OVER THE HILLS AND FAR AWAY White Hills

The duke and duchess
of dissonance dissect their most concentrated collection of chaos yet. Hawkwind
and Spacemen 3 fans, be very, very afraid….

 

BY RON HART

 

“I think that we cross many genres with people. Some
people think we’re too experimental, some people think we’re too rock,” proclaims
White Hills frontman and resident guitar guru Dave W., during a particularly
perfect spring Sunday in New York’s Central Park and sitting alongside his
longtime partner bassist Ego Sensation. “But I think that there are people
within all kinds of genres that kind of like us, which is fortunate for us cuz
we get to play a lot of eclectic things. Its better for us in the long run, makes
it more interesting.”

 

Regardless of what you call the torrential sheets of
electric space this Brooklyn duo has been
creating since the mid-‘00s you cannot deny the power that exists between this
duke and duchess of dissonance. And from the sounds of the duo’s latest release
on Thrill Jockey, Frying On This Rock,
the Hills harness every ounce of that mojo to unleash their most concentrated
collection of chaos yet: five epic jams that define their smash-up of Spacemen
3 at their loudest and Doremi Fasol
Latido
-era Hawkwind more so than anything else they’ve conspired yet.

 

In addition to Rock, the band has also seen the re-issue of
their previously out-of-print 2007 album Heads On Fire on the British
label Rocket Recordings as well as a vinyl-only release of their mammoth set at
the 2011 Roadburn Festival in the Netherlands, which will hit stores on July
24th through Outer Battery Records.

 

BLURT was the lucky recipient on the other end of that conversation
between Dave W. and Ego Sensation on that fine afternoon in Central
Park. Here’s what went down amidst the squeals of happy children
frolicking in the adjacent playground and the faint barks of the pack of family
dogs vying for alpha status at the dog run in the distance.

 

***

 

BLURT: They call you
space rock: what do you think of that?

DAVE: Ehhh. Well, I’m the one who called it that from the
beginning, because that is how I think of it. It’s expansive music, and I
didn’t want to call it “psychedelic”. I didn’t want to call it
“indie”. To me, it’s about space. It’s about getting lost. And even
though the music is intense, I think there are very introspective kinds of
feelings to the music, and it draws you in and allows you to just kind of take
off in your mind. It’s a release. I have no problem with that term. I think too
many people are afraid to peg what they do, like ‘I don’t wanna say I’m this, I
don’t wanna say I’m that.’ And then they get pissed off when someone pegs them
as something. You gotta just say what you are.

EGO: As concise as you can be.

DAVE: I’ve always looked at what we do as like a modern
version of Hawkwind. What was Hawkwind at the time? They were a bunch of dirty,
scummy punks playing loud, aggressive space music and so we are just upholding
this tradition in the modern day.

 

How did you come to
working with Julian Cope’s drummer, Antony
‘Antronhy’ Hodgkinson?

DAVE: Julian actually introduced us to him back in 2006.

EGO: It was the first show we played over in England
opening for Julian Cope. We couldn’t bring a drummer with us, and so Julian
introduced us to Antony
and he played drums for us. So we’ve known him a while, yeah.

DAVE: And we’ve collaborated with him ever since.

 

So Julian Cope was
one of your early champions, yeah?

DAVE: He was the first.

 

Do you know how he
discovered White Hills?

DAVE: The first White Hills record was something that I
recorded myself. Both of us were playing in different bands at the time, and I
was really frustrated with the lack of movement and not doing what I wanted to
do. So I just recorded this record, and when it was done I said to myself, ‘If
someone is gonna like this, it’s gonna be Julian Cope.’ And so I sent it to
him, and he really liked it and ended up releasing it.

 

On Head Heritage?

DAVE: No, he’s got this label that he runs every now and
again called Fuck Off and Die. It’s just CD-Rs that he puts out.

 

But Antony isn’t the one who plays on Frying On This Rock?

DAVE: Yea, it’s this guy Nick Name. He’s been touring with
us, and did this album. But Antony, on this record, he and I mixed it together
and he did a lot of treatments. It’s like the song “I Read a Thousand
Letters”, that synth stuff in there. He did that stuff. The vocal
breakdown in “Song of Everything”, he was the one that treated the
vocal with that delay, pitchshifting kind of thing. It was great working with
him in that regard.

 

I understand for Frying, you brought songs into the
studio with you. But was improvisation still a prevalent factor in the music?

EGO: This time when we went in we definitely had a set that
we were doing. It was fairly worked out. But there was some experimenting.

DAVE: Like that song “I Read A Thousand Letters”, it
was something that we had been working on, it wasn’t totally set. And then when
we were in the studio that day, I really didn’t like the way that the drums
were happening, so I just told Nick to think of the song completely different.
And he came up with that killer drum part right then, which made the song
totally different from what it was before.

 

How much do synths
come into play with White Hills?

DAVE: Synths are on all of our records. I have some vintage
Moogs at home. The interesting thing about Moogs are is that they’re voltage
controlled, so if you are working in a space in which the outlets aren’t
voltage regulated, there’s surges of electricity that go through the machine
that causes it to do things that wouldn’t happen if it was plugged into a
normal outlet. That’s just happenstance.

 

So I’m sure there’s a
lot of interesting ways you come up with the different effects that are
prevalent in your music.

DAVE: Both of us use a varied amount of pedals. Depending on
your volume structure, and how you are throwing things into something to tweak,
those things are just chance. I don’t think either of us really set out to try
to get something like that, it just happens.

EGO: One example from the last record, Hp-1, when we were recording and at the end of, I can’t remember
what track, Sezula and I started playing the hand-in-hand piece, and the sound
of the bass–I was using a slide–and it sounded really cool and I wasn’t ready
to stop playing and then we ended up creating a new song out of that.

DAVE: There’s only three of us. You listen to the sound on
the record and it’s massive and the way that recording is, people think, ‘Oh
you can make anything sound massive.’ I mean, you can. But one thing that
people say to us when they come and see us live often is, ‘Oh man, I can’t
believe three people can make that much sound.’ What you hear on the record is
fairly representational of what you can expect live.

 

You worked with
Martin Bisi for this new record as well. How did that come about?

EGO: We worked with Martin a few years ago working with a
friend of ours who had a project with him. Dave was playing guitar, I was
playing drums at the time. And so we met him then, and Martin had his own
project that he was doing–a solo album–and he asked me to work with him on
his cover art because all of his songs were about different women and he wanted
to do different visual depictions of all the women for his cover art. And so I
worked with him on that. Martin is a really amazing person to work with. He has
such an ear.

DAVE: And through those things, we both just became friendly
with him. The last three records we did were at Oneida’s studio, the Acropolis. So when it
came time to do this album, I really wanted to change up with overall sonic
feel of the record, and thought of wanting to step it up a notch and work with
someone who had 30-odd years of experience.

 

Do you have a
favorite Martin Bisi project, as fans?

DAVE: Any of the Sonic Youth records he did. The Swans
stuff. I mean, the guy does so much. He really is an amazing person to work
with, because he just thinks of things that a lot of people who are engineers
really think of.

 

What live format do
you prefer, outdoors or in the club?

DAVE: I read this interview once with Budgie from Siouxsie
and the Banshees. And the question was, “What guitarist over the years did
you like playing with the most?” He was all like John McGeoch, the guy who plays on Juju and Kiss in a Dream
House.
He was in Magazine as well as the last lineup of Public Image Ltd. He
was saying that everywhere that they would play, John would sit there in the
space with his guitar and walk around the stage to find the exact points of
where he could get the feedback that he needed to get in order do certain
parts. So then when they were on stage, during a certain part of a song, he
would be at a certain place to get this thing and he said it was just amazing.
Budgie said he worked with no other guitarist that could do what that guy did
and knew how to work how he played within the space. That philosophy is very
influential for me in the context of where we play.

 

Are you a fan of people
taping your shows?

DAVE: I’m a stickler of not wanting everything out there.

EGO: And sometimes the sound is just sub par.

DAVE: Last April, we played the Roadburn Festival. We’d
played it once before, and when we were playing it this year they approached us
about releasing the performance. And so I was like, “Sure”, because they
record everything and I thought it would make for a great live release. We
played a 75 minute set that night. And when they sent me the source tapes, I
didn’t think that just listening to it gave the feel of what the actual
performance was. So I said to them that I didn’t want the entire thing
released, so I chose what I thought was the best parts of the performance and
instead of doing a double album we just did a single album.

 

Roadburn is known
primarily as a showcase for underground metal acts. Do you have a kinship with
that world?

DAVE: Well, Stephen O’Malley and Greg Anderson of Sunn O)))
have been in contact with us. They’re both fans. They saw us at ATP, the last
one they did at Kutcher’s. And Greg came up to us afterwards and was like,
“Man, I see a ton of bands and it was so refreshing to see you guys play
because so much stuff is such crap.” Personally, I don’t see the
“metal” in us.

EGO: But I think some people do.

DAVE: Yes, there are a lot of people who consider us to be a
metal band. I think people like to–as much as they don’t think they
compartmentalize their lives–they feel some kind of comfort with living within
compartments. So if someone identifies themselves as a metal head and listens
to White Hills and thinks of it as metal music, that’s fine to me. I don’t
care.

 

For more
information on White Hills, please visit them at  http://whitehillsmusic.tumblr.com/.

 

 

[Photo Credit: Chris Carlone]

 

 

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