MFNW: Belated Edition | Interview with the White Arrows

Nick Hilden / September 30, 2011
Photo courtesy of the White Arrows

Portland has enjoyed a number of high-profile concerts over the course of the three weeks that have passed since MusicfestNW came to a close, but the city has seemed tame in comparison to the five days of sonic-omnipotence that took over the stages and streets. Here is one final missive from that hectic week.

On Friday morning, the Jupiter Hotel was in absolute chaos. The bands were checking in. Beautiful people were everywhere. Some of them seemed to be doing things, but most of them were lazing around in the sun talking road-talk, which is mostly bulls***. A constant stream of slick cargo vans and rental cars ran into the parking garage. Drunken journalists and A&R people—most of whom appeared to be about 19 years old—ran around trying to find so-and-so. It was really, really hot.

I was there to speak with the White Arrows, from Los Angeles.  When I arrived, the band was in the middle of another interview, so I sat down at the bar for a whiskey-soda and talked music with all of the writers and photographers who were poring over schedules trying to plan out their weekend. One of the big dilemmas on everyone’s mind was whether to go see the Butthole Surfers or the Handsome Furs, who were playing at the same time on opposite sides of town.

Eventually I was led out to the front of hotel to meet the band. We sat in a circle on the cement to take advantage of the sun while we talked.

The White Arrows play an extremely danceable, sort-of psychedelic-garage groove. Their music sounds like it’s made by a bunch of kids who know how to enjoy themselves, and meeting them proved this assumption to be true.  They seemed to be in an easy-going, excited mood.

“Portland is actually one of our favorite cities,” says Mickey, who sings and plays guitar. When asked what about Portland does it for them, the whole band chimes in, “Great food…Everyone’s biking…Everyone’s outside…Everyone seems to have the kind of creative energy that Brooklyn has without all of the pretension.”

“We really like Seattle, too,” says Steve, bassist. Once again it’s the same slew of reasons, “Space Needle…Healthy people…Lots of green…Conspiracy theories and aliens…”

“There are a lot of Reptilians in Seattle,” Steve tells me mysteriously before launching off on a very different topic. “I see a lot of Birkenstocks in Portland. I saw this super-hot babe earlier but she was wearing Birkenstocks. I guess it could be worse. In L.A. we have these chicks who wear gladiator sandals.”

The band is almost unanimous about their appreciation for Austin, but Mickey tells me that it wasn’t fun for everyone. They all look at Steve. “I got arrested. It was a situation involving a waiter and a large fish.”

One of the points that had sparked my interest previous to speaking with the White Arrows had to do with Mickey’s eyes. “I grew up blind. Or at least virtually blind. I could see colors and shapes. All of the sudden at age 11 I could see. It really affected my sense of smell and my auditory senses.”

The visual aspect of the band’s performance is extremely important to them. Visually, their influence comes from, “Any other art that is revolutionary or different,” says guitarist John Paul. “Dada, or anything that’s made to make you step outside of your role and examine your situation.”

“We like a lot of occult films by guys like Kenneth Anger,” Mickey says. “And tricked out Satan stuff that’s cool visually.”

“In a more literal way,” Steve says, “visuals are important to our music. It’s the difference between playing songs and putting on a performance.”

“Sensory overload,” nods Henry, the band’s drummer and Mickey’s brother.

“You know what’s the worst,” Mickey says, “is when a band plays a song and then finishes that song and then plays another song and then finishes that song and plays another.”

“No gimmick is a gimmick,” says John Paul. “To act like you’re disaffected and disinterested. You don’t have it hard if you’re playing music on stage and touring. You have it hard if you’re a janitor with like five kids and no money, and your wife is sick and nothing in your life is ever going to improve. That’s a hard life—not playing guitar for people who like you. A lot of people have a very poisoned attitude about what it means to perform.”

“We’ve been pretty fortunate touring,” Mickey says. “We’ve pretty much gone out with everyone we like.”

The White Arrows first 7-inch was released on September 6th by Ooh La La Records. The band prophesies that 2012 will be the year of their first full length release. “It’ll be out on December 21st,” Mickey portends. The band erupts into laughter. “It’s going to be released in the first quarter of the Mayan Calendar.”

Currently, the White Arrows are playing a few shows in London before they sweep through the West Coast of the US with the Naked and Famous. There’s nothing better than seeing a young band that is filled with enthusiasm and truly love what they’re doing. And sensory overload never hurts either.


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