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Wednesday, Nov. 30, 2011

White Rabbits Tease Album Three

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As with The Replacements' Let It Be and Radiohead's OK Computer, third albums often prove to be defining works for bands. For many acts they're a creative apogee fueled by several chops-tightening years on the road, greater studio acumen and confidence, and a still-hungry measure of ambition. This is where White Rabbits find themselves as they ready their third album for early next year.

The Brooklyn sextet emerged in 2007 behind the punchy record Fort Nightly and its single “The Plot,” with its repeated refrain “He's not impressed” over a percolating piano melody and driving rhythm. Some initially connected them with the dance-rock outfit Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, but while they possess a jagged strut and clamorous guitars, the element that really stands out after two albums is their theatricality. It's something they share with frequent tour mates The Walkmen, matching their combination of graceful swoon and backbeat power.

“I feel like a focus on the rhythm section is something that's always going to be in our music,” singer/pianist Stephen Patterson says from Brooklyn, where their third album is presently being mastered. “Drums were my first instrument and my dad was a bassist. For me, it starts there. If a song doesn't 'feel' good, it doesn't matter. All the things you're trying to convey in the song—if the feel is shit, then no one's going to get past the first verse.”

You can hear their accomplishment in songs like “Lionesse” off the band's last release, 2009's It's Frightening. Eerie synth rolls in like moor fog as a crackling rhythm emerges into the percussive Jerry Lee Lewis-style run at the song's midpoint. It's very indicative of Patterson's aggressive keyboard style, a product of his rhythmic background and lack of formal training.

“It was always a struggle for me early on how to play instruments that had notes. Once I started viewing the keyboards as 88 drums, it really opened up the way I can play. So I'm coming at it from a very naïve place,” he says, citing the “baroque punk rock” influence of The Attractions' Steve Nieve. “I was just like, 'I like the way it sounds if I bash away at these keys.' I suppose I could come up with a part that sounds like a bit more thought out way of conveying this idea, but I'm too impatient for any other way.”

The rhythms that were so locomotive last time—what do you expect from a band with two drummers—will take on more nuance on their forthcoming album. They took more than a year to write the album and spent many more months mixing. Patterson admits they got a bit precious in fussing over it.

“We were obsessed with the feel of the songs on this record, where a lot of the songs on the last record, our concern was power. There's a whole part music can offer other than just power,” Patterson says. “It's a percussion-heavy record, for sure, but in terms of approach, the tone's a bit different than the last record. There's still plenty of bashing away at toms, but a lot of the other stuff is maybe spreading it out in different ways.

“It's related more to It's Frightening than Fort Nightly from a songwriting stance, but a lot of the record turned out to be a lot lighter emotionally,” he adds. “We took time to experiment with a lot of different sounds. It's definitely a lot more sonically ambitious than either, with a lot of the same ingredients, just presented a bit differently.”

Patterson confesses the record marks the first time he's really shared his music with friends without cringing. “I always felt like the last record sounded best listening to headphones. It seemed more of a solitary record for me,” he says. “This one sounds really great on speakers where you can play it loud and listen with your friends.”

White Rabbits headline the Cactus Club at 10 p.m. on Saturday, Dec. 3, with Arms.