When White Rabbits Go Dancing

April 16, 2008

We held our tongues throughout it
One day we’ll laugh about it

FORT LAUDERDALE—It’s five o’clock on a breezy Wednesday afternoon and Matthew Clark, drummer for White Rabbits, is talking on his smartphone outside the stage entrance to Revolution in downtown Fort Lauderdale. The six-piece band from New York City is about to soundcheck. Vocalist and keyboard player Stephen Patterson approaches. Both band members are friendly and Clark agrees to talk later.

Soundchecks can be tedious affairs and this one is. Most of the band’s time on stage is devoted to working out various kinks in the sound. It’s the important behind-the-scenes work that goes on day in and day out on a tour like this. For the past few weeks, White Rabbits has opened club and theater dates for The Walkmen and Spoon. It’s a classic indie rock booking and everyone is working to make things right.

Work is far from a foreign concept to this band of Show Me staters. The band got together in Columbia, Missouri, in 2004 but soon moved to an unheated, dimly lit, shared live and work space in Brooklyn where they could practice at all hours of the day and night. The steady practice clearly paid off. The band was picked up by an indie label and released their debut album, Fort Nightly, in May of 2007 to solid reviews.

White Rabbits made their network television debut last summer and, now, the band has a new record deal with TBD Records, a sublabel of ATO Records. It’s heady stuff. Thankfully Clark and Patterson, sweaty from the stage, agree to talk about it.

Q. What do you do when you’re not working?

Patterson: Lately, we haven’t had much time for anything else but doing the band. My other interests are driving our van, booking hotels and soundchecking. It’s been constant for about the last year and a half.

Q. It seems like White Rabbits is “living the dream” right now. What’s that feel like?

Clark: I’d say, Yes. A simple yes. Whenever we all initially decided as a collective to move and all pursue the same goal, I didn’t think we’d be at the position that we’re in this fast, which is great. I think everybody in the band is really happy with everything that’s transpired over the past two years. We’d be stupid not to be happy about it.

Q. How did the new record deal come about?

Patterson: We met Phil Costello who runs TBD. He’s a good friend with a guy who works at our publishing company. He came out to see our set at Lollapalooza last year. We’ve been in touch ever since. It took a while for the deal to finally go through. He’s a really really great guy. He grew up in Webster Groves, where about half of this band grew up in St. Louis. We have a bunch of ties to Columbia and St. Louis. The relationship came to fruition when we bonded over all these things we had in common that we had no idea about like living in Missouri and having similar friends. We met with a lot of peopl but he just seemed to be the one who kind of got it. There’s only one other band besides us on the label, so it’s great for us. It’s going to give us all the attention that we need.

Clark: Whenever we talked to him he always wanted to do what we wanted to do. When we talked to other people, they never mentioned that. It never came up in conversation. We felt really good about the fact that was on his mind.

Q. Aaron from Say Hey…is he still part of your team?

Patterson: He still manages us. It’s kind of just what he does, he’s always done a label slash managemt thing for us. He always wanted us to go on to bigger and better things. He knew it wasn’t the best thing for us to stay on Say Hey for the rest of our career. He’s an amazing guy. He’s really bright.

Q. Are you working on your sophomore effort?

Patterson: Yeah, we played some new ones tonight. Whenever we have time at home, we’re writing. But lately, there hasn’t been a lot of time off and it’s hard to write for six guys in the band.

Q. What’s your songwriting process like?

Clark: I think it runs the gamut of how six people can write a song and agree on it.

Patterson: There’ a lot of different ways. Matt has written keyboard parts. I have written drums parts. Alex [Even] has written drum parts, keyboard parts. It’s a free for all. Sometimes individuals will come with full songs ready and they just kind of work. Sometimes individuals will come with songs that don’t work. Sometimes it’s just jamming. It’s important to us that it’s kept democratic.

Q. Are you still living together in the loft?

Patterson: We all moved out last year. There was no privacy. There was no way to live, no heat or anything like that. We couldn’t stand to go through another winter.

Clark: The fact that there was no sunlight was a big factor for me. It was time to try something different.

Patterson: We owe a lot of our success to that living situation. It served its purpose. We pretty much had no other option but to live together. It was perfect. It was super cheap. It wasn’t really safe, but it was six guys, so it wasn’t a big deal. We could practice any hour of the day we wanted. So we were able to write our record in five months. It served its purpose, but now we’re able to afford a practice space in the city, so that’s what we’re doing.

Q. What role does jazz play in your music, and what kind of jazz?

Patterson: I don’t know how much any sort of jazz plays into what we do at all actually. I’m trying to think…There would be a lot of the old sort of Dixieland, ragtime things that we would apply occasionally. You can hear that on a couple tunes.

Q. There’s a feeling to the music going back several decades…

Patterson: A lot of it just sounded good on the piano. My grandpa, he played a lot of ragtime piano and stuff. He made some old recordings that all sound really good to me. I like the juxtaposition of that sort of thing with the new sort of rhythmic element to it.

Q. Are you making any videos?

Patterson: We just finished a video for “While We Go Dancing” a week before this tour with Spoon. Our friend, Andrew Droz Palermo, is doing it. He’s also making a documentary on us too.

Q. How do you balance doing what you love with the fact that it’s also work?

Patterson: Before, you had the thing that you hated, which was your day job. Then, you had this thing that you loved, which was the band. Now, it’s all band all the time. Sometimes you want a break from it. But you forget, wow, I’m really fortunate to be doing this work.

Q. Looking at it from the outside, you don’t see that it’s all encompassing and that it can be stressful.

Patterson: It’s the best kind of stress. You’re stressed out about something that you do care about it. It’s something that represents you. You’e not getting stressed out about something that you don’t care about it.

Q. How’s New York treating you? Do you love it?

Clark: You know what, that first year was hell. I didn’t know if it was worth it, if I really wanted to live there, if it was for me. I lived in St. Louis my whole life. Once you get used to it, it’s weird to think about moving back home. You begin to love the things you originally hated and didn’t understand how people lived with. Like that wait for the subway. I can’t live with out that now. That is a part of my everyday life.