Wednesday, 11 March 2009

Interview: The Whitest Boy Alive

We had the pleasure of speaking to Erlend Øye last month for the April edition of Clash magazine.

Conducting the interview through Skype, Erlend had a few problems making out our questioning. Like a true gent, he offered to call us back on our landline! Erlend and his chums have made a cracking record in 'Rules', which you can pick now directly from the band at their Bubbles online store.

The band perform dates in the UK in April, but with both London legs sold out, act quick for tickets to the rest of the shows. Their Ruby Lounge date in Manchester on April 18th sure looks tasty.

Full interview below...

Returning with sparkling new album Rules, Whitest Boy Alive leader Erlend Øye is talking from his hometown of Bergen, Norway. He’s an articulate, well worded man, with a steely confidence of his bands considerable musical talents.

Following the release of 2006’s debut album Dreams, the foursome took the songs out on the road, playing shows were they could in Berlin and Scandinavia. Erlend admits that the group works “differently from other bands”, with emphasis on musicianship and taking artistic chances, rather towing a music industry line. Word of mouth and the support of key music bloggers found the Whitest Boy Alive a following across Europe and America, and Erlend himself has recently been busy working on the high anticipated new Kings of Convenience record.

We are eager to learn about the group’s beginnings in 2003, when Erlend and bassist Marcin met at a techno club in Berlin, and started work on an electronic dance project. “We’d work on songs at a place called Café Moscow, on Mondays and Tuesdays when it was quiet. We’d often bump into Sebastian (drums) and Daniel (Rhodes piano and Crumar – a vintage Italian synthesizer) in the hall, but it took a while before we spoke to them. They looked shady, we were afraid they’d steal our equipment!” Soon they joined forces, as Erlend and Marcin grew tired of using programmed drums, and sought a more human touch.

the whitest boy alive 1517 street concert ic berlin

So what makes the Whitest Boy Alive tick? Erlend says of his band mates; “They all grew up in Germany, and share a real understanding of house and techno. They grew up with Theo Parish, Chicago and Detroit music. That’s the common denominator in this group.” With Daniel now a full time member (he appeared on only two tracks on Dreams) the group decamped to the Mexican West Coast to record new material towards the end of 2007. They quickly set about turning a friend’s garage into a recording studio, but faced an unwanted five week delay on the customs clearance of Sebastian’s drum kit. “If any bands ever want advice about how not to transport their gear to another country, email us” jokes Erlend.

So what is different with the new album, to Dreams? “Well, in terms of BPM, these new songs are slower than the first set. We were calmer this time,” says Erlend. Did your surroundings in Mexico influence the new album? “One of the things we wanted with this album was not to be influenced in that way. We still wanted to make a Northern European record, but in a warm climate. There’s only one song on the album that was written in Mexico (album opener ‘Keep A Secret’) which was written after we’d gone to a small town fiesta. We saw an amazing band, playing cumbia music, with heavy bass playing, horns and rapping. That was the only direct influence on the song writing.”

The beauty of the Whitest Boy Alive song writing process is that once a track is written, it is bashed into shape during live shows. This way, songs are kept lean and minimal, very much in keeping with the bands recording ethos or Rules, as Erlend explains; “We aim not to layer too much when recording; a song has to be capable of being played live by all of us. It makes us work harder; there are so many shortcuts in the studio.” All this makes for an exciting, highly accomplished live show. Erlend; “We don’t use backing tracks, like many of our peers. To play these songs we have to rehearse a lot and be brave. We don’t hide behind anything.”

Rules will be released on the bands own label named Bubbles, where fans can purchase music and merchandise directly online. Do you feel that labels (especially majors) are less important now? “I think they’re pretty much obsolete” says Erlend. “Many labels are still clinging to their old ways, especially UK labels who continue to push out ugly CDs. For us, a record sleeve is just as important as the music inside. I think a lot of bands over the past few years have questioned whether they need labels any more, especially when you can distribute digitally yourselves and get the rewards directly.”

1 comment:

  1. Bergen is great, it's beautiful and full of musicians with names like King Ov Hell wandering about buying ice cream.