Posted by: Necci – Apr 27, 2012
Across the RVA musical spectrum, there really isn’t another band quite like White Laces. Initially receiving acclaim for their volume and shoegaze tendencies, they have spent the greater part of 2011 displaying quite a prolific work ethic. Between releasing their self-titled twelve-inch EP on Shdwply Records, writing new material for several split vinyl releases slated for 2012, and creating three music videos showcasing their strongest tracks, the band has not let up since their inception, and they continue to pursue new ideas that push them towards reinvention.
Before White Laces, singer/guitarist Landis Wine was in Cinemasophia. After the release of their final album Fits and Cycles, Wine decided that he didn’t really want to be in the band any longer. “I don’t think anyone was happy with how that situation ended or where it was headed,” he recalls. “It was difficult for sustainability reasons and I felt done with it for a while.” Wine holed up at home and began working on new material, which soon took him in some new directions. “The new songs were much more keyboard-based,” he explains. “I knew I was much more invested in this. It felt fresh and natural in comparison to what I had been working on prior.”
Soon, Wine met former Field Day drummer Jimmy Held at a party, where the two talked endlessly about music and made plans to practice as soon as they could. After jamming together a few times, the collaboration stuck, and this two-piece lineup completed and released White Laces’ self-titled debut. The EP’s energetic fervor and larger than life sound represented the personality of the band members. Wine’s reverb-laden vocals were beautifully layered against the harsh musical landscapes of distinctive songs like “Motorik Twilight.” His lyrical tales were dark and personal, but the focus was clear. This engaging sound revealed the direction that White Laces, and the Richmond music scene as a whole, would be headed in the coming year.
In order to pull off what was on record in live performances, they were going to need to find more people to fill in the gaps in their lineup. “After we put together the demo, we went through a quick succession of members until we reached the right fit,” says Held. Although the frequently shifting early lineups were frustrating for Wine and Held, this test of patience was necessary to find the two other key components for the band.
Bassist Jay Ward’s relationship with Wine predated White Laces, as both had been active songwriters in Cinemasophia. However, there was an inherent difference in the ways the two projects operated. “At one point, there were six members in Cinemasophia, with Landis, John Merchant, and myself as the core members and songwriters,” Ward explains. “We ended up just yanking people into the fold and telling them to play this and play that. With White Laces, Landis will bring in a main part or a few riffs that he thinks belong together, and we will flesh it out [as a group]. The songwriting is more of a group effort.” Wine and Ward have put aside any lingering tension from the Cinemasophia days to come up with something spectacular musically. “We might still bicker between the two of us, but it’s a different kind of fighting,” Wine explains. “At the end of the day, Jay knows exactly when and where to come in with bass stuff.”
The final piece to the puzzle was guitarist Alex French. French came out to a few of the band’s shows when they were a three-piece and he was playing in another band. After that band broke up, Wine reached out to French to join White Laces. French is younger than the other members, but his youthful exuberance helps keep his contributions inventive. His exploration of sonic thresholds with his solo project, Flossed in Paradise, has helped dictate his approach to White Laces. When a song may lose its focus in its louder moments, French is capable of adding relatively subtle effects to help complete the soundscape. He plays a strong foil to Wine’s clanging, rhythmic guitar parts, and it’s fascinating to observe their interplay and the way it serves the band as a whole. “When it comes to White Laces, I’m a rhythm guitarist trying to figure out how to be a lead guitarist,” French explains.
French is not the only member of White Laces who is going against his usual instrumental role. Wine started off as a drummer, and his guitar playing is more rhythmically infused as a result. Ward initially joined White Laces on guitar, but his identity in the band took shape once he took over bass duties. The most curious case is that of Held, who is the singer, guitarist, and chief songwriter in acclaimed Richmond post-hardcore outfit Flechette. Yet his drum work in White Laces displays a significant level of finesse. “The funniest thing about our band is that the best guitarist in the band is behind a drum kit,” Wine says.
The full lineup debuted live on WRIR, recording a session that ended up on the cassette version of their debut, and reflected a new era for the group. “The shows after that radio performance were a lot of covering old ground,” Wine recalls. “It felt more like catch-up at times, but it helped us get better in sync with one another.” He jokes about how several of those early shows will simply not disappear off of Youtube, despite his best efforts. These early sets gained White Laces some recognition for high volume levels. Held has a reasonable explanation: “When we were working out this material, we ended up practicing in a space where we were surrounded by other bands. We had to turn our equipment up louder just to hear one another. As a result, we didn’t know any better than to play at that volume.”
The group’s popularity rose through frequent touring and they received offers of shows at festivals like South By Southwest and CMJ. They also received offers to make music videos, which Wine in particular was enthusiastic about. “It was almost like we were sharing these with our friends who had a natural inclination to create art and be inspired from what we had worked on,” Wine remarks. The videos for “Motorik Twilight,” directed by Sophia Minnerly, and “Spirtuals,” directed by John Merchant, spawned further support for the band, and helped set a few steps in place for their further development.
There were still a few issues here and there, the most dramatic being an incident that took place at a pizzeria in Lynchburg, in which White Laces were criticized for their performing volume. “I think that turned into a game of telephone, and the miscommunication overwhelmed the reality of the situation,” Wine reflects. The only thing that French thinks could come from the minor controversy is a newfound level of expectation. “I think if we get booked for a house show, a lot of kids might come out because of our name and its association with loudness,” he explains. This frame of mind helped to spark a new attitude within White Laces, who found the challenge of trying to throw all expectations away and recreate the sound of the band more exciting than sticking to their established sound. Wine explains, “We could rev up our amps and maintain our reputation as being possibly the loudest, more obnoxious band on a bill, or we could really pay attention to what could make us stronger and more satisfied as a whole.”
When the time came to work on new material, a steady timeline of playing out frequently and learning how to read each other helped to create a comfortable setting for White Laces to effectively work. The first two songs to come out of these sessions were “Bastard’s Dead” and “Hands in Mexico.” “Bastard’s Dead” was a result of Wine and Held working on new material after the departure of a former bassist. “It was a means of feeling one another out as far as where we may have been headed next,” Wine comments. “Hands In Mexico” was the first true collaboration involving the whole band. Wine brought the song into practice as a straightforward rock song, which Held immediately countered by introducing a shuffle beat. French added a few guitar parts to help take the song where Wine envisioned it. Their approach to this song differed in comparison to earlier material. “When we were putting [it] together, we thought that maybe instead of making the song get louder and louder, we could go for a quieter approach to build up the tension,” Wine considers.
“Hands” is an excellent example of the way the right single can dramatically escalate a band’s status in a very short time. White Laces’ peers, as well as a growing fan base, responded to their first EP with enthusiasm. However, the internet debut of “Hands,” and its subsequent music video, directed by Danny Lerch, changed everything. The single set White Laces apart from its local peers and set in motion a newfound excitement within the band and among its fans.
Recorded at Sound Of Music Studios, “Bastard” and “Hands” were earmarked for a split 10 inch EP with local Richmond band The Snowy Owls. There was enough space on the record for one more song, and White Laces headed to Roanoke’s Mystic Fortress Studios in order to complete the project. They ended up recording not only the last song for the Snowy Owls split, but a song that would end up on another split vinyl release as well.
“Don’t Wake Up” rounded out the Snowy Owls split. There is a looseness to the song that is new for White Laces, which allows the rhythm section to take center stage while the guitars take it easy. “On that song, Alex and I wait around for a while before we have to play, while the rhythm section has at it,” Wine says. “This made us all consider how we could interact with space and not feel the need to fill every empty space with guitar riffs.” This new method of interaction is influenced by other groups on the current Richmond musical landscape. After catching local groups The Diamond Center and Canary Oh Canary, Wine and Held realized that they needed to work on their dynamic. “[From seeing] The Diamond Center, we realized that we could pull back and have it create more tension,” remarks Held.
The second song that White Laces recorded in Roanoke was “Dissolve Into Color,” their side of a split seven-inch with Philadelphia’s Arches. They’d workshopped the song while on the road with the Philadelphia-based group. After the tour, Arches left a lingering impact on White Laces. “We even played an Arches tune at practices for a while,” French remarks. The robust jangling guitars at the start fit into the spectrum of their recent material. As Wine’s voice enters the scene, it could almost be said that all bets are off. The song’s loose structure results in a relatively undefined chorus, but regardless, its flaring build is phenomenal, and delivers a sensation of panic that offers no relief in sight.
Wine chose to take a different approach with the lyrics to “Dissolve Into Color” than he had previously. During musical composition, he’d found that vocal melodies were easy to piece together, but that lyrics took much longer and were often constructed at the last minute. “I tend to write phonetically, and pull from what fits the melody I’ve worked out during practice,” he explains, noting that his previous habit had been to write endless pages of phrases and sounds from which he would pull words haphazardly. On “Dissolve,” he attempted to escape this habit. “Part of it’s about a specific time at a bar in Roanoke, and the other part is pulled from certain imagery taken from Gnostic sects,” he explains. “I feel like I have a more uniform direction now. I am really happy with the lines from that song, and it makes me think that I should concentrate more on what I’m doing lyrically.”
Shortly after this session, French spent some time overseas, allowing White Laces to take a well-deserved breather and examine the next step for the band. “We realized that we didn’t have to continue in this line that we had been doing up to that point,” Wine says. Upon his return, French’s role in the band greatly expanded. “The new songs we are working on feature keys and samplers,” he explains. “A new trend developed while I was gone to just incorporate new instruments and throw them my way.” Although his setup has greatly expanded, White Laces as a whole have moved towards removing excessive parts and displaying restraint. This new direction was partly inspired by Wine’s listening habits over the past year. “I can’t really pinpoint when it started, but I just started to listen to more electronic music,” he says. “It started to absorb a bit into my senses of [the way] I wanted percussion to sound, and how I wanted the songs to sound. It’s helped give [us] a better idea of how we can utilize these new instruments, and also avoid the excess we would [previously] partake in.”
The response to the newer material that White Laces have unveiled has been incredibly positive. After shows in Norfolk and Richmond, previous expectations of a loud approach have mostly dissipated. “We played an entirely new set in Norfolk and everyone was incredibly encouraging about the new direction,” Wine says. “We were worried at first, because with the first record, everyone loved how loud it was, and you never know if the new stuff will alienate the people who pay attention to what you do. Fortunately for us, I think scaling back has helped us be more inviting, and encouraged more people to not be turned off by the volume.”
Two of the new songs that White Laces have unveiled are “Heavy Nights” and “Carousel.” They both help to display fresh nuances of the band. “Heavy Nights” shows a quieter, more patient White Laces, which they realize through Wine’s diminished presence on guitar and French’s focusing on keyboard parts. This is a frequent duty for him in his solo project, and helps to make this new role less unfamiliar. “Carousel” is the most like the older material, with fluid bass and strong guitars; yet it is apparent that although this hearkens back to the old days, White Laces have interjected their new sound into the song nonetheless. It goes to show that although the band may be further exploring a less aggressive intensity, they have not lost the spark that drew people to them in the first place.
With several releases under their belt, it’s only fitting that their focus would turn towards a proper full-length. White Laces have been hard at work at piecing together new songs, contemplating an overarching idea for the record, and taking their time to make this something that will allow the band to further prosper. “With the full-length, we have a lot of skeletons that we have been working on and we are pushing ourselves to really focus on a concise idea,” Wine says. “As opposed to throwing together everything we are working on and fitting it on one LP, I’d rather have the flow of the record and thought behind it, not be compromised by barreling through the process.” “We want it to be a strong forty-five minutes, and not [just] a collection of songs that we were working on at the time,” remarks Held. Fortunately for them, any leftover songs will find easy homes on future releases through Harding Street Assembly Lab and Funny/Not Funny Records. Although nothing can be revealed at the moment, the releases should coincide with upcoming festival appearances and appropriate split collaborators.
The future isn’t just bright for White Laces---it’s glimmering with excitement. “The response to White Laces has been more positive than anything that I’ve done before, and that’s the most rewarding thing to me,” says Ward. The band is growing more and more keen to what lies ahead. “I think it just comes down to reaching that point where you aren’t just a young kid who starts a band and plays out to just do [it],” remarks Held. “It’s clocking in time every week, and making a strong commitment to what you want to achieve. White Laces makes a case for me wanting to continue pursuing music.”
In Wine’s eyes, what they are accomplishing right now fits perfectly into the progression that they’ve been aiming for since their inception. “I think we have a pretty solid idea of where we are headed now,” he explains. “It’s more of what I really want it to sound like as a whole, and more like what we listen to. As soon as we hit that sweet spot, we all realized that we could work within this terrain. I’m happier with this new set of songs and everything we’ve been working on than anything I’ve ever been musically involved with.” From the strong initial impact they’ve created within the Richmond music scene to their ability to organically evolve as a group, White Laces are not only paving a way for themselves as musicians, they are creating a legacy. They are a solid outfit with a promising 2012 ahead of them.
Words by Shannon Cleary
Live Photos by Kristel Poole