We spoke with Stephen Patterson of White Rabbits about recording the band's new album, Milk Famous
It sounds like Milk Famous was a departure for you guys, did you try to do anything different on this record?
I don't think we ever set out to do anything differently. They said that about the last record too, but I think that's a part of getting to know new music. What we tried to do is use different sorts of sounds than we had been using in the past. I think in It's Frightening
we kind of ran away from of the more overt "world music" influence, It was more stripped down and pretty aggressive. And I think we still pursue the songwriting in the same way, but more of a shift in the surface level of the music, in the arrangements and the aesthetic and things like that.
"Every record you make is a reaction to the one you made before."
I'm still proud of (It's Frightening
), but we wanted to do things like sample ourselves, create a loop out of that, and then have two drummers play on top of that. Another approach was to have every single instrument, including the vocals, play into the rhythm of the song, so the rhythm section isn't just bass guitar and drums. I think we were just more open to trying out sounds that weren't necessarily rock and roll sounds. I think it's because you travel in the same band for a while, and you have the same gear, and you're just like, "I want these songs to sound different than they have in the past." It just seemed like the next logical step for us, something that we were all interested in. I found myself listening to a lot more Pop music and RnB, and Hip-Hop. And I think that kind of music influenced the way I was singing stuff. We started using programmed drums, which we had never used before. That felt like it was totally cool for us to do, like it seemed right. We felt very comfortable with usingthat kind of stuff.
"Hypnosis was a big thing I was into."
Every record you make is a reaction to the one you made before. I wanted to make sure we used space in the right way on this one, and long instrumental passages or even just being more patient in general. Not boring, or "mature" or whatever, just patient. Hypnosis was a big thing I was into. Like, you'd be listening to the track and it gets to this place where you find yourself saying, "Wow, I just really zoned out for the last minute and a half and I didn't realize it." And then the vocals came back in and you're thinking, "What just happened?" I really like that effect. But that's strictly on the musical side. Lyrically, we're all getting to that age when you're turning 30, and this happens to a lot of people when you turn 30, where you get more comfortable in your own skin. It's kind of a fact of life. There was a lot of anxiety that used to go into everything that we would write, like, "But if we put that tom hit there, what does that say about us as people!?" Like you'd get really over-analytical about every single thing. Lyrics were a hard thing for me to feel comfortable with, and I think I just got more comfortable with thinking, "Okay, I'm just going to use this to work some shit out." [Laughing] It's very cliché, you know, but it was new to us, so... I don't care.
Would you bring lyrics into the band, or would you guys write lyrics together?
No, I'd write most of the lyrics out, Alex [Even, Guitarist] helps with some lyrics, and some of the other guys help with lyrics too. It's a group thing, but I don't think we could really sit in a room and have nothing started and say, "What do you think is cool sounding? [Laughing] You know?" So, a lot of the time I'll have a big chunk of it and be very insecure about a few lines and then a couple of hours later we'd have something going.
How do songs come out of nothing for you, how do they start?
I put myself in a dark room and play guitars and drums and yell and record it until I hear something that sounds like it could work.
So you record while you write?
Yeah. It doesn't work for me to be like, "I have just been struck by inspiration about this thing. And I am going to sit down and compose this song." It just doesn't happen that way for me. I'll create a loop, like for example the piano loop in "Heavy Metal"
or like that drum loop in "Are You Free." More often than not I'll start with a rhythmic element, something that will keep you going, that will force you to keep trying. I was a drummer before doing anything [in White Rabbits] so it's easier for me to get excited about something if I'm excited about the rhythm. Then I'll play guitar or piano along to that and just do whatever comes off the top of my head for three hours, and sometimes absolutely nothing happens. And sometimes you get like four seeds of songs that happen in that moment. But mostly it's just like an improvisational "throw as much shit at the wall as you can." That's pretty much how it starts, and it's a slowly focusing lens, it seems. That's the way I usually describe it.
"We knew after we finished, that it would be a real challenge to recreate it, and that was exciting to us."
From what I've heard of Milk Famous it seems like it was, like you were saying, a lot of original sounds. It seems like you guys really took it apart in the studio. How are you guys planning on putting it back together onstage next month?
We've been spending the past four months together trying to get everything together and it's been a real pain in the ass. After we finished (Milk Famous
) we all knew that we wanted to re-create this record live, which we've never done before. We've always been of the mindset that the live experience is a different thing than the recorded experience. They're two separate mediums and they don't have to be exactly the same. That's true to a certain extent and I'm glad we did that because it forced us to just listen to what was going on in that moment, and making sure that sounded good. Rather than saying, "No, that's not what happens on the record. No, that's not right," [Trying to react] to each other as musicians. We got a lot stronger as a unit of musicians playing that way, but we knew after we finished (Milk Famous
) that it would be a real challenge to recreate it. And that was exciting to us, I think, because it would have been easy for us to do a different version because it would be easier.
For one, we finished the album late last year. We didn't know it wouldn't be released until, next week or whenever. So we had like five months! We had all of this time and we said, "Let's take advantage of all this time and really try to figure this out." So it's just been a lot of deconstructing these songs and trying to figure out exactly what makes them work, because there are a lot of little things in there. And I think they're all important. But some things are more important for a live show, and some things are more important for what you might hear on headphones. So we just had to figure out like, "Okay we have six people, how do we divvy this up? [Laughing]" It used to be "Jamie [Levinson] and Matt [Clark], beat the shit out of your toms 1,2,3, go" And that would be that. And we'd get really, really great at that, I love that.
Now it's a very straight 4/4 backbeat, but we recorded a lot of the drums in multiple takes on top of each other to create what sounds like a single drum take. "Temporary"
is a good example of that, there's like four drum takes, and "Everybody Can't Be Confused" [where] me, Matt and Jamie [were all doing] separate drum takes. But what sounds like in the end a single drummer thing. It wasn't, but it ended up sounding that way.
What do you think is the most important part of a live show?
I don't know... Don't be boring, that's really what I'm always worried about whenever it comes to writing the set lists or working on the arrangements. It's like, "We can't put these two songs next to each other, that would be boring!" [laughing] "We can't put all these songs at the beginning because the rest of the sets going to be boring." That's the kind of thing that we, or I worry about the most.
To people who have heard It's Frightening but haven't heard anything from Heavy Metal yet, what do they have to look forward to?
Well, we had time for this record, we never had time before. We deconstructed it after we finished it, and then within we would change the versions we're doing live. We recorded It's Frightening
in a month. We toured off that record for a year and a half. We would get bored and try out different versions, and along the way we'd think, "I wish we'd done that in the studio" but we didn't have time to explore it to that extent. But we were down in Austin [recording Milk Famous
] for three months and before that we'd been writing for a year. And we still had two months after that to go over the stuff that we did. So it was a total luxury. And I don't know if we'll ever do that again, because it makes you kind of insane. I suffer from getting overly excited about anything we do, actually, and I listen to it a week later and I think, "Oh my God, this is crap!" [Laughter] That happens to me a lot. So it's good for me to work on it, put it away and come back a couple of weeks later and see where we're at.
Some of these songs were two years in the making. Songs like "Danny Come Inside" had four different versions that we'd toured for a while. I remember trying that song out when we were out with Interpol, and it was a completely different version. It sounded like "Baba O'Riley" or something [laughter]. And we lived with that version for nearly a year, and we were about to record it in the studio in Austin, and we were like "Fuck this, it's not good. We don't like it!" But there was one part that we liked, and it was the outro. And we were like "Let's make the outro the entire song, how do we do that?" It's good to have time to do that sort of thing.
That's from the writing perspective but we were also really into not being shy about using music editing software. And you can make some really unexpected sounds for a Rock and Roll band using that stuff. If you use it as an instrument it's amazing, if you use it as a shortcut it's not. But, if you record something over a completely different section of the song, you have the ability to move that part of the recording to the beginning of the song, and you'd never think to have it played there, and it's an amazing happy accident. So I feel like all those things amount to that deconstructed kind of feel.
is out now on TBD Records.