White Lung summon searing punk
“They’re like, ‘You’re not forthcoming about Riot Grrrl!?!’ and I’m like ‘Noooooo!’. I get it because that’s how you have to categorise stuff – you have to make things easy for people to go ‘this fits here, this fits here.’ I know how the fucking story goes, but it gets a bit irritating.”
Crack is sitting in a Wandsworth pub with Mish Way and Kenneth William of the ascendant Canadian punk group White Lung, a couple of weeks prior to the release of the band’s highly anticipated third record, Deep Fantasy. We’d been careful in our preparation for this interview to avoid the obvious question of that scene, but the elephant in the room quickly rears its ungainly head as we move on to the topic of Way’s deep personal interest in feminism and feminist theory. It’s something which has come across more overtly and frequently in her writing for sites such as Vice, The Talkhouse and Hearty, amongst many others, as well in her vocal enthusiasm for the work of individuals such as Jessica Valenti, bell hooks, Simone De Beauvoir and Tracie Egan Morrissey over the course of our conversation. We do, though, consciously attempt to maintain an air of cynicism when bringing it up: as well as the easy access via frequent focus on Way’s alternate career, punk rock is a movement often built around cyclical self-reference and enthusiastic homage, whether sonically or socially, and we’re well aware that many writers’ first reference point for the group is an erroneously quick skip and a jump back to Bikini Kill et al.
“Our band has always been a band,” Way states. “No one’s sitting around saying ‘this is a political thing blah blah blah….’ Whatever I have to say is what I have to say, that’s my thing. The attachment to people referencing something like Riot Grrrl when they talk about us is ridiculous. That’s a movement that started very specifically in a very specific place out of politics; the music came as a way of expressing those politics.” She continues, “We have nothing to do with that. It can get a little irritating but that’s also why I value that fact that I am able to put my opinions out there in other ways aside from interviews and music, by publishing my own work, so if anyone cares to read it or comes across it I can speak about it. I’m lucky that I have that. But like I said, our band formed because we just want to play music. But that’s how this shit goes. It’s a way they can separate me from everyone else. ‘There’s the feminist one!’”
Way and Anne-Marie Vassiliou (handling vocals and drums, respectively, and the band’s two existing original members) formed White Lung in 2006: “When it first started it was us two, and these other two girls,” says Way. “We didn’t do anything, just put out a seven inch, played a few shows. We didn’t take it very seriously at all. We were just having fun.” Kenneth William, a familiar face from Vancouver’s Emergency Room (then a hub for the city’s DIY punk community), joined on guitar in 2009, a move that would see an explicit seachange in the direction of the band. “We knew Kenny just from being around, from music and the scene and stuff,” she continues, “and he just e-mailed us one day because we were looking for a new guitar player. I didn’t even know he played guitar; he played in other bands but he never played guitar. So he came and played, and we were like ‘Whoah, what? You’re so good!’ We got our act in gear and made our first record [2010’s It’s The Evil], did a lot of punk tours and played around. And then we did that record [2012’s] Sorry, and that got a lot of attention. More than we ever expected.”
“So good” is something of an understatement, and that attention was entirely warranted. Though Way’s eloquent soul-searching and undeniable charisma as a frontwoman and lyricist are White Lung’s inadvertent blog hooks, William’s relentlessly gratifying playing is the band’s sonic crux and most definitive component, a thrilling mess of melodic hardcore riffing and unrelentingly frantic leads; “It is,” he states, “a reflection of my personality – I’m a stresscase.” “Look at how he’s shuffling his legs!” Way interjects. “He’s super anxious and that’s how he plays, it’s like panic.” It’s also the aspect most keenly streamlined on their incoming new full- length; where It’s The Evil and Sorry were excellent records and evidence of a band quickly finding an idiosyncratic niche in a saturated scene, Deep Fantasy is a step up entirely: a concise, fat-free and wholly consistent statement of intent, a fact made extra impressive given that the band managed to write the record over a mere five months (ish), whilst touring, with no bassist (Wax Idols’ Heather Fortune tours with the band but Williams is responsible for all of Deep Fantasy’s bass parts) and with members disparately located between the LA and Vancouver.
The result is ten tracks of unrelentingly electrifying punk fury, eloquently exploring topics such as diverse as sexual dynamism (Down It Goes), drug use (Just For You) and heartfelt platonic affection (on the record highlight Wrong Star, by Way’s admission “probably the only loving song I’ve ever written for anyone”) and an early standout for one of the records of the year. “We are,” she fittingly concludes, “the kids that did our homework the night before but still got an A.”
Deep Fantasy is out now via Domino