The Kid’s In The Hills: White Hills vs Oneida
, July 6th, 2010 06:14
In 2009 one of the psychedelic favourites of The Quietus was Oneida and in 2010 it's been White Hills, so John Doran thought it only right to interview them both together. Unfortunately he got the dose of his medicine spectacularly wrong and turned up to the interview two hours late...
In 2009 we were, quite rightly, all over Oneida like a cheap suit. The Brooklyn-based psych rock outfit formed as a 70s glam-influenced rock group when everyone else in NYC was playing illbient and trip hop. Their rise to prominence hasn’t really been a celestial golden arc, so much as the up and down, forwards and backwards line traced by a drunk’s hand as he tries to get his key in the lock at midnight. They were key movers and shakers in the Williamsburg scene that would go on to spawn the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Les Savy Fav, Interpol and TV On The Radio, and even released a joint album with Liars, but despite this, as far as they were concerned, it seemed to be a case of always the bridesmaid never the bride.
To the bong-loaded future psych cognoscenti however they were Williamsburg’s worst kept best kept secret all along, but their profile has thankfully continued to grow as the last vestiges of their commercial sense has all but evaporated. Of course, here at the Quietus this is music to our ears. A band doing exactly what they fucking want, then hitting pay dirt... or some approximation of pay dirt at least. Of course they’ve done great albums before but it’s just that their recent long players, Pre-Teen Weaponry (2008) and Rated O (2009) have taken their 21st Century space psych deep into new, lysergically enhanced territory. The first, a single album, and second, a triple album, are parts I and II of a trilogy called Thank Your Parents. These albums are no pot-head pastiches as they combine fucked up metal, dub, acid house, dubstep, krautrock, raga, electronica and space rock into one bastard Frankenstein groove monster. Oneida have made the delicious sound of psych rock being dragged out of the 60s and 70s and into the 21st Century.
With all this action going on it was a wonder that Oneida drummer Kid Millions had chance to pick up the sticks for shockingly good space rock trio White Hills. But time he found, playing his own small part in making the band’s first, self-titled album on Thrill Jockey one of our albums of the year so far. The group, a trio based round the powerhouse bassist Ego Sensation and live wire guitarist singer Dave W, have taken their warm, overdriven sound that bestrides the Mudhoney/ Hawkwind divide like a mighty colossus. With a flying V. And a kamikaze pilot headband.
And White Hills are no strangers to the Protestant work ethic themselves, finding time to release another joint album with Mancunian heavy riffnologists GNOD and blaze an incendiary trail across Europe and America. It was during one of these dates that we realized just how powerful White Hills were with front man Dave going apeshit, his face painted silver and orange until a normally sedate, Monday night in London audience started feeding off the berserk amount of energy coming off stage, the place eventually going wild.
So when we found out that representatives from both bands, Kid and Dave, were in town a few months back, we thought we’d have to get them together for a chat over breakfast, except there was an early morning medicine mishap and we arrived nearly two hours late making it more like brunch. We met in the foyer of a Travel Lodge in Kings Cross, where all the current members of the Boredoms were whiling away the time before practice for one of their legendary Boadrun shows.
I don’t think I’ve been two hours late for anything since I stopped drinking. I wanted to bring you some presents to apologize but all I could find was this: a Toblerone, some headache tablets, some Nytol and some Valium.
Dave W: What the hell’s Nytol?
It’s like a shit over the counter sleeping pill. Do you know how you have trucker speed? Well, this is like trucker barbiturates.
DW: Oh, I don’t need that. I’ve actually never done valium before.
It’s quite pleasant but you can’t do anything after taking it when you’re not used to it. Then you get used to it really quickly.
DW: I’m a lightweight when it comes to drugs.
Yoshimi P-We’s young daughter wanders up to the table: Hello!
Kid Millions and Dave: Hello!
Yoshimi: All the Thrill Jockey bands hanging out!
[They give everyone donuts]
So, obviously Kid, you’re here because of the UK Boredoms shows and you’ve been practising for the London one for the last couple of days. How has it all been going?
KM: Oh, amazing...
I saw it the other night and, somehow, it managed to be even more mind-bending than the last three times I’ve seen them. I’ve always thought that the amount of practice must make the drummers almost monastic and the intensity of practice must make them almost autistic. What is the preparation like?
KM: Well, this is our tenth show and the original piece had the same form somewhat but it changes so much each time it requires a lot of additional practice. This one we did two days, one 14-hour day and one 10-hour day at the ATP grounds and I still felt like I didn’t have everything down. But yes, it takes a ton of practice but the Boredoms also won’t just rest on their laurels. They’ll never be like ‘Oh we’ve got this piece down so let’s just run with it...’ Every time we’ve done it, it changes dramatically. We’re doing four dates off the back of this in Japan and there’s been a whole bunch of stuff added.
Because the Boredoms don’t think it’s spectacular enough with the giant, evil cosmic guitar tree...
KM: They’re always having ideas and always wanting to change stuff.
Yoshimi Toddler: WOOOAAAARRRRGHHHHHHH!
DW & KM: Woah! Ha ha ha!
For the people who haven’t seen the Boredoms or haven’t seen them recently I guess I should point out that one of the drummers gets carried through the audience on a giant sedan chair while playing a beat and the other drummers are playing the same beat on stage and they’re all getting faster and faster...
KM: The sedan chair is called a mikoshi, which is like a travelling shrine... a portable shrine. The mikoshi doesn’t really exist in the form that we use it but it’s supposed to be a portable shrine for a drummer.
Now I’m guessing that the White Hills show takes a lot of practice as well but not in the same way...
DW: It actually doesn’t! Practice? Ha ha ha! To tell you the truth we don’t practice that much and in a lot of ways I like it that way. When we did the last record we hadn’t played a gig for at least three months before the we went into the studio.
KM: We did like a week of practice...
DW: We did three practices before the album... so we don’t actually practice that much. But personally I like it that way because I don’t want to run through songs over and over again. So when we _do_ get together in the practice room I’m much more conscious of doing newer things. It’s so when we tour and we play those songs they still have a sense of freshness about them.
One thing I wasn’t ready for when I saw your band live for the first time was the strong element of glam rock to it...
DW: Was it confrontational?
Yeah! Well, the thing is... how do I put this? When I think of bands who have an over-familiarity with the bong... I expect them to look a bit like me. A tubby fucker with a beard slouching about with a guitar looking disinterested. But with you there is a lot of showmanship. But what I had to ask you was this: is your make up – silver face with an orange stripe across the eyes – designed to match your Orange amp backline?
DW: No, no, no! For the majority of the tour I was just all silver. There was one show where my face was all orange.
I bet you looked like my ex-girlfriend from Newcastle.
DW: There were a lot of black lights at that show so it gave me a really jaundiced look.
Yeah, that’s her.
DW: I’ve always been one who is partial to rock bands who put on shows and don’t just stand there and look at their shoes when they play. And the other thing is that I constantly want people to be guessing at what White Hills is and what White Hills does. So when you get one of our albums, it’s the album experience but when you see us live it’s... it’s... kinda like a punch in the face. It’s way more aggressive than the albums tend to be. And it’s much in the spirit of ‘Yeah! Dress up! Do something different! Be different!’ The album experience and the live experience are different from each other.
I thought it was a bit like watching a young Jon Spencer with Lita Ford with Animal from the Muppets.
DW: Ha ha ha!
But I’m right though aren’t I?
DW: Yeah! Sure!
I was wandering round here a few years ago and I bumped into Battles who were fucking steaming and on their way to a karaoke bar. They asked me to go but I was so surprised to see them that I said no. I wish I'd gone now. Do you have a strategy when you go to a karaoke bar?
KM: Oh! I do.
DW: Well, I don't consciously go to karaoke bars...
But sometimes you just look up and you're in one?
DW: It tends to be someone's birthday. So I don't think I have a plan but it usually takes me a few beers before I feel comfortable enough to sing without a guitar on me.
So, say you're there, singing 'Self Control' by Laura Brannigan but you've got no guitar on. Is it like when you're young and you dream you're at school but with no clothes on?
DW: I don't think I've dreamt about being at school with no clothes on...
All English people have that dream. What song do you do?
DW: 'Do You Believe' by Cher.
Do you emulate the vocoder yourself when you sing it?
DW: Yeah... Well, I've never really thought of myself as a singer and White Hills is the first band I've been in where I've actually taken over the vocals duties since the first band I was in. So I don't think of myself as a singer... I sing through the guitar. So to take on vocals, it was not necessarily something I wanted to do so I don't think of myself as a singer.
What do you think of yourself as?
DW: A guitarist.
I know what you mean actually. I don't think of myself as a journalist and that's good because no one else does either.
Sometimes I think of myself as a schoolgirl.
DW: Oh lord.
What about you Kid?
KM: Oh, I love singing. ‘Love Hurts’. ‘Any Way You Want It’. Those are my go to songs.
Have you come properly unstuck doing karaoke?
KM: I think I blow people away.
I did karaoke once in New York. And I did 'Anarchy In The UK' and 'Monkey's Gone To Heaven'. And it was that bad, they closed the bar an hour early and threw me out.
KM: That's harsh.
I was at Pavement last night and it was a great show. They're like Crowded House: you don't realise how many Pavement songs you know until you see them live. Anyway, during the set someone shouted 'Play one you know!' which is not a bad heckle but my sources tell me that Oneida had the best heckle ever in Boston.
KM: What! I've never told this story to a journalist before! Where the hell did you hear it?!
Well, I do my research! That's why I was two hours late!
KM: Well, in the earliest days of Oneida we used to have this song called Eating Pussy. We were doing it live in this club in Boston one time and Papa Crazee was going on about how men from Boston can't eat pussy. And the bar lady shouted out: "Fuck you! My brother's from Boston and he's great at eating pussy!"
DW: Ha ha ha! What?! She was saying that about her brother?! That's strange... very special...
What's the strangest bit of audience participation you've had Dave?
DW: On the last tour in Stockholm we had this guy who was as big as you [Ed: 6'4", 15 stone] and he was unplugging cables from the stack while we were playing. I was screaming at him during the song. So during the breakdown I stopped the song and called the guy out. And you can see the difference in size between you and me! And I was screaming at him, "Get the fuck up here! I'll smash my guitar over your fucking head!" You know: "Tough guy! You think you’re a fucking tough guy?" But that was unusual because I don't like talking and I don't like stopping when we're on stage, I just like playing. So for me to get that riled up where I actually have to stop the show and call someone out is pretty weird.
When I get into a fight situation, after it's over I can barely do anything because of the change in body chemistry. How was the rest of the show for you?
DW: It was great! It was amazing! One of the best on the tour. Actually there was a guy in the audience filming it, I wish he would get in touch with us. I'd love to see it...
Have you had to play under conditions of imminent violence Kid?
KM: Yes. We played a Halloween show in Winston Salem North Carolina before the show everyone was on acid. Everyone but me. We were going up this walkway to the stage and I guess somebody grabbed Bobby's then girlfriend, now wife's ass and he snapped and choked on him. But then all that guy's friends then jumped on him so there was a short fight and then we played. And it was kind of unclear what was going to happen after we came off stage. And we did play a death metal festival where we got run out of town after playing. [laughs] Yeah, these guys were all calling us fags... it's not really a big part of what we do.
Did they think they'd booked Unida, the post Kyuss band?
So you've made a pretty bold statement recently with your Thank Your Parents trilogy Kid. But not only that, the second part was a triple album. That's a pretty far out gesture. How is this going down?
KM: Pretty good. Better than I expected. Especially here in the UK. We couldn't give away tickets to our shows for a while but it's positive now.
What was the thinking behind this? I mean, I know for example, if The Strokes had have done this it would have spelled overnight death for them but then I guess as a psych band you've got more leeway. What set you off on this reckless course?
KM: Well, I mean, we just let our creativity lead the way... there was no... Well, we did say, let's do a triple album. Let's try it. There's that. But there was no grand plan. It was just we have our own studio so we can just play and see what emerges. So anything that we're excited about we can put on the record and we're not like a trendy band and never have been so we had absolutely nothing to lose by doing this. So that's all we do.
What's the third part going to be like?
KM: It's going to be no drums. It's done, it's finished. I don't know when it's coming out. We have to submit it to the label first but it is done.
Are there any morsels of information you can tell us about it?
KM: It's conceptually coherent and it is one disc long. It's kind of all the same piece.
So, 'Brown Out In Lagos'. That's not a real MC is it? That's just one of you lot messing about.
KM: No. He's real. It's an old friend of ours and he's super into toasting. I said it would be super awesome if you did a track with us. He was in town and we'd just put down the track. He toasted over it. It is a real song.
I've DJed it a few times at really heavy industrial nights and people have bugged out over it.
KM: Oh God! Really? That's great! I'm thrilled...
There are very few good triple albums. What are some other good ones? Are there any even?
Man, that album has got some shit songs on it!
DW: Yeah but I'll listen to that first out of all the Clash albums.
KM: Joanna Newsom's done one.
Thank God someone's finally released a triple harp album!
DW: Personally, I find her a bit... annoying.
KM: Really? I think she's amazing. Her show at ATP...
Dave, things have been really busy for you recently, with your own self-titled album on Thrill Jockey and your GNOD collaboration. How did that come about because there's a big geographical distance between the two bands?
DW: I came into contact with GNOD when I was booking White Hills' second UK tour. They set up a gig for us in Manchester. I met the guys and listened to their music it was really good and I approached them and that's how Aquarian Encounter our first collaboration came about. And then out of that they were pleased with what I did production wise on the two track stereo recordings that they did so they approached me about producing this recording that they did in a proper studio so I had the material and I was sitting on it for about a year and they came to me and said, “Do you want to repress Aquarian Encoutner?” and I said why don't I finally work on that material you gave me and instead of me mixing it why don't we do another collaboration and I just spent two days on it doing overdubs and mixing.
So with White Hills and Rated O, what are the ideal situations, settings and accoutrements with which to enjoy these albums?
DW: Well, I would say, in a domestic setting, that one should have a dimmed, coloured light. One should be lying down with some form of smoking implement, preferably with headphones on... really loud.
When I met you at that party Dave, was it you who'd made a bong out of an apple?
How about yourself?
KM: A room full of strobe lights, passed out with one finger in the electric socket.
What was it like when you first started in the group you're in now?
KM: Oh man, we were so unpopular. We were like a glam band when we first started. Like a British style glam band like The Sweet. Grunge was over and even Britpop was over and everyone hated rock music. You know what people wanted to hear? Illbient. Do you remember that? So you'd have a DJ spinning tunes... well, not even doing that just kind of making noise on turntables. The biggest shit going was DJ Spooky. Nothing else mattered. That was where we emerged from. There were no other bands in Brooklyn. It was two years before we met anyone who thought we were good or who was excited to have seen us.
DW: Our third ever gig was supporting Julian Cope at Koko. We couldn't even bring a drummer over so we had to borrow his drummer. I remember being really excited about meeting him and then like being at Koko at a packed house and shitting bricks. It was mind-blowing.
KM: Did it come together?
DW: Yeah. It wasn't until the second song until I had enough courage to actually look at the audience and then I saw all these heads bobbing and I thought, “I could actually fall off the stage now and it wouldn't matter.” This was 2006.
Ok, well while I've got you both here, I wanted to raise a glass to mourn the passing of a great rock tradition... the fat drummer. What happened to that guy? All drummers now look like they eat celery, are members of gyms and get seven hours sleep a night. What happened to the guy who used to spend all week fucking leathered and then just play on a Saturday night, dripping in sweat, with rolls of fat hanging off him, just bashing the shit out of his kit. Where did the fat drummer go?
DW: He died of a heart attack.
KM: That is a great question and one worthy of serious research.
DW: There must be one left...
I've been trying to think of one all weekend and I can't...
DW: Ah, you need to go to San Francisco. You'd find a fat drummer there. Some guy who loves burritos.
I like San Francisco. It's like France in that you get the sense that a lot of the uniform rubbishness of modern life hasn't quite infected it yet. What about roadies? Why do roadies not look like roadies anymore?
KM: I've never had a roadie!
But you know what one is. You've probably seen them backstage at a festival. While a band is on stage, they'll be the person wearing a T shirt from that band's previous tour. But you see some roadies these days they look like they probably read books and shit. I mean, you wouldn't even be that bothered if one of these guys were going out with your sister. I mean, what's that about?
DW: I guess they've seen that the drummer's cleaned his act up so they realise that they can't be that much of a slob any more.
What's the thing that's really missing in rock & roll today. What did you get to the party too late to enjoy. And I don't necessarily mean loads of cocaine and sex with dwarves...
DW: Well, I tell you what I think the problem is with music in general is people are obsessed with making it.
KM: They want a career.
DW: I think it's really interesting how many people contact me wanting my opinion on them. People think that because I'm on Thrill Jockey and because I've released several records I'll have some great insight but the thing is I think people are too concerned what everyone else thinks. I think if you make music or art or writing you should do it because that's what you are and that's how you express yourself and you should do it for yourself and shouldn't be doing it for someone else. And expecting to be able to use some kind of formula to bring about success. But it's only by doing space music - which is what I want to do - that I've had any kind of success. I worked my ass off at something I wanted to do and didn't care about what happened because that's how I express myself. I didn't think 'Oh, I'm gonna form a space rock group and I'm gonna make millions!'
KM: And that was your first mistake!
White Hills is out now on Thrill Jockey. GNOD Drop Out With White Hills II is out now on Rocket. Rated O is out now on Jagjaguwar
[The author would like to point out that he has successfully quit drugs since this interview took place and he now takes a dim view of this level of professional incompetence and would like to apologize to both bands in question again and to the long-suffering Anthea, Lucy and Manish…]