Their debut sold almost a million copies, now White Lies have it all to prove. Andy Welch catches up with the trio heading out on tour.
There's only one problem with doing something really well – having to better it next time.
White Lies set their bar pretty high with their debut, To Lose My Life, which entered the UK charts at No 1. Blending the Eighties' influences of Joy Division and Echo and The Bunnymen with more recent sounds of Interpol and Editors and adding in their own brand of epic imagery, there was a unmistakeable bleakness to White Lies' music. But somehow, perhaps down to their youthful enthusiasm, it also came across as uplifting and the London trio sold almost a million copies of their first record around the world, scooping a number of awards and topping various magazines' end of year "Best New Band" polls.
Not letting their accolades go to their heads, the band set out on an 18-month long world tour, winning fans all over Europe, Asia and, thanks to a stunning performance of their hit single To Lose My Life on David Letterman's much-watched chat show, in America too.
"That was a huge moment for me," says drummer Jack Lawrence-Brown, reflecting on the band's sizeable achievement. "This is what real bands do: play to an international audience, millions of people, with one of the most famous men in the world. Being part of that was incredible. We were like little kids, running about the studio, sitting in his chair. Probably the most 'big time' thing we got to do."
"My highlight of the last few years were the two nights at Brixton Academy," adds Harry McVeigh, the band's singer.
"They were very special, kind of homecoming shows. It just felt amazing to be in a venue we'd all grown up going to, with such a huge production – we felt like a professional band."
After taking some much needed time off to recharge the batteries, the band regrouped late last year and got to work on what would become their second album, Ritual, released on Monday.
"Initially we did have grand plans – we visited this really nice studio in Paris," says Charles Cave, the band's bass player and chief songwriter.
"This was three weeks into the writing process, and things were already going well, so we didn't bother. Two weeks later we were done. The vast difference in the writing this time was that Harry and I wrote it on his computer at home."
Some recordings from those home sessions made it on to the epic-sounding Ritual, warts and all. Each of the trio was keen to leave in minor indiscretions, so not to sound too slick or polished.
It seems White Lies are now much more able to draw a line under their music, and know when it's finished too.
On the first album, Cave confesses they wanted the whole nine yards – string sections, walls of guitars and choirs.
"I think we've just changed the intent. With the first record, while we might have denied it at the time, we were very much trying to be bombastic," he says, with typical honesty.
It's interesting they've come around to this way of thinking. It shows growth and maturity. In early interviews, the threesome were deadly serious, worthy even – the first time we met, they spent 20 minutes discussing the dramatic themes in various Gothic novels, for example – but now, their spirits seem lighter. That's what selling a pile of records and touring the world will do for you. Importantly, they're still just as serious when it comes to making their music, just not when talking about it.
"We were quite overly dramatic. We were desperate to be as big-sounding as possible," Cave adds. "I know that's a loose, dangerous word that's always thrown about by bands. But we did want that – and we possibly went a little too far. We received criticism for sounding a little sterile at some points, or not genuine. But we've fixed that – for one, the lyrics on the first album concerned fictional stories, albeit influenced by real people and events.
"That always makes it quite hard to get emotionally involved. This time we've been much more ambitious, but in a quite unconventional way. We wanted to see how many cracks we could leave in the final thing. Harry's voice has been worked like a horse over the last two years, and after 18 months of touring, smoking and drinking, it's
not the young, angelic,
clear voice it was before, which for me is absolutely perfect."
To Lose My Life tipped its hat toward – or stole from, as the band's detractors would argue – Joy Division, Interpol and Editors. That gloominess remains in Ritual – listen to the album on headphones while going about your daily routine and the most mundane of tasks will feel more apocalyptic – and there's a definite "power ballad" feel to some of the album's tracks, namely Peace & Quiet and current single Bigger Than Us.
"We started off wanting Bigger Than Us to be like a stripped down Tears For Fears," smiles Cave. "The middle section is full-on gospel and very R&B."
"It has quite a big chorus," says McVeigh. "It's a good song for radio. I know it sounds like we think about which songs will do well, but I don't think there's anything wrong with that. We're a very ambitious band. We want the best for our record."
"We sat listening to it, smiling at each other, but saying, 'Is this cool, is this any good?' But we're really proud of that moment," continues Cave. "We like the fact that some people are going to say, 'What the hell is this?'"
White Lies' new album Ritual is out on Monday. The band play Leeds O2 Academy, February 13. For tickets call the box office 0113 389 1555 or online at www.o2academyleeds.co.uk.
The truth about White Lies
The trio – singer Harry McVeigh, bass player and songwriter Charles Cave, and drummer Jack Lawrence-Brown – hail from Chiswick in West London.
They were previously in a band called Fear Of Flying, who tasted small success before they evolved into White Lies. As Fear Of Flying, they supported Laura Marling, The Maccabees and Jamie T.
White Lies came second on the BBC's annual Sound Of poll in 2009, losing out to Little Boots.
They list Japan as one of their favourite places to visit: "It was like being on the set of Blade Runner," says McVeigh.