Space to grow
The youngest of The Maccabees’ White brothers – sibling of Felix and Hugo – Will White is now making a name for himself as a soloist. BLANc (pronounced ‘blank’) is more than clever wordplay, but evokes the sentiment Will’s songs carry; a blank canvas, learning who he is and what he wants to say song by song. His music is simplistic, but colourful – beautiful melodies and brooding beats – his adopted moniker permits fluidity previous projects haven’t truly allowed.
A touring member of The Maccabees in their later years, Will experienced first-hand how something can grow from an idea and a lot of hard work. It taught him a lot about where music can take you, and the importance of staying true to yourself through it all. For Will, it’s his Peckham studio that allows his mind to quiet, and a conversation between himself and the listener to take place – because that’s how he views music.
There’s no ‘message’ or meaning to BLANc, just an openness to share a journey that will change from writing to recording to performing in time. Even his collaborative process is free, allowing friends and artists such as rising star Nilufer Yanya, violinist Gillian Maguire [Ghostpoet], and drummer Jamie Morrison [Stereophonics] to leave their own unique mark on his tracks. With his latest releases Chameleon and Foreign Cities following on from the stunning Only One EP, Will’s drawing a lot of deserved praise, but one gets the feeling he isn’t an artist who’ll stray from his vision or path no matter what noise bustles around him.
Clementine Zawadzki: You’ve been making music as a soloist for a while now, right? I vaguely remember you releasing some music on the side around when you were touring with The Maccabees.
Will White: I’ve kind of always done solo stuff to a degree, but I’d say BLANc really only started about three years ago, as like a proper thing. It’s always been a holding name I’ve had… I think I put songs up about seven years ago or something, but it was totally different band orientated music I was doing then. But I don’t really mind if anyone thinks it’s been going longer [laughs]. I’ve basically been writing songs since I was about fourteen or fifteen.
CZ: How has it evolved then? Has the motivation always been the same for you?
WW: The motivation is always essentially the same, because I don’t necessarily set out with a plan for what I’m going to write about. I just use it to work out what I’m feeling at the time. I guess its matured, I kind of understand a little more about who I am in terms of my character in songs. Maybe the only thing that’s changed is I’ve gotten better at it? I don’t feel that different.
CZ: Did your brothers introduce you to music or did you all become interested in playing around the same time?
WW: Yeah, I think being the youngest… it was around the time The Strokes came out that we all kind of agreed on stuff. We all grew up on Bob Dylan and Van Morrison, we really loved that music, and I guess Felix was like eighteen when I was fourteen, so he was properly a teenager, listening and knowing what was happening culturally, and he’d come home with albums that I’d listen to. We all got into playing music at a similar time as well. It just seemed to be the way all three of us expressed ourselves, it just happened to be the thing, which is quite strange.
CZ: I want to touch on your time in The Maccabees for a second, because the band really set a precedent for how to steadily evolve and mature into a success. How has being a part of the whole process affected your outlook and approach?
WW: It’s hard to be able to really put it in one way, what The Maccabees did for me. It gave me this idea that it was even possible to make a career out of music, and it gave me the idea that it was achievable. I also saw how long it took and how much effort went into it. It created this thing that was connected to me, which was ‘The Maccabees’, which was both a good and bad thing for me, like anyone who’s connected to something that’s really successful, especially in London, they were kind of ‘the band’, so it’s hard to say how it made me feel. I learned a lot from watching them grow, and you’re right, they are the band that grew in the most admirable way, they did it all so gradually, and they were always artistically true to themselves. It was hugely inspirational to watch that happen.
Photography by Jono White
CZ: You mentioned how being brought up in London meant the band’s success and those connections were always around. How do you then look inward and find an introspective point of view on what you’re creating?
WW: I can imagine if you’re not from London it can be really overwhelming in terms of how you get someone to pay attention to you. But being from London, I guess it’s slightly different. You operate at a London pace. You grow up with the energy of London in you, even if you’re a relaxed person, you still have a natural element of London within you. It’s always been really interesting to me, and I don’t know if it helped me but it definitely informed my songs and it certainly informed the people I was around. We grew up in a very weird time where it just seemed like all of our friends were getting successful through music in South London, like so many just rocketed to success out of nothing, so it’s strange. I don’t think I have a very normal view of what London was growing up, because I happened to be in this little pocket where like ten people became really culturally important. I still look back on that whole childhood and I definitely don’t understand it.
“I’ve always found music very helpful, it’s very direct from one person to one person, like a conversation.”
CZ: I think sonically that energy you speak of definitely comes through. But it also has an eeriness or loneliness.
WW: You’re right, there is a lot of isolation in the music. Even though I’m from that world, I don’t really feel connected to it. It all just kind of happened, and I happened to be there. I spent most of my time writing on my own, essentially. When all of these songs started to appear a few years ago, I was writing in a little studio I’ve got around the corner from where I live in Peckham, a tiny little windowless room where I go every day to write songs.
CZ: It has absolutely no windows?
WW: No windows at all. It’s in a unit, it’s like wedged in. I guess that explains things.
CZ: I’m getting an image now.
WW: That place has become my escape. I can go in there and just be as loud as I want and make whatever music I want, uninterrupted. It basically gave me a place to be who I want to be, regardless of what’s happening around me, and the people I know. I have a solitary way of working, and that room has informed my music more than a lot of things. It’s become really important to me, to be able to say my own thing.
CZ: What are you trying to say through BLANc?
WW: I wouldn’t say I have a singular message. I guess I use it as a way to communicate what I can’t say. I’ve always found music very helpful, it’s very direct from one person to one person, like a conversation. I guess that’s what I hope the music can do.
CZ: How does that solitude then translate in a collaborative sense? There are a few familiar names that pop up on this recent release of yours…
WW: It’s just about finding the right people. I was doing a lot of co-writing with Nilufer Yanya around the time I did Foreign Cities and she’s just got a really unique voice and I needed a female vocal on it. With Hugo producing on Chameleon, me and Hugo have worked together since we were kids – we’re brothers – so that’s not that strange [laughs]. The right people are people who are going to listen to what you want and need, and allow you to take control. I find it difficult working with people when you’re expected to play your role and sit in the back after you’ve recorded your thing. I’m quite hands-on, and Hugo’s easy to work with for me. All the people who play on Chameleon are my bandmates, essentially. So BLANc has a changing lineup, they’re not as individually pulled in as it may sound.
CZ: Does also producing change the way you write a song too?
WW: I was literally just talking about this to someone before you called, which is strange. We were talking about this thing called ‘demoitis’ where you record a demo, and you’re so in love with the demo that you struggle to make the actual recording because you’re obsessed with that magical moment. The first time it’s recorded, you do all the inflections you weren’t intending to do, and then they become the song, so the idea of producing the track while you go has this magic to it. It’s very difficult to get out of that. I think if I struggle at all in the process, it’s in the production to make something finite. Even live I change a lot of the lyrics in the verses of songs because I don’t like the idea of stuff being the same forever, I like narratives to constantly move, so the idea of production is a fun thing to do. It’s like painting, but you don’t get to change it, which kind of annoys me [laughs].
CZ: Speaking of painting, you did the artwork too didn’t you?
CZ: I had a look at your Instagram and you have all sorts of drawings and creations on there. Is it a hobby?
WW: I never really studied art, like I didn’t go to Art College or anything. I don’t know, it’s just another way to do stuff. It’s not caught up in this thing that’s music. It’s easy to paint without getting caught up in it.
Photography by Alex Thirlwell
CZ: The Only One EP is quite soft and pretty, and then Chameleon has more of a beat behind it. Is that a sign of the direction you’re moving in?
WW: I don’t know, because I’ve got another release that’s pretty much finished now and it’s a lot softer again. I guess because I had Hugo on board with Chameleon we were just like, “Let’s make this really big,” with the band playing on it and make it powerful. I’d say all the songs sit on a similar mood – somewhere between Only One and Chameleon – like that middle ground. With the band there as well, it’s not as soft as the recording. We’ve also not fully worked out the best way to represent them in recordings, so when it comes to album time, it’ll be what we work out through these EPs and how to represent them the best. It’s going to take a while to get really comfortable. I don’t have a specific place I want to get to.
“I definitely don’t want to be the kind of artist where you look back and every album sounds the same.”
CZ: Some artists put a lot of emphasis on needing things to be completely figured out before they release music into the world. Are you comfortable with learning what BLANc’s about as you go?
WW: I’m kind of reluctant to do that whole ‘come out perfect’ thing. I just don’t think that’s really possible. Some people are very specific artists and they know exactly what they want, but I’m just trying to feel my way through everything. If everything I do is honest and has a real sentiment behind it, then that’s enough for me. I definitely don’t want to be the kind of artist where you look back and every album sounds the same. I don’t want to be an artist where the messages are the same. I wouldn’t say it’s a choice I’ve made… I’ve tried to be perfect in other projects, and that’s what I’ve realised more than anything, it’s never going to be ‘perfect’. I’m still feeling my way through it all.