White Rabbits: Pulled out of the hat - what the next big thing did next

White Rabbits' new album sees the US experimentalists pushing boundaries – and listening to Beyoncé. Gillian Orr meets them

"I'm getting you guys some beers," says White Rabbits' tour manager. "You all look far too sober." It might be 1pm on Thursday but we're at South by Southwest (SXSW) music festival, a place where you're apparently urged to guzzle margaritas for breakfast. The restaurant we were due to conduct the interview in is unexpectedly closed, so we gather on a bench outside a fast-food drive-thru next to a busy road. Between chain-smoking cigarettes, three out of five members of the band – vocalist and pianist Stephen Patterson, guitarist Alex Even and drummer Matthew Clark – tell me why SXSW is so important to the band.

"We met the guy who owns our label here after he caught one of our shows," recalls Clark. "It's the classic story you hear here: you play a ton of shows, then somebody sees it and decides they care." Somewhat unusually for a rock band, they are being much too modest. When they first played SXSW in 2008, they were the talk of the festival and came away the industry's most exciting new prospect. And it's not surprising. While their records are certainly captivating, they are a band you really want to catch live and where they tend to impress the most, as anyone who has ever seen one of their shows will tell you. Buoyed by a second drummer, Jamie Levenson, and another vocalist and guitarist, Gregory Roberts, they throw themselves around the stage, swapping instruments, sharing vocal duties and generally giving it their all before leaving the stage sweat-soaked and drained.

The band is here to show off their third album, Milk Famous, released last month. For those surprised at the new direction the Brooklyn band have taken, they offer a simple explanation: they merely had more time to work on it.

"We spent over a year writing the material and it was a very different process to writing for our previous records," says Patterson. "With this one we were able to take our time and observe things and wait until we were feeling inspired to write a song. On top of that we experimented with a bunch of different arrangements and ways of approaching the songs. A lot of the songs have three or four different versions before we decided on them, which we'd never had the opportunity to do before."

Like their other offerings, 2007's Fort Nightly and 2009's It's Frightening, the acclaimed band continue to specialise in experimental indie-rock but Milk Famous is even more textured, more eclectic, filled with unusual sounds and playful directions that mean the listener never quite knows where a song is heading. While you could accuse them of being deliberately difficult, they want their music to challenge their fans.

"We get bored really easily so we tried new things and we incorporated new sounds," continues Patterson. "I was never worried about alienating fans because it was coming from us and if they liked our music, they would like this. You can't think too much about what people might expect because that's a stifling way to approach things. I wanted any one of the songs to be able to be a single. One of my favourite records is Jesus of Cool by Nick Lowe, which sounds like a collection of singles that work as a group. Every song has a different feel to it."

It is appropriate we meet in Austin as the band, all in their late twenties and early thirties, recorded the album here last year, with Spoon producer Mike McCarthy (White Rabbits are often compared to Spoon, and Britt Daniel of the band even produced It's Frightening). They rented a house for three months, recording five days a week in the studio, jamming in their garage at weekends and hitting the same bar every night. It was a back-to-basics approach that they all appreciated.

Having formed in Missouri in 2004 when Patterson and Roberts met in college, they brought in various friends and former bandmates to make up the rest of the band. They moved to Brooklyn a year later and found themselves all living together in the same loft where they'd also practice. "It gave us the ability to always be on top of each other and know exactly what that's like all of the time," continues Clark. "But we found that we work better in small groups and so the majority of the time one of us will come with a verse or something and the band gets together and tries to flesh out an idea."

They certainly have the camaraderie of a band that was formed through friendship and one that has spent a considerable amount of time in close quarters. They are an affable bunch who share jokes and prompt each other when necessary.

And while they take their band very seriously, they don't accept that they are esoteric, as some critics have suggested, and Patterson is keen to tell me that while they might have been listening to a lot of Devo and T Rex while they recorded the album, they were also listening to a lot of pop radio, hip-hop and R'n'B, especially Beyoncé, who he is a big fan of. Another unlikely influence is Kanye West. "In my opinion, Kanye West has a lot more in common with Mick Jagger than any other rock'n'roller right now. He has this swagger and attitude about him. Outside of simply a musical influence, I think I found that listening to music that had such confidence was inspiring. Any music with some attitude. It's strange because confidence and attitude almost seem to be frowned upon now."

While the band has received many plaudits, curiously they remain somewhat under the radar. Fellow experimental Brooklyn bands such as MGMT or Yeasayer, for example, have managed to break though in a way that White Rabbits have yet to, despite consistently producing great albums and impressing with their live shows. Have they thought about this? "You have to be real about it and realise that everybody doesn't like everything," says Clark.."

"I mean, we're inherently ambitious, even our line-up is ambitious, so, sure, there's an element of wanting more," says Patterson. "I think about it. Especially when you're working really hard and you're poor and things don't come together as quickly as you want them to. We're still in that place where we play some tiny club and we can barely fit onstage. That being said, I think things are going great and I'm happy where we are."

One thing they don't tend to ruminate on is the future. "There is no big plan set out," shrugs Clark. "Bands with mission statements weird me out. We just want to play some great shows, make another album. That's kind of the drill. And, I guess, have a few beers."

White Rabbits play XOYO, London EC2, on 1 May. 'Milk Famous' is out now on Mute (whiterabbitsmusic.com)

Arts and Entertainment
Nick Hewer is to leave The Apprentice after 10 years

TV review Nick Hewer, the man whose eyebrows speak a thousand words, is set to leave The Apprentice

Arts and Entertainment
Female fans want more explicit male sex in Game of Thrones, George R R Martin says

film George RR Martin owns a cinema in Santa Fe

Arts and Entertainment
Clued up: John Lynch and Gillian Anderson in ‘The Fall’

TV review

Arts and Entertainment
The Baker (James Corden) struggles with Lilla Crawford’s Little Red Riding Hood

film...all the better to bamboozle us
Arts and Entertainment
English: Romantic Landscape

art
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Mark, Katie and Sanjay in The Apprentice boardroom
TV
Arts and Entertainment

Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites

Arts and Entertainment
Frances O'Connor and James Nesbitt in 'The Missing'

TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations

Arts and Entertainment
Joey Essex will be hitting the slopes for series two of The Jump

TV

Who is taking the plunge?
Arts and Entertainment
Katy Perry as an Ancient Egyptian princess in her latest music video for 'Dark Horse'

music
Arts and Entertainment
Dame Judi Dench, as M in Skyfall

film
Arts and Entertainment
Morrissey, 1988

TV
Arts and Entertainment
William Pooley from Suffolk is flying out to Free Town, Sierra Leone, to continue working in health centres to fight Ebola after surviving the disease himself

music
Arts and Entertainment
The Newsroom creator Aaron Sorkin

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Matt Berry (centre), the star of Channel 4 sitcom 'Toast of London'

TVA disappointingly dull denouement
Arts and Entertainment
Tales from the cryptanalyst: Benedict Cumberbatch in 'The Imitation Game'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Pixie Lott has been voted off Strictly Come Dancing 2014

Strictly
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
    Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

    Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

    As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
    The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

    The Interview movie review

    You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
    Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

    How podcasts became mainstream

    People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
    Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

    Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

    Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
    Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

    A memorable year for science – if not for mice

    The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
    Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

    Christmas cocktails to make you merry

    Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
    5 best activity trackers

    Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

    Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
    Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

    Paul Scholes column

    It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
    Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

    Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

    Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
    Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

    Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

    2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

    Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

    The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
    Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

    Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

    The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
    Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

    The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

    Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas