Exposure: White Rabbits
White Rabbits - Percussion Gun
With their thumping new single, 'Percussion Gun', doing exactly what it says on the tin, New York-based White Rabbits are rapidly adding to their fanbase and whipping them into feverish expectation over sophomore release, It’s Frightening. The band are bringing their two-tone, Kinks-inspired tunes back to Britain and The List spoke to Greg Roberts from the band.
Your second album, It’s Frightening, has just been released. Why is it frightening?
We had a long list of possible titles being thrown around near the completion of the record and It's Frightening was the one we kept coming back to. To us, that statement worked for every song on the record in a different way, and also as a whole. In the end I think we all liked it because it was funny to us. I guess you were posing that question in a more universal sense, but I'd rather just let the record speak for itself than to assign images and themes to songs for people.
Can you tell us a little about the recording of it? Has the sound changed in any way from your first album Fort Nightly?
We wrote the majority of it in the summer of 2008 after wrapping up over two years of touring on the first record. We asked our good friend and recent tour mate Britt Daniel of Spoon if he wanted to produce, and he accepted, so we spent the next few months sending ideas and demos back and forth with him. Recording started that November and by January we had a record, so I guess right off the bat it differed from the first record in that we went for a much more off-the-cuff kind of thing.
Fort Nightly took the better part of a year to complete, mainly because we were sneaking into the studio after hours and on weekends, but also because we were a lot younger and were navigating our way through our first record. We went into the studio far more prepared this time around, and also embraced a first-or-second-take kind of approach, which I'd like to think resulted in a more raw, live sound. As far as the music itself, I think we all learned how to play together between the first and second records, so there wasn't this overwhelming urge for all six members to be constantly bashing away from the first note to last. We learned how to economize. Britt's really good at that kind of stuff so he would throw in his two cents too.
Have you noticed any difference in the UK audience? What do you make of us?
We've been to the UK quite a few times now, and it seems like things are progressively getting better. We've started to develop a group of friends that we're always excited to see when we come back, and our label has been nothing short of amazing to us, and that's without the record even being out in their territories yet. It's always a little hard to get your mind right after the flight over, then dealing with equipment you're not used to, but it gets easier every time we come back. That way we can concentrate on playing our best and having fun. Once you know what you're in for it's easier to enjoy your stay.
We were just on tour in Australia, where it's summer, and a few of us were watching the Arsenal vs. Everton match and we saw the snow, so I've been dreading the weather. A week off in New York has got my mind back into cold weather mode though.
On a few band biographies they describe your sound as ‘honky tonk calypso’ due to the reggae and ska rhythms. Is that something you said? What music influences your music?
We really don't describe ourselves as that, to be honest. It’s a joke that won't die. It was something that we put on our MySpace page making fun of these stupid little micro-genres that people invent, like 'gypsy ska' or something like that, and it happened to blow up in our faces. It's so stupid.
It's fair to say that we are really into reggae and dub and ska. Just anything with interesting rhythms; Ethiopian, West African, girl group, R&B, rock, just something different. I've been really into drum & bass and dubstep lately, too.
Your sound has been compared favourably to bands like Madness and The Specials, but do you see this comparison or have you heard much of them? What’s the American perception of these British institutions if you have?
I grew up listening to Two Tone bands, and I still love them. Dave Wakeling of The Beat is one of my favourite guitar players of all time. The Specials were a huge jumping off point for us early on, especially when writing Fort Nightly. Madness, too. I think Fort Nightly plays out like a Comedy of Manner. Outside of Randy Newman or Harry Nilsson, US music doesn’t excel at writing about local scenes or attitudes like Madness or the Kinks did and people like The Streets continue to. We weren't really writing songs about village greens or the Queen on Fort Nightly, but I think we tried to apply it to American institutions like Cotillion dances and things like that from an observational standpoint like Fitzgerald or O'Hara did. It's far more common to write songs about that in the UK, though. I think that's why a lot of really great British acts never got quite as big in the US. A lot of Americans probably don't know what a song like 'Parklife' is about, but in the UK it's an anthem. Americans just like things like 'Song 2'.
You have quite an odd line-up, being a sextet with two drummers and a pianist. How did the band start?
The band itself came together in Columbia, Missouri which is a university town. I had been playing in a punk band with Alex, and working at a record shop with Steve, and grew up with Matt and Jamie in St. Louis. I've known Jamie since I was six years old, actually. We grew up on the same street. Anyway, we had all either finished school or were simply ready for a change of pace, so we jumped in our van and drove East. There was a lot of instrument shifting early on, and some pretty bad, derivative songs, too. Our current line-up was born out of trial and error, and we all ended up where we are because that's what something we were working on needed and we’ve stayed there since.
Could you please finish the following statement. An evening with White Rabbits on Valentines Day in Glasgow is like…
An international call to my girlfriend in New York.
White Rabbits will be playing King Tut’s, Glasgow, Feb 14. Their new album, It’s Frightening, is out now.