Published Jun 26, 2011If you're part of the disappointed legions still waiting for a second Desaparecidos record, White Wives have arrived to fill the gaping hole in your literate punk heart. Balancing '90s alternative rock and garage punk bombast the same way that Conor Oberst's short-lived punk group did at the turn of the millennium, White Wives play anthemic, crunchy punk that would make any resident of Omaha proud. Hailing from the other end of the country, the band are a Pittsburgh, PA-based collection of old friends, most notably including Chris Head and Chris #2 from Anti-Flag, alongside members of American Armada and Dandelion Snow. Any assumption that White Wives will have even a hint of Fat's pop punk stamp disappear within the first few moments of epic opening track "Indian Summer, Indian Summer," a song that drips with the same humungous gang vocals and guitar heroics as Fang Island while recalling mid-career Brand New at their most direct. There is a startling array of influences present on Happeners, from Pixies to Beat Happening (but super-loud instead of super-minimal), all channelled through a rough lyrical concept centred upon the '60s Dutch countercultural Provo movement and the drive and energy of a group of friends raised on Rust Belt punk.
How do you balance your other major musical projects and White Wives?
Vocalist and guitarist Chris #2: There is a decent amount of shuffling that goes on. White Wives are definitely a bit more liquid than anything we've done; we have the ability to play shows at the drop of a hat. We are constantly finding that Wives are something we want to experiment with, including in the live department: basements, art spaces, anywhere that will have us. We have no qualms being on the road the majority of the year.
Vocalist and guitarist Roger Harvey: White Wives are definitely an interesting addition to introduce to our already extremely active lifestyles, both in music and outside of music. I think we didn't really have much in mind when we came together to write Happeners. The idea was fairly simple: old friends come together to write songs and see how we interact as musicians. We wanted to let ourselves be free. I think the clarifying moment was when we were in the mixing room in Nashville listening to the record we had made. We all kind of looked around and it hit us that something very special was born. This project has definitely liberated us in our own personal ways, in that way White Wives are very necessary for us and very new. As Chris mentioned, we shuffle quite a bit and it's become very clear that this is something worth shuffling for.
How does songwriting differ for White Wives compared to your other bands?
Chris #2: It's tremendously different, for me. Roger writes complete songs ― that's something I've never been a part of. He brings them to me, I fuck 'em up, find ways to keep the parts that should be small that way, and find ways to make his song that has originated as just a voice and a guitar as big as we can go. I think Roger has never written in parts like I do. I'll write a verse and a chorus and ask him to write the bridge, push him out of his comfort zone, as he has for me. We have a frame of reference, a sort of vision for what we want White Wives to be. It's a constant effort to achieve that sound and aesthetic.
Harvey: I'm used to writing songs all on my lonesome. In that process, sometimes my acoustic music is very predictable, lacking extra sets of ears. I tend to have the same ideas a lot and can be very forgetful; it's nice to have some of my best friends in the room to keep me in check and add things that I would never think of. Chris has a gift for hearing music and making it something extremely unique. It's definitely amazing to see where songs start and end with the Wives. I'll write a song and bring it in to everyone; it will be a desolate, droning piano song and I'll leave the rehearsal space hearing it as an upbeat orchestral jam. I trust Chris very much and this process makes things very interesting. It also kills a lot of the ego involved that makes me feel uncomfortable. I can look at a song and be proud of it 'cause I like Chris's guitar part or what Tyler [Kweder] is doing on the drums and take a lot of pride in it from that perspective. Solitary songwriting can be very narcissistic; I'm not very interested in that. As for my friends, I like the music they make.
How did you come to be so interested in the Provo movement?
Chris #2: We are definitely children of punk rock politics. We want to make sure every piece of music that we create has a social conscience. However, what we loved about the Provo movement was their addition of humour, their angst, their ability to have something be as much about love as it is about struggle. We set out to not write a single "political" song the whole way through; we want to make sure we venture and allow ourselves to have different thoughts in each song. The same way we do not have a single "love" song; it takes turns down different paths and incorporates other ideas that we may have touched on in previous songs.
Harvey: The Provo movement is used more as a metaphor for our project and the confines we're trying to break out of with this endeavour. It is always inspiring to see a sub-cultural movement of the arts that can be focused on politics just as much as on a celebration of the internal diversity of a creative community. I think the metaphor suits our vision very concisely and when we were looking for centrepieces for our concept we felt very in tune with the Provos. I think the record utilizes a lot of literary devices and abstraction as a sort of silver lining or common thread. Unlike our other projects, nothing about Happeners should be taken at face value. The ideas are a lot less straightforward. Dear friends and family, please read between the lines.
Do you plan to continue with White Wives as a concept-based musical project?
Chris #2: That's an interesting question. The first thing is: are we concept-based? I mean, this being our first record, we were so inspired by the atomic age, in our artwork, in the lyric process, in some of the instrumentation and sounds of the record. I don't foresee us using decades as influences on records, but I've learned to never say never as much as I've learned not to paint ourselves into something too early.
Harvey: I think our vision for White Wives is just the same as when we all convened in Pennsylvania to write the first set of songs, many of them included on Happeners. We want this project to be a celebration of songs that we believe in. We will continue to write songs and let our process develop organically, but we want the songs to be the only focus. We did not aim to distract, especially in a musical atmosphere when music itself is secondary to the outfits artists are wearing and marketing strategies they use.
How does touring with White Wives differ from your other projects?
Chris #2: In many ways it's the same. We always put as much of ourselves into delivering our songs as well as we can, hoping to build a real connection where people are free to be themselves. On the other hand, we're setting up the shows ourselves sometimes, we're sleeping on friends' floors, cramming seven people into Motel 6 rooms in the dead of night. There is a slice of humble pie being devoured each night, for sure.
Harvey: It is a step up, for me. I'm used to travelling on buses and trains with my acoustic guitar, playing small venues and basements. We have a van and trailer and all this cool equipment. I think what is most important is the sense of community we share together in our travelling. There is definitely a feeling that we are all in this together, and what we're involved in is very beautiful. We push each other in very progressive ways. We're meeting a lot of pretty people a long the way and it's been extremely rewarding. (Adeline)