Monday, November 21, 2016
Interview :: White Room
"I think it's important at this stage while we haven't got any massive demands on us, that we have that time to write and develop."
Interview :: White Room
Words: Faith Gledhill
Brighton-based quintet White Room have been extremely busy of late. Over the course of the year they've been steadily gathering momentum, appearing at some of our most high profile festivals and touring relentlessly up and down the country. With an ever-growing fanbase and a sound that just keeps getting bigger and better, I think it's only a matter of time before these guys are the name on everybody's lips... and rightfully so.
2015 debut EP release 'Fizzy Liquid' was unwaveringly good, and was recorded with the help of none other than Paul Weller. Since then, they've come out with the psychedelic-rock tinted 'Think Too Much', and are ending 2016 on a high with the release of a brand new single. 'Stole The I.V'.
The band (frontman Jake Smallwood, guitarist Jacob Newman, keys/guitarist Tristan Sava, bassist Josie McNamara and drummer Hen Sava) have been playing together since 2012, and so already have a great deal of experience in the industry, with their live shows being consistently exciting, coherent and formidable. I was lucky enough to be able to chat with the band prior to the Leeds stop on their whirlwind UK tour in association with This Feeling...
What's the story behind White Room? How did you first come together as a band?
Jake: Me, Jacob, Tristan and Hen have been playing together since we were little 'uns. We had another bass player for a while, this guy called James, and then he left and we got Josie in about three or four months ago. Jacob, Tristan and I were at school together and Hen and Tristan are cousins. We eventually started writing songs, then just sort of built on it like that and started realising that we wanted to take it more seriously. Josie came along and everything became serious!
Josie, did you know the guys before you joined the band?
Josie: Yeah, I went to college with Jake and then became friends with the boys through him. So I've known this lot since we were about 16 or 17.
Jake: Josie and I, we worked on another project... we used to record it and stuff so we have worked together a lot musically, so when we needed a bass player it just made sense.
Josie: When they did their first gig as White Room, I supported them with my then musical project so it's all gone in a big circle!
What did you grow up listening to, and do you feel it's influenced your own musical style?
Tristan: What we listened to when we were little has definitely influenced our musical style at the moment. Our parents listened to The Beatles... my dad's first gig was The Beatles in Brighton. They listened to The Doors, Pink Floyd... so we love all the old stuff. It's a good sound we've got at the moment... at least I think so!
Jacob: When we were younger, obviously through our parents we used to listen to a lot of older stuff and then as you sort of get older and start playing in bands and stuff, you're more aware of new music and start to be influenced by that and there's a nice balance of old and new.
Jake: I listened to The Kinks back when I was younger and The Beatles obviously. They were the two big ones for me. Flaming Lips as well. One of the songs I remember a lot from my childhood was 'I Love Candy' which is an awful song but I remember once a CD got posted through the door and I picked it up, listened to it and it was that. For some reason, even though I was a little kid and I was like 'Oh I love The Kinks and I love The Beatles' that song got me more than anything! I was like 'Yes, I DO love candy!'
You've just released your new single 'Stole The I.V' last week... what's the story behind that one?
Jake: Last September when had our EP release, we had Martin Duffy from Primal Scream DJ'ing that night. We ended up going back to my house afterwards and had a big night... we were upstairs jamming in my room and he was sitting there playing proper Primal Scream style Damaged sort of keys on the piano and I came up with the chorus 'Sit back relax my dear...' so we've had it for ages, that little idea. That's where it originated, I guess. We shelved it for a while, and then thought 'that's a really nice hook, we should do something with that,' and then a few months ago just pulled it off the shelf and decided to make something of it. We've changed the lyrics around a little bit and came up with a proper concept for it.
Jacob: It sort of taught us to never neglect music that you've shelved. We write a lot as a band and sometimes stuff does get sidelined. But it's good to have recordings of everything, whether its on phones or demos, just to have them available really.
In terms of your creative process and bringing a song to fruition, what comes first, generally... is it the lyrics or the music? Or is it different every time?
Jacob: Definitely a mixture.
Jake: With 'In My Head', I had the lyrics and Tristan had this guitar thing and we ended up moulding it together, so sometimes it's like that. Sometimes we'll get the music down and I'll have a melody, sing random words and just add stuff to it.
Jacob: You don't want to get dragged into one set process because it becomes boring and the songs become way too similar. It's nice to have a contrast.
Tristan: Yeah, it becomes way too mechanical.
You've worked quite closely with Paul Weller in the past... how did that come about?
Jacob: It was a chance encounter actually.
Jake: My brother walked into a shop with his girlfriend and Paul Weller went up to her and said he really liked her necklace. They ended up chatting and my brother told him about us and how we'd been inspired by him, and he wanted to hear some music. We'd been recording at the time and had just recorded a little video for it, so he showed him that. He really liked the tune, and wanted to get us down to his studio, so it all just went from there. I was on my way back from the coast and got a call from my brother saying 'you'll never guess what I've just sorted you out with!' I thought it'd be some interview or something, and he was like 'I've just seen Paul Weller... he liked your music and wants to work with you!'
Jacob: We didn't believe it at first!
It must have been a massive learning curve for you guys...
Jake: Massively! We went into the studio thinking we knew what we were doing, but it completely got turned on it's head. It definitely made us wake up. We were under the name of The Basis when the whole Weller thing came about and as soon as we'd done the first session with him we said 'lets get serious now, lets buckle down and really think about the tunes,' We changed the name of the band, had a look at our sound because we weren't happy with it before... it was more us when we were young kids, and we wanted to make it more mature and more how we are now.
Jacob: We went in with the idea of not necessarily doing an EP, but sort of three or four songs... it ended up with Paul and Charles, who was the producer at the time, said 'this is the song, concentrate on this... work on it, and make it sound as good as it can,' and we ended up doing that for the full three or so days.
Both in terms of live performances and your studio recordings, you have a very strong presence and come across as quite self assured, which is great. Confidence is key! Did you know starting out exactly what kind of band you wanted to be, both in terms of sound and image, or is that something that's developed and changed over time?
Jacob: No, we had no idea!
Jake: It just grows with what you listen to, what inspires you. As a band, you've got to grow and change otherwise it gets stagnant.
Tristan: That again brings Paul back into the conversation, because every album he does is completely different and we want that vibe about us as well.
Josie: We're all so young as well, we're babies! So to have a set idea of what you want your sound to be like forever is restrictive.
Jacob: Regardless of whether you're small or you're a massive band, you've got to be constantly developing.
Jake: Arctic Monkeys for example, you listen to 'AM' and in comparison to 'What People Say I Am...' it's very different. You have to progress and change and if you've got true fans, they'll grow with you and they'll go on that journey with you.
You've had a very busy and successful festival season. Do you think, as a band, there's less pressure in playing a festival set than there is your own headline show?
Jacob: They're very different. Obviously it depends on the festival, but generally you turn up and you play rather than being there the whole day and soundchecking and stuff.
Tristan: Usually with festivals, it's people that you've never met or have never seen before that turn up where as with headline shows you always see so many familiar faces.
Hen: There's always so many walk in's with festivals.
If you could collaborate with anyone - band or artist, past or present - who would you all choose and why?
Tristan: Mine would be David Gilmour because he's my absolute favourite person in the world.
Jake: John Leckie or George Martin.
Josie: David Bynre... I think that would be a wacky experience.
Jacob: We were listening to Nick Cave earlier, I think he'd be fun to have around in the studio.
Hen: Probably Jimi Hendrix. He's so much fun to play along to and there's so much room for you to do your own kind of thing with it.
You recently played the This Feeling 10th birthday gig in London and have worked with them quite closely this year... how did you first come to be involved with them, and what's the experience of working and touring with them been like?
Jake: It was quite a while ago. We did a Brighton show with them, and Bex who runs the shows there watched our set and really liked it and got back to Mikey about us. We were meant to play a show for them up in Glasgow but that ended up falling through. But when we were up in Manchester we contacted them asking if they had any shows while we were up there, and they got us on there. It was a really good gig and went really well so it all just sort of went from there. We saw Dantevilles there, who we've ended up being really good mates with.
Jacob: They've been so good to us, it's been brilliant. They're the reason we've been getting around the country really. It's a credit to them, but bad testiment to the industry as a whole because there's not anyone else like them.
Hen: They're so good to so many bands who are just starting out. They put on so many gigs and help start their careers. They've put on so many bands that are now massive.
Finally... what's next for White Room? Can we be expecting an album anytime soon?
Jake: We are just writing, writing, writing at the moment. We've obviously got the tour going on at the moment, which finishes in Nottingham on the 25th. We want to write and demo lots of tracks, make up a big body of work... we want to play live as much as possible, and play new stuff live. The release schedule isn't decided yet but we'll probably drop another single at some point and see what happens! Nothing's set in stone but there's going to be a lot of new material coming out so that's the main thing really, we want to be writing solidly for the next...
Jacob: ...30 years! Testing our new material live is always great, it gives us this fresh perspective on what you've been working on for two weeks in the studio... sometimes you think it's amazing, but then you play it live and it's crap.
Josie: I think it's important at this stage while we haven't got any massive demands on us, that we have that time to write and develop.
Hen: It's important as well to be able to write and gig at the same time, not just one or the other.
Jacob: We get asked a lot what we want to achieve with the band, what we'd be proud of, they think you'd want like three or four albums in five years' time but it's about having a body of work that you can be proud of, whether that's five, ten or thirty years down the line... however many albums or singles we have, or fanbase, that's the end goal.
White Room play:
25 The Maze, Nottingham
29 Purple Turtle, Reading
31 OTC Bar, London
More info: FACEBOOK
The original version of this feature appeared on Fiction Is Not Imagination. Click the link here to read more from the author.