INTERVIEW: WHITE WIVES (PITTSBURGH)
HAPPENERS: MAKING THE BEST OF AN “INDIAN SUMMER”
A good musician is a master of time-management, filling a chronological continuum with effectively expressive sound (pretentious labels and alliteration are not required). S/he believes: It’s my time: I’m going to do exactly what I want to do with it. As Chris “#2” Barker of White Wivesprepares to take the stage at the Triple Rock Social Club, he quickly assesses his situation.
CHRIS #2: “So we actually go on at 5:30. If you want to do the interview now I’m good to bang it out but I may have to cut it short. We can do it after, if you like.”
JIMMY: “It’s really up to you.”
CHRIS #2: “I’m good now!”
I’m taken aback by his disarming tone, given his onstage demeanor and the vast array of philosophical texts he and the White Wives drew upon to write Happeners. I worry that the hyper-literate lyrical content of the record will translate into intellectual diarrhea over the next half-hour, though given his athletic speech, it seems unlikely, now.
CHRIS #2: “It’s a really cute story…we were on an Anti-flag tour and we met Roger (of Dandelion Snow). He was 15 and I was just blown away [that] this fifteen year old kid was on tour. After the first 2-3 shows, our manager was saying, ‘Okay we’re getting further and further away from Pennsylvania…why do you have this little kid with you? We need to get a note from his mom.’ And so we got this hand-written note from his mother saying that our manager was Roger’s legal guardian for the next six months. Through that I just knew that Roger was a rare breed and we stayed in touch after that. About two years ago I got a batch of demos that ended up being Roger’s Dandelion Snow record, Grand Scheme Of Things. It was literally 30-50 songs.”
JIMMY: “Holy shit.”
CHRIS #2: I can’t believe how much music he dumped on me over a weekend. I wound up producing his record…I just wanted to see what I could do his songs and what he could do to mine…After I got back from a tour, I gave him a call saying, “I know you live in Brooklyn, but I want you to come to Pittsburgh and join a band with me. He quit his job the next day and came to town, all about a year-and-a-half ago.
I’m reminded of a lyric off of Happeners: “I wanna sing for you/the way you sang to me/on milk crates in our garage/when I was only 15.” It begins to make sense. The innocence of a 15-year-old listening to punk rock on a stereo, supported by milk crates. It must be about Roger.
CHRIS #2:“That’s actually a song I wrote about hearing my sister sing to me in my garage. She was killed…about… 3-and-a-half years ago?”
CHRIS #2: “It’s been an issue that I been really trying to dodge in a lot of ways. But I was writing that song…uh…she sang a Tori Amos to me when I was growing up. She was the first real human who I saw have actual musical talent. That led me to believe that…you know…maybe I could sing.”
The emotional cripple in me gives a brief condolence, uncomfortable with both the lyrical content, and the ease with which an artist’s truth can strike down a creative interpretation. A good note for any post-structuralists doing rock interviews.
I re-direct attention back to the album.
CHRIS#2: “It’s definitely been lumped into that category of a “concept record”…I’m not sure how I feel about sound-clips in records but they play a very important role in ours, in setting the stage for what we’re going to be tackling in the record. I mean, we really just wanted to tie in our parents generation…that nuclear, American era with this Pro-Vo American movement that we thought was so sharp and so smart and so witty and so…something…that’s been lacking from people who consider themselves part of the left. One of the things I love about the Pro-Vo movement is the concept of politics being personal. We’re bringing that back and saying, “We can write these songs from our perspective. We can have a song that is about challenging the status quo, but it’s also about challenging yourself, or challenging your love life…you know…pushing yourself before you push others.”
“We’ve predicated [ourselves] upon the Situationists who were majorly influenced by Dadaism. My wife’s an artist…I’ve found art has a great frame of reference on music. Essentially, we’re trying to marry the forms together so that maybe a kid who only listens to punk-rock might hear about Dadaism, or art noveau and check it out and realize that some of the things that are in their lives daily, that they look at as being cool…they’ll realize where it was born from. At the end of day, though, we understand that we’re a rock band and we’re cool with people just appreciating that aspect of it too. There’s nothing wrong in my mind with some walking away, just saying, ‘I enjoyed the way that sounds.’ Still, we want people to have the background on it’s influences because that, to me, is more interesting than just another rock band.”
Again, wonderful to hear. One senses a byzantine intellectual waiting to burst out of his head, but he strategically complements Dadaism with “Dude-ism.”
“A lot of the [Eastern philosophy] comes from Roger… He’s been belaying it to us as we apply it to our own philosophies of just being in a band. We’re stressed, we’re releasing a record, doing interviews, and just wondering if people are paying attention and then he’ll drop some “You can only control what you can control” Buddha bullshit on us and we’ll be like, “Gahh…goddamn you” (laughs). But the reality is it’s a really important note to make. I think it’s really cool we’re marrying each other’s influences. Whereas I come from the school of thought that in punk, you make your own surroundings, he comes from, you know, “If you put your foot forward, the rest will follow.”
“I’m the noise-maker so 90% of the noise is coming from me and 90% of the [guitar] melody is coming from Chris Head. Roger plays a very clean guitar, and finger-picks; You don’t hear a whole lot of that on the punk-rock stage. So…yea. I think we each hold our own ground, in that…Chris [Head]! You know we’re 5:30, right?”
The time-management side pops out again.
“Sorry…but yea that’s something we’re trying: to each have our own mix. It’s really funny as we’re playing live. Sounds project from different amplifiers and you can see peoples heads turning trying to figure out where the sound is coming from. We like playing that game with the crowd.”
“We wanted to make the record sound different from anything we’ve created so we were looking at outside influences. One of the first steps for us was tuning our guitars a full-step down. When you do that to a guitar it sounds really organ-like, and that was really interesting to us. It something I feel like most people in music haven’t been experimenting with at least in our genre of punk and indie rock or whatever you want to call it. I feel like after the pro-tools sweep of the late 90’s and early 2000’s, people kinda forgot that those Pixies records or Nirvana’s, In Utero, Weezer’s, Pinkerton…”
My heart skips a beat. I get a twisted pleasure knowing the album was composed with my favorites in mind.
“…those early-mid 90’s records, were recorded with such disregard for perfection in the sound mix; They focused on what fit the song.That’s something we’re trying to do with this band. Record live. Record big. Play on some very different influences sonically. For us, we’ve accomplished [what we want with the record]. It’s the best record I’ve been a part of. Whether or not it’ll have an impact on anyone else, that’s not really something I can worry about. I hope it does because that’s why it was created.”
I ask him if they intended to use such a plethora of hymn progressions on the record. Are these songs marching anthems for the post-modern era?
“Ha, yeah. Youuu are on top of us.”
FUTURE FOR ANTI-FLAG?
“Anti-Flag is an established band that has set schedules and is able to tour at will; those kinda things. There’s a lot of open time in Ant-Flag’s schedule and we plan on filling every bit of that with White Wives stuff. More than ever we’re realizing that we have to do [this] more than when we first started writing songs together (pause). And that’s okay! We’re really gonna be fluid with it and try our best to build this band into something real. It’s very different from anything we’ve ever done so in that respect, it’s very rewarding. It makes us want to challenge ourselves to fill our time and make it into something that people go to see because: it is what it is, and not because of Roger’s solo work, or Anti-Flag. We want people to come out to the shows or listen to the records because of White Wives…90% of these shows don’t say ‘Members of Anti-Flag on the flyer or anything like that. We’re playing basements, we’re playing club shows, we’ll do anything. We feel like we can play with anyone and play anywhere. That’s one of the things we don’t have in Anti-Flag. Granted, I’m not running from any history I’ve created; I love Anti-Flag…But White Wives is very different…and I’d like it to stand on its own six feet.”
It’s the bane of all side projects: Even if you make something better than your first band, it’s still a wacky side project. No matter the skills, experience, or scars you may have accumulated along the way, Wings will never be the Beatles. We close the conversation with polite niceties.
“It’s funny: We haven’t done a whole lot of interviews yet, and you caught me off guard…but I appreciate it.”
White Wives just wants a chance. Give them some your time (iTunes). Speaking of…
“5:28 PM. Perfect timing. I’m gonna go rock ’em. Talk to you soon.”
 Guitarist/vocalist for White Wives.