Austin’s “it” indie band for 2010 is clearly The White White Lights. No band has had the overwhelming blogger buzz locally, including by popular Austin blogs Ultra 8201 and ‘NITES. Even the old gray-haireds at The Austin Chronicle seem to get it. For once, a “blogger band” actually deserves the buzz and Sonic Youth references.
The interest derives from a combination of things. First and foremost, their charismatic live show leaves audiences captivated, either by the group’s fresh-but-familiar sound that stems from new wave, indie and glam-rock influences. Or, they fall head-over-heels in love with lead singer Jenny Gacey. Her vocals can be haunting and riveting while she goes to town on the keyboards. Both the drumming and bass playing are tight and cohesive while the guitars are over-the-top but never out of place.
Despite the fantastic melodies and compositions the band creates as a unit, for many Gacy is The White White Lights. Her supporting cast is a crew of Austin music veterans whose members include Jonas Wilson, hired guitar gun for various solo musicians and a former member of the now-defunct indie rock band Lomita. Wilson, also known as “Deluxe Peroux,” is the production mastermind of The White White Lights’ recordings. Drummer Davy Hamrick also plays in STEREO IS A LIE.
In February, the group released its Medium Head Boy EP on the locally based boutique label Indierect Records. The EP was met with as much critical acclaim as the group’s live shows. And now we’ve learned that the group’s next record is already done. We caught up with the band at their recording studio in South Austin to chat about the hype, the attention on Gacy and their new new album.
Editor’s note: This interview was conducted last month. Bassist Daxter McGarnigle is no longer in the band, as of early April. The band is looking for a replacement but continues to record new material in the meantime.
Why do you think there is such interest in your band from so many music blogs?
Jonas: I don’t think we did anything special. The interesting thing about this band, versus other bands we’ve been in for a long time, is we haven’t tried to do anything. Davie and I had been in bands before and were tired of working hard to get noticed only to not get a lot of attention. This was our band that we didn’t care about all that. It’s kind of funny, all the blog stuff. I don’t know how it happened.
Jenny: Actually, I know Richard Gonzalez who runs the blog Ultra 8201. His cousin was my RA in college. He knew I was doing music, and at that time I was just playing solo. He wanted to put me in touch with his blogger cousin and he did. But yeah, everything else has just been really supportive. It’s amazing to see that people just seem to like it and stick with it I guess.
Does that bother or worry you, all the blogger buzz? I ask this because I’ve seen so many bands get blogger buzz and then when the bloggers find something else new and hot, they forget who they wrote about yesterday.
Jonas: We don’t care either way. In all honesty, we set ourselves up. We have a studio and a place now where we can just concentrate and make records. We’re trying to make this band a band with longevity and making records will do that. From my personal experience from being in other bands, there was always that forced drive to be doing this and that. I did a lot of hire-out work as a guitar player too and hated it. I hated playing music where people are more concerned about other things than just having fun playing music. That’s one thing we set out with this band, is not to let ourselves get stressed out about that so much. The fact that there’s any sort of buzz about us is great. Our next record may suck. You guys may hate it. Who knows?
Jenny: That’s probably what’s going to happen. Everyone will be all “we used to love this band.” Hopefully not, but I mean I don’t think it will. Hopefully people will like it.
It’s great to see such a young confidence in you. So how’s your life different now in comparison to life with your previous bands?
Jonas: One thing I want to do with this band was live a normal life. In previous bands, I felt I couldn’t have any kind of a personal life at times because it conflicted with the band. Lomita kind of fizzled out due to egos and all the normal circumstances that cause bands to break up. I had an ego, Ricky had an ego. That was a big drive for me, not have any expectations while having a life outside of this. Bands take themselves too seriously these days.
Jenny: Believe it or not, I don’t take this too seriously. This is my first band. I played by myself for a while. It was very simple and very scary. I’ve tried to do a few solo shows since I started playing with this band and I am not used to it anymore without the band with me. It’s fucking scary. For me, I’m an artist and I have my own separate goals aside from this. This just of happened. I didn’t ever think I’d be singing. That never crossed my mind. It’s been a crazy ride.
How did you (Jenny) come to join these guys? You’re younger and newer to the scene here in Austin.
Jenny: I’m just really lucky [laughs]. I was actually a big fan of Lomita. I had followed them for a couple of years before Jonas even knew who I was. I was just really into their sound. I did a Daniel Johnston tribute and did a couple of songs. It was at The Parish and the booking lady came up to me after and asked me if I played my own songs. I was all, “yeah, I guess I have some songs I could play.” I didn’t have many so it was pretty scary. I had to play a lot of covers. So I played a show after that at The Parish and it was two-night thing. Lomita played the second night.
Jonas: I did see her at the Daniel Johnston tribute actually.
Jenny: He apparently saw me and liked what I was trying to do. We were hanging out at The Parish and he offered to record my album. I said sure why not, especially if you’re going to do it for free. Little did I know how amazing of a producer he was. He’s definitely worth more than free. He’s my man, I can say that.
Oh, everyone in the Red River scene knows that already. Austin is a small town, in that sense.
Jonas: Really? We’ve never said anything about that to anybody.
Jenny: So, yeah. Jonas brought Davy and Dan in to play drums and bass on everything to kind of fill it out. We started learning my songs and I knew some Lomita songs from being a fan. They had a show one night where Ricky, their lead singer, couldn’t make it. They didn’t want to cancel it so they asked me to come out and front it. We played half Monster Girl songs and half Lomita songs at that show at Emo’s. That was our first show. The rest is history. Daniel, our manager, was there. He managed Lomita before and he liked what he saw. He said we should just this.
Davy: Hearing it back it sounds a lot more complicated. It was cake.
What was cake about it?
Davy: It was about the network of people that we knew here. It’s how we all interconnect and even end up in a band with one another. Sometimes we try and do some weekly spin off where we learn covers for a couple of weeks. The whole goal with this band was to do as much as we could without trying to achieve one certain thing. The only way we knew to do that was record as much as possible and perfect the process.
But what was it about this band that made you think this is the way to go? Why this group of musicians versus anyone else you know?
Davy: Like I said, it’s cake. Writing songs was easy to do and we get along. Jonas and I used to live together and had a studio in the house. We recorded a lot in that house.
Jonas: We decided we wanted to keep writing songs together and even spent weekends just us two, just jamming. We had this whole slew of instrumentals we recorded in that house together and we had no singer. I’m a shitty singer.
Davy: We tried. Together we made almost one decent singer.
Jonas: We kept wanting to get back in a band when Lomita was dying out. We wanted to start something again and when we met Jen, we were like “we don’t need to be singing.”
Jenny: It all just felt very natural and felt like we were supposed to be playing together.
A girlfriend and a lead singer. You scored twice.
Jonas: I did, man.
It’s funny to me how the kids at your shows are so obsessed with it. I guess it makes sense. I mean, every band with a female lead singer brings up the question “which member is she with”?
Jenny: We don’t really care. They’re always going to be like, “Who is she fucking?”
Then there are the guys, who all secretly fantasize about being with a female rock star. Finding out Jenny is with the guitar player is going to break their little emo hearts. They might hate you now, Jonas.
Jonas: We kept that out of the writeups and such because we didn’t want that to be the focus. We weren’t trying to hide it or anything, but we just want people to listen to the band. Let them hate me if they want, but as long as they continue to love her and follow the band, then I’m alright. They’ll buy the record if she’s on there.
Jenny: I’m not going to lie. I have fun with it on a reasonable level. Jonas is my security blanket, though. I can flirt with the audience, but he’s my security blanket. They can stalk from far away.
I wonder if that has anything to do with your personal style, Jenny. There have been times where I have seen you performing in a hoody, then another time in dress that looked high-end while wearing heels. I also saw a video of you playing in a French maid costume.
Jenny: That’s normal for me. I am kind of like that everyday. It depends on how I am feeling when I wake up. I only got crazy with a French maid costume around Halloween. If I had a million dollars, I’d go designer crazy. That’s not them (Jonas and Davy), but I’d totally do it. I’ve always been kind of picked on about my sense of style.
So what’s it like for you, Jen, being part of the all-boys club?
Jenny: It’s cool. I’m the type that gets along better with guys than girls anyway. Not all girls, but most. I’m very drama-free and try to keep crazy, catty chicks out of my life. I just don’t have time for it. I’m fine with these guys here.
That brings me to something else here: How do you guys feel about Jenny getting all the attention?
Jonas: We expected that. Daniel (Perlaky, the band’s manager) and I always talked about what a relief that was. We’re getting old and gray. In my last band, there was always tension about who was getting the press and who isn’t. It’s stupid but true. Now we know Jen’s going to get all the press. We’re a bunch of old, greasy motherfuckers that no one cares about. No one cares about some 30 year old that can play guitar. There are a lot of 30 year olds that can play guitar.
What about the song writing process? Tell me about that.
Jonas: There aren’t any solo projects here. We’re an equal split of a band as far as writing credits. We all write together. It’s a lot of fun. We already have our next album done.
Done? As in already recorded and mastered?
Jonas: Yeah, it’s done.
Jenny: Well, we rehearse in a studio, so it’s just easy that way. Sometimes we just feel like recording a song.
Jonas: We do everything 100-percent live. The record was made in three days.
I assume those who have seen you at shows live have already heard some of these songs that will be on the new record?
Jenny: Oh, yeah. We’ve played them before.
So what’s the hold up on this new record if it is already done?
Jenny: We want to get it out as soon as possible. I think we still have one more track to record for it.
Jonas: Honestly the hold up is just our label and things like that. They just can’t keep up with it. I know me, Davy and Dan have all been in that place where we just want to put a lot of music out. We don’t know how long we will get to do this, make music and all. All the other bands we’ve been in spent ages making records. Lomita spent a year making our follow up. We just re-did it and re-did it with all this isolated tracking. It just ended up ruining the record. I still like that record, but with this band we wanted to do something fresh and different.
So what did you do differently on this new record that you’re sitting on?
Jonas: Here, we do first take and that’s it. I didn’t want to look back too much. I don’t want to spend time thinking about “we should redo that” or “I could nail that drum fill better.” The new record is great. I love the way we started this one. With a few of the songs, we just went in that day and laid it down. Then we may have added a riff while Jen added lyrics. We mixed it and it was done. We are not burying the sound on any of the effects we used on the EP (Medium Head Boy). That’s the way we want to do things. I don’t want to do a record where it’s all cut up, slick and glossy anymore. I’ve done it and anyone can do that. I’d rather capture a moment, live and quick.
Jenny: I think there is kind of a resurgence for live music recently because every recording that comes out is so slicked and auto-tuned or mapped. People are craving the mistakes almost. They want to go see a live show because they want to hear something that’s natural and not computer-made.
So if you are so into the live element, why aren’t you touring?
Jonas: We’re not touring. We don’t want to tour. We want to be in the studio.
That’s interesting. The consensus amongst many of the popular Austin-based bands is that you have to tour and play outside of Austin to make it big.
Jonas: We don’t care to make it big.
But wouldn’t you care about people hearing the music you work so hard on?
Davy: What if we became one of those special things about Austin that only people here knew about? We’d have cool shows, maybe play twice a month. They would be two really nice shows people would want to go to. It’s probably better to do that then lose money on the road. We have all have very busy lives. It’s just the case where if the label wants to pick something out of our catalog to release then great, because it’s done.
Jonas: Like I said before, the fact that anyone is writing about it or interested is impressive to me. We all sat back and realized we were not in that mind set of making it anymore. We wanted a settled down existence. This isn’t bringing us money. I personally don’t want to have to worry about whether or not my music is bringing me money. That may make me have to make shittier music if it has to make me money. People pay me to play shitty music and shitty songs all the time. Bob Schnieder pays well, but I don’t want to play that bullshit. That’s the kind of music we’re opposed to.
Jenny: People will hear our music and pass it along in different ways. I think that is how people should discover new music. They should just share what’s good with other people.
Well, I’m sure we’d be having a different conversation and you’d have different views on that if you weren’t in Austin, Texas, where there is an abundance of venues, show opportunities, etc. You can stay put here and be alright as musicians. What if this catches on via the internet and people start writing in or commenting and letting you know they want you to play in their city, wherever that may be?
Jonas: That’s different. If people started really saying “come play in our city” we’d consider going. We aren’t going to go and play to two people though; that’s the thing. If we can play to a hundred people, maybe sell a few CDs then we’ll get in the car and go. If not, then we will be content doing what we’re doing. We will just put out more music at home.
There has to be something in the back of your mind that hopes more people hear and like The White White Lights, or you wouldn’t be doing things like interviews.
Jonas: We’re doing this to appease. People like Daniel liked the band. So now Indierect is putting out the record. If someone is spending money on you and putting out your record, then yeah I feel obligated to sit down and talk with people.
Jenny: Usually with interviews, it’s cool to express your views on your music to people. It’s cool to explain your music or yourself.
Jonas: I can dig interviews where people ask me about the music. It’s the stuff where people ask me about the people making the music that is weird for me. I have fun talking about music. I’m a musician and that’s all I do.
Jenny: You have to understand, too, that we have had some terrible questions from people.
Jonas: I do not want anyone asking me about my “spirit animal” anymore.
Okay, I’m crossing that question off now. How do you feel about questions regarding fruits or superheroes? Just kidding…
Jonas: Talking about myself is a strange thing for me. You’re always trying to make sure you don’t sound like a jackass. I just don’t believe my personal chatting is going to be interesting to anybody. People are just going to think whatever they think. I’m just glad those who are talking about us at all are even talking about us. Thanks to whoever that is.
Jenny: I don’t mind talking about myself. People just get creeped out by my honesty. I do read stuff about us online and think it’s cool. Why not know what people are talking about? I just make sure not let it affect anything we’re doing with the band.
‘Made in Austin’ is regular Red River Noise feature that showcases some of Austin’s best up-and-coming independent bands. Check back often to see what undiscovered talent we’ll interview next.