White Lung are a Canadian punk-rock three-piece fronted by Vice journalist Mish Barber-Way. Their sound is frenetic, complex and confessional. Drawing on hardcore punk and the experience of being a woman in the 21st century, Barber-Way constructs lyrical narratives that are at once angry, heartbroken and defiant.
While it would be impossible to imagine the band without their frontwoman’s commanding stage presence, guitarist Kenneth William provides instrumental consistency that makes the band’s sound so distinctive.
Since 2008, the guitarist has been responsible for creating a wall of noise that boils blood and holds listeners hostage. On the latest album, Paradise, his guitar work is no less visceral, but what’s changed since 2014’s Deep Fantasy is that he’s no longer forced to jostle for space between pounding drums and howling vocals.
Before the band’s show at Green Door Store on Tues 24 May, we asked the guitarist how his instrumentals set the stage for his bandmate’s lyrical experimentation.
“My favourite guitarists are people like Kevin Shields and Johnny Marr, people with such distinct styles that you could tell it was them even if you heard them playing a song that you’ve never heard before. I feel like the way I play also has its own personality but it’s something I started to break away from a bit on this record and I might completely change in the future. I don’t think it’s good to be predictable.”
Lots of people are attributing the gothy/poppier sound of Paradise to Mish losing her voice on tour, is there more to it than that?
“Mish lost her voice a couple of years ago, and I’m pretty sure this record is harder for her to sing than the last one since it’s in a higher register. Lars (who recorded our album) took a more layered approach to recording her which softened up the delivery a bit but helped it cut through the mix in a different way.”
The use of Pro Tools to loop guitars and layer vocals on Paradise definitely makes some songs sound way more spacious than Deep Fantasy, could you tell me some more about why you took on a more anthemic, modern-sounding approach this time round?
“I feel like people are always trying to call back to the glory days of when music was “real” but its just so lame. I’d rather record onto a computer than some stupid tape machine and pretend I was born in the 1940s. I feel like it’s sad to see so many bands trying to imitate the past when there’s so much more interesting and diverse music being made today.”
A lot of people call you guys a punk band, which obviously comes with a massive heritage and certain expectations, do you find the genre label a hindrance?
“When I hear the word ‘punk’ I think of someone with neck tattoos and a studded leather jacket skanking around the parking lot of a Tesco blasting Discharge from his walkman yelling at shoppers and throwing stray cats at parked cars. We were definitely influenced by that kind of music and I think the speed we play at is important to our sound but I consider us to be a rock band.”
The Great Escape is in Brighton this weekend. I saw you there a couple of years back. Do you think that kind of festival is important for new and breaking artists?
“I think it used to be more important. I had a great time playing there but I feel like people are a lot less likely to go out and risk sitting through something hideous when they can look up every band playing on the internet before they get off their couch. I think new bands would be better off spending more energy on recording new music than constantly touring because two-year album release cycles have gotten too long for people’s attention spans.”
I hear you, how are you finding life on tour in the UK?
Travelling is exciting and when you’re performing every night it’s kind of like every night is your birthday. I don’t think I’ll ever get used to waking up and thinking I’m in my own bed and then realising I don’t know what country i’m in though. Also, UK audiences seem more inclined to get “mortal” than our relatively polite North American friends, which makes it fun to come here.
One last question, some of the subject matter on Paradise is quite bleak, so why is the title so utopian?
It’s a tradition for our drummer Anne-Marie to name our records. I have no idea what was going on in her mind when she chose that!
White Lung play at Green Door Store on Tues 24 May. Their new album, Paradise, is out now.
Words by Tom Powell
*Photo by Rick-Rodney