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An Interview With White Lies, Five Albums Deep

"Without even a prompt from us, the public voted our record number 1 album of the year. It’s those kinds of things I remember, and I will always remember. And it’s those highlights that have brought us to where we are today." - Charles Cave, White Lies 
Photo by Steve Gullick 

A while ago, I meant to post this interview. But to paraphrase John Lennon, life happened while I was attempting to make other plans. 

So White Lies released "Five" earlier this year - their fifth (duh) album in a decade. And "Five" is up there with their debut in terms of my favorite White Lies albums. It's worth a listen.

Here are a few questions I asked Charles Cave of White Lies about the band's musical career thus far, "Five," and touring. Also: ABBA makes an appearance. Enjoy! 

"Five" marks a decade of White Lies. How have things evolved over the past decade? 
We’ve grown into ourselves, and have found a lot more comfort in our own skins personally, and as a band. It makes for a much more enjoyable process writing and recording music. We have a lot more surety about what we want to achieve, and to some degree how to achieve it. That has allowed us to make the last two records without a conventional producer, and instead wheel in trusted collaborators to help where our own abilities fall short. Also, we just completed a tour of Europe and the UK supporting ‘Five’ that has without a doubt been the best and most successful we’ve ever done. People haven’t responded to an album of ours with such alacrity since our debut. So in many ways our evolution over ten years is proving to have not only kept our core fanbase, but actually that it continues to expand it. It has been incredible to start selling out shows in cities where we have historically played to less than full rooms. 

Most importantly, we’re enjoying being White Lies more than ever. We’re closer as friends, and collaborators, and if anything MORE confident about the future than we were in the wake of our monolithic debut ten years ago. 

What were the chief influences on the band during the making of the album?
It’s important for me and Harry to allow ourselves to be influenced by everything and anything. We sit around and listen to hours of music when we’re working. And drink coffee. Music from all decades, and very recent stuff too. We always check the charts out - usually provoking a deflated response. I sometimes wish I kept a diary of that process. So I could look back and go….wow, so our song ‘X’ came about because we liked the guitar solo in that black-metal song by “X." Or whatever. 

There's a cynicism to the lyrics, but there's also a surprising lightness to some of the tracks - especially "Tokyo." Is there anything specifically behind this contrast, or does it just organically happen?
I suppose I’d hope to think of it as a ‘realism’ to the lyrics. But perhaps “realism” is just the acceptance that one has to be equal parts optimistic and pessimistic or cynical about life, unless you’re some kind of fatalist. Paul Simon once said that the most powerful art is made from a fine balance of mixing cliche with the sense of something important. I think in terms of music you could look at a song like ‘The Winner Takes It All’ by ABBA: that’s a great example. The song is rolling in cliche. I mean, look at the title and the hook-line? A silly gambling cliche that could easily be thrown about with little weight to it. And equally the music itself is rather light - a disco bass-line, some fairly standard cadences and chord progressions. But when you mix that with the poignancy of the lyrics, and of course the real-life awareness that those couples were really in the midst of separation too….it becomes a work of art. 

The art that often seems rather impenetrable, I would argue, is art that has no toe in cliche. Our song ‘Tokyo" has a lot of musical cliches, but I’d like to think the lyrics are off-the-wall enough, and set from a very different point of view to a “normal” pop song, that it marries with the cliche to make something a bit special. 

Lots of critics and fans alike have acknowledged "Five" represents a hallmark in White Lies' canon. What are some other career highlights for the band?
White Lies’ career highlights have always been made by our fans. One that really sticks in my mind, is in December 2009 NME Magazine published their writers’ top 50 albums of the year. Our debut ‘To Lose My Life’ didn’t make the list. on, the magazine ran the same piece but asked fans to vote. Without even a prompt from us, the public voted our record number 1 album of the year. It’s those kinds of things I remember, and I will always remember. And it’s those highlights that have brought us to where we are today. 

As a songwriter, dedicated to songwriting, my feelings of success will only come from two things: 1. when I truly believe that I have helped write an exceptional song. 2. When the public, through their engagement with that song confirm my feeling is right. 

Finally, since you seem to have a fairly extensive world tour planned this year, what's the best part of touring?

Freedom of movement at its purest form. In Europe we come and go as we please with no visas needed. I spend all day wandering around wonderful cities, free as a bird, and in the evening get to play music for 2000 people. Of course there are a lot of struggles with touring too, but ten years in I feel like I have it down to a fine art. I have the reins on my mental health 90% of the time, and I am able to carpe a fair bit of diem. 


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