For the first time in her life, the White Lung punk known for spitting venom and unleashing onstage chaos is happy. She is madly in love with her husband, while her other career, as a journalist probing the hidden underbelly of sexuality, is blossoming.
Paradise is filled with a motley assortment of characters, from serial killers to ageless beauties to an urban aristocrat who falls for a garbage man
Granted, L.A. and its showbiz-drenched narcissism has started to bug the crap out of the Vancouver native. In the Somesuch Stories-published essay “Going Up the Country: Why I Want to Abandon My Career,” she fantasizes of escaping to one of the “economically reasonable pits of America,” like Birmingham, Alabama or Pensacola, Florida, where she and her hubs can garden and take motorbike trips.
But outside of that, which is still navigable (for now), Barber Way admits that her life has slid cozily into contentment. Yet herein lies the very problem the vocalist faced when she, guitarist Kenneth William and drummer Anne-Marie Vassiliou reconvened to record the band’s fourth and latest full-length, Paradise.
“I had a fear going into this record,” she says from her the comfort of cool digs. “So much great writing comes from anger and heartbreak, at least for me. It’s during those moments, when I feel out of control, that my logic kicks in and forces me dissect what’s going on. But if I’m in a state of bliss, then I’m not doing tons of self-reflection. So, I didn’t know what I would write about.”
We don’t play punk — we play pop songs that are sped up to the speed of hardcore
She adapted by making a bold shift from confessor to storyteller, seeking inspiration in news stories, her own writing, and in the weird tales lurking in the many vintage honky tonk sides hogging her turntable. This new approach produced a record filled with a motley assortment of characters, from serial killers to ageless beauties to a big city aristocrat who falls for a garbage man residing in a trailer park. These, of course, sound like rather strange entities to be occupying an album titled Paradise. But for a wordsmith living in L.A., a city where paradisiacal splendor and creeping alienation have long been willing cohabitants, they are perfectly fitting.The singer’s lyricism isn’t the only thing to be reinvented. Sonically speaking, *Paradise* is a spectacular departure, one that will blow away those fans who have been worshipping White Lung since their basement days. The blunt wallop of earlier recordings is ditched for a crystalline, Pro Tools-bred brand of punk outfitted with impeccably polished hooks and big, crackling choruses.
“I think we’ve always had a strong pop sensibility,” Barber Way says. “Kenny has said this before, ‘We don’t play punk. We play pop songs that are sped up to the speed of hardcore.’ I think that really comes out on this record due to the clear and bright production. [With] our producer, Lars Stalfors, we focused on making the music very clean. Plus, we have two radio singles on this record, and that’s something we’ve never had.”
The singles in question are “Hungry,” which Pitchfork’s T. Cole Rachel described as “darkly melodic power pop,” and “Below,” an elegantly careening meditation on glamorous women. Each of the songs could easily be slipped into a playlist full of jams from Paramore, PVRIS, Tonight Alive and other acts blurring the lines between Warped-era punk and commercially savvy alternative rock. And while William’s guitar parts (fed through a gazillion pedal effects to make them sound like zapping synths) are certainly more innovative than a lot of fretwork found in that zone, they come coated in a slick suburban sheen that’s one with Southern California’s gleaming nexus of housing developments and strip malls.
Toward the end of the interview Barber Way really drives home the point that she simply isn’t the same volatile freaker who founded White Lung back in the mid ’00s. In her own inimitable way, she sums up those changes perfectly: “You get to a certain point and grow up. You get hip to reality and calm the fuck the down.”
If you believe punks should live fast and die young, then such an admission raises a big red flag. Yet it’s clear White Lung have no interest in sticking to such a banal narrative. They don’t want to burn out. They want to evolve into something totally different. Paradise’s marriage of pop accessibility and bold creativity most certainly is the first step in that process.
Upcoming Tour Dates
7/10: Phoenix, Valley Bar
7/13: Austin, TX, Sidewinder
7/14: Dallas, Club Dada
7/16: St. Louis, MO, Firebird
7/18: Bloomington, IN, Bluebird
7/19: Cleveland, Beachland Tavern
7/20: Detroit, El Club
7/22-7/24: Oro, ON, WayHome Music & Arts Festival 2016
7/24: New York, Panorama Festival 2016
7/29-7/31: Montreal, Osheaga Festival 2016
7/30: Allston, MA, Brighton Music
8/1: Philadelphia, Boot & Saddle
8/2: Washington, D.C., Rock & Roll Hotel
8/4: Columbus, OH, Big Room Bar
8/6: Minneapolis, Triple Rock Social Club
8/8: Winnipeg, MB, The Good Will
8/10: Calgary, AB, Commonwealth Bar & Stage
8/12: Portland, OR, Mississippi Studios
8/13: Seattle, Neumos Crystal Ball Reading Room
8/15: San Francisco, The Independent