THE INTERVIEW: Bassist and songwriter, Charles Cave of White Lies

As they prepare to storm the U.S. beginning at the SXSW festival in Austin, British Indie rock band White Lies have already seen their debut album shoot to #1 on the UK charts after a January 2009 release, been named on MTV’s ‘Freshmen 5’ as up-and-coming artists, and won the NME Award for ‘Best New Band.’ While To Lose My Life represents the debut album of White Lies, the three band members are all but new to one another, having performed together since primary school, mostly through a previous band known as Fear of Flying. I caught up with songwriter and bassist, Charles Cave, via phone, in between performances in England.

Congratulations on your #1 album in the UK! How does that feel?

Uh, it feels quite…it doesn’t really feel like anything. It’s kind of strange….like, obviously, we’re so flattered that a certain percent of the population bought it but I don’t know, it is just a number. It’s an amazing achievement, but it’s kind of weird because in the music industry these days, there’s so many other factors involved in selling a record and we’ve done our part to make the best record we possibly can, and it’s just brilliant to see that everyone that works hard is clearly working hard enough and is passionate about the music to get into that many people’s attention. But like everything, every achievement we find, we’re always heading straight towards’ the next aim, the next goal. We’re pretty ruthless on ourselves – we never get too relaxed. As soon as we found out we were #1, we were in Russia actually, so we just had some vodka, and then just got on with the video we were shooting, so that’s how it goes.

Your Myspace page only gives a little tease of the songs for the next album. What can listeners expect from the new album, which is dropping on March 17th?

You can expect everything your imagination can come up with. People that have heard a few songs already will have some idea what the whole album will sound like. At the same time, there are a lot of different ideas, we tried a lot of different ideas, and we’ve got a massive string section on a few of the songs, and that’s really exciting to hear for the first time. You know, it’s been so well received over here, and now that we are playing shows in the UK in front of people that have got the album and heard it, the fan’s kind of dedication has gone pretty crazy, and everyone’s really involved in the music, and I think it’s very easy to get attached emotionally to the album, and that’s a good thing, so you can expect that.

Personally, I hear mostly Killers with a little bit of Interpol. What has sort of been the band’s biggest influences?

Well, the thing is, our songs aren’t really influenced by many other artists. We are influenced by musicians to be musicians ourselves, but it doesn’t really influence our songs. We write songs pretty organically, and just have it come out. We’ve all had very different influences. The bands that most made me want to play music, when I was 14 or 15, were bands like Pantera and Iron Maiden. And now, loads of things ranging from Nick Cave, Talking Heads, Blonde Redhead, Paul Simon….everything like that. But the others obviously have very different influences and tastes as well, and we just combine all those influences and feed off each other’s ideas.

Has the label determined what is going to be the first release? ‘Farewell to the Fairground’?

That’s what’s coming up in the UK. I get a little confused about what happens internationally, when they release things at different times. In America, we’re going to do “Lose my Life.” So that’s released I think the week before the album release (March 17th), or around the same time. That’s the title track from the album and that’s kind of the song that really brought White Lies to people’s attention in the UK, so it’s going to be the same in the States.

It sounded like the change in your sound and band name were caused by songs you wanted to write more personally, and maybe darker, and that your change in band name served as a vehicle to facilitate this? As the main songwriter, what have been the inspirations in your song writing?

Well, I think I could have written the lyrics I’m writing now a couple of years ago when we were in our old band, but it was just the fact that I didn’t feel comfortable doing that and that we also felt pressured by mainstream music, and by what most people were listening to at the time, that we should conform to that. And that was the main problem we had. It was only when we started White Lies, when we started to write lyrics that came to us, and sing in a way what was natural, and everything came organically. Nothing has changed in terms of personal experience, as far as Fear of Flying and White Lies, other than a year of amazing traveling. But there’s more than just a confidence in our integrity, and having a desire to see naturally how things come and not worry too much about what other people will think.

When you were here at CMJ, or as you get ready to kick off your tour for SXSW, are there any bands you heard or are looking forward to hearing?

Two of the bands we are taking on tour with us in the UK: Violins, who are from Chicago and School of Seven Bells, from New York. They’re two of our favorite bands – highlights from CMJ, we can’t wait to have them on the road –they’re really inspiring bands, so that’s going to be amazing.

What made you choose the Fiction records label? (partially owned by The Cure, and featuring several great English artists including Kate Nash, Snow Patrol, Elbow, Yeah Yeah Yeahs)

To be honest, we were very fortunate to be in a position where we got offered very similar record deals from various companies, and it just came down to who we got along with, the people that worked there, so to be honest, we were pretty ignorant about Fiction as a historical label, until after we signed, and then people started saying, ‘So, you signed with the same label as The Cure’….and it was a little bit like ‘oh, are we?’ Jim, our guy, the guy that runs Fiction, was just the hero of the whole thing, so we went with him – we saw it going more with Jim than with Fiction, if that makes sense.

How was it working with all the various producers you worked with….Ed Buller (Pulp Suede), Max Dingel (Glasvegas, Killers)?

It was amazing. It was a very intense situation because they had never met before we really started, so we didn’t know if they would get along…there were these two guys that we just really liked. We wanted them to work together because we couldn’t decide which one we wanted, we said ‘oh let’s have both’. It was an amazing collaboration as was all the stuff with White Lies.

Where in England is home and how would you describe the music scene currently?

We live in London, touring England at the moment, about to go to Europe, and then pretty soon, SXSW.

If you weren’t in music, what would you be doing?

Obviously, we get asked this a lot, and I genuinely don’t have a good answer. We’re living so much for what we do that it’s really impossible to think about anything else, and I like it that way. If I started thinking about something else, then it might mean my heart wasn’t truly into music.

Be sure and check out White Lies when they come to the Bowery Ballroom with Friendly Fires on March 26th and 27th. Tickets are on sale now, and have already sold out for the 3/27 show!


Paul Kim

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