Words: Yasi Salek
Photos: Alice Baxley)
There are a lot of bands, but there aren't a lot of bands like White Lung (although I am sure there will be plenty of imitators popping up soon enough). The Vancouver bred band has been making the same brand of piercing, high-BPM, short-form punk rock since they first formed in 2006, seemingly immune to the various musical trends that crept around them and swept up many of their peers, with the help of the Internet and its urgent need to celebrate sameness. With their third and latest release, Deep Fantasy, the band may not have changed but they have certainly evolved. Guitarist Kenneth William has refined his riffs and drummer Anne-Marie Vassilliou is as relentless and clean (and fill-free) as ever, while lead singer Mish Way's in-your-face feminist lyrics are still very present, and she is still very angry, but her topics have broadened to include some heavy shit, like addiction, rape culture, and body image issues. The album gets as close to pop as White Lung's punk can, while steering completely clear of being actual pop-punk (so don't get too excited about that forthcoming Blink-182/White Lung world tour).
I talked to Way about the band's evolution and inspirations, and her own personal progression (plus a lot of other stuff left out of this interview for posterity's sake):
Do you remember the very first time you had the thought "I want to be in a band"?
In high school I was friends with the "prep girls", but I always felt like I didn't quite belong. Bored? I had fun, but I felt a bit... backwards compared. In the 11th grade I befriended the one feminist punk chick in my grade named Zsofia Zambo. I felt like for the first time I met someone who got me in this way no one had before. Zsofia played in this band and she would take me out to shows and showed me all the good music, you know, the music that makes you feel the feelings. Seeing her band play just made me realize I could be in a band if I wanted to. I didn't have to play guitar alone in my room forever.
What were White Lung's earliest inspirations? How about yours personally?
My earliest inspirations were jazz music and 70's Van Morrison. A lot of Dinah Washington, Sam Cooke, John E. Hooker, weird instrumental jazz my grandfather listened to and, because of my father "Astral Weeks" and "St. Dominics Preview" over and over and over. Van Van Van. I was always really inspired by the rawness of female jazz vocalists. Bessie Smith singing about killing her man because he cheated on her and being ready to get the electric chair? I loved that stuff. I found power in it. Then, when I found Hole, Girlschool, Bikini Kill, Babes in Toyland...the list goes on of my guitar rock girl influences, I was really tapped in. Those women taught me how to scream my head off, manifesting power through vulnerability. But you know Liam Gallagher and Lemmy and Paul Westerberg taught me a lot too. There was just a different identity formed when listening to Hole vs. The Replacements.
You've never shied away from speaking your mind, both in your writing and in White Lung songs. Have you found that as you've gotten older and come into your own more, this has become easier?
Yes, in some ways, but I find that I was curious in a different way when I was younger and less inhibited. I also had the stimulation of university to keep my brain pumped and full of ideas. I miss that. I miss that a lot. But I am a writer now. I know how to write. That is a skill I have been building my whole life and got finally decent at in the last 3 years. The most exciting thing about writing, finding your voice, is that there is always room to become better, evolve and change. You are never not learning something about yourself through language.
Do you find that you are able to speak to topics now that you may not have addressed earlier on in your career? (Like, for example, cats?)
You know I hate cats. But they are the hot topic of talk in my music. I am able to address things I never could address before because I'm old now, man. I've been through stuff. I'm not 21. I've made enough mistakes to give young people advice. I know if my mother or grandmother saw this they would laugh in my face, tell me to push a child out my uterus or live through a war, but you know, I got a leg up on the kids.
The new album Deep Fantasy is a punk record, but in many ways it's more accessible than earlier White Lung stuff. Was this a conscious decision or more of a natural progression?
Both. My goal was to write a melodic, accessibly hard-edge rock record that sounded like nothing else and talked about all the things most people are too afraid to talk about. I think I accomplished some part of this.
What are your three favorite places to play and why?
Japan. My god, Japan. I just got back from Fuji Rock, but the Japanese have it figured out. The respect! I love playing in New York, Los Angeles, Gainsville, Florida and London. Auckland, NZ is great too. The people know how to have fun.
You listen to a super diverse range of music (which I know because I can hear it coming from your room while I creepily sit on the couch outside your door). Do you ever dream of lending your vocals to a totally different genre of music? What kind of music would you make as a side project in a dream world?
Yes. I mean, I wanna sing... like really sing. My dream would be to sing vocals of Gretchen Snakes type instrumentation. That's my good friend Brody McKnight's solo project, so this dream could be a reality one day if I play my cards right and buy Brody lots of little presents.
If White Lung could be on a 3 band bill for a year long tour with any bands, living or dead, who would you choose and why?
Oasis (for the hits and the off-stage comedy and uppers), Motorhead (for the hits, off-stage comedy, and uppers) and Marianne Faithful (because I feel like she and I would really hit it off.)
What current bands/musicians do you really admire? Who are some new artists should we be listening to?
Pink Mountaintops, The Ukiah Drag, Glue, DIN, DOSES, Gold & Youth, Crazy Spirit, Flykills.
What's up next for good old White Lung?
A big month of rest. Then, we force our stench back into the world.