Whatever happens, the Vancouver-formed, ultra-intense White Lung will always take their own path. A trio of relentlessly enthused and equally frustrated punks, the Mish Way-led band have just inked a deal with Domino for the release of their third album ‘Deep Fantasy’. Before this, they’ve nestled up with D.I.Y. labels, opting for self-release methods and endless touring. In practice, their future will play out differently to their past, but ‘Deep Fantasy’ also proves that they couldn’t be any other kind of band.
“It’s a different situation,” admits Mish. “I’m starting to realise it a bit more now.” Previously the three of them - Mish (vocals), Kenneth William (guitars) and Anne-Marie Vassiliou (drums) - got acclimatised to non-stop touring and their own demands. Their dynamic hasn’t shifted one jot, apart from the departure of bassist Grady Mackintosh ahead of ‘Deep Fantasy’ being recorded. Kenneth’s guitars are famed for their head-spinning speed, Anne Marie’s drumming even more so. “I’ll have to be: ‘You can’t play like you’ve just done two lines of coke. You have to take it down to one beer’,” jokes Mish, who has an unerring ability to front the project with precision, command and - that vital ingredient - wild freedom.
Somehow the chaos of 2012’s ‘Sorry’ LP isn’t lost, despite rooting for a more structured way of songwriting. White Lung are - despite their recent change in circumstances - a harsh, do-or-die punk band, with a bold cause lodged inside their collective system. They’ve made insane decisions, toured until their minds exploded. It all comes naturally. They cite a 32-date, no break tour with friends Nu Sensae as the thing that once pushed them to the very limit. “No air-conditioning, only one of the windows opened and everyone had to pile through the same door,” lists off Kenneth. “But that’s what you do,” asserts Mish. “That’s what being in a punk band is - doing totally ridiculous things, willingly.”
On record the new album is a lot more intense - is that replicated live? Another level?
Mish Way: I feel more entertained, personally, because I’m not doing something that I’ve done before a million times. There’s a lot more vocal stuff going on too, so it’s better. Heather sings with me. That’s the whole of the live performance now, having her on stage too.
Kenneth William: I’m excited to play new stuff. It’s crazy - you can make a record and feel pretty good about it and then it’s ‘Ok, so this is what you live with for the next two years, you play this every single night’. It’s great to be able to play some new songs - I’m happy with how they sound. This is actually the first time we’ve ever heard them live - recording, it was only three of us writing, so we never heard the songs properly as a band until we started practicing for this tour.
M: Having the isolation from each other helped, I think. [Kenneth] wouldn’t bring parts to show me and Anne-Marie until he was absolutely ready with them. If we’d just been screaming around the jam-space I’d make him pursue a part he didn’t like. Everyone got to bring their best work forward, without having the influence of someone else. Otherwise it’s ‘Let’s make a song. Let’s do it’. It’s better if you only bring what you want to your bandmates.
What’s stayed the same across these records?
M: Same producer, different practice space, different studio. Which was good. The practice space was like ‘Hey, fresh, new’. We kicked out our old bass player too. But any place where you’re forced to sit and make something creative can make you miserable. You’re forcing something out. It’s hard to do that sometimes. That’s what we signed up for.
Is it important to have isolation in order to bring out a certain intensity?
M: It’s more the isolation to think about it. He’d send me guitar parts and I’d work on my melodies and lyrics - I’d have my time to think about it. Before we’d just want to get the song done before we left and went home tonight. I think for me, maybe it worked a little better. I can’t really speak for drums.
K: It sounds like it was more comfortable but it was actually quite… awful, too. It was in the middle of winter, our practice space was a dump. We were freezing cold. And all the demos I have of this record, there’s a grindcore band underneath us always in the background. I can hear this guy screaming.
"Having the isolation from each other helped."
— Mish Way
How does a band start from a small level, do things on their own terms and actually get that far?
M: ‘Cause we’re good. ‘Cause it’s not a bunch of bullshit music? I don’t know. It’s not like we sought anything out. We’ve just played and I’ve always been fine just doing things the way we’re doing it. It’s not like we sat there and sent songs to labels, going ‘Please put out our record!’ We were fine with what we were doing. I don’t know how it happens.
K: I think it’s because we’ve been doing it for so long and we’ve toured so much compared to anyone else from our city.
M: Yeah but that doesn’t matter, ‘cause there’s a million bands everywhere. It’s like - if you have something interesting then people care. And yeah you have to go and show them. We always pushed ourselves out there. And especially being in Vancouver, you can’t go across Canada because the drives are hours. So you have no choice but to go down the West Coast into the States, which is good. If you don’t play in America, nothing’s going to happen. You can’t just be a Canadian band. We always hustled and toured because that’s what we wanted to do.
Is Domino your first experience of being approach by a label like that?
M: We had some other interest, but we liked them the best. A bunch of labels were interested. But we picked them.
K: Nicest people, best other bands.
M: Good variety. There aren’t many bands like us on that label, which I prefer. I don’t wanna be lumped in with other bands that sound exactly like us. There’s no distinction. It doesn’t make sense for me to do that - it’s stupid.
K: You can start small. Even bands like Merchandise - we toured with them three years ago. Milk Music. We’ve played shows with them forever. I feel connected with that.
M: Because you’re doing the same thing. There’s a network and it starts to happen for everyone at the same time.
Do you feel like it’s a relatively new thing, bands making loads of records before suddenly getting exposure?
M: I think it’s just the type of… It’s just the way that you choose to do it. All of us cut our teeth in the same way. You form a band, you put out a couple of 7 inches and you tour because you wanna, because it’s fun. You’re not doing it with the intention of making this band, getting a manager and that manager sending dinky demos to all these labels and then blah blah blah. There’s ways - there’s a difference between bands who are just being a band, not giving a shit about what happens and then others who are like ‘West Hollywood!’
K: A band like Merchandise - it would’ve been hard for them to exist twenty years ago. They had the option to make their own stuff and put it on the internet. To be an independent band like that 20 years ago would’ve been hell, most likely. I don’t know what you’d do - mail tapes round or whatever. Now you have the option of making self-release records. We were lucky to record pretty cheap early on - back in the day we would’ve probably done the same, but in 1995 it would’ve been hard to do.
White Lung's 'Deep Fantasy' is out now on Domino.