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An interview with Stephen Patterson from White Rabbits

December 26, 2009

As with Nick, I have been slightly quiet in NJV parts, but hopefully these things will change, as I have a few things up my sleeve for 2010. Anywhoo enough of that…

A few days ago, I got a chance to sit down and have a chat with Stephen Patterson from the band White Rabbits prior to their performances here at both Falls Festival, Rhythm & Vines Festival in New Zealand and other sideshows around the country. Their track ‘Percussion Gun’ has been given a huge flogging on the transistor radios (and other radios) around the joint, and the rest of the album isn’t too bad either, gathering a sound that’s a bit of a cross of syncopated poppiness and acoustic psychedelia. Their album It’s Frightening has been the only release here in Australia that’s been of note from them, but they have had a previous release called Fort Nightly brought out in other parts of the world. Here’s the transcript of our interview:

Philippe: I thought I’d start off with a strange question. The band seems to be doing a bit of touring in support of It’s Frightening. The majority of it being in the US. I want to know though if crowds that you play to overseas differ from the crowds you get in the US?

Stephen: It’s not very dissimilar to the US I suppose. It depends on the city. Audiences in larger cities simply do fold their arms. Smaller cities seem to have audiences jump around a bit more physically.

It’s not too dissimilar here in Australia either…

Well, that’s good to know. I’ll prepare myself then.

I was wondering if you could briefly give Australian audiences the story of how White Rabbits got together?

Um, we got together around 20034 in the Midwest of America. I worked at a record store with Greg who sings alongside myself and we just kind of bonded over records. He had a few friends in a band he was playing with, and I simply just joined! I was initially the drummer in the band when we were back there in the Midwest. We wrote a bunch of songs that weren’t very good and when we graduated from college, we moved on to somewhere else. We moved to a different city as many people do when people finish school.

So we just packed our things up and moved to the East Coast to Brooklyn and switched things up a bit. We just were a bunch of friends who got along really well and had similar tastes in music – that was our main concern in a way. That we liked each other as people, and then think, “let’s write songs together”. The hard part is finding a group of people that enjoy being around each other in terms of being in a band. Writing songs is the easy part.

Did the surroundings with the big move to Brooklyn influence the way you worked?

I think we were more motivated in Brooklyn then we were in the Midwest, which is most likely due to financial strain. We also didn’t want to work the jobs we did at the time. I think we just kind of, worked harder and were motivated to get better.

New York though is expensive in itself to live as though, isn’t it?

Well, yeah it is fairly expensive, compared to the Midwest, yes!

Tell me about the recording of It’s Frightening. Did you record this in Brooklyn?

Yeah we did record it over there in the course of a month.

How different was the recording process compared to your other releases?

Well, we recorded it in Manhattan not too far from Brooklyn. I think we definitely learnt from that first record a better way to record an album. Not to get too technical here, but we moved into a large space and set up our own studio. So we were to write and record at the same time. So as a musician, it really, really important – that you have an idea and an idea that excites you – that you are able to record it the moment and that sort of feeling the moment that you have it. You get that feeling across better in that moment then you would after you slept on it and thought about it too much.

So we thought we’d capture the spirit of the song and go from there. We essentially recorded our record in the practice space before we went into the studio. We were a lot more prepared for sure than we were for our record…

I suppose time was a playing factor if you had everything at home.

Yeah, yeah that was crucial. We were able to record it quickly, which is a good way to do things and not over think it. It was good to do it over the course of  month opposed to a year which was how long it took for our first record to do. And it wasn’t because we didn’t… um, it took us a year not because we had so many ideas that we had to put down, it was more that we didn’t really know what we were doing back then.

This time we just simply knew what we were doing and did it in a month.

Was it kind of like having a blueprint there and bringing it together by talking it all out?

Absolutely! With little moments of improvisation and new ideas here and there…

It’s interesting you say improvisation there though. A lot of musicians I speak to don’t utilise improvisation to develop new song. Musicians who are involved in anything other than the jazz scene just can’t see it as a form of songwriting. Do you find improvisation is a good way to form the basis to many of the band’s songs?

Yeah, yeah I find it’s the best way to do it. At first it’s like, we got a track like ‘Percussion Gun’ – its lyrics were 75% improvised. Also, to go into detail, those handclaps were just like just going with a feeling we had at the moment. Everyone in the control room was going “Yes, lets go with that!”. I find that doing those things make the music sound the best to your ears.

It’s intangible, but you can feel it. That you are going along with that feeling, that simple notion at that particular moment. You just have to do it that way. Not enough bands record their tracks as live as they should record it. Some great records were made just because they were spur of the moment, live recordings.

Regarding touring – you will be down here over the New Year period. Are you doing more touring after you have come down to Australia?

I think when we finish touring Australia, we will be going over to the UK and Europe and touring the record there. I don’t think the record is coming out until mid January there. So we will be having commitments over there. It seems in my short time of doing this we tour for about two years, so yeah it will be a hectic schedule.

I’m happy to spend New Years Eve in Tasmania, that will be a thrill!

Have you heard much about Tasmania? Planning on doing the tourist thing?

No I don’t! I plan on reading up on it during the holidays.

It’s a lovely island, so I’m hoping you enjoy it. Thanks for speaking with me.

Great, thanks.

White Rabbits – ‘Percussion Gun’
White Rabbits website myspace

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