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Lost in space
A conversation with White Hills’ Dave W
By John Hubner
Fort Wayne Reader
I can remember it rather clearly. I was perusing my favorite blogs back in March — when we were all still aglow from My Bloody Valentine's triumphant return after two decades of knob turning and hand wringing — when I came across an article about a band called White Hills. The author couldn't have been more clear in his love for this band, and especially their 2010 album H-p1 — a double LP of the classic 70s variety, with "hubcap-thick vinyl."
He went on to say space rock, ambient, drone, and probably a bunch of other really great adjectives and the next day I located H-p1 and listened. I then listened to Heads On Fire, Frying on this Rock, Stolen Stars Left For No One, and White Hills. To say this band was a revelation to me is an understatement. How in the hell did I not hear of them before now? White Hills aren't some obscure rock band from the Eastern Bloc. They're not creating space rock goodness from the jungles of South America. They're from New York! I had some catching up to do.
In my quest to submerge myself in the world of Dave W (guitar, vocals), Ego Sensation (bass, vocals), and sometimes Kid Millions (drums) I dove head first into their music. H-p1 is an epic double album filled with 10 minute droning jams that recall a cozy ride through deep, dark space that would make Hawkwind smoke another bowl and chill in the beanbag chair, all-out riff rockers that would make Tony Iommi smile and tear up, and far-out ambient tracks that Brian Eno would be happy to call his own (and he does, stop it Brian!).
But I think the element that brings me back to White Hills the most is that they're not striking a pose here. What they do on their records is done in earnest. They believe in what they're writing and recording. They harken back to a time in music (the 70s) where a band went into the studio, maybe had a drink or two or a little smoke, and they hit “record.” They let the music dictate the outcome. No preconceived thoughts or plans, other than "It's in E, let's see what happens." Dave W. is the real deal. I've never seen them live, but from what I can tell he's not staring at his pedals the whole time. He's up there letting music move him, and if this music doesn't move you then you're dead or you're not close enough to the speakers, fool.
White Hills have a new album coming out on Thrill Jockey at the end of August called So You Are...So You'll Be and if lead single "In Your Room" is any indication, it's gonna be another scorcher of a record. Not only that, but White Hills are currently touring the US supporting The Cult. On a whim I sent Dave W a message to see if he'd be willing to answer some questions.
JH: There are a lot of great metal bands, and a lot of great space rock bands, and even a few great psychedelic bands, but none of them can take all of that and throw in drone, ambient, and atmosphere as well and make what White Hills makes. I think for me that's what draws my ears to your music. Where in are you pulling from to do what you do?
Dave W: I wouldn't say I'm necessarily pulling it from somewhere specific. I've absorbed so many different kinds of music over the years that have influenced in me in some way. The music I make just comes to me naturally. When it flows it flows, when it doesn't I move on to something else.
JH: What was your favorite record when you were 18?
Dave W: Probably a toss up between these three albums: Public Image Metal Box; Siouxsie & The Banshees JuJu; and Julian Copes first solo record World Shut Your Mouth.
JH: Another aspect (one of many) that I find so appealing about White Hills is that the band makes every record more than just a group of songs. The whole package is well-made; gatefold sleeve, quality colored vinyl, incredible artwork. WH make a record release an event and a work of art. Being a vinyl fanatic I cherish your beautiful colored vinyl. How much control does the band have over their releases? You're a painter as well, right?
Dave W: I have complete control, with in reason that is, of what the entire package will be. The majority of the records I have designed the covers myself. Only a couple of them I haven't, but was in charge of hiring the artist that created it. Sometimes my ideas are more grand than is financially possible, so I have to tone it done a bit. For the most part I get what I want. Thrill Jockey is great to work with in this respect, as they understand the importance of the entire package. I feel fortunate to have found a home that is willing to work with me and my ideas verses dictating what the overall package will be.
Yes, I do paint. The cover of the vinyl re-issue of "Abstractions & Mutations" on Immune Recordings is two of my paintings.
JH: If someone is looking for a gateway album into the world of White Hills, what would you recommend they start out with? For me, it was H-p1.
Dave W: H-p1 is a good one, however I'm always partial to whatever our latest album is as it is our most current statement. I'm not about digging through the past. I'm always about the "now", so I'd have to say our upcoming album So You Are...So You'll Be is the best place to start.
JH: I'm amazed at not only the amount of music White Hills has put out in the nearly decade since they started putting out albums, but the quality of the music. H-p1 is like a classic 70s basement record. It's totally a beanbag chair in a hazy basement with some Koss headphones on kind of record. What qualifies a song to be worthy of a spot on a White Hills vinyl?
Dave W: It's all about a feeling. Does it fit into the overall concept of the album and what I want to get across to a listener? Sometimes my personal favorites, when we head into a studio, won't make it on to the album, because they just don't fit. I always have an idea/concept when making an album. That concept changes once I commence the process. At a certain point in time the concept starts to dictate what it should be verses me trying to make it what I think it should be. It's very abstract. It's like asking Jackson Pollock, why did you drip white paint on the bottom left corner of the canvas? Who knows? Maybe he didn't even know. In some way the painting must have dictated that it should be there.
JH: White Hills are going to be in featured in the upcoming Jim Jarmusch film Only Lovers Left Alive, which is pretty incredible. How did this opportunity come about?
Dave W: Jim asked us to play at an ATP in New York a few years back. That was the first time we met him. Little did we know he is a fan of ours. Last year while on tour he contacted us about the movie. Of course we jumped at the opportunity. It was great working with him. He's so down to earth. Both Ego and I are a fan of his films. It was amazing to see how he works and it’s such a honor to be part of his latest project.
JH: After The Cult tour, will White Hills be hitting the road on their own for a headlining show? Or is the Chicago Hard Rock Cafe show the only chance I'm going to have to see White Hills live in the Midwest?
Dave W: After the tour with The Cult, we head directly over to Europe for a 6 1/2 week headlining tour. Then we have a little break in November. Some things are in the works for December and January, but nothing fully confirmed yet. You should probably get tickets for the Chicago show!
JH: I just snagged a copy of White Hills' Live At Roadburn 2011. What can someone expect to see when they go to a White Hills show?
Dave W: Flashy and over the top.
Flashy and over the top. What more can you ask for? While I wasn't able to get tickets for that Chicago show, I'm hoping something pans out for later in the year. Hoping.
Either way, go to thrilljockey.com and pre-order So You Are...So You'll Be. And once you start with the new one, you can load up on their excellent past catalog. All I can say is I'm glad I came across that article about H-p1. It's made my 2013 all the better. And thanks to Dave W for taking the time to answer my questions.