussing over things. When we go into record, there’s a certain amount of material that is set: “okay, this is the exact song, and this is how we will do it”, then there’s other material in which we don’t have much of a handle on how it’s going to end up. We never seem to spend more than two days at at time recording in a studio. We usually don’t listen back to anything right after we play it either; it’s just: “did that feel good? Yeah, it felt great. Next one – boom”.

Sometimes we’ll end up doing two or three versions of a given song, but on H-p1 we didn’t do that – we just barrelled through, and everything that you hear was the take. We did a bunch of improvising too… the entire third side of the vinyl came from improvisations.

You say you don’t like listening to anything straight after recording. Does that always work out well for you?

Not always, but that’s just the way it is. What feels right one day could feel completely wrong the next – often I’ll be really psyched about certain things going into the studio, and often my favourite tracks will be those that I hated when  going in. I just look at it as a daily thing.

And you had a synth player on the record?

Yes we did. Shazzula is her name. She’s somebody that’s played with us about five times live at this point – she’s not a permanent member just one of our many collaborators. We invited her to come the NY to play the Jim Jarmusch curated ATP with us. At that time we were getting our plans together for recording H-p1 and ended up just asking her to “stay and play”  on the album with us.

Ego and myself still ended up overdubbing some synth parts. For example the track “Paradise” is both of us on synth and not Shazzula. This track is actually an outtake from our S/T record and also features the drumming expertise of Kid Millions.

Why did you decide to include it this time round?

The track was one  that didn’t get realised when we were recording the self-titled record. But there was something about the song that I really liked, When I was putting H-p1 together I felt that something was missing, so I went back looking through unused tracks I had lying around. Upon listening to it I found myself really liking the drum part but not the guitar and bass lines that accompanied it. I then muted the guitar and bass and just listened to the drums by themself. They were so powerful on their own, it gave me a jolt of inspiration. So, I got really stoned, took out a synthesiser and started banging away on the it thinking, “Oh my god, this is fucking amazing!” I then had Ego come over and do the same thing. I think it’s  one of the best songs on the record.

It’s my favourite track for sure. So do you tend to go in without an end product in mind?

No, that is not the case. I do have an idea as what I want the end product to be. As I was saying earlier, in regard to the actual music, there are some things that are concrete and some that aren’t. Sometimes it comes out the way I expected it to, and sometimes it doesn’t. Within the working process my original idea tends to morph a bit. I see it in a different light so to speak.

With this last record, I wanted it to be loud. So loud that when someone puts it on, even at a normal volume for themself, they’d have to turn it down, but even within turning it down the record is still loud. I think that was achieved.

This aspect also fits in with the overall concept I had for the record, which is a statement on how we live our lives in the 21st Century. This record screams…just like people screaming. Screaming in frustration, screaming in pain, screaming in disgust.  The album has a concept to it…it’s a protest to the ills of society, but it is not a protest album of your parents generation. Within the nine songs there are only three that have lyrics, and even the lyrics are fairly vague as to what the concept is, but it all fits into this “machine” aspect to everybody’s life – and this beating down of your psyche, the mundaneness of everything. You look at what political and religious systems are doing around the world, and what’s happening financially – it’s all extremely debilitating. And with all of this travelling that we do, we talk to people everywhere; people are physically beaten down and I don’t think they realise it.

The album makes a statement as an entire piece…music and artwork combined. It is like that abstract painting. People can absorb it and take a meaning away from it that is personal.

I’ve heard the term “space rock” used to describe you guys – this concept obviously gives the record a rather gritty approach to the genre, and I’ve heard people saying that Hp-1 actually furthers you from space rock.

Well I don’t think so. Look at Hawkwind: they were a bunch of punks, and their music was abrasive and intense while being very spacey. I think White Hills is a modern version of that – it’s very intense, heavy and spacey.

Would you say that your music is still transcendental? Does it distance yourself from yourself in that manner that is often seen as synonymous with space rock? 

Sure, yes it is. I get that from it all the time. Even some of the heaviest, most straight-ahead music is  transcendental and can make you totally fly in your mind. I specifically called White Hills “space rock”, because that’s what I feel it is – I feel it is spacey music. It’s heavy and rocking, but it’s also “head music”.

I think that’s the great thing about you guys: the loss of self coupled with the attachment to reality, and being able to convey both simultaneously. There’s an aggression that isn’t lost through the “space” aspect. 

Thanks…that is definitely something we strive for.

I hear that you’re re-releasing Heads on Fire on CD too?

Yeah. I didn’t personally re-release it – the label did (Rocket Recordings). I’ve been bugging them for a while as it’s been out of print for so long… finally it has been. To my knowledge there will also be a re-release of the LP at some point next year too.

What’s it like having that material resurge? Have you listened back to it?

I don’t listen back to anything we do. Why should I?  We play tracks off that album live still and we do so because we like them, but they don’t sound like they do on the recording. I like creating new things, so if I’m stuck listening to stuff that I’ve done in the past, I’m not progressing.

What about the listener? Obviously they have the album as it exists at that particular point in time.

Sure, and it means something to them because it touched them at a specific point in their life. That is what gives it meaning to them.  The same thing has happened to me with records at various points in my life.That’s the beautiful thing about what I do. I feel so lucky and fortunate that other people can get pleasure and be touched by  something that was so dear to me within a creative process. Each one is like giving birth. The great thing is that I don’t have to rear it like a child – you give birth to it and it’s done.

Although with live shows, I guess that “child” is still very much with you – do you still maintain a connection with your music after playing it live repeatedly?

There are some songs that we’ve been playing for a good four years, and we continue to play them as they still have a sense of urgency and energy to them.  There are other things that we have stopped playing live as they have lost their oomph for us. It comes from the heart, you know? How can you not have a connection?

So back to the festival tonight. You guys are headlining I guess?

I guess so! We aren’t in the big room though…

You’re in a big room…

I haven’t been over there yet…I haven’t even seen who’s playing today! I thought we were playing earlier.

How do you feel about that?

I really don’t think about it much. The set we’re playing tonight is probably the best configuration of the tracks that we’ve been playing on the tour, and I think it’s the 22nd gig of 23 dates over 25 nights. We’re really fucking tight at the moment – we’re a machine, and if we play the set half as good as we played it last night, it’ll be fucking brutal. It’s going to be a fucking blast.


White Hills on Thrill Jockey –