Interview with White Lies singer Harry McVeigh: We’ve always been compared to a lot of 80s bands

In Interviewsby indiespect

Since their successful debut «To Lose My Life…» ten years passed by. With the fifth and latest record «Five», White Lies played in the Italian speaking part of Switzerland for the first time on the 27th July this year. They headlined the last night at the ROAM Festival  in Lugano. Ahead of the show, a relaxed and well rested Harry McVeigh took some time for an interview. The singer talked about his band, the artworks as well as the upcoming anniversary shows.

White Lies Are:

Harry McVeigh (vocals, guitar)
Charles Cave (bass)
Jack Lawrence-Brown (drums)

Indiespect: Welcome to Lugano. I saw in your Instagram stories that you’ve already visited the Lido to take a swim in the lake.

Harry McVeigh: We wanted to. But it was raining so heavy. Jack went there before we did soundcheck in the morning. The weather was quite nice by then.

Indiespect: When did you arrive?

Harry: We got here yesterday.

Indiespect: So, you’re relaxed because you could sleep for long enough?

Harry: Yes, I slept a lot, actually. It’s crazy. I slept until one today and then I’ve just had a nap for a couple of hours in the afternoon. I don’t know what’s wrong with me. I’m sleeping so much. I guess we didn’t have much sleep, yesterday.

White Lies

Harry McVeigh, Jack Lawrence-Brown, Charles Cave (from left to right).

Indiespect: You’ve played the «Y Not Festival» in England before?

Harry: We played Y Not on Thursday and then we travelled here yesterday. We got quite an early flight and we were sleeping on our bus the night before.

Indiespect: In February you’ve released your latest record called «Five». For a band it must always be a special feeling to play the new songs live for the first time. Is it more excitement or are you also afraid of how the fans react on them?

Harry: Definitely excitement. We’re really big fans of the album. We think we did a good job on it and we wrote some good songs. We are really pleased with it and proud. We were excited to learn the new songs. But there’s also a bit of nervousness, I suppose. You don’t know how they’re going to be received. Even a song that you really love on the record or in fact sometimes a song that your fans really love on the record, might not necessarily translate that well into a live show. The first few shows you’re figuring that out. For us, we’re never too precious about playing the new songs. If they don’t work in the set, then we just take them out and will play old songs instead.

we’re never too precious about playing the new songs. If they don’t work in the set, then we just take them out
and will play old songs instead.Harry McVeigh, White Lies

Indiespect: So, it’s not that you want to play all the new songs if you have a new record?

Harry: It doesn’t have to be that way. We always learn the new songs but we don’t have to play them. But we were really comfortable quite quickly. We learned after the first couple of shows which songs are working and which weren’t. We just took the ones that weren’t working out of the set.

White Lies

White Lies during their set at the ROAM Festival, Lugano

Indiespect: I asked that question because I often have the feeling that fans want to hear hits, old songs or even b-sides. How does that feel for you as a band? Is it difficult?

Harry: No, it’s never that challenging. As I said before, we’re not really too precious about that. It doesn’t bother us too much what songs we play as long as we put on a good show and the fans want to see us. It would perhaps worry us, if the songs weren’t good enough. But there are quite few songs on this album that have gone down well live. We’re happy with the album and we’re happy that we can play them. Also, we love the old songs as well. We really love all of our records one way or another. It’s good to play songs from across our career. It’s nice that we can pick a few songs from each album and play songs that are ten years old and people still want to hear them.

Indiespect: After the festival tour you’re playing some «To Lose My Life…» anniversary shows towards the end of 2019. Are you already practicing the songs?

Harry: We are. We kind of got an idea of what the shows gonna be like in our heads. We have a good junk of rehearsal time. Three or four days to rehearse all of the songs that we haven’t played for ten years.

White Lies

With E.S.T. White Lies showed a glimpse of what to expect of the anniversary shows.

Indiespect: Are there some of them that you’ve never played live?

Harry: No. I think at some point we have played them. When we first started, we only had that album and the b-sides. To play for an hour, we had to just play everything. Our headline show at Brixton Academy in London, ten years ago, was 45 minutes long. We have played all of the songs at some point but haven’t played them for a very long time. We need to figure out how to do them again.

Indiespect: So, you’re going to play the album in order.

Harry: Yeah, we’re gonna try.

Indiespect: And then maybe also some songs from the other albums.

Harry: Yes. We also gonna add some b-sides. Maybe there will be a b-side in that set that we haven’t played before. We have to see. We listen through all the tracks that we haven’t heard for a long time and figure out which ones we can actually play.

Maybe there will be a b-side in that set that we haven’t played before.Harry McVeigh, White Lies about the anniversary shows for «To Lose My Life...»
White Lies

An overview of some of the anniversary shows for To Lose My Life… It will bring back White Lies to Switzerland. On the 18th November they’ll play at the Kofmehl in Solothurn.

Indiespect: For you it’s also quite interesting to put together this special set.

Harry: Yeah, for sure. It’s one of the things I really love about music, in general. It can transport you back to a very specific time in your life. That’s for our fans and for us as well. Playing that set will be like a step back into the past, which is really nice. It’s gonna be nostalgic in a nice way.

Indiespect: Talking about special songs. For the BBC Live Lounge you’ve covered Kanye West’s «Love Lockdown» back in 2009. Do you have a song in mind that you would play if you got asked to do that show again, tomorrow?

Harry: Oh! There would be so many. The idea behind choosing that song at that time was that the Live Lounge wanted us to pick a song that was in the charts. There was no music like ours in the charts. So, we just had to choose something. Out of all the songs of the top 40 we thought that this was the best one. But it’s very different to everything we’ve done. If we would do that now that would be quite easy for us. There are quite a few good songs that we could pick and choose. If you find a good song, a song that’s well written, then you can play it in any way and it will still work. I can’t think of an example of the top of my head.

White Lies covering Kanye West’s Love Lockdown for the BBC Radio 1 Live Lounge back in 2009.

Indiespect: It would be great if you could.

Harry: Yeah (laughs). I try to think. Maybe something like Billie Eilish. Because that music is quite dark. It has a dark tint to it. But that is so wacky, it’s so different. I think we would struggle with that. So, I don’t know if we would do it justice. But I like what she does. It’s something very different in pop music.

Circa Waves

Five pieces of art: White Lies care a lot about the visual appearance of their records.

Indiespect: For all of your albums you’ve had very special artworks. You seem to be a band that cares a lot about visual appearance. The artwork for «Big TV» also won the «Best Art Vinyl» award in 2013. How do you choose the artists?

Harry: We’ve always been very passionate about that and we thought that it’s very important. We’ve always enjoyed owning records ourselves. And it’s nice to own artwork on a 12″ vinyl. That’s like we always pitched it in our heads, how it’s going to look if someone puts it up on his wall. We’ve been really lucky to meet and work with some great graphic designers including Casey, the guy who did this Five record. He did an amazing job, I think. We just spend a lot of time and a lot of effort thinking really hard about how to make it good. In the case of Big TV it was an artist that Charles had seen online. We felt that his style of painting fitted so well with what we were doing with the album. It just looks mysterious and interesting – and vibrant. It really caught our attention. The whole process of making that album cover was really easy. It was just the painting and a nice border. And that’s it. Once we chose that painting and got permission of the artist to use it, it was very easy to put it all together.

We’ve always enjoyed owning records ourselves. And it’s nice to own artwork on a 12″ vinylHarry McVeigh, White Lies

Indiespect: Also your debut has quite a special artwork. Your drummer Jack once said that you got supported by Universal Music a lot back then. That they invested a lot of money into the promotion of «To Lose My Life…» Was that their decision to pick the artwork or were you already involved?

Harry: We were put in touch with a graphic designer who has actually made quite a few of our album covers, including Big TV and Friends, called Big Active. It came a lot from them, we just guided them through. The way they work is, that they present you a lot of initial ideas. Then you rule out what you don’t like. I remember that it took a lot of time to get it right. They found this photograph of those water towers. But it was only two towers. It didn’t look quite right. We kind of fiddled around a lot with that picture and made it fit right – to add another tower and make the middle one taller. And yeah, it has become really iconic and I love that album cover as well. Again, it fits so well with the music, I think. And with the aesthetics of the band at that time.

White Lies

Harry McVeigh on stage in Lugano

Indiespect: Will you also have special merchandise for those anniversary shows?

Harry: I imagine, we will. We haven’t figured that out, yet. But there will be some nice t-shirts and stuff made up, for sure.

Indiespect: On your latest record you have also the song «Tokyo» which is an instant hit. It gets stuck in your head from the first time you listen to it. Lyrically it doesn’t have much to do with the city itself. But for bands Japan seems to be a quite special place. Does it also have a special meaning for you?

Harry: We love to visit Japan. It’s always an incredible culture shock when you go there, because it’s so different. It’s so incomprehensible to understand anything. When you walk around the city you feel totally lost, we love that about it. But we’ve never been that successful in Japan. I don’t know why that is but we haven’t been there for a number of years. Hopefully, on this record, we’ll get a chance to go back there at some point. Maybe we weren’t visiting enough when we were starting. But it’s wonderful travelling in that part of the world. It’s an amazing place. In fact, I’d love to go back as a tourist and just visit the sights. Everytime we’ve been there we had maybe time to spend an afternoon in the city.

We’ve never been that successful in Japan. I don’t know why that is but we haven’t been there for a number of years.Harry McVeigh, White Lies

Indiespect: But as a band you must have had good guides. When you go there as a private person it’s quite hard to get around.

Harry: Yes, we’ve been very lucky in that aspect. They give you translators and people to look after you.

White Lies

A fixed topic during every visit to Zurich since the beginning of White Lies. The Kunsthaus and its attached restaurant. © kunsthaus.ch

Indiespect: You’ve visited Switzerland quite often. But you’ve never played in Ticino before.

Harry: No. We never spent time in that part of Switzerland. It feels very Italian but Swiss as well. It’s like a mixture of the two.

Indiespect: Do you have a first memory of Switzerland?

Harry: Yeah, I’m sure. Everytime we go to Zurich, we just do the same thing, certainly Charles and I. We go to the art museum there. And there’s a cafe attached to it. We always go and eat there. I remember doing that the first time when we came to Zurich. We’ve done it everytime we’ve been there, since. That’s something we look forward to and it was always something we enjoyed about being in Switzerland. Zurich is the city we’ve visited the most in Switzerland. I remember, one of the first times we got there, my now wife and I came with the band and we played a show in Zurich. Then we went up into the alps – to Zermatt. We had an amazing time there as well. My memories of Switzerland are always mountains, lakes and swimming in Zurich as well.

White Lies

No political statement but only a band name: White Lies

Indiespect: Going back to your records. With «Friends» you first discovered the 80s vibe, I think.

Harry: Maybe in the keyboards of Friends. But we’ve always been compared to a lot of 80s bands since the first album. Like Teardrop Explodes or Echo & the Bunnymen. But Friends feels like a lot more poppier record to me. It’s kind of 80s pop, I guess. A lot of synthesizers and keyboard sounds that we hadn’t really used before.

We’ve always been compared to a lot of 80s bands since the first album. Like Teardrop Explodes or Echo & the BunnymenHarry McVeigh, White Lies

Indiespect: Like me, you grew up in the 90s. How did your love to the 80s music start?

Harry: I think, it came through Talking Heads. It was the first proper band that we got into when we were writing songs, before White Lies even. We were teenagers and we just loved them. We listened to their music so much. Even if the Talking Heads are not a typical 80s band. It was just music from that era which found its way into our music. From the first time we started to record and people heard our music as White Lies we were compared to those 80s bands. We went back and listened to a lot of that stuff. And we love a lot of it now.

You sure can hear the resemblance between White Lies and Teardrop Explodes, especially when it comes to the voice.

Indiespect: With every album you have created a lighter side of your sound. On the first record everything is really dark.

Harry: I think it’s colder. That would be the way I describe it. Colder, sparser and emptier. It’s lusher now, I think.

Indiespect: But that’s not because you felt that way during the time of the beginning?

Harry: It might have been, actually. Especially in the lyrics of the first album there’s a lot of teenage angst. We were teenagers. We were young when we signed a record deal and when we recorded the album. We were still only 19. Maybe we’ve seen a different side of life since then. But it’s hard to say, really. When you write music, you just do whatever you can. It’s hard writing song, so you have to draw inspiration and write whatever you feel is good in that moment. That always changes depending on where you are at in your life. What you’re doing and what your friends are doing. It’s hard to say where the darkness comes from, but it’s definitely there. It’s still there in our music, a little bit. But there are poppier moments.

Indiespect: Thank you very much and enjoy your first show in Ticino!