White Hills are a heavy, spaced out psychedelic outfit from New York City and a band that should be witnessed live as anyone who experienced their blistering performances at this year’s Supersonic & Roadburn Festivals will testify! With a live album due out any time now from their said performance at Roadburn, and with a new album being geared for release in the 1st part of 2012 via Thrill Jockey, I couldn’t pass up the chance to fire some questions over to their guitarist Dave W, I’d also like to say thanks to Jurgen from Roadburn for helping make this happen.
Hi Dave, let’s get this interview rolling by giving us a brief history of White Hills along with how and why you formed?
I started recording what became the first White Hills album at the end of 2004. At that time I wasn’t satisfied with any of the bands I was playing in, so I went about recording an album of music that I wanted to do. Out of these recordings White Hills was born.
When the words Psyche & Space Rock get banded about, Hawkwind are the obvious band that spring to many a hippies haze induced mind, but who would you personally cite as being an influence on the White Hills sound?
Besides Hawkwind I would say Neu!, Amon Duul II, The Pink Fairies and early PiL for starters.
Although you’re a band based in New York, fans stateside were a little slow to pick up on White Hills as early on in your career you had greater success in Europe than on your home turf, why do you think that is?
That was completely my doing. At first I did not concentrate on trying to get exposure in the US. My thought process was, people in Europe would understand what we were doing more than people in the US. Besides that, at the time, the thought of touring in Europe was more enticing than touring in the US.
You have what some might consider the Spinal Tap Drummer Syndrome as the core of White Hills is yourself on Guitar/Vox and Ego Sensation on Bass/Vox but you’ve had a few different souls bashing the skins over the years, why has this been the case, is it that you haven’t found the ideal drum sound, or is it purely down to previous drummers being unable to commit full time?
No one’s died yet so I don’t think we’ve reached Spinal Tap proportions! It’s just the way it is with this band. To me it’s neither here nor there. It hasn’t slowed us down at all. In the end I think it only makes us stronger. They all come and go for different reasons. Some we still work with to this day like Kid Millions and Antronhy. We are fortunate to have been able to play with a number of talented drummers over the years and look forward to continuing this rich tradition we have.
Please tell us about your collaboration with Shazzula of Aqua Nebula Oscillator, how did this come about, what you feel she brings to your sound and will we see White Hills work with her on future releases and/or tours?
We met Shazzula in 2009 at a show we did in Lueven, Belgium. We had been in touch before then but not for long. At the show she gave me a copy of the latest Aqua Nebula Oscillator album and I just loved it. It was then that I thought it would be cool to have her join us on stage at some point in time. Soon enough we had the opportunity in Paris. After that she joined us at ATP in New York, which just happened to be days before heading into the studio to record H-p1, so we asked her to stay along for the recordings. Since then she’s joined us on stage in London and at Roadburn. No plans at this time to work with her, but you never know what the futures holds.
Your music also has a flowing jam feel to proceedings, is jamming an integral part of White Hills and does jamming make up for the basis of new songs or before any notes are struck, do you already have an idea and/or concept in mind?
We do “jam”, so to speak, when we rehearse. Sometimes these jams yield riffs that we then shape into songs. Other times I have songs fairly well constructed upon bringing them into rehearsal. Ego also brings a lot of cool bass riffs in that we mess around with. It just depends. We don’t like to stick to one way of coming up with song ideas as the creative process is a tricky beast. You never know where inspiration is lying. You have to be open to let it come out naturally.
How important is guitar tone to you? Are you one of those guitarists that continually chop and change their equipment looking for that illusive tone? And for the tech geeks amongst the readership, can you give us a rundown of the equipment both you and Ego use?
I’m not anal about my tone. I feel that you can make any amp scream given the opportunity. I don’t continually change my gear but I do have an obsession with guitar pedals and synths. I’m always searching for new gadgets. I have a regular set up that I use when touring. When recording different pedals come in and out of my chain and different amps are used. The pedals I use when playing live include Homebrew Electronics Big D, UFO Fuzz Octave, Psilocybe Phase Shifter, Boss RV-3 Reverb, DD-5 Delay, DD-20 Giga Delay, Moogerfooger Ring Modulator and Electro Harmonix Freeze. The amps I used on H-p1 were an Orange Tiny Terror and a Musicman 112 RD-65. For our latest album, to be released in March of 2012, I used a Marshall JCM900 and a Musicman HD-130. Ego uses a Moogerfooger Murf, Boss DD-7 delay, RV-5 Reverb, Hombrew Electronics Hematoma Overdrive Pre-Amp, Ibanez Tube Screamer, and an Electro Harmonix Freeze. For H-p1 she played through a Traynor amp and for the latest she played through an Acoustic amp.
Although your music is predominantly instrumental, vocal duties are split between yourself and Ego, but what themes/subjects do your lyrics follow and are vocals an important part of the overall sonics of White Hills?
Sure vocals are an important part of the whole. For the better part of our career the vocals have been treated like an instrument just adding more texture to the song. I like leaving things to an individuals imagination, so my lyrics tend to be vague even though I’m conveying some specific meaning for myself. I want the listener to interpret them however they see fit. This personalizes the music for the individual, which I think makes it stick in ones mind more. Themes and subjects are many from love to hate, the universe, dissatisfaction with political and religious systems and so on.
You’re currently working on your new album, can you tell us a little bit about this, where it’s being recorded, who’s engineering it and will Thrill Jockey be handling the release again?
The album is done and is being manufactured as we speak. Thrill Jockey will be releasing it on March 20, 2012. It is titled “Frying On This Rock”. We recorded it with Martin Bisi in Brooklyn. Martin has been recording bands in NYC for some 30 years now. He’s worked with the SWANS, Sonic Youth, Brian Eno, Bill Laswell, Lydia Lunch, John Zorn, Herbie Hancock and the list goes on and on. Working with Martin was great. He really knows how to capture a band. We look forward to working with him again in the future.
Roadburn Records are also releasing your live set from when you played the annual Roadburn Festival in 2011, firstly it must have been a great honour to be asked to play the event in the 1st place and how did the idea of releasing your set come about, also on reflection, are you happy with the bands performance and the sound which was captured?
It is always a great honour to be asked to play Roadburn. We love that festival and hope to be asked to play again! The idea came up before the festival. Roadburn asked us if it was something that we would consider and we jumped at the opportunity. Fans have been bugging us for a live album for sometime now and we thought this could be a perfect way to do one. Roadburn always does a great job at recording each band that plays the festival, so the quality of the recording was not an issue at all for me. I think we played well and it is true to form for our performance that day. What you hear is how it happened, no cover ups of those little glitches.
You also played Supersonic earlier this year, a set I was lucky enough to catch which I have to say, completely blew me away, but how did it go for you, and what are your thoughts on the festival as a whole?
Supersonic was a blast! We were exhausted as the night before we played in Maastricht, Holland and left after that show to make it to Birmingham in time. However, we were all excited and, in my opinion, gave one hell of a performance that night. Supersonic, like Roadburn, is a tight ship the promoters are true fans of the music and that shows. Artists are treated well and for all that can happen at these events both run extremely well and seamless.
Besides the release of your new album, what else does 2012 have on the horizon for White Hills, can we expect any live dates in the UK/Europe?
We will be back in the UK/Europe in March of 2012 right around the release of “Frying On This Rock”. This time will see us playing in Ireland, Scotland, UK, France, Belgium, The Netherlands, Germany, and Finland. Right after that we will be on the road in the US. We will then get back to Europe to hit countries/cities that we missed out on the first time around. Both Ego and I are working on respective solo releases that will hopefully see the light of day sometime next year as well. I’ve also started a new project with long time WH collaborator Antronhy called Ff. We have an album finished and are shopping it to labels now. Somewhere in there White Hills will also get a new album done!
Thanks for the interview Dave and please use this space for any final words….
Thank you Lee, it was a pleasure! In closing I’d just like to say don’t believe the lie…blow up your TV and open your mind. There is a different way to exist outside of the greedhead’s grasp.
Keep up to date with White Hills at www.facebook.com/pages/WHITE-HILLS/200622715617.
Interviewed by: Lee Edwards