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Interview: White Rabbits

By ; March 9, 2012 at 12:30 PM 

Beats Per Minute (Rob Hakimian): I’m guessing this has been your first question from everyone, but what’s the story behind the album title Milk Famous?

White Rabbits (Stephen Patterson): Ummmmmmmmmm… there isn’t one, there’s no story. It was a combination of two words that we thought worked really well together, and that’s how it came about; we just ended up deciding that we liked it. After we sat with title for a while, y’know, you try to find meaning in these things. It’s kind of how it is with lyrics for me too, I kind of write it in the moment and I hear it back and I dunno, it sounds good to me, I don’t know what it means yet but it sounds good, we’ll keep it. It was a lot like that. I have my own sort of interpretations for what it means, but, yeah, they’re numerous. We wrote a song that’s going to be a b-side that’s called “Milk Famous.” We wrote it after we finished the album, and I had never really done this before but I wanted to record vocals for a song that were in an entirely different character, I always tried to do that but I could never pull it off. So that track, that actually explains a lot of the meaning behind the title to me, the lyrics in that song. So if you’re looking for that, I think the meaning of the lyrics can also be a character if you want it to be.

When do you think we’ll get to hear that song?

Hopefully soon, I wanted to put it out two months ago. Actually, we’re getting it mastered soon so I’m going to fight for it to be out within the first two weeks of the record coming out. I think it’s the best thing I’ve ever done, and it’s a b-side.

Are you going to try to play it live?

Oh, that would be impossible. –laughs-

That makes it sound even more interesting…

Yeah, yeah, you’ll understand why once you hear it. I wish we could but we would need… yeah… you’ll hear it… -laughs- It’s tough to explain.

So all of you guys agreed that the words ‘milk famous’ worked well together? You must be sharing a very similar brain space…

It took us a while for everybody to agree to be in that brain space. A couple of us were like immediately “that is the title! No doubt, that is the title!” and a couple of the guys were not so onboard with it but they came around.

Your last two album covers have been very dark whereas for this one you’ve gone bright pink, is that representative of anything?

Yeah, to me… for lack of a better term it’s a much more colorful record; it sounds more colorful to me, it sounds brighter to me, it sounds more energetic and playful than anything we’ve done before. And, nobody likes… especially us, whatever we’ve done before, we want to do the exact opposite next. -laughs- And that went with the album artwork as well.

Is that the reason behind changing producer as well?

Um, no. I only say that for a few select things that work in that point’s favor. We worked with Mike McCarthy – he mixed It’s Frightening – and we did a little bit of last minute tracking with him on that record. We actually talked to make before It’s Frightening, when we were talking to people about producing the record. And Mike’s a really funny guy, I love him to death, he’s a dear friend of mine, but he makes some of the worst first impressions of anybody I’ve ever met. He flew out to LA and I remember sitting backstage – this while we were touring on Fort Nightly – he was sitting backstage with us in LA, being so quiet and awkward. I’m playing guitar and warming up and he keeps telling me “come on, play me some hot licks man, come on, play me some hot licks!” And I just have no idea who the fuck this guy is, so I’m just thinking he’s some hot shot producer. Anyway, he had a very horrible first impression on us, so we decided not to work with him on It’s Frightening, but after we got into the studio working with him on mixing that record it was clear we wanted to work with him on the next one. He’s phenomenal engineer, first and foremost, and it was also apparent that he approached recording music in a totally different way than a lot of us do; he does much more like a big picture thing, as most producers do, which is why they produce, but he has a much more spiritual approach to recording , he’ll just sit and not really pay attention to where the levels are – you know the levels of the track or whatever, or whatever gear we’re using – he’s able to turn off that technical side very easily and just sit back and let the music come over him, as silly as that sounds, and just responds to it in a very broad, vague way. That was very difficult at first, but once we figured out how to interpret what he was telling us it was like oh we should probably change this section, or work on that part a bit more, or that’s why that’s not working… he’d say things like “it makes me feel like crawling into a hole and not talking to anyone,” “that’s bad dark,” or “this is too bright” – I don’t know, I can’t remember specific examples. But, it was good to be working with somebody that was so different from us. Chris Zane and Britt [Daniel], it was great fun working with both of them, but I’d say we are a lot closer in personality to those guys than we were to Mike, so that was a challenge, but I think that’s the way we should continue to go.

That sounds like a pretty ideal way to make music like yours… I don’t really know what I mean, but…

It’s good because there’s generally like five of us in the recording studio at the same time and we’ve been friends for a really long time, we’ve pretty much become this like, single… you know, you spend that much time with the same people, we all end up with the same sense of humor and we can all finish each other’s sentences and all that stupid stuff. So there’s enough of those kind of personalities in the room, it was nice to have somebody we could not really relate to in any way whatsoever, but we trusted that we knew what he was doing.

So tell me basically about the writing of the album; how long did it take? Do you and Greg split writing duties?

It kind of varies from song to song; some songs on this record were borne out of really late night jams, that got a good sort of beat and progression, and then I would go home and write vocals over it. Other songs we’d start with me and Alex coming up with something together and we’d bring it to the band and we’d flesh it out as a full band. It varies from song to song.

We spent a long time writing this record. We started while we were on tour with It’s Frightening, which ravaged us to our very, very core…

You toured that for a long time didn’t you?

Yeah, it was over a year and a half. It was great fun but you lose a lot of sleep and you go crazy, y’know? Similar things happened when we got off the road with Fort Nightly; we just went right back into the recording studio and it was a very hectic, stressful, instense time and we were losing our minds. I think you can hear that in that record [It’s Frightening] and I think that’s one of the record’s charms.

But I don’t think we could have survived if we had done the same thing again. We knew that we wanted to take our time after we got off the road, so we spent about a year writing and demoing stuff. We went out on a couple of tours during that time just to road test some of the material, which we had never attempted before. Then we moved down to Austin for a few months. We lived in a house down there for three months, in a very suburban sort of neighborhood with a front yard and a back yard with patio furniture and all that, which was awesome; it was like our childhood or something. We had a garage there that we could jam in when we got home from the studio. Unlike New York you’re not living on top of people so you can make a lot of noise at all hours. So we had time to come up with the basic framework of a song and then just try it out 20 different ways until we found one that was really sticking, which is the way to do it and I think that’s the way a lot of bands do it, but we’ve never really had the time to try that many things out before, we just commit to the final recording .

Did road testing the material help you figure out where you wanted to go with the sound? Has it changed much since then?

Yeah, totally. That song, it’s the second to last song “The Day You Won The War,” we had probably played that on the road for a year and a half or something; that was one of the first songs we took out and it’s a really tricky one, there’s a lot of weird twists and turns and weird rhythms and things like that. It wasn’t an easy song, and if we hadn’t gotten so comfortable with all these odd things it really would have ended up sounding like a math rock disaster. You would hear how complex it was, and that’s never the goal; in the end it sounds like how we were playing it, which is just really comfortable and a song that we all love to play. Before when we were recording a song it was just like our first shot at it and we were still figuring it out.

But we only ended up recording a few songs that we had taken out and gotten comfortable with. A lot of it, since we were down there for a few months, I would sit in the garage the night before, work on a song then bring it in the next day and we’d try it out. Sometimes it would really fail and other times it would really work out. The last song on the record, “I Had It Coming,” was a song that we wrote the night before and took to the studio the next day. It ended up being one of my favorite tracks on the record, I think it’s one of the greatest things we’ve done. So sometimes it’s good not to have any idea what you’re going into and other times it helps having a little bit of knowledge going into it.

Are you ever disappointed when some of the songs you take to the band don’t work out?

Yeah! You know, that’s like… it’s money in the bank! –laughs- And it’s gone, y’know? You get attached to these little things, but to a fault I get overly enthusiastic about these things the moment I record it like “fuck yeah this is the best! Yes this is the next thing!” And then I’ll listen to it a week later and it’s total crap. I just need to have a little time and space from it in order to get a sense of what’s really going on.

You said you don’t really know what your lyrics are about…?

I mean, for me it’s like I just go into a dark room and yell a bunch of stuff until I find things that I think are sounding good and then whittle it down so when I listen back I’m like “yeah that feels right, that feels good.” I’m too impatient; I can’t just sit down with a pen and paper and think “I want to write a song about this topic, here I go!” I just can’t do it like that, it has to be kind of like playing an instrument, playing drums, you just sit down and you play for however long. But usually what happens is that a week later I’ll be like “oh shit, that song was about that!” It has a therapeutic sort of element to it.

I was in a nine-year relationship and touring on It’s Frightening totally destroyed that. It’s since worked out, but it was like a two year stretch of time when I had no idea what I was doing anymore. So I think a lot of it, I’ve realized since, has been about that. Whereas It’s Frightening seemed to be an expression of us really losing our minds , this one is also an expression of us losing our minds but not in a way that needed to be expressed in this, like, aggressive, gotta-get-it-outta-me-as-fast-as-possible, freaking out and I wanna scream kind of thing; this is more like looking back on something than freaking out about the future.

Interesting. I wanted to ask, how come the song “It’s Frightening” ended up on this record and not the last one?

Oh because it wasn’t written yet.

You have a tendency of doing that! Writing the title track after the album’s done…

Yeah it’s more fun that way! Hindsight is 20/20!

With your last couple of albums you garnered a lot of comparisons to other bands; does that annoy you? Do you wish you’d just be talked about on your own terms and do you think you’ll get that with this album?

I think you answered the question; I don’t know who on this Earth would not want to be considered on their own terms. That stuff is the product of a certain type of listener and a certain type of listening and a certain way of viewing music as a whole. I think everybody does it, music can be hard to verbalize, it’s easier to explain to somebody what something sounds like based on something that they already know. And that’s frustrating because it’s like, to me, a thing that people do to make themselves feel more comfortable with what’s going on, because they can understand it in these certain terms, but if you don’t understand it and you can’t express it in another way then that’s bad. And… whatever… it used to get to me, it doesn’t get to me anymore. I just turned 30, I don’t give a fuck. –laughs-

You obviously give a lot of attention to detail in your songs, but once they’re all done how much more attention do you put into the tracklist and the packaging and stuff like that?

That’s the fun stuff, the sequencing and putting a visual element to it. I get way into it. This record was really difficult to sequence. It took like two months to figure out how to put it together. Many times we were thinking “shit we just spent nearly two years and now we’re at the point where we’re trying to put it together and it’s not working, what do we do?!” We approached It’s Frightening from … we wrote it in sequence like, “this is the kind of song we want to have happen at this point,” it was a very premeditated sort of approach and I think that was cool actually, it was an interesting way of writing. Like, “I want a track 5 that feels like this,” you know? It kind of makes the process less overwhelming or something, but it was totally the opposite this time, we were just doing whatever sounded good… in the moment, knowing that it’ll come together later.

Everybody works hard on their records; we spent a lot of time making sure that it’s good.

Since you finished the track list have you looked back and though “damn, I wish we did that instead,” or have you made your peace with it now?

Oh I’ve totally made my peace with it; I’ve had more than enough time to sit with this record and decide if this needs to change or that needs to change or whatever. If it wasn’t at a point by now where we were happy with it then I’d be pissed, because this took two years to make. I’m really happy with how it’s turned out, it’s the best thing we’ve ever done.

Are you looking forward to going out on tour? Which songs are you most looking forward to playing?

Um, “Hold It To The Fire” is coming together really nicely live, “I Had It Coming” is the most enjoyable song for me to sing live that I’ve ever written, and “Heavy Metal” is totally new territory for us to perform live so it’s been tricky, but we finally figured it out so that’ll be really… I don’t know, we’ll see how it fits; it turned out good though. But, “Danny Come Inside” is my favorite song to play right now.

Have you got all 11 songs from the album prepared and ready to play?

We have 10 of 11 figured out right now, but we’re going to try and do some new stuff too so we’ll make up for that one track.

Since you’ve got new stuff do you hope to get back into the studio quicker than you did between these last two albums?

Yeah, absolutely. I think we worked really hard on figuring out how to record ourselves this time around, so it doesn’t have to be this big ordeal next time we want to go record something or go into a studio; we can get a good head start on our own. The way I’d love to do it is whenever we’re off the road just go to a studio for five days, record some stuff, go on the road again or do nothing for a while, and then go back. It’d be nice to have it be spread out and just try to amass as many little things as possible. I would just like to release music at a faster rate than we have in the past.

Yeah, that’s cool, but when was the last time you took a vacation?!

I don’t know… -laughs-

White Rabbits’ third album, Milk Famous, is out now on TBD Records. Read our review.

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