August 2004 - THE WHITE LIARS
Some months ago I found a package in the Cosmic Lava mailbox from a band called THE WHITE LIARS, hailing from Stanton, California. Well, I never heard anything before from this group, but I liked the album-title "Pharmacia", and especially the cover-artwork that was not connected with any well-known standards. But what at least counts is the music, and so I put the CD in my player. To be honest, I excpected everything, but not something that was so good like this! THE WHITE LIARS draw influences from a lot of sources like the Stooges or the Cramps, but there is so much more to discover here what makes it not easy to describe their sound. They have also a psychedelic edge incorporated or discovering more psychotic territories. So it's obvious that this band created a very remarkable sound with their newest release. And apart of the high-quality music I must say, that guitarist and singer Barry Stevenson (have I mentioned his intense vocals?) is a very very friendly person, and well-trained in pop culture and obscure horror flics. Expect an extent inner-view, where music is not only the main theme.
Hello Barry. Let's start the interview with a short overview about the history of the the White Liars!
Well, Chris Scholz (our drummer) and I had been trading records and CD's back and forth, and we used to go see each others bands. We were next door neighbors in Garden Grove, CA. and in the early and mid 90's we got hooked on Punk/blues stuff, like Pussy Galore, The Laughing Hyenas, The Oblivians. We started out as a combo of just guitar and Drums. We got a bass player and started playing live around 95... recorded tons of 8 track demos and then self-released our first full length in 98/99.. By then, our music had slowed down considerably, and we just kind of morphed into a heavy rock band..
Have you made any other band experiences before the White Liars and how did you found your way into music? What kind of stuff do you used to listen to in your teenager period?
Well Klaus, I have played in too many bands to mention in this brief interview, the most noteworthy was a Folk/Rock band that I played bass in, Too Many Joes, who released a CD titled 'Charm' in 1992, and had a brief publishing deal with Warner.. There was always guitars laying around in my house. I was the youngest of 5, my mom was a single mother who raised the 5 of us by herself.. I was basically raised by my teenaged brothers and sisters in the 70's!!! There were bands practicing in our garage, when my mom was at work, and my sisters seemed to have a lot of biker friends, so there were tons of Black Oak Arkansas, Humble Pie, and Steppenwolf records around.. One sister was a guitar strumming folkie, and my mom loved George Jones and Johnny Cash (my father, was a convicted armed felon and was in Folsom when Johnny recorded his live record there)
I started playing bass and guitar at age 12, and would play along to Kinks, Stones, Thin Lizzy, UFO and stuff like that... by the time I had Punk friends, I was learning to read music and wasting my time listening to Jazz/Fusion Return to Forever and shit like that.. So Punk and the Post Punk stuff started blowing my mind.. Gang of Four, Killing Joke, The Birthday Party, all of that great shit from England, Stiff records, 2 Tone and Mod records... I saw tons of the so called L.A. 'Paisley Underground' bands in the 80's like Dream Syndicate, and Rain Parade and got into the Psych stuff. I was basically into everything that was or seemed "new" at the time.. I played bass in a Ska band, I was in a Funk band, a Psych-Rock band and 2 folkie bands, anyone who would have me basically.
Have you been a rebellious young guy with a "I'm against it" attitude?
I don't know... I never tried to be James Dean or anything, but if being rebellious means that you don't take shit, than Yes, this is true of the whole band.
Let's talk a about the latest album of the White Liars "Pharmacia".For my taste is a very inspiring and outstanding release, not easy to pigeonhole soundwise, but definitely rooted in Rock 'n' Roll. It's like the sound of desperation, but still combined with enough anger and coolness to give me an uplifiting feeling. Please, give us an insight into the creation of "Pharmacia" and about your personal current view about it.
THANK YOU!! Well, many music fans just want to rock out and have a good time, and we didn't deliver that kind of a record at all.. Our first CD had more light-hearted moments, and this record just doesn't.. If you don't know us as people, and listen to 'Pharmacia', your first thought is "These guys need to lighten up!!" but during the writing and recording phase, my father passed away and I went through a breakup, our drummer had 2 friends die of cancer, and also had 2 cars stolen!! Ben Maddux, was going through a divorce, and custody battle, and of course, September 11 happened and the media was telling us that terrorists driving "Wennabagos of Death" were going to kill us. So we took prescription medication and started working on "Pharmacia".. The happy songs just got chucked right away... I would say I am still proud of the record, and I think it definitely acheived what we were trying to acheive, even with the risk of alienating some listeners..
I like the cover-artwork that shows a childlike painting of a nurse and builds a strong connection to the album-title. Where have you found the painting, and have you made any positive/negative experiences with hospitals and pills or anti-depressants in the past?
As you know by our correspondance, I am a huge fan of the actress Barbara Steele, and when looking for memorabilia on ebay, I found this folk/art portrait of Barbara Steele done by Lemurgurl Renee Bosler.. I couldn't afford the painting, but bookmarked her site and contacted her a few months later.. She agreed to do it, and was surprisingly affordable. I told her I wanted a 'drugged out Mexican day of the dead type look' and that the CD was called 'Pharmacia', and she really delivered the goods... I loved it right away, she lives in Oregon, and her husband Randy Lambert is a super talented painter as well.. the girl in the painting even looks a little like Barbara Steele!! Check out Renee's site at http://www.lemurgurlart.com Pharmacia is the sound of anti-anxiety medication!! I also had to take Ritalin as a child.. I have known people who go to Mexico to get their medications, and they have to visit these Pharmacia's.. I also like the connotation the word has to magic. and it just seemed to fit what was on the tape..
"Pharmacia" has been released through 24 Carrot Records. Is this the band's own label and for the case that you agree, was it an intentional desicion to work on a straight independant level?
We have never been solicited, and I don't have any friends with labels.. We have never sent anything out to any 'Major' labels as well.. I really didn't feel that anyone would be interested in putting it out, and it has become cheaper to record and release your own stuff in small batches, so we just go for it.. 24 Carrot Records is a tribute to Troy Walls, who records us at his studio the Crows Nest. That was the label that he used to put his own music out, so we stole the logo, and used it in tribute. The guy has a 2 inch 24 track machine that was used in the Record Plant in the 70's, when he bought it, the guy who sold it, boasted that Aerosmith 'Rocks' was recorded on it.. The guy has tons of cool tube gear, and shit from the 70's, and we love recording there...
Sadly, there are no lyrics printed in the booklet of the album, but I guess that some of the songs are concerning about low points in life. Can´you agree and who writes the lyrics in the band?
I wrote all of the lyrics on Pharmacia, sometimes I get help from Chris, and I give the band veto power if they think the lyrics totally suck, but that hasn't happened as of yet.. Yep, as I mentioned in question 4, a lot of shit happened in the making of this CD!!
I read two or three reviews where the White Liars are filed next to Black Sabbath and Monster Magnet. Ok, everybody got own associations and interpretations, but your sound has not much in common with both bands, although there are a few psychedelic patterns in "Pharmacia". What's your opinion about this links, and what do you think when someone would describe your band as "stonerrock"? (For my taste, the White Liars are so much "stonerrock" as Neil Diamond was a satanist)
Well, you could be compared to a lot worse than Black Sabbath and Monster Magnet!! This sounds cliche' but I never heard Monster Magnet, until a friend of ours told us we sounded like them, and this was right before our first release.. I listened to em and thought they were great!!! Black Sabbath is definitely an influence, but I would like to think it is just one spice in the soup... Stoner-Rock? Why the fuck not?? It doesn't bother me, because there are some great bands that are lumped into the "Stoner-Rock" category, And anyone who has ever heard Neil Diamond sing "Crunchy Granola Suite", might be convinced of his Satanic allegiance!!
Have you played a lot of shows to promote "Pharmacia" and with which bands have you shared the stage?
Yes we did play quite a bit locally.. Lob Instagon from The Liquid Den in Huntington Beach, used to book us with a lot of out of town bands that canbe considered 'Stoner Rock'.. The Glasspack, Southern Gun Culture, Lazerwolfs, and we like to play with our friends Havanha Brown, and The Ghettobirdz... There is also an OC band called The Gasface who are truly amazing and fun to play with.. We played with a cool local band called The Irritations at The Anarchy Library in Downey, CA. Hopefully lots more to come!!
In 1998 the group released the self-released debut CD. To compare it with the last album, I think that the debut is noisier with a stronger psychotic edge. How do you remember the recordings for the debut?
It was recorded as 2 ep's originally, so some of the cohesion is missing because the 2 sessions were 6 months apart.. We had Troy remaster it recently, and it sounds a lot fatter!! We may have to press more!! All of the basic tracks are live, and we didn't spend as much time overdubbing and mixing it, as we did on Pharmacia, we just sort of just banged it out and pressed it...
Inside the booklet one can see pictures of famous American criminals.Are you currently interested in 'true Crime' or was it just a period at that time?
I used to read Flipside magazine a lot, and I remember there was a guy who wrote his column from prison (his name escapes me) He was going on about Crime-core, and how it was the cool new thing.. I thought it was hilarious, and at the time I was reading tons of 'True Crime' novels.. I took the book 'Bloodletters and Bad Men' by Jay Robert Nash, which is a fantastic true crime Encyclopedia, and basically had our graphic artist friend steal the entire concept from the cover of the book, and the pictures of the criminals inside. I don't read as much of that stuff anymore, but I still have a healthy fascination with it, and watch those forensic shows on cable..
Are you playing songs from the debut during your shows?
Always, we play at least half of it, and are not against playing any of it at any time..
Would you describe the White Liars as a cynical band?
We have pretty positive attitudes, it is hard not to be a cynical band where we live... We end up playing with Punk/Pop type bands with the WHOA WHOA choruses, and people see us and yell 'PLAY FASTER'.. PLAY SOME PUNK ROCK!!! That has since changed, and you see these guys learning to play their instruments better, and then they start getting interesting.. Even Blink 182 doesn't sound like that anymore... There is always something to be cynical about in music, and we hate gimmicky shit. Right now it is those ironic post New Wave bands with all the cheezy keyboards, and of course there is a Garage Rock revival every 10 years.. Oh Shit, I am sounding cynical!!!
I know that you're a huge fan of horror movies, and I like to thank you for the inspiring list you have given me. What are your other interests? Are you love to read a good book, and what was the last one you've read? Any recommendations for the Cosmiclava readers?
I read a lot... anything by Harry Crews, or Jim Thompson, I also love Cormac McCarthy, and Czec writer Bohumil Hrabal, I am currently reading "A Peoples History of The United States" by Howard Zinn.. There is a great biography of Houdini called 'Houdini, The Career of Eric Weiss. by Kenneth Silverman ... Oh.. and for music reading, A friend sent me 'Dark Stuff' by Nick Kent, and I recommend 'Country, The Twisted Roots of Rock N' Roll' by Nick Tosches!!! Reading is fundamental!!
How is a typical day in your life? Have you a regular job, that causes a lot of frustrations (I hope not!) and do you have an own family?
I have an insanely busy schedule, and work in one of the busiest travel agencies in North America.. I have been at the same job going on 9 years, and currently live with my girlfriend of 4 years, but haven't had any children.
At least, what about the second half of 2004? Have you planned other releases this year, playing more shows and when can we expect the follow-up of "Pharmacia"?
Chris has said, that we have to release 4 CD's before we break up... I don't know why 4, but it sounds good to me!! We are currently writing tunes for a follow up, and plan to go into The Crows Nest with Troy early next year.. We took time off from shows, because nobody wants to go see a band that plays every damned week... We are about ready to scare up another gig real soon... We like to play every 2 or 3 months..
Barry, it was a pleasure to make this interview with you. All the best for you and the band. At least, if there's anything you like to say, just feel free and do it!
Right on Klaus!!.. I would like to mention that Jeff Scholz who played Bass on Pharmacia, is no longer playing with The White Liars, but will always be considered a member.. Ben Maddux has switched to Bass, and we are a 3 piece again.. Ben is originally a bassist, and played with Dick Dale, and members of The Adicts among others and the band sounds super tight as a 3 piece.. And I would like to thank Cosmic Lava and the people at www.Daredevil.de and of course Lord Litter for playing us on The Lord Litter Radio Program, www.lordlitter.de Long Live the True Underground!!!