PREPARE to be surprised: Glasgow’s ferocious new disco-punk band are playing Edinburgh’s Hogmanay, and their frontman is committed to ‘projecting the fantasy of rock ’n’ roll’, he tells David Pollock
You haven’t seen Scotland’s most exciting, likely-to-succeed new bands, it seems, until you’ve seen them in Glasgow venue Stereo. In their thrilling infancy, Franz Ferdinand played packed bar-room gigs in the old Stereo in Finnieston, now The 78. In more recent years, Django Django made an early return to their home country with a fiery show at the new Stereo in Renfield Lane. And the latter venue, rammed full once more, was where White got up on stage in July this year and announced their presence.
You know when you get bands coming onstage like, ‘anyone know the fitba’ scores?’ F***. Off. Where’s your respect for the fantasy of rock ‘n’ roll? Don’t burst the bubble, man.Leo Condie
Formed from the ashes of various quasi-successful Glasgow groups, the quintet have gelled perfectly into a ferocious disco-punk act founded on sublime pop hooks. They’re like a fusion of Scots forebears the Associates and Simple Minds (in their early days) with LCD Soundsystem, New York’s iconic exponents of the gig-as-nightclub experience.
So far they have three great tracks (Living Fiction, Blush and the signature Future Pleasures), a deal with RCA, and a slot at Edinburgh’s Hogmanay to show for their efforts. Beyond their adrenalised rhythms, the heart of their live appeal is singer Leo Condie, a performer possessed of the looks and fringe of a young Alan Cumming, the wry romanticism of Billy Mackenzie and Jarvis Cocker’s bored detachment.
“It’s because I’m an only child,” laughs Condie, when asked about his love for live performance. “No, I dunno, I’ve just always enjoyed doing it. I wouldn’t say I’m an extrovert, but I’ve always felt natural on stage. You can play with people’s emotions, you can toy with the crowd. It’s what I do, it makes me happy. You know when you get bands coming onstage like, ‘anyone know the fitba’ scores?’ F***. Off. Where’s your respect for the fantasy of rock ‘n’ roll? Don’t burst the bubble, man. It should be an experience you get completely wrapped up in.”
Today he’s sitting in an Edinburgh pub, having travelled through with guitarist Hamish Fingland for our interview. Condie is from these parts – he grew up in a flat in Colinton Road – but he’s lived in Glasgow since studying music at Strathclyde University. For a few years he fronted his own band, the Low Miffs, and when that folded he toured his own show interpreting the songs of Jacques Brel and others to the Edinburgh Festival and in theatres.
“I loved his performance style, totally in control of the stage, getting to the heart of the song,” says Condie of Brel. He also worked personally with another of his heroes, the sometime Josef K, Orange Juice and Aztec Camera guitarist Malcolm Ross, on the eponymous Malcolm Ross & the Low Miffs album in 2009. “He actually lived opposite my parents on Colinton Road in the 1980s, which was quite bizarre,” says Condie. “I was introduced to him and I told him that, and we just hit it off. We had a little mini-tour booked supporting The Horrors, and our guitarist had a folk gig in New York he couldn’t get out of, so we asked Malcolm.”
As much as he loved Brel, however, Condie always wanted to return to original work. At the end of 2013 a friend put him in touch with Fingland, who was vaguely looking to start a new album project in collaboration with 12 guest singers. Alongside fellow White guitarists Chris Potter and Lewis Andrew, who he had known since his teens (he and Potter started their first band at 14, while Cambuslang schoolboys), Fingland was a core member of Glasgow rockers Kassidy. Releasing two unsuccessful albums in 2010 and 2012 through Mercury, Kassidy were an odd proposition; a fiery live band whose Scottish support saw them sell out the Barrowlands, yet whose trad rock sound saw them derided by hipsters.
The group split in early 2014 when singer Barrie-James O’Neill moved to Los Angeles to live with his then-girlfriend Lana Del Rey. “We were together for six years and had a total laugh,” says Fingland of his Kassidy days, his hair swept back in a sculpted white-blonde Draco Malfoy wave, “but at the end of it you get stuck with a sound. When Barrie went off to LA we thought this was maybe time to try something else, to plug in some electronic guitar pedals and play synths for a while. When someone leaves your band it can often leave you bitter, but when we split up it was just nice to see that we had an impact on a lot of people. And we needed a different chemistry.”
He and Condie met at the Glad Café in Glasgow’s Shawlands, and the latter was invited to the ex-Kassidy trio’s studio around the corner – a place where they all live, says Fingland, “on mattresses on the floor – it’s as cheap as a flat and we get to work every day.”
Remembers Condie: “I was pleasantly surprised. Generally rock ‘n’ roll folk can be… not always together, but they had a good set-up and they were very focused on the sound of it. When I heard their songs, they weren’t a million miles away from what I’d been doing in the Low Miffs, like Bowie in Berlin or Arcade Fire’s Reflektor.”
The multiple singers plan was scrapped and the quartet decided to work together as a band with the addition of drummer Kirstin Lynn, formerly of Garden of Elks – she was recommended by their studio neighbour Thomas McNeice, bassist in Leeds-based post-punks Gang of Four. “She’s the hardest-hitting drummer in Glasgow,” says Fingland. “She’s a trashy player, but really metronomic as well. We got her playing an electronic drum kit, but she uses real cymbals and snares. We’re trying to merge dance and post-punk – trashy dance music.”
Their sound’s also apparently forged from Fingland’s desire to play like he’s in the Stooges and Potter’s imitation of Prince. The group emerged in low-key fashion, putting Living Fiction online in 2014 and seeing it picked up by influential music blogs and NME. Label interest followed, and they went with RCA because their scouts got their references and didn’t ask them to “write a song like Jessie J.” An album is almost finished.
All in their late 20s, White combine knowledge of their musical forebears with nostalgia for 80s analogue synths and 90s house piano. “I read a quote from Brian Eno talking about mediums like VHS and cassettes, and why they’re still popular,” says Condie. “He says it’s because they have this imperfection and unpredictability about them, and once they get to a point where they’re not new anymore they’re way more fun. It’s the same with analogue synths.”
Beyond the sound, of course, there’s the style. “I love guys like David Byrne and even Bruce Springsteen, who’s underrated as a performer,” Condie continues. “Not by his fans, but by everyone else. He’s like James Brown, he controls the crowd so well, even if he’s playing a stadium. I’ve always been fascinated by frontmen that do that. Every time I get on stage I’m like, ‘this is another chance to stand at that altar.’”
He remembers his first Franz Ferdinand gig at the SECC, with Fire Engines supporting. “Davy Henderson came out in a flowery dress with a top that said ‘Iraq’ on it and a pair of shades, people were bottling him. It was fantastic. I’d love to be in a position to put on that kind of show, not silly but impressive. Creative. Bands don’t do that enough.”
His chance is here now.
• White play the Waverley Stage at Edinburgh’s Hogmanay, edinburghshogmanay.com; the Tunnels, Aberdeen, 17 February; Mad Hatters, Inverness, 18 February; Electric Circus, Edinburgh, 19 February; QMU, Glasgow, 20 February, www.calledwhite.com