White Elephant Emporium

by
White Elephant Emporium
Jack Reid chats to Emily Pickthall and Harry Ward of White Elephant Emporium after playing the first heat of this year’s Battle Of The Bands.

Blood Sweets was recorded very intimately, with only a vocalist and a multi-instrumentalist. What was that process like?
E: Tiring. Drunk and disorderly. But ultimately fun.
H: It was a labour of love at times. I was literally doing the jobs of 5 people by myself because not only was I writing and recording the guitar parts, but I was also taking care of the drums, the bass, the piano, and the synth parts – as well as producing the whole thing. Which in itself was difficult because I hadn’t had that much prior experience with production. It was very much a process of learning on the job, but yeah it was fun too. And when it all came together it was a great feeling. When you take on a project as ambitious as that with only 2 people, you have a lot more control over all the finer details, so we were able to fully realise the vision we had for these songs.

Who would you cite as your influences, particularly for this record?
E: We’re quite eclectic in our tastes; perhaps the framework of influences are from Harry’s formative years spent obsessing over the Smashing Pumpkins, but also the Pixies, the Velvet Underground, Kate Bush, and Nine Inch Nails. Wentworth likes to envision himself as John Bonham. I’ve somehow managed to evade the majority of mainstream civilisations, so it was quite alchemical mixing Harry’s influences with some lesser known krautrock and no-wave like Can and Teenage Jesus and the Jerks. I come from a fairly intense classical background, so I’ve always been keen to infuse traces of opera and sacred chants into the work. I’m not sure if we’ve entirely succeeded with that yet though! Our latest songwriting has been inordinately grungey and Alice In Chains has been a preoccupation for us as of late.

The record is very lyrically unified. Who is the creative force behind the lyrics? Could you speak a little about the themes of the release?
E: Harry usually starts out with a melody and I will follow with lyrics; our greatest musical experiments so far have been when we’ve reversed this process. I suppose Blood Sweets was a sort of coming-of-age project for both of us and at a personal level, it symbolised moving your identity away from your grassroots and getting outside the space of your body. There are countless references to the body. Even songs like Monster are sort of cartoonish body horror parodies. “No really, who is the monster?” I wrote about the monster but I don’t know who or what it is.

Emily created the artwork for the EP. How did that process go? What media did you use and how is it inspired by the themes of the release?
E: I suppose a lot of the visual themes are those recurring throughout my whole corpus of work, including the lyrics to the songs. Again, the body and the whole inside/outside dichotomy is a big thing for me. I like to imagine the music as a whole soundscape, with narratives and sometimes very childish characters. It becomes as visceral as performing when I’m crafting images for the music. I crouched over a mass of collage and pots of glitter and torn up magazines for a few days; I’d like to say that I had some more sophisticated digital editing skills, but I’m really quite hands on with it.

How was Battle Of The Bands this year?
H: We were a little disappointed with the outcome but we feel we delivered a solid performance and we were really touched by the support we had on the night. Honestly, we’ve always been a little bit out there and we like to do things our own way so it wasn’t a complete shock that it didn’t work out for us, and we had some pretty tough competition on the night. And it’s actually taught us a lot because now we’ve realised that rules and regulations and that kind of organised competition format don’t suit us at all.

What do you have planned for the future in terms of recording, and live?
H: We’ll be playing a 45 minute set at the Old Firehouse on the 16th, and we’ll be bringing back a couple of songs that we debuted last year during our acoustic phase. Ultimately, we’d like to get back into the studio (my bedroom) and record some of those new songs for either a follow-up EP or a double A-side single. We’ll just have to see how it pans out.

Seeing as you record with just the two of you, how do your live shows work?
H: I had always envisioned White Elephant Emporium as a five piece band – that was the ideal. So when the EP was released we set about looking for a drummer, a bassist, and a second guitarist/keyboard player. Luckily, we found Wentworth (drums) and Louis (bass) pretty quickly, and somewhere along the line we decided to just do it as a quartet. The four of us try to cover as much as we can live on stage and for the string sections and ambient parts in songs like Neighbourhoods and Within The Woods, we use samples and loops running through a laptop. But as much as we try to recreate our recorded sound, it often ends up just falling into chaos and that’s something we definitely embrace. So if you come to a show, expect noise.
E: From experience, our shows are usually pretty gung-ho and we have to work a lot on impulse and spontaneity.
H: Because usually we’re all at least slightly under the influence.

What are you listening to right now?
H: The new Bombay Bicycle Club album is getting some plays at the moment, but I’ve really been getting into Wolf Alice recently. Blush was probably my favourite release of last year – that or the Savages debut.
E: I’ve been wising up to more Alice In Chains alongside a lot of Monteverdi when I actually need to concentrate. I adore the latest Connan Mockasin album and Fuzz by Ty Segall is my spacey music for making stir-frys.