There are few places that White Lung will not go. From the scalding honesty of their punk music to their extensive tour history, they are a band that leaves no ground uncovered. Their latest release, Deep Fantasy, is no exception. The album reaches a whole new intensity – pummeling, punching, and screaming with a conviction that is impossible to ignore. The energy of these songs is in part the work of guitarist Kenneth William and drummer Anne-Marie Vassiliou, who test new extremes with their instruments. The lyrics are just as bold, a fearless confrontation of personal topics.
These lyrics come from outspoken frontwoman Mish Way, whose enormous vocals are another crucial part of White Lung’s powerful sound. As a prolific writer of music criticism, personal essays, and advice columns, Way fully realizes the power of words. Never shying away from the difficult, on this album Way tackles everything from body insecurities to rape culture. It is the unflinching honesty that she brings to both her writing and music that makes it resonate and opens discussions. Amidst the whirlwind following the successful release of Deep Fantasy, Mish Way found some time to talk about finding confidence, recording across countries, and endless touring.
Boston Hassle: You’re a writer in addition to being a musician, you’ve written all kinds of music writing and essays, what drew you to writing as well as music?
Mish Way: I got into the creative writing program at this university called the University of Victoria and so I did that, I always kind of wanted to do writing in some capacity. I switched over to gender studies, and as I was doing that I started this blog called “Fucking Diaries”, where I would basically just blog, writing a lot about feminism, doing funny pop culture critique. There was a girl at Vice Records who liked my band and she tipped off the editors, so I started writing for Vice. I interned at another magazine in Vancouver, and one in New York online, and it just started to snowball. At the same time I was being in a band and I knew that being in a band would never really make me any money, but I had to tour. I didn’t want to have to keep coming back and doing things I really hated, like waitressing. So I shuffled really hard to have this career that I could do with music, and both things could be interconnected, you know? It was purposeful, I did it on purpose – I wanted to be able to have two things that made sense together so when I was done being in a band I would have a platform for another career that I started.
BH: So you do see music and writing as going hand in hand?
MW: Oh for sure, they are so intertwined, especially with all the music writing. I saw them as things that would help each other. Now I’ve kind of put the music writing aside and am more selective about what I do – focusing more on the sex and relationship stuff that I’ve always done. It’s what I really like to write about, doing more personal pieces and things like that.
BH: It can be pretty terrifying to put out writing, especially personal writing, how do you generally overcome that?
MW: The way I look at my work is as though I’m having a conversation with myself but I’m making it public. If I’m trying to work through something personal, putting it out in the public gives me a thicker skin. Especially talking about things like intimacy or sex or fears about your body, the things you’re not supposed to talk about. The stuff that I grew up loving always talked about that, and Tracy Egan Morrissey’s blog totally changed the way I look at sex writing. It’s finding the humor in your quote-on-quote embarrassing moments. It makes it more human and connects you to that person, it makes you feel better reading that, and that gave me confidence. That was the kind of writing that I was attracted to so that was the kind of writing I wanted to do. If it’s important, who cares, put it out there. It is easier for me to connect big theories about pop culture, about feminism, about the world around me, by connecting them to myself.
BH: Did you have to build that confidence or is that something that you’ve always had?
MW: Oh no, It’s something that you have to slowly get to. But you just go for it because you don’t have anything to lose. The thing about the Internet and the way that people can comment and participate in your conversation – that can be a really wonderful thing, and it can also be a really tough thing to deal with. You just have to learn who to care about or who to say fuck off to.
BH: Deep Fantasy was written with the band in different places, how do you feel this affected the sound of the album?
MW: When we were writing songs we never could tell what the song would sound like live with the four of us, we had to leave that up to the studio. The first time we heard the entire record live was when I went up to Vancouver to practice for our European tour. The approach was just completely different, but we had these skeletons and bare bones of songs and we knew where we kind of wanted to go with it. Our producer Jesse already had a very clear vision, and luckily our visions were similar. The other thing is Kenny was working on stuff alone and only bringing forward the guitar parts that he thought were the best. In the past it would be four of us sitting in a room, he would play a little guitar part, and I would probably make him pursue that even though he didn’t actually like it. But this wasn’t like that because he was only bringing what was up to his standards – same with my vocals and Anne-Marie’s drum parts. It was very successful for us both mentally and sonically on this record.
BH: Even though you live in separate places you have gone on some pretty long tours, how has touring so much and to all these interesting places affected White Lung as a band?
MW: We’ve always been a band that toured a lot, going out and touring on long-ass tours since day one. In 2009 we went on a two month long tour all over the United States, so we’ve just been doing that forever, it is not incredibly foreign or crazy to us. Now we’re a tighter band, we know how to travel together, how to be in a band together. We’ve become a cohesive unit, a true band. We don’t need to live in the same city now, all we need to do is tour and write and then we come together. You can’t be a Canadian band that tours in Canada, especially in Vancouver, because the next major city is ten hours away and it’s a waste of gas. You’re not a real band unless people in the States and beyond know who you are, so we’ve always pushed ourselves with that kind of stuff. Now it’s better – those long tours were fucking brutal, now you get treated nice. I used to have to carry around a little book and budget out my money for every day.
BH: White Lung is taking Vancouver band Mormon Crosses on this US tour, how do you pick the bands to take on tour?
MW: Well the way it usually works is our agent will give us a band that wants to package with us and ask what we think. A lot of the time it is an agent pulling it together, but with Mormon Crosses they’re friends of ours and they are an amazing band. Absolutely amazing band. I’ve known the singer Jesse for over twelve years, I used to go over his house and watch old Nirvana VHS tapes and listen to Young Marble Giants records. We think they’re great, when you get a choice it’s great.
BH: What kind of music did you gr0w up listening to that made you really get into music?
MW: I was always really into and loved music but hadn’t really been tipped off to anything. Then I had this friend Sophia, and she was the only cool punk girl at my school, and we became friends in about eleventh or twelfth grade. She had a band and started taking me to shows and showed me her records. She totally inspired me to start a band; it was really if she can do it I can do it. I discovered Hole and music with loud women singing; I was always attracted to that. I could identify with it, it gave me an example and hope that I could do something like that. There was just a different confidence I got from it. That was the point of that music, and that’s the point of the music I make too, to encourage confidence and get more girls to play. That’s what those records did for me.
BH: With Deep Fantasy being such a success, what are you looking forward to as far as future records and tours?
MW: It is nice that people are familiar with the record. I’m looking forward to writing our next record, but also right now it’s kind of early to think about that quite yet. But I do have an idea where I’d like to go. The last song on our first record is a hint at what our next record will be, and the last song on Deep Fantasy is a hint at what the next record will be. When there are so many bands that nobody gives a shit about, like so many, I’m just happy to have people understand what we’ve done and appreciate what we do.*
Don’t miss White Lung tearing down the Great Scott with their Canadian friends Mormon Crosses on September 2nd.
(photo courtesy of Alex Baxley)