Local punk quartet White Lung is living the dream—if it involves travelling for weeks in a smelly van, subsisting on a Kraft Dinner budget, and sleeping on pool tables in squalid houses while on the road. And who’s to say it doesn’t? After all, while most of us schmucks are wasting our youth away in dead-end day jobs, vocalist Mish Way, guitarist Kenny William, bassist Grady Mackintosh, and drummer Anne-Marie Vassiliou are ripping up Vancouver’s underground with an admirably vicious punk energy. And with Sorry, the follow-up to its acclaimed debut album, It’s the Evil, set for release on May 29, White Lung is far from putting on the brakes.
“We made a blood pact,” William deadpans, while the band jokes about playing together until the day they die. With her blond, pink, and fairy-purple hair lending her a certain otherworldliness, Way adds in a sagelike tone, “You can’t predict the future.”
But in spite of the lighthearted cynicism, you get the feeling that this gang of four is right where it wants to be at the moment. In a conversation with the band in Way’s living room about Sorry, the chemistry between the down-to-earth friends is obviously easy and genuine.
“A band is a family,” says Way. But being quick to dispel any semblance of after-school-special niceness, she adds, “Imagine there was this guy and two girls and someone said, ‘You’re going to be in a relationship with them for six years’, and you’re not sure if you really want to date these people—but now you’re in a serious, long-term relationship. And that’s what it’s like.”
“You talk like you’re shackled to us!” says Vassiliou.
“I am,” Way replies. But she’s laughing at the same time.
Whether or not White Lung is a family, it is certainly a cohesive unit, making a point of writing all of its songs together. “Everyone’s standards are super high, so it can be stressful,” says William. “The standards for this record were even higher, so it was more horrible, but more rewarding.”
In order to rein in the band’s nitpicking, Sorry was recorded in three sessions, with four songs at a time. “We’re the kind of band that needs a deadline,” Way explains. “Or else we just keep throwing songs away and saying they weren’t good enough. I feel like all the songs on the record, if we didn’t have a deadline, we would’ve just chucked them, which is stupid ’cause they’re great songs.”
White Lung’s sound has always combined the ferocious chaos of throwback artcore with postpunk gloom and precision. On Sorry, while drums and bass pound like an adrenaline-fuelled heartbeat, Way sneers and caterwauls with confidence and fury about personal angst and pop culture, the singer preferring to keep her lyrics relatively cryptic so that people can “hear what they want to hear and have it become special to them”. Throughout it all, William is brilliantly crazy on his guitar, ricocheting from one note or chord to the next with a frantic, always-inventive genius.
During its three years together, the band has mastered the art of crafting intricate sonic freakouts that do exactly what they should: instill, in every leather-jacketed kid who hears them, a desire to tear shit up and do the death disco. Sorry stays true to White Lung’s distinctively manic tempo, the longest track clocking in at only two minutes and 14 seconds, and the shortest being just under a full minute.
“We all like the urgency of playing in this band,” Way explains. “There’s more room for error when it’s fast. You can just go wild, and it’s more about this reaction that’s happening rather than doing this perfectly beautiful thing.”
Even the album title addresses the band’s self-deprecating nature, apparently being a kind of half-sincere apology for coming up with only 10 songs. Says Vassiliou, “It was like, ‘This is all we got. Sorry. We have no time to write any more.’ ”
Still, White Lung has no need to apologize for Sorry. As Mackintosh points out, songs like the first single, “Take the Mirror”, a catchy blood-pumper with speed-metal-esque fretwork, and the unexpectedly melodic “Those Girls” and “Bad Way” are noticeably more complex and versatile than much of the debut album. This is due to both a conscious decision to write better melodies and the band’s natural growth since It’s the Evil.
Nevertheless, the group is expecting a lot of the usual “violence and screaming” in the audience on its upcoming summer tour, which kicks off on June 8, and no matter how uncomfortable and demanding it might get, White Lung is prepared for anything.
“When we were in Texas, we had to drive to play this show for, like, five kids,” Way recalls of a 2011 tour with fellow Vancouverites Nü Sensae. “It was so hot, we had tinfoil on the windows and they were flapping because all the windows were open and there was no A/C. And I look at Anne-Marie and she’s got a baseball hat on, she’s sweating profusely, and the window things are flapping in her face, and I’m like, ‘This is what we’re doing? This is where my life is at?’ ”
Hey, at least they’re not flipping burgers for a living. And if White Lung’s supposed blood pact holds true, fans can rejoice that they’re stuck with each other for at least another six years and a couple more albums.
White Lung plays a release party for Sorry at the Biltmore Cabaret next Thursday (May 24).