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White Lung

White Lung

Interviewed by
Danielle Street
Tuesday 10th June, 2014 1:07PM

At first glance punk group White Lung might seem like it could easily fall under the umbrella of riot grrrl. The Vancouver-born band has all the hallmarks of the genre that originated in the early 1990s: feminist standpoints, thrashy musicianship, and an outspoken frontwoman in the lithe form of Mish Way. However comparisons to the influential movement gain a figurative eyeroll from the frontwoman. A writer in her own right, who is well-versed in speaking on sexuality and feminism, Way sees the comparision as “lazy journalism”, and recently tweeted: “Please stop calling my band "riot grrrrl". It's not 1992. I don't come from Olympia. It's 2014. I got my own thing. Thank you.”

The trio are set to hit these shores this week alongside newly formed supergroup Upset, for three epic gigs around the country, culminating in a big party in Auckland to celebrate the release of their new album Deep Fantasy. So we caught up with Way to have a chat about the upcoming release and where she sees her band sitting on the genre spectrum.

UTR: Hey Mish, how you doing? I understand you are in Australia at the moment…

MW: Hi, yes, I sure am. We got here last night.

Straight from Vancouver, or from elsewhere?

We’ve been on tour since the first or second week of May. Umm, I came from Greece. I haven’t been home since May 1st.

Oh wow. Well, first of all I wanted to ask you why you don’t like being compared to riot grrrl acts, why is that?

It’s not that I don’t like it, I just think it’s irrelevant to use that term, because that was a movement that happened. I understand why it happens, I get associated with all those acts because of references that I may pull in interviews, and I speak about feminist issues, loudly. But the thing about riot grrrl is that it happened in a very specific place, in Olympia in 1992. It’s not like all those riot grrls were starting bands and then being critical, they were angry about the extremely sexist and homophobic and white-washed shit that was happening in hardcore at that moment. And then they started bands out of their politics…. anyways I could go on and on and on. But my band has zero to do with that. We used to get compared to Bikini Kill all the time, and I totally respect that band they meant so much to me, but my band doesn't sound like them. The music is not similar at all, you know what I mean? And it’s just lazy journalism. I get it, because it’s easier for people to separate from the giant chunk of middle-ground indie bullshit the world’s stuck in.

So where do you see White Lung fitting in the spectrum of things. You obviously hold strong feminist values…

Of course I do, but I don’t feel that I have alienated anyone from my conversation about feminism because it wasn’t at the forefront of what I was doing, that was something that became a bit more visible later, it was more about the music from the beginning. And I just became more vocal and more visible with my feminism as more people started paying attention to what I was doing.

Do you think some of that recognition come from your own writing and journalism work?

Exactly, yeah. I don’t think anything about my lyrics is particularly political at all, I think a lot more of it has to do with my written work that perhaps people have seen. And then they understand that’s how I feel because I’m very vocal in both areas, but yeah.

Meredith Graves from Perfect Pussy recently criticised the hardcore scene where they live in Syracuse calling it sexist and racist, and claim to have been being blacklisted from playing gigs. How do you find the scene in Vancouver?

Well, our scene in Vancouver has a small town mentality and all the bands there are really supportive of each other. I never experienced any sexism in the punk and hardcore scene, or the music scene of Vancouver, ever. That just doesn’t happen. And on tour, quite frankly, I never experienced much of it either. Other walks of life, sure, yeah, all the time. But nothing for me to complain about. But Vancouver is a really small incestuous scene and it’s really supportive. I didn’t experience any sexsexist negativity at all.

That’s great you came up in a supportive environment. White Lung has been going for about eight years now, how have things changed in that time?

Um, well a couple more people care now than used to. We get to play in countries like Australia as opposed to just playing in our city. I don’t know, the thing about White Lung, when Anne-Marie and I started this band years and years and years ago, and we never did anything with that line-up until Kenny joined in 2009. And we’ve had a lot of changes, my friend Heather plays bass live with us now and we’ve changed a lot of the dynamic on stage. This new album was written with just the three members, Kenny, Anne-Marie and myself, which was a very conscious decision that we want to write with just the three of us, and then have someone else to play on stage with us. We made a lot of changes, but they were changes we had to make.

Like a natural evolution of the band…?

To have things actually work, that weren’t working before, otherwise there wasn’t going to be a band anymore. You know what I mean?

Yeah… and Deep Fantasy is coming out really soon...

Yea, I know. Get it out, seriously!!

Haha, so how are you feeling ahead of letting it loose in the world?

I just want it to come out. That stuff usually takes so long, but we had the thing done in February. I think the thing that happens when you record something is that you put so much work and time and care into the thing. And then you have to sit on it and wait, until it’s ready to come out. For me, I’m so immediate, I want things to happen right away so I can continue and move on to the next thing. So we’ve been playing the new songs on this tour, which is great, even though it’s a wee bit premature, but I just can't wait for this album to come out and be done.

How would you sum it up? Is there any thematic string tying it together?

It’s the most careful and intelligent songwriting we’ve ever done. It’s still a really, really mean record. You know, it’s angry and sharp, but it’s also pop sensible and it’s our best work we’ve ever done, I believe. And it should be our best work we’ve ever done, because it’s our latest record. The whole theme of it, lyrically, is about struggles. And it’s up for interpretation, so people should just listen to it.

You wrote a letter that is going into some of the first pressings of the album, can you tell me a bit about that?

Originally I was going to do this “zine thing”, and I had written three stories that were all titled after different songs in the record, and were all basically little stories explaining what they are about. Then I looked back on them and was like “these are deeply depressing, and this is not a depressing record and I don’t want all this stuff”, like I’m always over-exposing myself. So I was like “screw this, I don’t want to do this”, so I wrote an open letter to the listener and we compiled some photos.

You’ve been writing for many years, including as a music writer for VICE, is it strange being on both sides of the coin?

Yeah, and I think the strangest part of it for me is that… like, the other day I notice this guy had written something, and he was like “I was skeptical of White Lung at first because of Mish Way’s journalism career blah blah blah...”, assuming that I would only get anywhere because I had connections from working in those fields.  I worried that would happen, because I don’t think my band should be discredited or punished because I happen to be intelligent enough to manifest two careers at the same time that kinda help each other out. That was a smart decision I made consciously on my own so that when I was done being in a band, which I never expected to make any money from, I didn’t want to go home and have to fucking waitress. I tried doing the two things I love doing the most, at the same time, so I wouldn’t be screwed in the end, because you can’t have real jobs when you are touring all the time, it sucks. But anyways, it is good for me to be on both sides of the coin, and I really appreciate that I got to do that in my life.

Last question before we go… is your voice always so husky, or is that a tour tiredness thing?

Oh, my husky voice, haha! Well, this is the thing, I’ve had a husky voice since I was a child, and it’s very husky in the mornings and when you phoned that was the first speaking I’ve done all day, but yeah, I’ve always had a really husky voice.

Here's a video for 'Face Down', the third single from new album Deep Fantasy....

White Lung and Upset

Wednesday 11th June, Churchills, Christchurch w/ None Left Standing
Thursday 12th June, Bodega, Wellington w/ Fantails
Friday 13th June, Kings Arms, Auckland w/ Penny Dreadfuls and Team Ugly


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