“The Elements That Gather Here, Upon This (White) Hill(s), Shall Cast No Fear”
To be mesmerized by White Hills is to be mesmerized by a band that appears to be performing at the peak of their considerable powers. The greater truth, however, informs us that White Hills are actually on a continual ascent toward peak powers – growing stronger by each engagement, restless in pursuit of their next sonic revelation.
Which means, you don’t so much listen to White Hills as you do become baptized by them.
Last year’s eponymous “White Hills” album – featuring unique tracks and track orders on both the LP and CD versions – contributes to this listener’s astonishment. An impossible to summarize sphere of sound, emotion and impenetrable riff incantations, to listen closely to “White Hills” is to be overcome by familiar music that you have never heard before, and to be reborn in the possibilities of the unknown which have always been known. Or something. It’s heavy.
Where White Hills attempt to use drone, repetition and themes to replicate the deadening effect of the world we live in, they succeed not only in achieving said replication but equally impressive, a repudiation and declaration that other forms of living are still possible – down, down and down, returning volumes of sound.
Guitarist/singer/visionary Dave W. (“DW” below) and bassist/visionary Ego Sensation (“ES” below) were kind enough to answer the questions of a baptized believer below.
Our first introduction to the music of White Hills came just a few years ago, with your contribution of “Be Yourself” to the trilogy of Hawkwind tribute seven-inches known as “Sonic Attack.” So by way of introduction for this interview today we ask: What does “Be Yourself” mean to you, both the song and the sentiment?
DW: The sentinment is pretty self explanatory.
As for the song, it was the first Hawkwind song I had ever heard. When we were asked to do the project I thought, why not cover the track that started my love affair with Hawkwind in the first place. It’s a monster of a track that is propulsive, hypnotic, and spaced out … what else could you ask for?
ES: I really liked Dave’s choice here because it’s a great song that doesn’t get the attention it deserves. I see the message of the song as a support call out to the freaks of the world. People have a tendency to conform to societal norms usually from pure laziness. Those of us that stray from the herd can always use a reminder from a fellow misfit to “Be Yourself”.
Julian Cope once described Hawkwind this way: ” … a collection of disreputable star rats fuelled by a battery of hallucinogenic influences and united only by an incorrigible sense of psi-powered, pre-1976 cosmic punk rock attitude broken off and gobbled as though it was their sole means of sustenance while playing riffs into the grooves with an relentless head of steam.” Would there be any part of that description that you would take issue with if Mr. Cope were instead talking about White Hills? How do you describe the music of White Hills to someone who has not heard your work?
DW: I wouldn’t take issue with that quote at all. The images it conjures are fantastic.
ES: We’ll need to work on the “disreputable” part (does selling expired moonshine to 4th graders count?) and I definitely need a cup of coffee if I’m to maintain any type of waking attitude, but otherwise I’d say right on!
To people that haven’t heard the music, I act like they’re kidding and walk away, leaving them to surf the internet for answers or wonder what I’m on. If I’m feeling more direct, I say that our sound has quite a range, from heavy-rocked-out assaults to hypnotic, emotionally-charged groovy jams that suck you in and allow your mind to wander.
DW: WHITE HILLS’ music is a heady mix of stardust injected with amphetamines and spit out to the cosmos by three twisted fucks from NYC who hope to open some mind’s along the way.
Both the music and the membership of White Hills seem to be less than strictly defined. Was that something that you always wanted for White Hills? Specifically, how did it come to pass to have Shazzula Nebula join White Hills onstage?
DW: I wouldn’t say it was something that I set out to do with White Hills. The difference with this band as compared to other bands I’ve been in is that I have the vision and direct what way the band will go. If the others that come aboard are fine with following my vision, great; if not, this band is not for them. Sometimes keeping someone involved just for the sake of having, let’s say, a drummer, might not be the best thing for the band if that person isn’t on board with the program. So why keep them? Cut the fat, I say.
Shazzula and I had some contact via MySpace a few years ago. She came to see us play in Leuven, Belgium and passed on, at that time, the latest Aqua Nebula Oscillator LP to me. I absolutely fell in love with it and thought that if anyone could fill the shoes of synth generator with White Hills live it was Shazzula. The next time we toured Europe I asked if she was interested in joining us on stage for a few shows. She was able to and she just fit in perfect. Since then she has joined us at ATP in NY and in the UK as well as playing with us on our upcoming album. At this point it looks like she’ll be joining us as much as she can, where ever and whenever she can.
Speaking of inconsistencies that add depth and intrigue to your work, from where did the idea spring to have separate track listings for this past year’s “White Hills” release, with different songs and artwork for the vinyl and CD versions?
DW: There was such a wealth of material to work with for the self-titled record that I was having a difficult time choosing what to use. There is still a vast amount of recordings from those sessions that haven’t seen the light of day yet!
Once the mixing was finished I started to put the songs together in a sequence. Out of the 5 different sequences I came up with, there were two that I really liked. Instead of ditching one I figured, why not do a vinyl version and a CD version of the album? The label liked the idea and told me to run with it. Seeing that I thought both versions stood on their own I wanted there to be different covers for each that were similar but different.
What is your own personal relationship with music? What was the music that first captured your attention as either a child or an adolescent? Can you tell us what albums were pivotal in your realization that there exists a world of music to explore, music that represents a world far beyond the mundane?
ES: I’m pretty certain I heard a lot of Queen while I was still in the womb which is probably why I’ve always been such a huge fan of goth-inspired music: the Birthday Party, Bauhaus, Siouxsie, Christian Death, etc. It’s so dramatic! When Rozz is whining about the blood on his hands I can’t help but paint my walls black, light up the candles and write some deep poetry. But as a kid, I was really hungry to hear new music. One album that I can remember completely blowing my mind was The Fall, “Early Fall 77-79.” I had never heard of the band before and when I put it on the turntable it seemed like my brain expanded. It sounded so completely different to me than anything else I had heard. It tripped me out and I loved it!
DW: I eat, drink, sleep, and breathe music! My earliest memories involve music in some way or another. I’ve always banged on things and have been fascinated with sound. My Dad was a Jazz guy, nothing out, strictly big band and hard-bop. My mother was a bit more eclectic. She was the one that purchased Hendrix, Jefferson Airplane and the few other odd balls in their record collection. The first LP I became infatuated with was Jefferson Airplane’s “Bark”. Around the age of 9 I had a friend who had two older brothers, one in college, the other in high school. Through them is how I learned about punk and the like. I would save my allowance for the month until I had enough to buy a record then the first thing I’d do is head to the local record store.
Hearing Public Image Limited’s “Metal Box” happened at this time … that was a mind opening experience for me. That album to this day blows me away. It is truly psychedelic, more so than so much crap that gets lumped into that category. From this time until now I’ve continued to seek out different music that hits the spot for me.
Do you care to comment on the rumor (the rumor that I am attempting to start right now) that White Hills will soon release a limited-edition picture-disc 7″ featuring a cover of “White Man in Hammersmith Palais” on side A and a cover of “Run to the Hills” on side B?
ES: Good for you for starting a completely unfounded rumor! Now Dave will tell you why it will never happen …
DW: All I have to say is two words why this would never happen … The Clash.
How did you first hear about Austin Psych Fest? What are your expectations? Are there any bands in particular that you are looking forward to seeing?
ES: In terms of bands/people I’ve never seen before, I’m really looking forward to seeing Roky Erickson and Cloudland Canyon. Of the bands I have seen before, I’m looking forward to Pontiak, Sleepy Sun and The Black Angels. I love when we play festivals because it gives me an opportunity to find new bands that I’ve been missing out on.
DW: I first heard of the festival from Shazzula.
Expectations…none really. I’m just looking forward to being a part of it.
What bands have you been listening to lately? What album have you surprised yourself with lately, in regard to how frequently you have listened to it?
ES: What really surprises me is that all week long I’ve been listening to Van Halen’s “Women and Children First.” I’ve only recently become a fan to be honest: one day I just woke up fascinated with David Lee Roth. What can I say? Dave W. found me a copy of the album with the poster of Diamond Dave chained to a fence! It’s classic cheese! In other news, I can’t stop listening to The Flaming Lips’ “Embryonic” and I’ve also been loving Bauhaus’ 2008 release, “Go Away White.”
DW: I’ve become completely obsessed with old goth bands that I never checked out back in the day. I’m hooked on all things Virgin Prunes, Sex Gang Children, and Alien Sex Fiend at the moment. All of these bands made some amazing fucked up music! Very heady, intense and psychedelic. They were all extremely committed to their art in ways that you don’t see in bands today … very inspiring!
Newer things I’m hooked on … Wovenhand’s “The Threshingfloor,” Killing Joke’s new album “Absolute Dissent,” Ff’s “Feeling,” Umberto’s “Prophecy of the Black Widow,” and Fabulous Diamonds, “II.”
In his excellent book, “Strange Days Indeed,” Francis Wheen writes the following about being a chubby, 13-year old boy attempting to decipher the meaning of “Thank Christ for the Bomb,” saying the following:
“It amused and puzzled me that three hairy scruffs in an electric blues band were singing in praise of nuclear deterrence and the policy of Mutually Assured Destruction, rightly known as MAD, and implying that the destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki hadn’t been all bad. ‘Since that day it’s been stalemate/Everyone’s scared to obliterate/So it seems for peace we can thank the Bomb …’ If I bought the LP and listened to it every evening on my Dansette portable gramophone with the requisite brow-furrowed intensity, I’d deconstruct it’s meaning sooner or later.”
Your thoughts? What music has taken you the most time to deconstruct? What is the most common “meaning” that you see ascribed in error to White Hills? What is the most ludicrous meaning ever ascribed to the music of White Hills?
ES: I think deconstructing lyrics is a tricky business. Words are just the basis for the creation of meaning. It’s necessary to know the writer’s point of view and personal style before you can fully understand if the words are to be taken at face value or if they’re tinged with sarcasm.
As a kid, I was really fascinated with Jim Morrison’s poetry. I killed hours reading and trying to decipher the meaning of his words. What I’ve realized is that what makes music magic is that the listener can ascribe their own meaning to a good song – it becomes something very personal to them. You start connecting your own emotions with the sound of the words and the instruments. When I listen to the Flaming Lips’ song “Rainin’ Babies” I have no idea what he’s talking about but the song moves me to tears everytime I hear it because I’ve created my own meaning for it.
DW: Have to say I’ve never paid attention to what White Hills means to others. I’m just focused on what it is to me. However, the most ludicrous meaning I’ve heard someone project on to us has to be that we are a white power band. I mean, even when we opened up for the Flaming Lips Wayne asked what our name meant … and jokingly said, “I was kind of hoping you guys would be racists or something …
What’s next for White Hills?
DW: We have a new album, titled “H-p1,” coming out on Thrill Jockey in June. It’s a 2xLP monster! I’m really pleased with how this one came out.
We will be hitting the road in the US and Europe beginning this March through May. Then more US dates in the summer and back to Europe in the fall. Somewhere in there we will find the time to record a new album as well!
Besides that I’m finishing up tracks that will see the light of day as a 45 on the Irish label Trensmat, as well as ending up on a split LP with Farflung. Many things are bubbling in the White Hills camp … too early to talk about them now. Stay tuned, more to come soon.