Northern Transmissions caught up with Stephen Patterson of the New York City band White Rabbits. We talked about playing on late night television, having their music in one helluva popular video game, and a few other things.
NT: You guys just performed on Letterman last night, how was it?
SP: That was our third time on that show, which was crazy—you know, you’d think it would get easier the more you did it, but that was hands-down the most terrifying TV performance I’ve ever had to do in my life. And I think it’s just that you get older and the more you do it, you start to realise that oh yeah, this lasts forever, and you only really get one shot. The reality of it kind of sets in, and you start to think about it in a very unhealthy way.
But you know, it was good. I think it went well. It’s a tough song. We played the track “Temporary” and it was cool. The feeling of relief that you have at the end of doing something like that is just like nothing else that you’ll feel as a musician. We had to get there at like, 6:30 am and we didn’t tape until 6:30 pm. You get there way early, you set up, do a sound check, they set you free for an hour or two and then you do a rehearsal with cameras and stuff, and then you take another break and you go back and then you shoot it. You know, the band there is awesome. They’re really cool. The last time we were there we did a little impromptu Blues jam with those guys during the rehearsal and Paul Schaffer is a really, really cool guy. Pretty much, what you see on TV is the interaction we have with David Letterman. There’s no meeting David Letterman backstage.
NT: You have worked with both Brit Daniel (Spoon) and Mike McCarthy (Spoon Producer) on
different albums, are you big fans of the band’s sound?
SP: That all kind of came about through an accidental text message that our drummer Jamie sent. We were touring off of Fort Nightly, our first album, and talking about who we’d want to work
with for our next record. We were in Portland, Oregon, where Britt was, and we were hanging out after the show, talking amongst ourselves (just us, the band) saying, “Man, it could be really fun if Britt did it”. You know, he hadn’t ever produced a record before, and we liked the idea of having a musician do it. A songwriter producing a record, and we were all really into this idea, and Jamie ended up sending a text to a friend of his whose name also began with a “B”, and the text said “What would you think about Britt producing our next record?”, and he ended up actually sending that text to Britt directly, and that’s how it all came about.Britt’s a great friend, and he’s one of the kindest, most sincere, genuine, wonderful people I’ve ever worked with, in my life. He’s great. We knew that we didn’t want to just restrict ourselves to just Rock and Roll sounds; we started kind of dabbling with, I don’t know, I don’t think any of the sounds are ever really that weird, but I suppose maybe in the context of what we do, they sound a bit weird. We started messing with these sounds on It’s Frightening, like, there’s some stuff at the beginning of a track like “Lionesse” that have a bit more of an ethereal sort of thing to them.
We just kind of… we wanted to be able to emphasize the rhythm aspect of what we do, still, on this record, like we have always done, but I think we wanted to try to do it in a new way that we haven’t tried before. I think, before we always just beat the shit out of our drums thinking “Hey, they like rhythm.” You know, and then that’s that. It’s very clear and direct, but I think it became a bit common-sounding to us or something, but we still knew that’s what really got us going and excited—having a strong rhythmic aspect, so we decided to start sampling ourselves. I would record somebody playing a drumbeat in a rehearsal space, and it would have this really kind of crappy quality to it. And then I would just kind of loop it, and it retains this really strange feeling that had a different quality than just playing the drums along with the band.
We’d do that on “Heavy Metal”, the first song: the piano loop sample; that was the foundation.We wanted to approach it from a totally different direction, or be a bit more open to other things besides just being a Rock n’ Roll band. We got into using ProTools as an instrument, rather than using it as a shortcut.
NT: “Percussion Gun” has really been on a lot of things. Friday Night Lights, I think it’s been on, and FIFA, and Gossip Girl I think I read. Are you surprised? I mean, not to downplay that
it’s a great song, not to downplay the song, but are you surprised at the popularity and how much demand that song has?
SP: It’s cool to me because I think back to when we were in the practice space, writing that song and recording it. The drumbeat that you hear on that record was recorded in our practice space,
the moment that we started writing it, and so, it’s weird to hear you say all these things.. and it started from this very small place. It wasn’t a big production-thing. You know, sometimes people have songs that they know are going to be singles, and they go through so many different things: they try out different producers to make sure they’ve got this “hit”, and that it’s going to be a game-changer or something. And I think I’m just proud of the fact that it was never that, it was quite the opposite. It was just a little song that we worked on in our rehearsal space and then it touched a lot of people, and that’s cool.
NT: Have you actually played the Fifa game? With the song “Percussion Gun” by any chance?
SP: I haven’t. Have you?
NT: Aren’t you curious, though?
SP: Yeah, I guess I am curious. I don’t have that game system, but it would be a trip to do it. I am curious.
NT: You’ve got to do it one day.
SP: Yeah, I know. You’re right, you’re right. (laugh)
NT: So, most of the band I guess, met and grew up together? And then you ended up forming in NY if I’m correct? How did that all come about?
SP: We formed the band in Columbia, Missouri, but a couple of the guys grew up together in St. Louis: went to grade school together and all that, lived on the same street. So yeah, we formed in Missouri around 2004. I was working in a record store with Greg, the guitarist and he was in a band with Alex and some other guys, and he asked me if I’d play drums for his band. They were kind of like a punk, hardcore sort of band, and I was playing Jazz at university. I thought the idea sounded like fun—it was a totally different sort of thing, you know, and I was getting bored playing that type of music. So, that’s how we kind of came together. Slowly the lineup took shape while we were in Columbia, and we just decided shortly after that we wanted to not play punk rock, and we wanted to try and write some pop songs and stuff like that. We decided fairly early on that we wanted to move to New York, so we all piled into a van after saving up some money, and then we just drove to New York and found an apartment that we could live in and rehearse in. And that was that.