Fastened to influences and more human conditions of the time, White Lies began writing their sixth album, navigating the predicaments of a global pandemic and its effects and the experimental slope they allowed to flesh out on As I Try Not To Fall Apart.
“It’s kind of an album of two hearts,” says singer Harry McVeigh. “Some songs were impacted by everything that was happening in 2020, which made the album two-pronged. “There’s a lot of songs on the record that have been influenced by the pandemic, but it’s a record of two parts,” says McVeigh. “There’s so many different styles and different kinds of directions represented on the album in each song. Maybe that’s something that we’ve done in the past, but I think this is the most extreme version of it. To me, the songs sound so different from each other.”
A follow up to their self-produced album, Five, in 2019, As I Try Not Yo Fall Apart was recorded with long-time collaborator Ed Buller, who worked with White Lies—McVeigh, along with bassist Charles Cave and drummer Jack Lawrence-Brown—on several albums including their 2009 debut To Lose My Life… and Claudius Mittendorfer (Weezer, Panic! At The Disco) in West London.
An assemblage of the band’s proclivity for futuristic, humanistic storylines and retro synth-pop, As I Try Not to Fall Apart summons White Lies’ lyrical territory of existence and death with some unexpected sonic twists. Caught somewhere between David Bowie’s Station to Station and the Danny Huston character of Ivan Beckman in the 2000 drama Ivans Xtc, opener “Am I Really Going to Die,” the first song of a two-part narrative of someone coming to terms with a terminal diagnosis, ends lighter than its gloomier start—all alone here on the internet / looking for cures that aren’t invented yet… This isn’t my time to die / I’m never really going to die.
Encapsulating the entire motion of the album, and the synthesized finesse White Lies have consecrated over the past decade, the title track is most demonstrative of the album, and started with a melody the band wanted to sound more hymnal. “It’s about accepting vulnerability as a man, and knowing it’s ok to be broken,” shares McVeigh, who says the song was written fairly quickly one evening.”There’s never been a more pressing time to spread the message that it’s ok to not be ok.”
The song follows trying not to fall apart in the face of adversity, and depression. “I think that that’s so typical of a lot of our songs,” says McVeigh. “We celebrate and relish that wallowing in darkness and feeling miserable. That’s kind of the story of a lot of White Lies music.”
“As I Try Not To Fall Apart” was also a song that was most appropriate for the times. “You had to try not to fall apart during the pandemic,” says McVeigh. “Your reason for being was taken away for so long, and you had nothing to replace it. When you’re at that kind of loose end, you can have some pretty dark moments, and you’ve got so much time to think about it while nothing distracts you.”
Reiterating the fears of change in refrain spinning with this lonely world, “Breathe” maneuvers through outside noise and managing mental states in We can muzzle your emotion and sort you out / An urgent new devotion, yes, the time is now / Stop avoiding mirrors, you can still be fixed / The illusion of forgiveness is a party trick, through the deterioration of mankind on the symphonic “I Don’t Want to Go to Mars.” The heaviness of “Roll December” lends a tectonic shift to As I Try Not to Fall Apart, running nearly seven minutes, and elevating the more prog-rock peripheral of the album heard on celestial synth pings of swelling “Blue Drift.”
“I love the length of that track and the prog elements to it,” says McVeigh of the latter track. “That’s a wild song. We’ve never really done a song like that before. I stray further into bands like Talk Talk, especially the freeness and the way it drifted out of nowhere and then drifts away again, at the end.”
Pulling from something more subconscious, As I Try Not To Fall Apart was also loosely structured by influences, notably an affinity for The Rolling Stones’ 1973 album Goats Head Soup, which the band listened to while recording. “It’s a very complete album,” says McVeigh. “It doesn’t feel like there’s anything is missing, and all the songs are killer. All the songs check different boxes. There’s different tempos and different fields. And some of the songs are really allegorical, and they tell stories, while some of them are just Mick Jagger being stupid, saying silly words.” McVeigh adds, “On the album, we’re taking ourselves maybe slightly less seriously, which I like to think a lot of my favorite artists do as well.”
McVeigh adds, “Sometimes the demo will start out in a certain direction, then you’re sitting in the studio one day and listening to ‘TVC15’ by Bowie, or even something off Young Americans, like some of the funky stuff, and end up writing something that’s this white funk.”
In the past, McVeigh says the band would take their more experimental songs and try to “make it sound like” White Lies. “Over the years, I think we’ve got much more used to pursuing where this demo is taking us and see how far we can take it,” says McVeigh. “I think this album has more of that than any of our other albums, and that’s a good thing.”
Now 15 years into White Lies, writing is still something that could make or break a band, says McVeigh. “It’s never easy writing music, especially writing music that you’re happy to put out to the world,” he says. “It’s always a very nerve-racking thing. It’s hard to stop your inhibitions from getting in the way and to really plow on when you’re hurt, especially when you’ve been out of it for a while.”
Songwriting all comes down to better communication, something the band has refined among each other over time. “Songwriting can often become quite adversarial,” he says. “You may have certain ideas that you think just sound great and you can’t understand why anyone else would think differently. Getting to a point where you can communicate with each other about those things and try and bridge those gaps is very important. You actually have to work at it to keep the band together.”
He adds, “I can see now why so many other bands struggle with this or split up. Being in a band is a really intense relationship. I think that’s one of the secrets to longevity: to get better and better at that communication.”
In the end, White Lies songs are forever part of their DNA. “They will always stay with us, especially those early ones,” says McVeigh. “They gave us our whole career. The album [To Lose My Life] was by far our most successful. If we’ve been asked before the album came out, do you still see yourself doing this in 15 years time we probably said no. But that album gave us that such a gift, and we’re so grateful for it.”
Photos: Charles Cave