WHITE are a far more colourful band than the moniker might suggest. With just a couple of singles under their belt and former members of Kassidy and The Low Miffs in their number, just how have the Glasgow five-piece gelled?
Hamburg's Reeperbahn has long enjoyed an association with bands looking to establish their credentials as live performers. It was at dingy basement venues in and around this infamous street where The Beatles would play up to four sets a night, surviving on a diet of cheap booze and strong amphetamines. “I was born in Liverpool – but I grew up in Hamburg,” John Lennon would recall years later. WHITE were longer in the tooth than the Fab Four had been when they arrived in town for their debut show, but they could still thrive on the excitement of testing their music on a crowd far from home.
The electro post-punk group from Glasgow had been invited to Germany last September by a DJ who had heard the solitary song they had uploaded a few weeks before, the impressive Living Fiction. “He was playing it at his club night, Molotov, and it was getting a good response,” explains guitarist Hamish Fingland. “He decided to take the chance and email us out of the blue to invite us over.”
“We bundled ourselves in a car at 6am and drove to Germany,” continues vocalist Leo Condie. “It was great. We were hanging around the same streets that the Beatles were pounding 50 years ago. We hung around Hamburg and saw a few other acts. It was perfect; you couldn’t get a better first gig, really.”
"We’ve conquered Google" – Leo Condie
The Skinny is talking with two of WHITE's number shortly after they come off stage at the Wickerman Festival in rural Kirkcudbrightshire, a location as far removed from the Reeperbahn as it's possible to find. We’re here to establish how, in less than a year and with only three songs released, the group have secured a record deal with resurrected pop-rock colossus RCA and a reputation as one of the most talked-about new bands in the country. Their debut headlining show in Glasgow sold out well in advance and prompted several breathless reviewers to kickstart the hype (which has thus far been quite justified). WHITE’s latest single, Blush, picks up from where the previous Future Pleasures left off – another irresistible helping of dancefloor spirit, post-punk guitars and a chorus that recalls The Associates at their peak.
It's a remarkable departure in style for those involved. Keen observers of the music scene north of the border will recognise most of WHITE from previous bands. Condie, who hails from Edinburgh but has long called Glasgow home, once fronted The Low Miffs. By the time they petered out, he was ready for a change of pace. “I got fed up of just seeing people staring at me at gigs,” he says with a wry grin. “As a frontman, you never get too fed up of people looking at you – but you kind of want people to be dancing and moving around.”
Fingland, along with Lewis Andrew and Chris Potter, played with Glaswegian alt-folk rockers Kassidy, a band who provoked some extraordinary venom from certain sections of the music press despite their relative inoffensiveness. When the group’s leader, Barrie-James O’Neil, moved to Los Angeles to be with then-girlfriend Lana Del Rey in March 2014, the group were as good as over. But the three remaining members, to their credit, were already planning to ditch the Crosby, Stills and Nash sound for something a bit more nightclub-friendly. “We all live together,” explains Fingland. “All we do is write songs. We just kept writing when Kassidy ended – we thought it was an opportunity to do what we had wanted to do for a while – freshen things up, completely change basically.”
WHITE’s sudden emergence is even more remarkable when you consider that the trio from Kassidy only met Condie last year. Deciding that the embryonic group could use a frontman, Fingland asked around for likely candidates. “You think, when you live in Glasgow, because you’ve been in bands, you think you know the whole scene: but I asked someone who isn’t in amongst it all, and she sent me a contact for Leo. I met up with him and we had loved so many of the same bands, the same styles of music. Leo was also at a stage where he felt he needed to find a new band.”
“I was doing stuff to keep myself going,” confirms Condie. “I was writing some electronic stuff in my bedroom, but to keep my live chops going I had been singing Jacques Brel and Bertolt Brecht songs – kind of different to what I’m doing now, but also kind of not. It’s cabaret and dramatic – it’s how I performed before I started covering that stuff, and it’s how I perform now. My old band, The Low Miffs, had kind of just petered out. It was to tide me over until I found some way of getting a real band going again, and out of the blue this thing turned up which was totally perfect.”
“It was perfect,” Fingland grins. “The music I was writing at the time was right up Leo’s street. It was odd how well Leo fitted in, given that I didn’t even know he existed. And there are not many singers with that kind of style at the moment. The contact couldn’t have worked any better." Condie ponders: “I think with Kassidy, their music wasn’t that danceable, and with my band, it was a bit too obtuse for people, with silly time signatures. You always think it would be great if a crowd moved to your music, but we set out to write songs in a way people couldn’t help but dance.”
The WHITE line-up was completed by the recruitment of drummer Kirstin Lynn, following a decision that live percussion would be infinitely preferable to a drum machine, or relying upon session players as Kassidy had done previously. “A guy Thomas, who runs RubberGum Studios in Glasgow, recommended her,” Fingland enthuses. “He said she was the hardest hitter he had ever had in the studio. She’s absolutely amazing – such a great part of the band.”
Watching them live, WHITE have the sure-footedness of experienced pros but generate the excitement of a group of pals just starting out. Visually, they are far removed from the typical bedroom producer or lo-fi rock get-up that has prevailed for the past decade. They look like they’re in a band you want to tell your friends about. Even their name is a statement of intent; in the age of Google, few artists would dare choose it. “We wanted it to be so simple and so stark you couldn’t fail to sit up and take notice when you saw it. If you type in 'WHITE band', we’re now the top result. We’ve conquered Google,” Condie deadpans. “We kind of liked how stark and sparse it is, it’s like a blank canvas. It’s a weird, simple name for a band but we wanted to see what we could do with it – how we could imbue it with a kind of interesting nature.”
Condie designs the WHITE artwork, while all members have a say in their videos. As they also produce their own music, it’s no wonder their hands-on approach so impressed a variety of labels. A deal with RCA was reached to release singles, and the group are eager to extend that to an album. “You can probably put a fag paper between the people that work at RCA and the people that work at indie labels,” says Condie. “They’re all into their music, but they’re working from a different framework – they have big pop artists, they have us and Everything Everything – they’re the other ‘strange’ band – but we’re not that strange, we want to be quite poppy!" He summarises their modus operandi in ambitious terms: "We want to straddle being poppy with slight experimentalism – like David Bowie or Talking Heads used to do. You’re not going to hit those heights without a lot of work, but it’s something to strive for.”
New single Blush is released on 25 Sep via RCA. WHITE play Tenement Trail, Glasgow on 3 Oct