Indie rock groupWidowspeakjust released their fourth studio album Expect The Best on August 25th. The Brooklyn-based duo of Molly Hamilton and Robert Earl Thomas have been making music together since 2010, but this latest album brings their fullest and most developed sound to date. In support of the new record, the pair and their live band will kick off an extensive North American tour this week, followed by a UK tour. Before the tour hits Chicago, we chatted with Molly Hamilton all about the new album and upcoming tour. Check our chat with Widowspeak now to find out the biggest lesson they’ve learned in their years of making music, what makes this new record different, their ideal night out in NYC, how they prep for tour and more!
Rachel Zyzda: So your new album Expect The Best just came out last month! How did the writing and recording process for this album vary from your previous records?
Widowspeak: For this one, I still wrote the songs separate, from voice memos and notebooks and random ideas pieced together, knowing we would then expand on that and make them more intricate eventually. In the past, it has mostly been Rob figuring the latter part out, but this time we played with the regular touring band in the studio.
RZ: After releasing a few albums and being a band for several years, what are some of the biggest lessons you’ve learned as a musician?
Widowspeak: I think the biggest lesson I’ve learned is just to be kind to people, which seems obvious, but… We are really laid-back as a band and always super appreciative of people we meet on tour, whether that’s the people running the shows or going to them. We’ve heard stories about other bands, whether ones we know personally or are fans of, being jerks or just generally difficult to work with, and that is a total bummer. It’s so important to be good to people.
RZ: Where did you find yourself drawing inspiration from for the new songs, whether it be musical or non-musical influences?
Widowspeak: The new songs I wrote sort of in a big batch of them all at once, and I think they are all sort of about feeling stuck in various feelings or states of mind. It’s not uncommon at all to have those sorts of thoughts, but for me personally I wanted to write these songs more directly about that because it was getting increasingly hard to do anything, let alone music. Some of them are more concerned with the symptoms of those feelings, like being unproductive, or looking at social media, and others are about trying to figure out “why.”
RZ: I really love the cover art too, and the limited edition vinyl you put together with the purple lava lamp splatter. How involved are you with the visuals that the band puts out, and how does the cover tie in with the theme of the record?
Widowspeak: I’m usually really involved in the visuals, if not doing everything except the technical layout myself (sometimes, as with our last record, we use someone else’s art). This time, I took the cover photo and all the other photos in my apartment in Tacoma. The lava lamp is actually my stepmom’s that I borrowed (and that broke!) I had this weird feeling that the corner of my apartment, with a lava lamp, should be the record cover and had no idea why, ha.
RZ: Are there any songs from the new record that you’re particularly excited about performing live? Any spoilers you can give about the set for the upcoming tour?
Widowspeak: I’m excited to play all of them, honestly. I feel like because these songs were originally recorded with the band, they are already really full of that energy. Sometimes we have to try to figure out how to play a song live that was more sparse, or where the instruments aren’t represented by the four of us. This time everything feels more natural, also more high-energy. For tour surprises, I will say we are trying to figure out a new cover… hope we get it figured out in time!
RZ: Are there any cities you’re especially looking forward to playing?
Widowspeak: We love playing our respective hometown cities (Seattle/Tacoma, Chicago, Des Moines, Detroit) as well as our new hometowns, NYC and Kingston, NY (upstate), because so many of our friends are there. But it’s also great to play shows anywhere and to be surprised by the people you meet there, or how cool a venue or their staff are. Tour is crazy and full of things you didn’t expect, so I’m just going into it excited to play the songs and hoping the van doesn’t break down.
RZ: Speaking of touring, I saw you recently posted on Facebook about a taking a roadtrip (and tour is essentially one big roadtrip itself), so what are your go-to road trip activities, tunes, and essential snacks?
Widowspeak: Yeah, we got a new tour van which is also a great camper van, and we’re excited to bring it on the road! Generally we listen to a lot of podcasts, especially comedy or science ones, because they tend to be things people can all agree on (but also tune out if they want to). Music-wise, the van has a tape player so I’m excited to bust out the old cassette collection and go foraging in the bins at thrift stores. When we’re on tour we like to research ahead of time to see if there is a must-try local restaurant/food truck/etc. that is around, because no one wants to be figuring out how to eat breakfast from the things they have at a gas station. We try to plan ahead. So we definitely sometimes will go through a National Park or something, if it’s sort of on the way, or we’ll go swimming or thrifting or play pinball.
RZ: Since the album is called Expect The Best and you’re based in Brooklyn, describe what you would consider your best night out in NYC?
Widowspeak: I would say the best night out in NYC definitely involves knowing where to go so you don’t spend too much money, because the city is crazy expensive and it takes finesse and skill to do it right and not be broke. First, getting some snacks somewhere where there is happy hour food. I really love dollar oysters, and there are a bunch of places in Brooklyn that have them. Or honestly just grabbing something from a deli and finding a good spot in the park or something to people-watch. Then I’d say maybe go to someone’s roof if you know someone with a cool roof, unless it’s raining. There’s nothing better than watching the sun set over the skyline and bridges. But that’s kind of where my idea of the perfect evening devolves, because the best NYC night out would be unpredictable and you’d end up a lot of places you didn’t expect, like random apartments and bars you’ve never been to, or other boroughs from where you live. I will say that later, when you’re crawling home, I would get tacos or halal from one of the trucks, depending on where you are. That’s the classic NYC night-ender.
RZ: On a similar note, who are some of your favorite NYC bands at the moment that you would recommend to your listeners?
Widowspeak: Well, we just moved back into town, so I can’t totally speak to any of the newer bands that are just starting out (as we haven’t seen ‘em yet), and also a bunch of the NYC bands are now somewhere-else bands, but EZTV, and also there’s this band Poppies I like, Cut Worms, our friend Renata Zeiguer, who used to be in a band with Rob, is incredible. Other than that there are a bunch I’m not thinking of, I’m really glad to be back in the area though, lots of new bands to hear.
Listen to Expect The Best in full here, or grab the physical record in the shop or on the webstore!
Get ready for the rock showcase by listening to the official Warble Daze Spotify playlist here.You can also snag our Chicago Compilation album in the shop or online, which features Lucille Furs and Joe Bordenaro.
If you’re at all familiar with the Chicago music scene, you’ve undoubtedly seen White Mystery out and about over the years. The sibling duo of Alex and Francis White still manage to pack a serious punch with all of their live performances, despite only being a two-piece band. In addition to developing a full live show between the two of them, Alex and Francis have remained completely hands on with all aspects of the band, from management to booking tours to sending press releases…they do it all. In between all of that hustle, the pair still find time to put out an album every year on April 20th. Their latest, Fuck Your Mouth Shut, marks their eighth studio album, and their ninth is on the way in 2018. In the midst of working on new music, playing shows, and gearing up for tour, the duo developed their own TV show called (you guessed it)… White Mystery TV! The show has featured artists from all corners of the local Chicago scene and just wrapped its first season (but more on that later). Before White Mystery start their tour along the east coast and midwest Friday, September 1st, we chatted with Miss Alex White after their set at The Slippery Slope Anniversary party last weekend. Here are six things you need to know to get caught up with White Mystery!
THEIR INFLUENCES PROVIDED “PERMISSION BY EXAMPLE”
While strolling down memory lane trying to pinpoint what first inspired her to pick up an instrument, Alex White describes two distinct childhood memories. “When I was pretty young, my mom would take me to the dollar store, called Amazing Savings. And they had discount tape cassettes of oldies music. Like all the great one hit wonders from the 60’s, and I really really loved those songs,” Alex recalls. She continues describing her journey to rock ‘n’roll, saying, “As far as the moment that inspired me to start playing rock ‘n’ roll….And I’ve said this a couple times too because it was just that distinct of a moment that I remember… I was in fourth grade, and my parents were repurchasing their old record collections on CDs ’cause CDs were like a new invention, you know? I heard The Who for the first time, and the album was Who’s Next by The Who. It’s the classic song “Baba O’Riley,” which is like [singing] ‘Teenage Wasteland…’ And that song just really connected with me. Where I was like I need to play guitar, this is so cool!”
The inspiration continued through Alex’s teen years, where she found influence in other bands. “If you flash forward a little bit…Kim Gordon from Sonic Youth. I heard Sonic Youth and I was like I can do this! This is so great, this is so powerful. It’s a female singer, she’s playing guitar, it’s experimental…I really believe in permission by example. You see something and you’re like oh yeah, I could do that! Maybe better, or differently. And Sonic Youth really did that for me when I was about 14 or 15,” Alex says. She also reveals that some of her artistic and musical talent stems from somewhere down her family tree. “My mom played piano as a very young person, but her job is being a photographer. My grandfather, who passed away when I was like 5, really young, he played mandolin. So he never showed me how to play, and I don’t even have memories of him playing…But, I’m convinced that I’m genetically predisposed to having really fast fingers and that kind of thing. So while I didn’t know him very well and he never taught me, I feel that the heritage lended to it,” she says.
THEY’RE ALWAYS UP FOR THE DIY HUSTLE
In addition to rocking the stage all by themselves, Alex and Francis White know how to work the DIY system as a band…and man do they work hard! Talking about the benefits and challenges that they face being an independent band, taking on multiple roles, Alex says, “Well like anything there’s pros and cons to being DIY. The biggest pro is that when you take on multiple roles, like when you become the management, the licensing agent, the booking agent, and the art director… and the the creative force, you can make a career out of it.” She continues to give major props to her brother Francis, saying it’s very much a partnership. For any struggling musicians or music industry professionals, just remember Alex’s “permission by example” principle and look at how she has earned a living with White Mystery.
“This has been my job full time for 7 years. It’s a very bohemian lifestyle. I work really fucking hard and all day long, but in the comfort of my own home or on tour with a laptop,” Alex continues, vouching for the DIY lifestyle. However, she does also recognize the potential downfalls. “The disadvantage is that it can be very challenging to penetrate these very established systems. Something like Lollpalooza…While we play big ass shows in Chicago, we played in Japan, we’ve been in Sundance Film Festival movies. We’ve played with Patti Smith and The Stooges many times. We played Riot Fest…for some reason it’s been damn near impossible to get into Lolla, while we’ve put 8 albums out,” Alex continues. She still manages to see the positive side of the situation and brace herself for the challenges, adding, “So there’s certain things, but I try to convince myself that everything happens for a reason, and I just kind of stick to my vision, and good things always happen when you do that. You’re gonna have challenges. Be prepared for the challenges.”
VIDEO GAMES INSPIRED WHITE MYSTERY TV
Well kind of…For the past month, White Mystery have invited different artists and musicians around Chicago over to talk, play music, and play video games. All while broadcasting live; hence the name White Mystery TV. Talking about the origin of this clever concept, Alex says, ” I have to give my brother Francis credit for it. He plays a lot of video games, and there’s this network called Twitch. It seems like a lot of people in the rock scene aren’t very familiar with it…It’s the second largest streaming service on planet earth. World wide.” Alex continues on to say that there’s been times on tour where she and Francis wished they could share their view with friends and family back home. “Before Facebook Live and Instagram Live…it was more like us driving through the Swiss Alps thinking this is so crazy and so beautiful, I wish we could show people back home what this looks like,” she says.
The inspiration to launch WTV also stemmed from their past work on a White Mystery film, called “That Was Awesome.” Alex says their past work on that film coupled with their desire to share their experiences beyond their live concerts helped push the project forward. “We’re realizing wow, our worldwide audience is able to watch us. So while there might be 100 people at the show, there might be 1000 people watching,” she continued. Talking more about the show itself, Alex says, “It took a long time to develop it because of the technology required to make the infrastructure. It’s not like ‘Hey I have an iPhone..” let me hold it up to something. It’s a little more sophisticated. So when people are watching they’re getting a little more of the Wayne’s World basement thing, but what we’ve done is bring all of our favorite musicians on. So people are like wow, that’s so great you have so many cool local musicians. Like The Orwells…Mario [Cuomo] was one episode one. Twin Peaks are freakin’ huge!” The show has also had rappers like ShowYouSuck, Joseph Chilliams, Mykele Deville, as well as newer buzzy bands like Bunny and Post Animal. “We’ve been trying to represent the city of Chicago so that we can share what’s going on here with our audience in like Germany and Japan. It’s been a really cool thing and they’re all archived on YouTube so you can watch them again. They’re like each 3 hours long,” Alex concluded. Make sure you tune into Season 2 when it starts!
THEY’VE WITNESSED THE PEAKS AND VALLEYS OF THE CHICAGO SCENE
Speaking of representing the local Chicago scene on White Mystery TV, Alex and I also discussed some of her favorite parts of the scene at the moment, and how it has gone through cycles. “Chicago is a very special place. I’m born and raised here in the city. Having gone to New York and LA and San Francisco…Chicago is a very supportive, cooperative scene. There’s a lot of idea exchange and support,” Alex says.
“I guess what I love most is the mutual support people give each other, and that goes across the arts. That goes to comedians. DJs. Actors and Actresses. Everybody is like ‘I’d love to help you with that.’ It’s not this cut throat thing. There’s friendly competition where we push each other higher. But the community is full of support,” she continued.
This principle of helping each other out and lifting each other up can be seen just on White Mystery TV alone, when genres are mixed and collaborations extend to poets and performing artists, not just musicians. It’s also demonstrated in Lollapalooza performances here, like when Joey Purp showed up for a song with Whitney. “It’s genre bending,” Alex says before shouting out her favorite venues in the city. “I love the Empty Bottle. The DIY scene is very, very strong. There’s a new one every time. I’m kind of older than a lot of people in the scene. So how you were saying ‘Wow, Chicago’s really popping right now…” I’ve seen several cycles take place. There was a point when I was younger when a place like The Empty Bottle would not book rock shows. They would only book very kind of indie stuff. I’ve seen it with highs and lows. And it’s always good, and there’s always stuff happening, but there’s definitely times where it’s thriving and that’s cool to watch,” she says.
THEY STAY ENTERTAINED ON THE ROAD BY READING WIKIPEDIA PAGES
Since they’re gearing up for tour (starting tonight), Alex and Francis discussed how they stay entertained on the road and what they’re looking forward to on this particular run. Although Francis had been loading out for most of the interview with Alex, he jumped in for this question.
“Reading Wikipedias is a very interesting way to observe a story of a person or place or event,” Francis chimed in about their road trip habits. Off the back of that, Alex says, “I read books to him for hours at a time. I recently read the entire Mount Everest Into Thin Air book to him. I read the whole thing. We read Wikipedias…He drives, and I’ll read. Hours will go by. We’ll be like oh my gosh, you know that was 3 hours. Sometimes you read these biographies of like James Brown and you’re like crying at the end. You’ve started with the moment they were born and gone through their whole life, to the moment they died. It’s very emotional to go on that trek.”
Although they educate themselves on the road by reading, the biggest lesson from touring and playing music is unrelated to Wikipedia and books. “I never really had to learn this lesson, it was just something we knew, but don’t leave your guitar or money in the car. Don’t leave your passports. Or the stuff you need. Ever,” Francis says. Alex and Francis both emphasized the importance of knowing when to stick together and not splitting up while on the road.
As far as where they’re most excited to play on this run? “Meltasia,” both of them said in unison when I asked. “I’m looking forward to Meltasia, but I’m mostly looking forward to the drive into Meltasia cause for my sister and I, it’s always a really special drive where we blast Led Zeppelin…we’re going deep into the woods, further and further and further away. Usually all we have is a case of beer and that’s it. No tents, no water, and we just know we’re gonna hang as long as we can, and shotgun as many beers as we can. The build up to it is one of my favorite feelings throughout the whole year,” Francis elaborated. “It’s the anticipation of getting there. It’s the journey. A lot of people have told that to me in my life, and now I really, really believe that,” Alex chimed in.
DESPITE HER VINTAGE STYLE, ALEX ADMITS SHE’S BAD AT THRIFTING
Again, if you’ve seen White Mystery around, chances are you’ve noticed Miss Alex White’s incredible retro inspired style, and no one pulls it off as well as she does! Fortunately for Alex, she’s able to acquire most of her clothes, she says, admitting that she’s not actually that great at thrifting. “Alot of my stuff just comes from my friends. I get a lot of custom made clothing now. When I went to The Grammys I had this amazing custom made jumpsuit. I was the Vice President of the Recording Academy for the Midwest. So I’d go to the Grammys and get to walk the red carpet with all these cool clothes,” Alex reveals.
Alex also gave her mom props for being a great thrifter, even though that didn’t pass down to Alex. “What I love shopping for is shoes. These shoes, they’re just really practical and comfy, just wood platforms…I’ve had so many versions of this kind of shoe. We were in Beverly Hills and we played on late night television, The Carson Daly Show. After we were walking around Beverly Hills. I was like oh, a shoe store, cool! I go in there and find these, they’re made in Portugal, I was like oh, I like ‘em…once in awhile treat yourself. So I bought these shoes, I left the store, and I look at the storefront and see this is like an old lady shoe store. I just bought shoes from like an orthopedic shoe store,” she recalled.
Alex’s once last piece of style advice? “I don’t buy vintage shoes…vintage clothes, but never vintage shoes. I was crossing the street once in a vintage pair of shoes, and my heel broke, and I wiped out on the street. I was like never again!”
Check out all of White Mystery’s tour dates below and keep up with them on social media.
09/01/17 Experimental Procedures Chelsea, MI Details 09/02/17 Happy Dog Euclid Tavern Cleveland, OH Details 09/03/17 Arsenal Lanes Pittsburgh, PA Details 09/04/17 The Pharmacy Philadelphia, PA Details 09/07/17 St. Vitus Brooklyn, NY Details 09/10/17 Meltasia Fest East Durham, NY Details 09/11/17 Bug Jar Rochester, NY Details 09/13/17 State Street Pub Indianapolis, IN Details 09/15/17 Trumpet Blossom Iowa City, IA Details 09/16/17 Farnam Fest Omaha, NE Details 09/22/17 Ingenuity Fest Cleveland, OH Details
Also- Listen to White Mystery’s 8th album Fuck Your Mouth Shut below or grab your own copy from the Shuga webstore here. (You can also scoop one up at the shop!)