Progress Report: White Rabbits
Name: White Rabbits
Progress Report: White Rabbits’ Stephen Patterson opens up about the band’s new record, Milk Famous.
To record their first album in nearly three years, Brooklyn’s White Rabbits decamped to Austin, Texas and spent a few months enjoying the suburban life. If the band’s new album, Milk Famous, is any indication, the time spent away from the stress and distraction of NYC has served the band well. As front man Stephen Patterson describes it, the band’s quality time in Texas allowed them to stretch their legs a bit and shake off a little of their “aggressive testosterone” side in favor dreamlike textures and a less rock-heavy sonic palette, as evidenced by Milk Famous’ first single, “Heavy Metal.”
STEREOGUM: When did you start working on Milk Famous?
PATTERSON: We started writing it when we were on the road touring for It’s Frightening. We were all very exhausted after that record cycle. There was really no break between Fort Nightly and that record so we knew that with this record we wanted to take our time and be happy with all of the songs and what we wanted to explore within them. The process ended up being similar to Fort Nightly in that it was a long, long process of building it up and tearing it down.
STEREOGUM: Does everybody come in with ideas?
PATTERSON: We work better in small groups and that is how it has kind of evolved. When we first moved to New York we’d all just sit together — the six of us — in a practice room and wait for someone to start playing, but with a six piece band that is kind of hard to do. So when we started working on It’s Frightening we got into recording on our own, which we’d never done before. What I like to do is start off with some sort of loop, whether it be rhythmic -– say that piano loop in “Heavy Metal” — just a cool sound that can take my mind somewhere and then it just goes from there. It changes for every song, sometimes it’s just a few of us in the space jamming on something. I think we change the technique with every song and I think that’s kind of just how we are. We get bored easily and don’t want to be too comfortable in anything.
STEREOGUM: Where was the record made?
PATTERSON: It was recorded in Austin at Mike McCarthy’s studio, but we also used a lot of stuff we recorded here in Brooklyn. It was actually recorded all over the place but the bulk of it in Austin. Mike McCarthy had mixed our last album and we get along really well. The stuff he added at the end of that record improved the album so much we knew we wanted to work with him again. I didn’t have a whole lot of time to get to know him personally before we decided to work together but he’s an extremely talented engineer and he gets sounds that sound “big” but he does it in a way that is still very tasteful and raw.
STEREOGUM: How long did you work in Austin?
PATTERSON: We were there for three months, just living together and working on it. It was really fun and felt like where I grew up outside of Illinois –- back to suburban living and having a garage and a backyard. It was great because we could work on stuff in the garage whenever we got back from the studio and could record it the next morning.
STEREOGUM: That sounds ideal.
PATTERSON: It really was. I think I will always want to go somewhere far from home to record a record now –- just to be away from distractions.
STEREOGUM: How was it coming back to NY after three months in Austin?
PATTERSON: It was weird, I felt kind of lost. We just kept saying, “WE HAVE TO GO BACK!” It was very strange, we spent more time in Austin than we did in New York last year. Working with Mike was a real journey. It took some time before we got a working relationship going. He thinks about music and records differently than I do –- not technically, but just his approach is more of a spiritual presence than anybody we’ve worked with in the past. With Britt Daniel — who we worked with previously — I had a lot similarities in how I’d approach songwriting to those guys in Spoon do. Whereas Mike is the kind of guy who just sits there in front of the speakers and just lets it come at him and it becomes “how does he feel about that?” Which really works well for me because excessive time and thought does not help always me at all. I’d rather just have someone capture a performance and move on to the next thing and we’ll move onto the next thing and deal with it the next day.
STEREOGUM: That’s funny because I often hear the opposite of that — where the producer is the taskmaster and the musicians are more into the “feeling” and “vibe.” Ideally, You need both of those things to be present, someone who gets the intangible vibe you are going for but also can be a taskmaster with the details.
PATTERSON: I think that’s why it worked because he’s kind of the opposite to the rest of the guys.
STEREOGUM: Now that you can step back and look at the finished album, what do you think about it?
PATTERSON: I love this part of the record-making process: when the record is done and no one else has it yet and it’s still this secret thing. That’s the time it’s really fun to listen to it. I’m still extremely proud of it. I think Fort Nightly was definitely a record musically and lyrically about “this is who we are,” but I felt we were trying to make mini statements about what we were into. Using specific objects as some sort of reflection of who you are like a Tumblr page or something. Then the second album was a response to that and it was more about who we aren’t. Recording the second one was a breeze actually, it took four weeks and compared to Fort Nightly and this one the writing process was very stressful. I think with this record it seems to be more about love than anything else and as cliché as that is, it’s very new to us to try and show. It has less of an insular feel than our other albums. I could listen to this album with friends whereas before I’d be like “No! Don’t put it on, go listen to it alone with headphones.” We sorta have the aggressive testosterone side we’d explored on out other records and I personally wanted to find another side of myself. It can be kind of exhausting to be that way emotionally, particularly on the road with it after you’ve recorded it. We were concerned musically with space, but there’s always going to be a certain amount of urgency within the music. One thing I really love in records is when there’s long instrumental passages but you’re not thinking, “Wow they’ve been playing this for a long time,” but more when they have that hypnotic affect when the vocals come back in you snap back into it and feel like, “Oh wow, I just zoned out for a minute or two.”
STEREOGUM: It sounds like you’re moving into a more comfortable zone.
PATTERSON: It is definitely about getting to a place where you’re more comfortable making music. I think I spent a lot of time needlessly between Fort Nightly and the last record never convinced I was ever really a songwriter. Starting every song you can easily have these fits of anxiety questioning yourself –- like, if you’ve lost it or can do it again. It’s a horrible way to be. With this one we were a lot more comfortable and relaxed and enjoyed what we were doing. If we liked what we heard coming out of the speakers we’d keep it, whereas before we’d be like, “What is it saying about us if we keep that part?”
STEREOGUM: What’s the rest of your year like?
PATTERSON: Lots of touring. We’re excited about that since it has been a long time since we played music onstage. We finally have the whole record ready to go. We originally wanted to release it late last year but thank god we didn’t because we improved it vastly by having this little bit of time to fine tune things.
Milk Famous is out now on TBD.