New York City’s White Hills have made a career out of massive, thunderous, cosmic space rock, and have refined it with each release, though never at the expense of their heady, effects-laden atmosphere. Their latest, So You Are… So You’ll Be, finds the band expanding their sonic world with a mixture of heavy-rocking riffs and ambient soundscapes. It’s part of a thematic trilogy with 2011’s Hp-1, as the middle entry of a triptych, though it remains to be seen how the three-part saga will come to a close. Treble caught up with singer/guitarist Dave W. after a series of tour dates with The Cult, to discuss the new album, their conceptual themes and working with Jim Jarmusch on new film Only Lovers Left Alive.
Treble: This year you’ve toured with both The Cult and Kylesa — how has that been?
Dave W: It’s been great. A few of the shows have been totally sold out, and I think the reception’s been really good. It’s been fun!
Treble: Did you notice much of a difference in the crowds or how they received you?
DW: Not that different actually. The only real difference is that the Kylesa crowds have been younger. Like, I think that if the people at the Cult shows were 10 or 15 years younger, they would probably be at the Kylesa shows.
Treble: How did the songs on So You Are… So You’ll Be come together?
DW: As with the past couple of records, when we have time off from touring we work on new material. This time around the songs were pretty well constructed when I brought them to the band. Of course things have a tendency to change once everyone gets together in a room and bashes the songs out. We had a number of songs to choose from when the album was put together. Once the songs are together, I then start to work on the lyrics. It is at this point that the concept of the album starts to take place. As the process continues the project takes a life of its own and starts to dictate what tracks will make it and which ones won’t. The process is always evolving throughout the entire process.
Treble: Was much improvisation or last-minute tinkering involved?
DW: There was one song that didn’t make the cut for this record that was written right before entering the studio. It was more improv-based than the majority of the material, but there is always an element of improv in what we do. I don’t tend to play the same solos over and over again and Ego will wander around the fret board a bit as well. The tinkering takes place more in post, when the album starts to get mixed.
Treble: How much thought do you give to how the songs will translate live?
DW: I don’t pay much attention to that at all. The songs are the songs. They have a life of their own each time they are played. The recorded version is just one snapshot in time of the track. Each night they get played is just another snapshot.
Treble: There’s a mixture of heavy, riff-based songs on the album, but also spacey ambient ones. How important is it to maintain this balance?
DW: It’s very important. It is at the core of the paradigm that is White Hills.
Treble: How did you end up working with Jim Jarmusch?
DW: Jim invited us to play at an ATP in New York that he curated back in 2010. We had no idea he was a fan of ours at the time. He contacted us out of the blue to see if we were interested and available to take part in his new film. Of course we jumped at the opportunity.
Treble: How was your experience being in the film?
DW: It was amazing! Ego and I spent the entire time on set, checking out everything. It was such a thrill to have the opportunity to be behind the scenes on one of Jim’s films. He’s an amazing artist with a vision like no other. It was an absolute pleasure to work with him.
Treble: What’s the significance behind the title So You Are… So You’ll Be?
DW: So You Are… So You’ll Be is part of a trilogy that started with the album H-p1. H-p1 examines issues of control and greed within our present systems, be it by government, by corporations and so on. It looks at how these things shape the way we think and act within society. H-p1 is the term that we use for these issues. The title is clinical in the same way a scientist will term a disease. So You Are…So You’ll Be acts as a meditation for ones personal journey through these systems of control and greed. It brings up the question, do we as the human race have the capacity to change? What will that change be? How do you as an individual fit within the constructs of society at this time? Do you agree or disagree with what is happening? Are you one to fight the system or will you just find your way within it? Do you personally have the capacity to change? The album doesn’t tell you how to be, it is just a vehicle for one to use in order to contemplate such topics.
Treble: Where does the trilogy go next?
DW: You’ll just have to wait and see.
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.