For all y’all who were not chillin’ on the Arts Quad a fortnight ago, you missed the performance of an album called Fort Nightly by a band known as White Rabbits, who with the sheer power and calamity of their music forced the thunderstorms away for their entire set (Bad. Ass.) Steve Patterson, the sometime drummer, half-time singer and most-time piano-tickler, talked to The Sun.
Sun: Can you tell me a little bit about the history of White Rabbits: when did you guys meet, and how did the band form? I hear the core of the band found each other at a record store.
Steve Patterson: We formed in Columbia, Mo. in late 2004. There were a few guys that were in a different band, and it was just like members weaving and joining, slowly forming the White Rabbits. I joined them, Alex [Even] and Greg [Roberts]. I played drums with them. I knew Greg from a record store in Columbia. Then Matt [Clark] joined in on organs, and then we decided to move to New York City. That’s like June 2005; that’s when we moved to the city.
Sun: Was the move directly related to the work with the band?
S.P.: It was directly related to the band. We played a show in Manhattan in January of 2006, — and that’s when we got signed and when we met our label owner. We recorded the albums with a bunch of drums and stuff so it’s hard to play the songs live, and so that’s when Jamie [Levinson] joined in; Jamie’s an old friend of Greg’s from kindergarten. They grew up on the same street together. So that’s pretty much how it came together.
Sun: And the move to New York, was that because you thought you sort of had to do it to get more exposure, or was it that you wanted to move to New York and be a New York band? What was the reason behind the move?
SP: It definitely wasn’t to be a New York band. We’re from Columbia. It’s a college town, a really trendy community. People go there to study what they want to be and then they go off and they do what they want to do. And it’s really the same thing with us. We just felt like we weren’t going to function well as a band in Columbia. We were kinda ready to move on to a bigger city.
Sun: Did you guys all study at the University of Missouri?
S.P.: Me, Greg and Jamie did.
Sun:Jamie worked at a record store, right?
S.P.: Yeah — me, Greg and Jamie have all worked at record stores, but Jamie worked at Dusty Groove in Chicago.
Sun: Yeah, that’s the one that has the special world music collection, right? [SP agrees]. Do you think that influenced his input on the band? Where did the world music influences come into your consciousness as a band? When did that influence you, and how?
S.P.: I’d say we’re all pretty good record collectors. And definitely with Jamie coming in, he’s really well-versed in that sort of stuff. I’ve always felt that the main thing, since I studied jazz percussion at school—
Sun: Was that your major, in a conservatory setting, or did you have more of a liberal arts background?
S.P.: I have a B.A. in music. I focused more on jazz. We have like three drummers, and our producer is a drummer, so we essentially had four drummers in the room at once. And we’re just going to be influenced by rhythmically-driven music. That’s where the calypso-y stuff comes from, the whimsical feel of it all.
Sun: Yeah, that sort of reminds me of something I heard Paul Simon say in a documentary, that it was never really about the world music as much as the rhythms that inspired him.
S.P.: Personally, speaking for just myself, I’m really, really just bored with the typical drumbeat that you hear in a lot of indie rock bands. It just bores me to tears; and so we were looking for something that was just a little more exciting — not just what the Strokes or Interpol or everybody else is doing.
Sun: You guys opened for the Cribs for your summer tour, and then later this month, you’re going to open for the Kaiser Chiefs. Was that just by coincidence, or did the Cribs put in a good word for you with their friends?
S.P.: Have the Cribs and the Kaiser Chiefs toured together before? I think I’ve heard they have.
Sun: Yeah, they’re from the same part of northern England.
S.P.: I think the guys from the Kaiser Chiefs saw us play at the Mercury Lounge [in New York City] a while back or something. And then they asked us to join them.
Sun: How was it touring with the Cribs? I hear their shows can be pretty rowdy.
S.P.: Yeah, they get on stage pretty drunk. But they’re all really nice guys for sure. We had twice as much gear as they did, so it was kind of a pain for them and everyone involved. They just hop onstage. But we laughed actually.
Sun: Since you guys played outdoors at your Cornell gig and you’re coming off a bunch of festival dates this summer, how do you feel about playing outdoors?
S.P.: The pros are that the audience enjoys outdoor shows just ’cause … like at Cornell, the audience goes out on blankets and enjoys the weather — at least temporarily. For the band, the sound is always frustrating, and you always find yourself being really far from the audience whenever you’re playing outside, and that’s always kind of annoying. I don’t think I’ve ever played an outdoor show that I’ve just really enjoyed a lot more than playing indoors.
Sun: Was the weather at Cornell the worst you’ve encountered at an outdoor show?
S.P.: In a word, yes. The worst ever. Well, I shouldn’t say ever; we play the Glastonbury Festival, and it’s known for being just the muddiest time of your life. And it absolutely was. There’s literally mud up to your knees. And that was just miserable. But yeah, that was definitely the most severe thunderstorm I’ve been in [laughs] in a long time. It was apocalyptic.
Sun: It was good that at least you guys got to play your full set.
S.P.: Yeah, I felt kinda bad about that. But it turned into a really memorable time. All the bands got to hang out in, I guess it’s the anthropology building [McGraw].
Sun: What were you guys doing in there? How long were you in there while they were waiting to see if the show would go back on?
S.P.: I guess it took 30 minutes or so for it to blow over, so we were just watching it from the windows and drinking beer and talking. Everyone was having a really good time. They [The National] didn’t seem to be too bummed about it. So all is happy.
Sun: On Daytrotter, on the song “Sea of Rum,” you guys had said you had meant it to sound sort of like “Iko Iko.” How often do you guys hear a song and sort of go, “That’s awesome; we need to do something like that.” Is it just the rhythm that you’re trying to emulate and the rest of the song you try to do something vastly different? How do you approach doing a homage like that?
S.P.: I feel like that [“Sea of Rum”] turned out a bit more direct than other things. Pretty much every song on Fort Nightly we do occasionally; if the songwriting process is going slowly, we’ll have a song we all really like, and we’ll just learn it. And then, we just kind of mess it up. Then, usually, it ends up being something completely different than what the song was we initially were playing. I think that “Sea of Rum” definitely turned out like a more direct homage to the Dixie Cups’ song, but pretty much all of them are built kind of like that. Some of them become more obvious than others. We had a Nick Lowe song that we were playing once, and it turned into that song “Take a Walk around the Table” that’s on the album but that sounds absolutely nothing like what we initially set out to do.
White Rabbits’ debut album Fort Nightly can be purchased at Amazon and other music retailers, and if you missed their rollicking calypso-grooved show at Cornell, they will be playing many more dates on this tour, including stints with the Kaiser Chiefs (with New York and Toronto dates) and Tokyo Police Club.