UO Live: White Lung
If there’s one name to know in punk music today, it's that of Mish Way, frontwoman of White Lung. White Lung originally got their start in Vancouver, and just released their third record, Deep Fantasy, on Domino Records. We recently had a chat with Mish, discussing the resurgence of punk music, her style icons, and everything that contributed to the recording of their new record. Make sure you’re sitting down for this one - it’s a heck of a good read.
Interview by Maddie Sensibile
Hey Mish! How have you been lately?
Fuckin' great. We just played this festival called Fuji Rock, which is held out in the mountains in Mount Fuji. Huge festival, it was great. I was only there for like 36 hours, so we went out, they took us into the festival, we played, we did some press, we went back to Tokyo, we partied with our friends, and then we went home. It was crazy. Japanese crowds are amazing. Everyone who worked at that festival was so polite and respectful and on point. Every piece of gear was perfect, everything you wanted was perfect; it was just very, very lovely. I'm all about the professionalism and they just blew me away.
You recently released Deep Fantasy on Domino Records. Tell me a little bit about the recording process for the record and where you drew inspiration from.
Well, we recorded the record in Vancouver with Jessie Gander, he's our guy. We started writing this record, and recorded half of it in December before I moved down to LA for a bit. Half of the record was written in isolation, which was really beneficial for us. We never heard any of the songs live until Heather and I went up and tracked it. Our guitar player Kenny played both bass and guitar on the record because we kicked out our old bass player. He did both, because he's a genius. The record was done a lot in the studio because we were playing more with tone and trying to piece together a rock record with a missing member. But it actually worked in our benefit because everyone was only bringing their best material forward. When we did work as a group, we couldn't just jam things out live, it had to be a little more calculated, a lot more thought out, and it worked for us. And the inspiration for the record, I just didn't want as much sugar on this record as the last one. I'm not sure if I achieved that, but I personally really wanted to write really strong, accessible vocal melodies that were aggressive and strong but still really catchy.
Deep Fantasy is full of slick and fast punk tunes that sound like they are totally timeless. How do you feel about punk music coming back and being more popular again? What was your goal when creating this record?
To me, punk music never went anywhere because that's the scene that I grew up in. Maybe it's having a resurgence in a more mainstream fashion now, but for us, those are my peers and that's who I toured with. We always put ourselves out into the atmosphere, and that's the great thing about punk - you can do things on your own and you don't need anyone else. That's the whole point of it, you know? I think it's great that loud music is coming back in a more popular way. I think people need it. Our world right now, we're doing everything in subtweets, you know? Punk music brings out true excitement and anger and expression. Even when you're watching a punk show, that energy is exhilarating and exciting and I think in a world where we're all so concerned with feeling and doing things on the sly, it's so complicated, and such a mindfuck, to have a form of straightforward, direct, and confident true expression. That directness is maybe what's so appealing. It makes me happy. The more the merrier. We've never been one of those bands that's been like, Keep us secret. There's nothing wrong with that. A lot of people in the punk scene don't feel that way.
White Lung's shows are extremely energetic and clearly elicit a physical response. For you personally, what do you feel is the key to putting on a meaningful live show and connecting with the people in the audience?
As we play venues or bigger stages, like festivals where there's this complete disconnect, I really had to learn how to convey what I'm doing in a bigger way. Put a little more musical theatre into it, you know what I mean? I've never been one that looks people straight in the eye while we're performing. I like to touch people and get involved there, but I don't necessarily look at people. I like to lose myself and forget what I'm doing. That's what makes a good performance for me. I'm aware that there's people watching me, but if I'm hyper-aware, and I see someone's eyes or something, it takes me away from what I'm doing. In the past I would always have my hair in my face. For me to put on a really good show I need to be completely lost in what I'm doing. It's this completely unaware trance that's happening, and that's when I perform the best. That's when I act the craziest, and that's when I don't care. People like to see you lose control and like to see power. That's how I feel when I'm on stage. I feel really powerful, I feel really excited, I feel really nuts. That's just what the music my bandmates are playing evokes for me, and I think we build from each other. Everyone has their role, but I like my front people to be front people. If you're paying money, I want to put on a show for you. It's exhausting but it's the best thing in the world.
Who have you been listening to on your own lately, while on tour or just in general?
I actually just deleted everything that was on my iPhone and I'm getting all this new stuff. I'm listening to a lot of, and this is probably because of my boyfriend, David Allan Coe's first record called Penitentiary Blues. Pink Mountaintop's new record I'm really into. I'm also listening to this compilation of all these Turkish garage bands from the '70s that I listened to years ago rediscovered again. Also a lot of weird old soul stuff, like Helane Smith and Joanne Garrett; all these old Miami soul artists I'm really enjoying right now. As for new bands' records, Mormon Crosses are coming on tour with us in September, and there's this band Love from the UK that I'm really into. I'm so eclectic with my tastes, I'm always searching for new old music. That's what I was doing yesterday for hours, just scouring old blogspots. People still have all this great shit up they uploaded from super old albums; it's so good.
I know White Lung was originally based out of Vancouver, but I've noticed you've been spending a lot of time in LA lately! How has this city played a part in your music and writing?
Well, now we're even further spread; our guitarist just moved to Montreal. When I was in Vancouver writing that first half of the record, I was very unhappy and I knew I was making this big change and was gonna try and move. I'm back and forth between the two still. I just really needed a step away from what I was doing in Vancouver. I was extremely unhappy and coming here gave me kind of a breath of fresh air. The second half of the record is a lot more positive than the first, and of course all of the songs are mixed up, but LA just put me in a better headspace. Everyone's gotta escape from the place they grew up in. I grew up in Vancouver, and I've been fortunate enough to travel so much that it was okay for a home base for a while, but it finally got to that point where I was sitting here bored out of my mind. I was done. I didn't have any work anymore and I was being paid in all U.S. dollars so what was the point? I really am a lot happier here, I just needed a change of scene. You can't not be happy in LA. It's a city where if you're already established, it's a really good place to come, I love it. I'm a West Coast person.
Now let's take a minute to talk about style. You do a lot of writing on the subject and how it relates to music. Some say there wouldn't be one without the other. How do you feel about the two and how they constantly work together or can they be separate?
They can be separate things, for sure but I feel like at least for me, the way that I use style in my performing helps me get into my character. Being on stage, you're exposing one very specific extension of yourself. Style and fashion is a great way to embody that and amp that up and really give yourself that extra boost to feel good. People are staring at you on stage, so you want to look and feel good to bring out even more confidence and put on a better performance. I used to have a really big issue with fashion, because I never had any money and I had to be creative with it. I would just feel so frustrated with it. When you follow the rules you feel frustrated but then you realize no one who's got great style follows rules. And, as I got older and got more comfortable with myself, I embraced fashion in a different way. I love it now. Being a female, too, gave me this total leg up with style. It can be frustrating when we're all having those days where you wake up and you hate everything in your closet and you hate your body, whatever, but those are the best days because you've gotta figure out a way to get around that. That's like a weird female thing, but it's an interesting part of it. Style is really important to me and has become more and more important as I've gotten older and I think it has a lot to do with confidence. All the people that I know who I think have the best style, they're just wearing whatever the hell they want, and it looks good because they feel so confident. I think the person with the best style in rock and roll, hands down forever, and will be Jennifer Herrema. She dresses insane. It's because she's made this self and this character and no one can pull off what she does. She looks incredible.
Who would you call your #1 musical style icon?
Probably Jennifer Herrema. And Judy Cole of Dead Moon. She picks one outfit that she wears for an entire tour. It's so cool, she'll just wear that every night and it's like her uniform. It's so badass. I've always loved Courtney Love and '90s style. The whole babydoll Kinderwhore thing, that was great. I think Jennifer Herrema is probably the most inspiring to me because she found this really great stride of hitting the mark between sexy and kind of butch. She's got this real fear in her style, I don't know. Little funny things, you know. If you can pull butch and sexy together, those are my two favorite things I'm always drawn to.