Interview: White Wives Talk 'Happeners'
White Wives -- in spite of having a name that makes it nearly impossible to search for them on Google during work hours -- have been causing quite a stir with the release of their debut album, Happeners.
Of course, not quite the same type of stir that guitarists Chris "#2" Barker and Chris Head are used to making as park of politically charged punk band Anti-Flag. This stir is all about the music.
On Happeners, the band -- which also features Roger Harvey of Dandelion Snow and drummer Tyler Kweder of American Armada -- playfully skirt political issues, preferring to tackle them from a personal standpoint instead of having an up-front agenda. In short, whether you're a middle-of-the-road music fan or an anti-consumerist activist, you should be able to enjoy the music of White Wives.
The band recently stopped by Guitar World HQ to talk about their debut album, Dutch anarchist movements and the strange places you can find a Harmony Bobkat guitar.
How have Anti-Flag fans reacted to White Wives so far?
CHRIS #2: It's interesting how positive it's been across the board. In the beginning we would get asked "why are you doing this?" And then when they heard the music and realized it was very different than Anti-Flag, they realized there was no point in starting another band that sounded just like the other band that you're in.
For us, that was our goal, to push ourselves out of our comfort zones with the music we were making.
I think even for Roger it was the same kind of thing. He's been doing his solo folk stuff for a few years now, building his own community, and all of a sudden he has a band now, and people are like, "What the hell? You're supposed to be in a coffee shop with an acoustic guitar."
I think for all of us, it was a challenge after we've been playing music for this many years to find a way to be very excited about it. And I love playing guitar, and I play in my day job, so it's nice to play guitar.
ROGER: And I like playing electric guitar. It's been really cool. We made a record that we put enough work into and believed in enough that people who were skeptical were suddenly like, "Fuck...I like this." [laughs]
So had starting another band been something you've wanted to do for a while, or was this all just very spur-of-the-moment?
CHRIS #2: No, it's been talked about for a lot longer than it happened. Roger and I worked together and made his solo record together. Actually Tyler, who plays drums in White Wives, played drums on that record. That was the beginning of us realizing, "Hey, we can make music together." After that, Roger was on tour a lot and we were on tour a lot, but we were constantly talking about it. One day I said, "Let's do this," and Roger, who lived in Brooklyn, quit his job and came back to Pittsburgh.
ROGER: I did, which I said I never would do.
CHRIS #2: That was maybe a year or so before we made this record that that happened.
ROGER: I had some songs, Chris had some songs and we got together and figured out...the idea for it had been there, but we had to figure out at what capacity it was going to actually exist and come to fruition...
CHRIS: And that's changed every step...
ROGER: Yeah, it's changed...
CHRIS: It was finally like, "Shit, the songs are good, let's record them. Shit, the album's good, let's find a label. Shit, the label's good, let's go on tour."
ROGER: And now we're trying to do as much as we can because we really believe in what we're out here doing.
Talk a little bit about the non-musical influences behind White Wives. Things like Situationists International and the Provo movement...
CHRIS #2: We thought about those guys as being political activists without using the traditional ways that we think about activism, and we wanted to apply that to our songwriting. We didn't want to write a single political song; we didn't want to write a single love song. I feel like we've intermeshed those ideas.
The greatest thing I took from the Provo movement was how personal they took their politics and the humor and excitement they added to it. Their ideas were on one level really simple, but on another they were really big ideas. That's kind of what we wanted to marry with out music: to have seemingly simple thoughts married with the big ideas, and big music and big sounds.
ROGERS: And I think it's important to understand, because when you look at the Provo movement, it looks very outwardly political, but it was also a very diverse, creative community. It was basically a group of creative kids who go together that focused on social concepts just as much as creative concepts. In that, they were able to find creative ways to motivate social change in Holland at the time.
For me, incorporating the Provo movement into our record seemed like a pretty appropriate metaphor for the project we were creating. It's a middle ground where these guys [Chris #2 and Chris] are stepping down and singing more love songs and me stepping up and singing more about politics.
CHRIS #2: At the risk of sounding crass, it was a cruel movement. That aesthetic is something I feel is missing from the left wing or the socially conscious movement; it feels like everything is uniform, and we wanted to break out of that.
ROGER: And talk about politics, like he said, but on a personal level. I think a lot of open political discussions seem very cut and dry, and these are things that aren't just important because they're fucked up and far away; they're important because they affect us all personally every single day. So we wanted to take a more personal stance on politics and talk about our lives as musicians and as members of the world community.
The record definitely seems to have multiple levels. It's almost like the record is designed to make you think the more you listen to it...
CHRIS #2: Then we achieved our goal! [laughs]
ROGER: We got one at least!
So talk about the guitars you guys used on the record.
CHRIS #2: THere are three guitar players in White Wives, which is new to all of us. We're used to more of a traditional setup. I use some really little-kid gear, but I love it. I have a Vox Night Train head, and I run that into a 4x10 Marshall cabinet that I've thrown my guitar through so only three of the speakers work.
Then I have a barage of various second-hand effect pedals. My new jam is a spring reverb combined with an envelope filter to kind of create this laser gun sound.
My main guitar on the album was a Fender Lead 2. I found it in a shop; they only made it for a few years. It's really cool, it's kind of like a small-bodied Strat.
ROGER: We experimented with a lot of sounds on this album. I play a Harmony Bobkat guitar...
CHRIS #2: Where did you find it?
ROGER: I found it...well, a friend of mine found it in a Dumpster.
CHRIS #2: [laughs]
ROGER: It looks really gnarly. It's all rusted out and I took it to the studio and pulled it out and everyone was like, are you serious? You're gonna play that guitar? But it has a really good clean sound and works really well for the fingerpicking stuff I do.
Then I play through a Fender Twin Reverb that has two different speakers. We put a slightly bigger Mesa speaker in the vibrato side of it, and that's what I play through. The only downside is when you turn the vibrato channel up to a high volume it starts cracking up... I'm a big Neil Young fan, so I'm a big fan of the inconsistancies and beauty of old equipment.
CHRIS HEAD: Mine was pretty standard, I used a couple different Les Pauls through a pedalboard, mostly different delay pedals. I ran through a Vox Custom Classic for most of the sounds.
I had another rig for dirtier sounds, which was a Hiwatt High Gain 100-watt amp. That's actually on most of the record.
How about the acoustic guitars?
I have a Recording King, but I think we used the J45 for most of the record.
How did you adjust to being in a band with three guitarists? Was it a matter of whoever wrote the part, played it?
CHRIS #2: No, because sometimes I would write a part and I couldn't sing and play it at the same time, so I would pass it off to Chris or Roger, or vice versa.
The goal is to not have us playing the same thing at once. Only on "Hungry Ghost" are we all playing the same thing at the same time, and that was only because we wanted to make it really heavy. [laughs]
ROGER: A lot of times when you see bands with three guitarists, they're playing the same thing and it's like...
CHRIS #2: Is that guy there just because he's their friend?
ROGER: At the same time, that sometimes makes it really heavy, but I don't think at any point on this record we wanted three guitars because we wanted it to be really heavy. We made sure that the tones we used were really separated.
CHRIS #2: One of the things we're finding is that because not a lot of people are super familiar with our record yet, you can see people looking to see where the sound is coming from. We change off playing lead.
ROGER: And also to keep the melody and not make it where we're all shredding.
CHRIS #2: We don't know how! [laughs] It's also just about not being afraid to say, "I'm not going to be at the front of the stage, my goal here is to lay texture." And sometimes that's a hard thing to do as a human, to shut your ego off and realize that this little fuzz thing you're doing in the background is important and makes the band different.
Thankfully we're all pretty good at taking a backseat once in a while.
The debut album from White Wives, Happeners, is out now on Adeline Records
Photo Credit: Dustin Rabin