White Lies: "always let a song lead you"White Lies/Carry On Press

With their new record Five (it does indeed happen to be their fifth), White Lies are embarking on a bold new adventure. While they have been gradually expanding their sonic palette in the decade since their lauded debut album, 2009’s To Lose My Life…, Five marks the wildest example yet of their diverse influences and tastes. Stretching their post-punk roots to incorporate electronica, krautrock and, yes, pop, the Ealing trio have never seemed more comfortable in testing their limits. New single ‘Tokyo’ is perhaps the grandest gesture towards these new horizons, being a genuinely and even infectiously catchy anthem, while still sounding recognisably like White Lies.

Before they air the album live at the Junction in Cambridge on the 13th February, lyricist and bassist Charles Cave talked to Varsity about maturing as a musician, Picasso, and what they have on their merch stand that nobody else has.

‘Time to Give’ marks a new era for White Lies, and a bold move forward with its structure and mood.

Roughly how long did it take to come up with the album’s title?

A couple of weeks, believe it or not. I was sending some ideas round for the actual artwork, and using ‘Five’ just as a place-saver. Of course it follows on the heels of many records (Peter Gabriel, Led Zeppelin and others that did the same thing). Usually I’d be against it. I think an album should be named after the song or lyric that captures the feeling of the whole record, but in the case of this one that wasn’t possible. The songs take so many different turns and moods that to name it ‘Kick Me’, for example, or a lyric from ‘Time To Give’, would give unfair weight to one of those songs, and take something away from the others.

What were the core influences on the recording of Five?

Harry [McVeigh, frontman] and I listen to more music when we’re writing an album than at any other time. And we really listen to everything. Metal, classical, prog, pop. I remember listening to a lot of Krallice [NYC black metalheads] back then, and also had recently discovered pianist Jan Johansson and his record Jazz på Svenska. And lest we forget Ariana Grande put out the song of the year – ‘No More Tears Left To Cry’ – so I was really enjoying that too.

What do you feel is the most important song on the record?

‘Time to Give’. It’s not necessarily my favourite on the record (though I do love it) but it marks a new era for White Lies, and a bold move forward with its structure and mood.

Think how different your diary entries would be now from the ones from your final teenage years. That’s what happens to creative pursuits too.

‘Tokyo’ might be the most open-hearted pop song you’ve released yet. Did you ever draw back from its catchy synths, or did you just roll with it?

You have to roll with it. Always let a song lead you. The moment you start to pull things back, you’re actually compromising your integrity, not maintaining it. I think it was Picasso that said, “Ah good taste! What a terrible thing! Good taste is the enemy of creativity.”

The new video for ‘Tokyo’ is equally arresting, with an array of visually stunning scenes. What’s the story behind the video, and do you still enjoy the creative process of constructing music videos?

I enjoy the process of making a music video in that I enjoy handing over all creative freedom to another artist. We’ve now made four videos with director David Pablos and it’s still such a joy to work with him, and to see his vision for our music. It was a fascinating week in Tijuana with him and his team. A sort of anthropological awakening that we haven’t had since visiting Nikel in Siberia for the ‘Farewell to the Fairground’ video ten years ago.

Single 'Tokyo' is accompanied by a visually arresting videoWhite Lies/YouTube

It’s been ten years since your debut album, To Lose My Life… What do you feel is the biggest change in your music since then?

Nuance and humility. The songs on To Lose My Life... were written with secondary-school poetry still coursing through my veins. There was little subtlety to that record, and in many ways that’s why it worked so well for that time. It’s the perfect 19-year-old album to a degree. It captures a sort of very British teenage angst well, I think. It would be impossible to write a record like that again – at any other time than 18 or 19. Such a potent age to be making creative work. I often say it’s like diary entries. Think how different your diary entries would be now from the ones from your final teenage years. That’s what happens to creative pursuits too.


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Are there any of your songs that get the crowd going more in particular countries?

Good question. Nowadays we have means of actually seeing which songs are most popular in different cities or countries – thanks to streaming services. I would say more than country, it’s often down to venue and atmosphere. A song like ‘Swing’ can be a set highlight for us in the right venue with a level of intimacy. But it’s rare that we try that one in a field of 100,000 people.

What’s your favourite item from the merch table?

Oooooh. It would have to be the book we’ve had made in collaboration with RNIB. A braille book of all the lyrics to Five, presented in such a wonderful way. It’s the first time a band has ever done it. Ask at the merch stand for one of the last 500 copies, or check out our website for one. There’s a few left, but once they’re gone, that’s it!

White Lies’ new record Five is out now, and the band play the Cambridge Junction on 13th February. Tickets can be purchased here.

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