DAVE W., WHO fronts the heady band White Hills, considers himself to be a lucky man. When he started White Hills as a bedroom project in 2004, cobbling together an album of hypnotic, intensely psychedelic rock heavily influenced by the space-rock pioneers Hawkwind, the German experimentalists Neu and Can, and the obscure, proto-metal Sir Lord Baltimore, he made calculated decisions about whom to share it with.
“I made two copies of it,” he explains, sitting in a dimly lit Lower East Side bar near his apartment. “I sent one to Julian Cope and one to [Hawkwind’s] Adrian Shaw.”
He hoped that narrowing his focus would put his work in the hands of those who might most appreciate it. And his decision to approach Cope (who has, during his successful solo career after the breakup of his seminal post-punk group The Teardrop Explodes, started a label) proved to be a prescient move. After receiving the album, Cope emailed W. to say that he had a particular concept for the record and asked if W. would mind letting Cope run with it.W. of course, agreed immediately.The record, called They’ve Got Blood Like We’ve Got Blood had a limited pressing in 2005 and quickly sold out.
“My whole thing about this was, I don’t want to do this band like I’ve done other bands,” says W., who has played with numerous groups, including Oats, a San Francisco sextet he performed with in the ‘90s, and a MC5-style punk band called Violate the Drug Space. “I don’t want to play a lot in my hometown. I don’t want to tour the U.S. constantly to no avail. The people who are going to like this music are people in Europe. And through Julian Cope, I was like, OK, England.’ England was where I set my sights first, because of Cope and his audience.”
And this emphasis on doing things differently has also extended into W.’s adherence to what he calls the “White Hills aesthetic.”
“I don’t do a last name,”W. says. “It’s like music’s music… It’s packaged and people package it well and people can sell it well. I didn’t want White Hills to be a package in that sense. I wanted it to be a package in the sense of some kind of ongoing piece of performance art.”
For live performances W. paints his face (lately he’s favored the color silver), wears some sort of over-the-top outfit, often polyester vintage shirts emblazoned with polka dots or psychedelic mushrooms and sequined pants, and relies on copious amounts of glitter, along with video projections and smoke machines to put on a show that transcends sound.
“That’s what it’s about.The reason why I play music is going to see bands when I was 13 years old, and being like ‘Oh my God.That’s amazing. I want to do that,’” citing mind-blowing concerts including a 1980 Iggy Pop performance (speaking of Iggy,W. looks a bit like a healthy, young version of Pop with his long dark hair, lean face and taut frame) and a Psychedelic Furs show on the Talk Talk Talk tour as massive inspirations. “It was art. And that’s the whole thing; I want White Hills to be art… I want it all to tell a story.”
Plugging into the space rock scene in England and Europe has paid off, with White Hills drawing more and more attention abroad on each of its bi-annual European tours, and as with many U.S. bands that have been recognized first in Europe, interest has subsequently grown at home. In the first four months of 2009,White Hills was invited to play more shows in New York than the band performed in the city throughout all of 2008. And White Hills recently signed to the Chicago independent stalwart Thrill Jockey, which is rereleasing White Hills’ 2007 album Heads on Fire on vinyl, in addition to releasing the Dead E.P. in October, and early next year, an eponymous full-length album recorded with frequent collaborator Kid Millions at the Ocropolis, the Brooklyn studio and performance space of Millions’ avant-noise band Oneida.
“Things have completely fallen into place,”W. says. “I feel so fortunate about that, because you don’t always get that synchronicity.You can bust your ass, and you can have like the greatest thing ever, and nobody will appreciate it.”
> White Hills
Oct. 6, The Bell House, 149 7th St. (betw. 2nd & 3rd Aves.), Brooklyn, 718-643-6510; 7:30, $12