The festival experience with... White Lies

Ahead of their British Sound Project show on Saturday 30th September, we revisited our chat with White Lies where Henry Lewis got the band's perspective on a music lover's favourite time of the year.

Henry Lewis

Last updated: 6th Sep 2017.
Originally published: 20th Mar 2017

Image: White Lies

White Lies' ascent to indie greatness was a fairly rapid process. Forming with their new name in 2007, away from their former moniker of Fear Of Flying, in just two years the group had been included in the list for the BRITs Critics' choice as well as The BBC Sound of 2009.

In the same year they brought out number one debut album in To Lose My Life...  coupled with a phenomenal summer of live shows that included performances at Coachella, Glastonbury, Reading Festival and Leeds Festival, with a handful of these shows broadcast online in what was known to the band and its fans as 'The Summer Of Death'. 

Since then, the group have released a further three albums, the latest, Friends, coming in late 2016. Ahead of festival appearances at City Sound Project and Liverpool Sound City, we caught up with Charles Cave, the band's bassist, to talk about where the new album fits into their set, their earliest festival memories and more.

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Hi there, how are you? What's happening in the world of White Lies at the moment?

I'm good thanks, I'm just sat in a cafe in Groningen in Holland. We've got a gig tonight, we've got the last four shows of this main block of headline touring for the new album. Tonight's the first of four in Holland - we do so well here, I've just been to see the venue and it looks like the Barbican or something. It's a proper seated theatre for two and a half thousand people, it's going to be great. 

How has the new album gone down with your supporters?

It's been really good. I think when a band has released a new record and you're heading out on tour, at least if you're us, we were very cautious about how much new material we'd even include in our set because we were kind of like 'yeah we're supporting a new record, but we basically want to give people a great evening and if that means doing a greatest hits set then so be it'.

Actually, people have almost been more enthusiastic about songs from the new album then they have older stuff, so gradually we've just added more and more tracks from Friends and we're going to be playing at least seven or eight songs out of ten so it's been wonderful to be honest.

It's something we weren't really prepared for - we hadn't even learned how to play about three of the tracks from Friends - and we were like "shit we need to get this together". It's something that all bands dream of, that their newest record is really going to connect as well or better than the ones that preceded it.

So when you play a festival set, will things change?

I think people's attention span for music is fairly low compared to what you might hope in some ways. It's the same for me; if I go to a gig I usually hit about the hour mark or one hour ten and I'm like "I've kind of had my fill, it's been good, I'm ok." I think that you have to remember at festivals, potentially people that are coming to see you have already been to see four or five other bands that day so it might sound a bit cynical, but you don't really want to test people too much at a festival.

You basically want to go out there and make it easy for people to have a great time and usually that comes from familiarity. So for this festival season I think we'll be going out and playing the greatest hits of everything that has come before, and perhaps the three or four most popular songs from the new album and that will be us.

I'm really looking forward to it, most of the sets will be about an hour long and we'll see how it goes. I'm a big fan of that, it allows you to put everything in a more concentrated period of time, rather than thinking about padding out a whole hour and forty minutes or something.

You just go out and do your thing and you've really got to try and impress because you know people are going to directly compare your performance to four or five others that they've already seen within the same day so you really have to have a good set.

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What are your earliest festival memories as either a fan or as a band?

My earliest memories of festivals as a punter would definitely be Reading because that's our local festival and we all went there as sort of a pilgrimage really. The day you got your GCSE results, you then went on to Reading and I have memories of putting loads of makeup on to go and watch Marylin Manson and Iron Maiden.

It was just carnage back then, we didn't know anything and I think the first year we went we pitched our tent next to a stream and it totally overflowed, we all had to ditch our tents because they smelled like humans, waste and all that kind of stuff.

As a band our earliest memory is probably Glastonbury, although it went by in a flash. We've done Glastonbury maybe, I'm going to say three times, and it was only on the third time which was I think two years ago that I remembered anything of what had happened.

The first two times were just so daunting and scary in some ways. Going out and playing in front of that many people I just sort of went into auto pilot. I just sort of played, and then came off, and people were like "how was it" and I had no idea. You can watch the footage back of that first year when we were touring our first record.

If you watch White Lies playing 'Death' at Glastonbury in 2009 it's pretty amazing just to see that many people. We all look like rabbits caught in the headlights but it was remarkable. I think when people very occasionally come up to me and we get into conversation and they ask what I do and if they haven't heard of the band and they say "how should I find you?" - if you wanted to see who we were and what we do, you should watch that video because that's pretty much it.

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What's it like for a band come festival season?

To be brutally honest it can be quite boring. You either have the option of sitting in a portacabin or wander around watching bands, but you're normally on the same line up as the same bands because you all follow the same logical circuit. So there's been lots of times where the entire summer we've been on the same bill as five or six specific bands that are there every day. There's only so many times you want to watch the same band in one summer.

There's definitely stuff going on this summer that we're doing, I don't know whether it's been confirmed so I'm probably not allowed to say... We're doing a festival somewhere close to Scandinavia that has Herbie Hancock playing and Jethro Tull, just lots of bands that make up a really eclectic line-up.

That's the kind of thing I look forward to as you're sure to see stuff you won't see for the rest of the year. I need to check the line-ups of other festivals we're doing, it's only just starting to come together now but I will go and watch other music. It's good to bring a lot of books for the festival circuit because there's a lot of down time. 

Do you notice much difference when you're at European festivals as opposed to UK ones?

Not particularly. People travel around so much that no matter where you go you'll always get a large percentage of British, Spanish, Italian, German or Dutch people. People move around the continent a lot in the summer I think. There's not many places where there's a real significant difference.

The Japanese are very polite and respectful, so they kind of get really excited during the song and then when it's over they just politely applaud and go silent and wait for the next one to start. That's sometimes quite interesting. Everywhere else people are muddy, people are having a good time, people have had a few drinks and that's sort of it.

You've got a couple of city orientated festivals, are they better or worse than your 'traditional' festival? 

I enjoy them, it probably boils down to the fact that me and the boys in the band are all city boys, we all grew up in London and we probably feel most homely in a metropolitan environment, more so than fields. I think we like the buzz that goes around cities and those kind of festivals where you can hop from place to place.When they're planned well I think they're fantastic. 

Canterbury is going to be great, we haven't played there for years. In fact I don't think we've ever played as White Lies, we definitely have as Fear of Flying, so this will be a big one.

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White Lies play at this year's British Sound Project at Victoria Warehouse in Manchester on Saturday 30th September, find tickets below

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