Photo: Andrew Droz Palermo
Chances are you have heard the Brooklyn-based band, White Rabbits, before, and you just didn’t realize it. The band’s hit song, “Percussion Gun,” from their 2009 sophomore album, It’s Frightening, was everywhere on the Internet, as well as TV. Earlier this month, the band released their third album, Milk Famous, and made an appearance on the Late Show with David Letterman. In a recent interview with SLUG, the band’s lead singer, Stephen Patterson, talked about the new album, touring and South by Southwest.
SLUG: You recently began touring in support of your new album, Milk Famous. How have the first few shows been? Do you ever get nervous anymore?
Stephen Patterson: It’s fun to be nervous again. We’re still learning, figuring out how to play the order. [It’s only] the fourth time that we’ve played these songs in front of people after they’ve heard the record. Before, whenever we’d be playing, we were still working [the songs] out, so people had no idea what we were doing. But now, there’s some level of expectations to the way we’re performing them. It’s a bit nerve-racking, but that’s a small part of it. It’s always fun for me on stage.
SLUG: What was is it like working with Mike McCarthy (Spoon’s producer) on the new album? How did it differ from the last album, It’s Frightening, which was produced by Spoon’s lead singer/guitarist, Britt Daniel?
Patterson: It was much more challenging. Mike McCarthy is a much more demanding producer than Britt was. [McCarthy’s] personality couldn’t really be any more different than Britt’s or Chris Zane, the guy who produced our first record. Mike’s more strict, and he definitely pushed us a lot harder than we’ve ever been pushed in the studio.
SLUG: Are you glad that McCarthy pushed you guys hard with your music?
Patterson: Of course. I don’t think there’s any point if you’re not being challenged. Working with Britt was really, really fun, and it was what we needed at that time. We wanted to go in and just bang out a record and have a good time doing it. And that’s what it was. I’m very proud of how that process ended up coming [together]. Mike just had a much different approach. He had a much more, sort of spiritual, guru approach to the music, whereas the studio before has [had] a specific “go in and play your part” vibe to it. Mike’s the type of guy that’s not really paying attention to the small details. He’s sitting back and listening to the music coming out of the speakers and that’s it. If it makes him happy, then he’s happy, and if it doesn’t, then he’ll very vaguely tell you what about it is not making it work for him. That was a challenge for us to kind of figure out what we need to do. It was a lot more about the feel of the music. How is it hitting you? How is it making you feel? There were good things that felt like it was doing what it needs to be doing
SLUG: How do you feel about the final results of Milk Famous? Is the recording process getting easier after each album?
Patterson: [Milk Famous is], 100 percent, the best thing we’ve ever done. We never know what we’re doing in the studio. There are certain things about being together for so long that [are] really beneficial. Luckily for us, it’s made it easier to communicate. But we never feel like we’ve been doing this for a very long time. We all still feel like we’re new at this.
SLUG: White Rabbits has become well known for its live shows. Why is that, and how important is it to feed off of the audience’s energy?
Patterson: We started off as more of like a punk rock band. We were in a band called Texas Chainsaw Mass Choir. We played four shows in basements, and if you’ve ever been to a hardcore or punk show, the line between the audience and the band is blurred. That’s how it started, and that’s what we kind of expect.
SLUG: You guys are playing with The War on Drugs for several dates on this tour. What has that been like? Do you have any certain expectations for the shows?
Patterson: They’re cool guys. They have really nice gear. Our expectations are the same as they always are. The last time we were out on tour, we had everything figured out, and we couldn’t be on the further end of the spectrum right now. We’re just trying to improve the show every night and put it all together.
SLUG: You are playing shows during SXSW festival; what is that experience like and what are some other things you do when you’re there?
Patterson: It’s too much in one spot, and they don’t offer you enough time to make sure that you’re putting on a good show. That being said, it can really bring out some interesting things in people performing music in such a high-stress situation. The best thing about it, though, is that you get to see a lot of friends that you haven’t seen in a long time.
SLUG: You guys will do a short tour in the U.K. and Europe beginning in late April. Do you enjoy playing overseas? Is there a different reaction to your music?
Patterson: We’re obviously more comfortable in the United States because we’ve spent more time here, but the roadside stops in the U.K. and Europe are much nicer than they are in the U.S., so that’s a plus. The reaction [to our music] is very similar. People come to see you play, and they like music. We haven’t toured over there as much as we have in the States, so the people are still getting to know us.
SLUG: What are your thoughts on SLC? What cities do you always enjoy playing on tour?
Patterson: We have some really good friends in Salt Lake City. I think we played at the Urban Lounge last time we were in SLC, and we covered “The Beehive State” by Randy Newman. The kids in SLC are cool to us. I always look forward to playing in Denver, St. Lous … San Francisco’s cool.
SLUG: Andrew Droz Palermo directed the video for your new song, “Heavy Metal.” How important are music videos to you, and were you involved with the making of the video?
Patterson: Music videos are very important. The videos we had done before had pretty much been performance-based, which can be a really great thing—once you see the musicians play it, you’re able to hear it in a different way. We weren’t involved with the shooting of it at all. He and I worked together on a little bit of editing at the end, but for the most part we weren’t very involved. It was really nice because sometimes those situations, when the band gets involved, can get disastrous. But, Andrew is an old friend of ours, and he knows what we want.
For those of you interested in free stuff, the band is offering a free download of “Heavy Metal” on their website. White Rabbits co-headlined with Tennis for their first two shows, and are in the middle of their six-date tour with The War On Drugs. They will stop by the Urban Lounge on March 20 and will be joined by the band Gull.