By Philip Runco
She pictures a farmhouse in the countryside of some “butt fuck town.” This is where she’ll cultivate “a world-class garden, the kind of garden that all the old farm ladies in our community flock to and congratulate me on.” She and her husband will make moonshine and sell it to hard-pressed teenagers. They will invest in a dirt bike. She will educated him – an “angry white man” by Michael Kimmel’s definition – on privilege and race and gender in America, and he will listen.
Way eventually arrives at the forces driving her to such daydreams – the depressing realities of both everyday life and being a musician in 2015: “The Internet is one big allergy attack: a head filled with all kinds of mucus fighting to get out the nostrils first. Who is going to be the booger with the most hits this week? It gets annoying. There’s a big middle class of fame: we’re all notable in our little scenes, but no one is hitting Lindsay Lohan status anytime soon… Writers are underpaid, as are musicians. These are the two things I chose to do with my life. I can’t build houses or write code so whether the world explodes or not, I’m pretty much dirt. When was singing ever a life skill? The internet freed our rock dreams from the corporation, so to say, but not really. It’s harder now.”
Way is right, of course – she almost always is. But even the half-serious suggestion of her walking away from punk music and writing is a sad prospect for the rest of us, because few people are as good at either. “Accessible and powerful” is how she describes White Lung’s incredible third LP Deep Fantasy in an e-mail interview over the weekend. It’s an assessment that cuts to the core of Way’s appeal on a broader level: She communicates ideas about gender, power, and sex with straightforwardness, clarity, and often blistering force.
How ya gonna keep that down on the farm?
White Lung was been off tour from early September to late May. You’ve talked about how without the structure of a 9-to-5 job, you have to be disciplined and push yourself as an artist. How have you pushed yourself in 2015?
I’ve been so lazy this year so far, but that’s just me beating myself up. I got married in January and that was big. I have been keeping busy writing for VICE’s upcoming female-focused site Broadly, which premieres in the fall. Lots of pieces on unappreciated cultural icons, sex, pornography and pedophiles. I have my regular columns and have been practicing my domestic skills. I’m so good at vacuuming.
After over a year in Los Angeles, is it beginning to feel like home? What are your takeaways from life in California?
L.A. is a beautiful, grey mess of trash and palm trees and cheap tequila. I fit right in. My husband and I are thinking of moving outside the city next year. California feels like home, but only because my husband makes it that way. You are making me want to quote Fuzzbox and get gushy. “Love is the drug.”
As White Lung has moved from playing DIY spaces and “disgusting punk bar[s]” to larger venues, how has the experience of touring and performance changed? Are there hassles or undesirables that are introduced to the picture?
Hey man, there’s nothing wrong with a rider, dressing room, and a pay check at the end of it all. We have great fans who aren’t too punk to move along with us. I want people to hear my music. That’s why we make records and go on tour. That’s the point of this whole thing.
After an off-putting experience in Chicago a month ago – where an audience member heckled her with things like, “I’ll give you a back rub!” – Katie Crutchfield tweeted: “let me just say: do not yell creepy, objectifying shit at me (anyone) on stage (ever) bc i will embarrass you.” What’s generally been your experience with audience members who cross a line? What’s your response if someone makes you uncomfortable on stage?
I never have these kind of issues. Who is gonna do that to me? Plus, we play so loud I wouldn’t even hear that kind of remark. I love Katie, she is a friend of mine, so that kind of behaviour is annoying. People are idiots. I know that was her fan’s really dorky and pathetic way of paying her a compliment, but he just ended up sounding like an autistic six-year-old and pissing her off for breaking her focus.
White Lung has a big male fan base and some of them know all the words and that’s cool. And I’m sure some of them jerk off to us too, but that’s part of the sex appeal of rock music. That’s stage power. That’s part of lust and excitement. That doesn’t bother me. Whatever perverted thing you do on your time is your own time, but don’t bring it into a person’s set. As if Katie wants some fan to run her back. It’s laughable. She doesn’t need to embarrass him; he embarrassed himself by opening his mouth.
There was a recent article by Sean Fennessey arguing, essentially, that there will never be another Nirvana. Not only does he question whether a band that makes loud and ugly music is capable of becoming “huge” these days, but he asserts that punk-rock bands (loosely defined) are content to be “niche artists in a niche culture, bound by niche appreciation.” Citing White Lung as one example, he writes: “In recent years, there have been a number of bands… – noise-rock irritants, feminist insurgents, cracked ironists – that seem to be a series of wholes with little sum. They are socially minded or existentially obtuse or ruthlessly clever. Dashes of Cobain, but rarely all three at once.” What’s your reaction to that summation?
Fuck off with the Nirvana curse. Is this really a new idea? That the way we digest media has created niche circles and a band as loud as Nirvana will never rise to billions of dollars in fame and cultural significance? No. Mark Teo and Josiah Hughes talked about this in a piece they wrote three years ago, and the singer from The Hives told me the same damn thing two years ago. The delusion surrounding the mystery of Cobain has been exhausted. Would Nirvana be Nirvana if Cobain had not died at 27, frozen in time as the highest priest of beauty, unintentional, bashful sex appeal like fucking Lord Byron? I don’t think any of us really want to be Nirvana. Can you even be Nirvana? No. You shouldn’t even cover Nirvana songs. That’s scarred shit. Only Hole could cover Nirvana songs.
When I was talking with Pamela des Barres the other day we were on the subject of Hendrix and she gets all quiet and says, “He knew he wasn’t going to be around very long.” To become famous and rich with cultural capital, legend status you have to have talent, drive, speak to the current youth condition in very simple terms (this is why a lot of black and white feminist rhetoric is so successful) and you have to want it.
Did you watch the at home footage of Kurt and Courtney in that movie? The bathroom scene of them is like these two ADHD genius kids, starring in their own imaginary blockbuster, climbing over one another for the camera’s attention. You have to have charisma and calculation. You have to write your own script into the media whether you admit you are doing it on a conscious level or not. Narcissism is required. Every person that writer mentioned is a fucking narcissist, except maybe Alex from Metz, and if he is, he does a great job of hiding it. You have to want it at some point and bad enough to do this addictive, stressful, insecure way of life. Things progress to some success and it pulls you in. I agree with what Alex said exactly in his quote in that article. However, any of the realities of drive, narcissism, and desire for public approval fade when a person tragically ends their life (and in doing so, creating their own legend) at their career peak. It’s very hard to age gracefully when you have been risen so high. You just disappear and you are shroud in mystery forever. And humans are fascinated with mystery.
The general population today is repulsively stupid and they don’t like guitars. I don’t know why, but they just don’t. Loud popular “rock music” today is horrible, sexist rap-rock like that “band” Attilia. Nirvana was masculine charged rock with this poetic edge of fragility. What about Attilia is anything but empty and vile? Pure shock value. No intelligence. The crowd is chatting “suck our cocks” for Christ’s sake.
Do you think being a writer changes how you process press about White Lung? Does, say, a lazy review that you don’t agree with make you angrier or does it make it easier to shrug it off? Or do you not pay attention to those things?
It used to make me angry, but as I get older and smarter, I start to be disgusted by the world more and care less. I wrote about this in a recent article I published in Britain’s Somesuch magazine called “Going Up The Country”.
You said in an interview a few years back: “When I figured out punk music, it made me realize, ‘Wow, I don’t have to sing correctly. I can just do it without all these rules.’ I’m not an amazing vocalist, but screaming works for me and makes me feel really good.” Even if punk is form of music where “correctness” isn’t valued, what qualities do you gravitate towards in vocals? What makes a good singer?
Confidence, dexterity and pop sensibilities.
What I meant there was that I grew up with a very limited idea of what it was to be a successful singer, because I didn’t even know that you could be notable and culturally significant and not be on the mainstream radio. Punk saved my conception of success and capital. Legacy, challenge, and influence became more desirable than money and flash-in-the-pan fame.
The songs on Deep Fantasy are on average a little longer than on Play, but we’re still talking two minutes and change. What is it about short structures that appeals to you? Do you think you’ll every make bloated, four-minute prog odysseys?
When you play at the speed we do you can’t do that for more than three minutes without it becoming boring and exhausting, especially live. We are working on the new album now and I want to do new tempos. Kenny doesn’t know how to repeat himself. It’s a battle.
When asked what was next for the band in 2012, you said, “Write a really amazing record.” Do you think that you accomplished that with Deep Fantasy?
No. We could have done a lot better but we had some major issues from one ex band member who was causing unnecessary stress and affecting our time frame. Our writing can always be better. Deep Fantasy is a solid record and we grew, but it’s an extension of Sorry. The songs are accessible and powerful, which is what I was going for with my performance, but next album can always be bigger, better, more. All on our terms.
Band photo by Piper Ferguson.