Meet: ‘Walks With Motorists’: A Talk With White Hills

If you’re a fan of New York City’s White Hills, then you know they’re not a band to rest on theirwalks for motorists laurels. With each album they seem to take their fuzzed-out space rock to another, much higher plateau. Whether it be creating ambient drone tracks to sit in-between their gothic Sabbath crunch rockers, or taking a twelve minute ride on a motorik chassis through some dark underworld whilst keyboard wheezes wisp by your ears. Each successive record seems to trump the previous.

In just a couple of weeks Dave W and Ego Sensation will be releasing their latest record onto the world. Walks For Motorists is the follow-up to 2013s So You Are…So You’ll Be, and if lead single “No Will” is any indication they have indeed pushed their music and themselves to yet another plateau. Darker, heavier, and with a new production sheen that accents Sensation’s bass and Dave W’s vocals. The White Hills sound machine has been put into precise focus this time around. But after talking to the White Hills duo recently it sounds as if they wanted to start from scratch on this record and step out of their comfort zone. The results sound stunning.

J. Hubner: Hello Dave and Ego. It’s great talking with you two again. Between the release of So You Are…So You’ll Be in 2013 and now White Hills had a pretty amazing year and a half. Lots of touring, both here in the States and Europe, including a run with The Cult. You two were also a part of Jim Jarmusch’s excellent ‘Only Lovers Left Alive’, as well as reissuing your great 2009 Glitter Glamour Atrocity in 2014. From an outside looking in perspective it seems like a pretty great year and a half for White Hills. Would you agree?

Ego Sensation: Definitely! But we’ve had a long winter without any touring so we’re ready to hit the road again.

J. Hubner: So let’s talk about Walks For Motorists, your new record. From listening to “No Will”, the first single, it sounds like a real shift sonically and in mood. It sounds really groove and bass heavy.

Dave W: Yes, “Walks For Motorists” is definitely groove and bass heavy. That was one of the main goals in making this record. None of the music on this album was written on the guitar. It was either written on the bass or a keyboard. Guitar was the last instrument brought into  every track. Sometimes we even decided to ditch it completely.

J. Hubner: Going into the writing process what did you two want to accomplish this time around? Were you ready to change the sound up a bit? What was the songwriting process like with this record? 

Dave W: We were definitely looking for new ways to approach what we do. Ego went about a process of writing a song a day which kicked things off and inspired me to get on the program. It didn’t matter how good or bad the song was, you just had to put together the basics of a song in one day and then leave it behind. This process was enlightening and inspiring for the both of us. When we realized we had over 50 songs, we decided to go back, trim the list down, and focus in on the ones we felt were the best.

J. Hubner: What other differences were there this time around as opposed to previous albums?

Dave W: The other big change to our process was writing with a drum machine not with a drummer in the room with us. For me this was one of the key aspects that makes this album stand out amongst our others. Basic rhythms allowed the music to have a more open and spacious feel as compared to some of our previous work. No instrument was fighting against another for space in the stereo field. Everything was able to occupy its own space and breathe.

J. Hubner: Another big change is that this time around an outside producer was brought in to produce. You two traveled to the UK to record Walks For Motorists with David Wrench. Being a big fan of Bear In Heaven I was excited about this, and from the sound of “No Will” I’d say you two made the right choice. How did White Hills connect with David?

Dave W: When we began talking about this album, I told Ego that I didn’t want to mix and produce it. I thought it was time for us to use a producer and go somewhere outside of New York City to record it. We sat down and came up with a list of people that we thought would be interesting to work with even if they weren’t known as a producer. The idea to approach David Wrench came a bit later. A few years before he was in NYC recording Bear In Heaven, during that time David and I spent some time together.  As we discussed producers more and more, it became apparent to us that David was the one. We wanted to create something different than our previous work and using a producer that is primarily known for dance music seemed like the ideal person to approach. It was through David how we ended up at Bryn Derwen in Bethesda, Wales. I have to say, we definitely made the right choice. Working with David was a pleasure and we’d love to work with him again if the chance arises.

J. Hubner: So what was informing the sound of this record? Were there any specific artists or albums that inspired the creative process this time around?

Dave W: No artists in particular, but rather producers. This time around I was looking for a very specific type of production, so before heading into the studio, I immersed myself in the works of producers like Brian Eno, Steve Lillywhite, Mike Hedges, Nigel Gray, Flood, and Phil Thornalley in order to dissect their mixes. David and I had a number of conversations in regard to the specifics  I took away from this exercise and I have to say he nailed it!

J. Hubner: A good friend of mine(and fellow White Hills admirer) lives only about 20 minutes from where you recorded in Wales. What did you two think of the area? It looked very picturesque where you two were.

Ego Sensation: Definitely! I’m considering going there to hike on the numerous trails in the area. The countryside was so beautiful and there’s a fantastic curry place in Bethesda. You should go stay there with your friend J Hubner!

J. Hubner: Would you ever consider going back and recording there again? 

Ego Sensation: As much as I’d love to record there again, I think we’ll have to try something new next time. Life is short and I like to get as many new experiences under my belt as possible.

J. Hubner: White Hills and Thrill Jockey always goes above and beyond with their releases. So You Are…So You’ll Be came with a bonus 12″ of unreleased music, and Walks For Motorists is no different. What can you tell me about the music on ‘Drives For Pedestrians’?

Dave W: As with the other limited edition “bootleg style” EP’s we’ve done through Thrill Jockey, the songs were compiled from sessions and rehearsals from years past and feature a cross section of songs that for some reason or another have laid dormant until now.

Ego Sensation: Thrill Jockey is a great label. They really care about the quality of their releases and about giving fans something extra. The first song on ‘Drives For Pedestrians’ is the title track from ‘Frying On This Rock’ that didn’t make it onto the album.

J. Hubner: Are there any specific plans or ideas for the upcoming live shows? How much do you plan on touring in 2015?

Ego Sensation: We just did a few shows in NYC with a troupe of Butoh dancers and we may start incorporating other performers into our live shows on a regular basis.  We have a 2 month tour of Europe coming up in April and May. We aren’t sure what our US touring plans will be yet but most likely we’ll do something in the fall.

J. Hubner: With each White Hills record I get a cinematic feel. I think your music translates well into cinema, or it could translate well. The work you’ve done on the trailer, as well as your podcasts show you to have a flair for it. You both have a knack for the visual aspect of art. Have you two ever considered getting into film scoring?

Ego Sensation: When we’re writing new music I always get cinematic images in my head which is why I feel compelled to make most of our videos. We have thought of scoring films and would love to do something for Pedro Almodovar, Atom Egoyan, Jim Jarmusch, Wes Anderson, and so many others.

J. Hubner: Have you ever been approached by anyone to score their work?

Ego Sensation: We’ve been approached to do a few short pieces but never a feature. Maybe this is the year!

J. Hubner: So what’s after 2015? Where do you want to take White Hills next?

Ego Sensation: If this were an IQ test i’d say 2016! But as I think I understand your true intent, I will say we plan to take White Hills beyond the edges of time and space. We will continue, grow, expand, experiment, and even potentially find a small island where other freak artists can come live rent free in exchange for their weird ideas.

All I can say is I hope I’m given a map to this island, as I have plenty of weird ideas to share. Sounds like my kind of place.

Walks For Motorists arrives April 7th via Thrill Jockey.

Previous Live Review: Bang Bang Romeo at The Plug, 21 March 2015
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