Austin City Limits

ACL Preview: Deliciously Dark London Lads White Lies

Once upon a time, not so long ago, three young lads from West London started a band. They called it Fear of Flying, and found a niche in the neighborhood's "Way Out West" club scene, a promoter's idea to raise money for a local football club and expose the neighborhood teenagers - who, according to a 2007 article in Time Out London, were pretty much stuck in an area known as a "haven for antipodean pissheads moshing to Nirvana tribute bands [rather] than for any musical creativity" - to some new music.

Soon enough, Fear of Flying wrote a song called "Unfinished Business" and were sufficiently inspired by its dark, brooding overtones and how easily it came to them - they wrote it in 15 minutes - to make a clean break with the past and rechristen themselves White Lies. Almost instantaneously, reports their PR bio, "Their image blackened to suit their new mood, and their gigs began to rage with such devout intensity that some fans were literally driven to tears."

So were bloggers and even a few regular folks on this side of the pond when White Lies played at SXSW earlier this year - shortly after the trio's debut album, To Lose My Life..., reached No. 1 in their native UK. After a busy summer of festival after festival, White Lies is back on these shores for - what else? - one more festival. Rocks Off spoke with drummer Jack Brown Monday morning from Minneapolis, where White Lies was preparing to open the first date of the Kings of Leon tour that brings them to the Austin City Limits festival this weekend and Toyota Center next Tuesday.

Rocks Off: What was the band doing at this time last year?

Jack Brown: I think we were probably already a little way into touring. We did a few festivals last summer, not even half as many as we did this year, but I think this time last summer we were probably doing a small headline tour of our own. I really can't remember. I know we've been on the road now for the best part of a year and a half, though, so it's pretty likely we were playing somewhere around the world.

RO: How has the band handled becoming so successful in the UK in such a short time?

JB: It's quite strange, because for us I think the level of success we've achieved in the UK so far is probably a little bit beyond what we were expecting. And since the album got released and went to No. 1 in the UK, we haven't really spent much time in the UK. We've been touring all over the world, because as soon as you gain success somewhere like the UK, it does open a lot of doors for you elsewhere.

We actually haven't had that much time to sit and take stock of it, but it's something that we're very proud of, and it's something that we definitely feel like we had to work hard for. It's been a great platform for us to build from, but it doesn't feel by any means like the pinnacle of our achievements yet.

RO: The songs on the album are very dark lyrically, but the music is very uplifting and hopeful. Where does that combination come from?

JB: The lyrics are written by Charles [Cave], the bass player, and they were all written within a fairly short period of time - I'd say probably about four or five months before and during the recording process of the album. I think they're a reflection of one side of Charles' personality, definitely, and it's a side we like to use when we're making music and doing something creative.

In terms of the music, though, it's quite a collaborative process, and it really is quite democratic. No one has more say than anyone else when it comes to writing the music. Really, it's just a combination of all our personal tastes. That varies a lot, you know. We don't all love the same bands, and we're not all obsessed by the same music at the same time. When we write songs, I think it's kind of a cocktail of everything we're enjoying or everything that's influencing us.

RO: How do the different band members' musical tastes differ from each other?

JB: At the moment, I think Harry [McVeigh], the singer, is listening to quite a lot of electronic music, and that's a weird thing because obviously it's not something that you'd hear in our songs, but that's something that he's into. Charles and I have been DJing quite a lot on the tour recently, so we've actually gotten into quite dancey music at the moment.

I don't know whether that will have any effect on what's to come when we get the chance to start recording the next record, which will come early next year. I just know that between the three of us, we've all bought more music in the past year than we've bought in the rest of our lives. In terms of broadening our horizons, we've been able to do that this year, and I think that will give us a huge amount of ideas coming into making the next record.

RO: Are you guys used to living on the road at this point?

JB: Yeah, pretty much. I think we've toured just as much as any other band in the world this year, really. We did a little adding up of all the festivals we played this summer when we were bored in the airport the other day. It came to like 35 festivals or something. That's a really insane amount of festivals to play, considering we did them in pretty much every continent in the world.

It's been a weird experience for us, because you're always moving. You don't ever really stop and think about quite how much you've done. It does get tiring, but at the same time, when everything you're doing feels like it's still something new and exciting to you, then it doesn't ever become a drag.

RO: What's your favorite thing about playing big outdoor festivals like Austin City Limits or Coachella?

JB: Outdoor festivals are kind of a mixed bag. It depends on where you are and how many people know you, that kind of thing, but if you play a great outdoor show at a festival, it can really be a defining moment in a band's career. It can be a really important moment. To be honest, if you play in front of 30-40,000 people and they all love it, it's kind of the best you can do as a band.

I think that's really the best thing about doing outdoor festivals, is the chance that you have to make a real impact with so many people in one go. Obviously, White Lies could never go play in Austin to a few thousand people. It would be a much smaller concert if we were headlining it ourselves.

RO: A lot of bands' second albums are about what happens on tour for their first album. Is that going to be the case with White Lies?

JB: I'm not sure, but I'd like to think we'd probably steer clear of that. For us the whole writing process has always been an escapist kind of thing, and the idea of listening to music for most of us is more about having an escape than hearing about everyday life anyway.

You also kind of run the risk of becoming a little bit self-indulgent when you do that. Do people really want to know what I've been doing on a tour bus for a whole year? Probably not.

3 p.m. Sunday, October 4, XBox 360 Stage and with Kings of Leon, 7 p.m. Tuesday, October 6, at Toyota Center, 1510 Polk, 866-446-8849 or

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Chris Gray has been Music Editor for the Houston Press since 2008. He is the proud father of a Beatles-loving toddler named Oliver.
Contact: Chris Gray