I love White Hills – you need to know that up front and deal with it. Fiercely independent, fiercely glamorous, intelligent and freewheeling, umm, just like me. I first fell for H-P1 in 2010, a fabulous mix of spaced-out, often quite challenging grooves, intergalactic glam metal* and some awe-inspiring guitar freak-outs, I was putty in their hands.
Since then I’ve been spending increasing amounts of my hard-earned gold pieces on tracking down their voluminous back catalogue and I’ve been lucky enough to see them three times in the last few years, all of which were just brilliant. I’m a fan. Okay so I wouldn’t be able to pass a polygraph test whilst denying my ardour for bassist Ego Sensation, but that’s okay because I desire guitarist Dave W’s fantastic shirts every bit as much**.
When the news came down the wire that White Hills had just recorded their new LP Walking For Motorists about 20 minutes up the road from me on the edge of the Snowdonia National Park, Wales then, fuelled by a surge of patriotism, the impossible happened and I found myself loving them even more. The new album is a real progression from their previous output, much more beat orientated, eminently danceable in places too, but without losing that space rock edge, no mean feat.
I was lucky enough to bump into Dave W at my local spaceport and over a glass of Kandaluzian Beetle-Droog I got to put some questions to him which he was kind enough to answer.
I was really interested to see you recorded ‘Walking For Motorists’ in Wales, where I’m from. How did this come about? How much do you think the environment you record in affects what comes out?
For this record we wanted to work with a producer. We approached David Wrench, he’s Welsh, it was through him how we ended up recording at Bryn Derwen Studios. Environment and circumstance always affect what comes out when recording. Your instrument is an extension of you, how you feel is translated through your instrument. Your surroundings always have a deep effect on how you feel and therefore affect what you create.
On a first couple of listens ‘Wanderlust’ is my favourite off your new album, your guitar tone just sounds filthy – how did you get that sound?
My guitar was going through 3 different amps with very distinct tones; a Fender Princeton Reverb, MusicMan 2×10 and a Selmer 50 watt head through a 4×12 cab. The MusicMan was cranked all the way up which had a nasty sounding overdrive all on its own. The Selmer is a really loud amp that never breaks up into distortion on its own. The Princeton Reverb was between the two in regard to natural break up from the amp. What you hear is the combination of those three amps being pushed into distortion via a treble booster pedal. The only other pedal I used on that track was a Crybaby wah.
Was it difficult after so long producing yourself to cede some creative control to a producer?
It was no problem at all. I knew David would deliver the goods that is why I approached him to work with us. Working with a producer was a welcome change to the process.
The title track had me dancing in my kitchen – I can hear a really gritty, groovy beat in it and ‘Automated City’. Was this a conscious effort to get us grooving, rather than just nodding our heads at you? Should I bring my dancing shoes when I see you in Manchester?
One of my goals when starting this band was to make groove oriented spacey music. The last few releases focused more on an all out sensory assault. For this record I wanted to bring the groove back. You should always have your dancing shoes in tote!
When you make an LP are you conscious of how it all fits together as a unit, rather than as a collection of tracks?
Yes, of course. To me it is about the overall feel of how an album flows. Even though it can be broken up into separate tracks, how those tracks fit together completes the puzzle that the album is. If one piece is out-of-place the whole will never be complete.
How do you know when a track’s finished and done?
You just know.
Are you real equipment-heads in the studio? or are you able to travel light?
Outside of the guitars and pedals we brought with us, we used the amps, keyboards and percussion instruments that were in the studio. Gear is gear, you can make anything sound good if you try.
I don’t want to sound like Mr Superficial here, but you are the best-dressed space rockers I’ve ever seen – Dave, your shirts and shoes are things of beauty! Is it a conscious thing to dress smartly as a band? Where do the shirts come from?
Life is a performance and we like to come dressed for the occasion everyday. As for my shirts, where ever I am I seek out thrift stores and do some digging.
I’ve seen you 3 times in the last three years in Liverpool and Manchester, it’s really great to see you in the UK so much – what keeps bringing you back around so often?
We have a deep affection for the UK as it is the first place that took on to us and the audiences there are always up for a good time.
How much do you change your live set around between shows, or tours to keep it fresh?
We change things up from tour to tour. We rarely play the exact same set from night to-night. It just depends on how we feel at that given moment. Who knows, maybe this time around we’ll only work up one set that we’ll play every night.
You’ve played the Liverpool Psych Fest twice now, what are your thoughts on it? What was it like playing with GNOD again last year?
We’ve actually only played Liverpool Psych Fest once. Playing with GNOD was fantastic! We have a deep connection with them as we forged a relationship with each other in the earliest stages of both bands careers. As for the festival in general, it was like being at a big house party. There were some many bands there that we’ve played with over the years and it was great to see old and new friends alike. There was good vibes all around.
I saw you play with my local favourites, Mugstar, a couple of years ago – have you ever thought about making music with them?
Sure, I’ve thought about it. Both bands are so busy it would just be about finding the time to do so and of course Mugstar being game to do it . We do have a split 45 with Mugstar coming out this summer on Jase’s label, God Unknown. That will have to suffice for now.
What’s the most starstruck you’ve ever been meeting someone?
I don’t really get starstruck. To me we are all just people, some good some bad. That said, when I was a teenager I went to a book signing that Jim Carroll was doing at City Lights in San Francisco. I’ve always been a fan of his written and recorded works. When it was my turn to get my book signed, Jim looked up at me, his eyes meeting mine. It felt like he was looking right through me, down deep into my soul. It was a heavy experience for me at the time. Some years later Jim came into a record store I was working at on Haight St. in San Francisco. We started up a conversation and I told him about the experience, we had a good laugh about it.
What’s the most METAL album in your collection?
Bob Dylan’s “Saved”.
I’d buy your records because of the way they look anyway, how important to you as a band is the aesthetic side of things? Does anyone of you in particular look after the presentation?
Aesthetic is very important Your visual image adds to the aural image. Both Ego and I put together our visual presentation.
I’ve spent years tracking down most of your discography now, do you own copies of everything you’ve done? Do you ever listen to your own stuff after you’ve made it?
We have an archive of almost every release. There are some of the early CD-r’s that we don’t have copies of. No, I don’t sit down and listen to my own music when I decide to put a record on. That would be a bit creepy.
I’m totally obsessed with your ‘Stolen Stars Left For No One’ EP, how can three tracks that great have been studio off-cuts? especially given the soloing on ‘Drift Away’
That’s just what happened. Those tracks didn’t fit in with the overall concepts for the albums that were being made at that time they were recorded. Where they worked out best was on that EP and that’s why that EP is so good and special.
Ever have any interest in soundtrack work at all?
Of course. Sign me up, I’m ready!
Coming up : Part 2 of my White Hills extravaganza, a full review of their new LP Walking For Motorists.
522 Down (still).
PS: Ace White Hills drawing courtesy of my daughter, all hail!
*I’m not bluffing:
**again, I’m not bluffing.