W.H. Lung On Their Forthcoming U.S. Tour | Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
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W.H. Lung On Their Forthcoming U.S. Tour

Founder member Joe Evans talks about the band's impending third album and what the future holds for W.H. Lung

Sep 27, 2023 Web Exclusive Bookmark and Share

Joe Evans is the founder member and vocalist with Manchester-based five-piece W.H. Lung alongside guitarist Tom Sharkett.

Formed in 2016 – initially as a trio – W.H. Lung released their first single “Inspiration!/Nothing Is” the following year. Debut album Incidental Music came out in 2019 to rave reviews, drawing comparisons with the likes of Stereolab, Spacemen 3, LCD Soundsystem and New Order.

Shortly after its release, the Covid-19 pandemic struck causing W.H. Lung to spend the ensuing lockdown periods writing what eventually became second long player Vanities. It was during this time the band also expanded to a five-piece, recruiting bass player and multi-instrumentalist Chris Mulligan, alongside keyboard player and vocalist Hannah Peace and drummer Alex Mercer-Main, both of whom also play in Leeds band Team Picture.

Since then, W.H. Lung have emerged as one of the most exciting live bands on the planet as well as one of the most innovative, as anyone present at their performances at Deer Shed, Rockaway Beach, Glastonbury and Long Division festivals over the past year or so will testify to.

Having just released their first new material in two years – a cover of The Units’ 1979 underground classic “High Pressure Days” – and with more new songs creeping into their recent live sets, album number three is just around the corner. In the meantime, W.H. Lung begin their first ever US tour this week (Thursday 28th September) so Under the Radar spoke with Joe Evans about those shows, new music and what the future holds for him and the band.

Dom Gourlay (Under The Radar): The last time we spoke was at the back end of 2021 just after Vanities came out, and it’s probably fair to say that record raised W.H. Lung’s profile somewhat. I’ve seen you play a number of festivals since then – Long Division, Glastonbury, Live At Leeds, Rockaway Beach and Deer Shed – where each show has been a highlight of its respective event. It must be a very exciting time for you right now?

Joe Evans: It is an exciting time. It feels like we know what we’re doing with the live show now. All of those festival shows were very different to one another. For example, playing Deer Shed was a very different vibe to playing Glastonbury. Because when you start getting booked to play more stages, you tend to play earlier in the day so we’re getting used to being a band that plays in the sunshine.

I guess the other difference with Deer Shed was you were mainly playing to families, so also a very different audience to all of the others.

When we were first offered the gig and told “It’s a family festival, do you want to do it?” We thought “Why not?” Because I think you can surprise yourself sometimes with how the music or performance takes on a different kind of tone. Naturally in these different environments you’ve just got to let that happen. I really, really enjoyed Deer Shed. It was a fun day. We played about sixty gigs last year, and I think we get better the more we play. It just means we can just turn up and do it whatever the circumstance is, and see what happens to the songs and the set as a result of that.

How do you prepare for playing a festival set compared to one of your own headline gigs? Do you tailor the set differently?

We do. Usually at a festival you have slightly less time, so logistically that’s a restriction. But then within that, we’d also look at what time in the day we’re playing then try and structure a set that works for that particular time. Normally with a festival where you have a shorter set we’d just play up-tempo songs but at Deer Shed for example, we had slightly longer so changed the vibe a little bit in the middle which worked as the sun came down. We had two slower tunes in the middle. So, I guess we try and see what we’re up against; see the environment we’re playing in then try and predict what that needs in that moment. We’re playing a festival in Sheffield next weekend (Float Along) and we’ve got forty-five minutes so we’ll be playing mainly high tempo stuff just to try and keep the energy going. It’s not massively late but it’s a night time slot in a club, which is a lot different to an outdoor show in the middle of the afternoon, so we’ll be bringing a slightly different vibe to the one we did at Deer Shed for example.

You’re also playing a fundraiser for the Partisan Collective with The Orielles at Islington Mill in Manchester this week. How did that come about?

We wanted to put on a gig in that space downstairs because we’ve just moved into a studio upstairs at Islington Mill. We’ve been to nights there before and always wondered why no one ever puts gigs on in the building, and we’ve got the US tour coming up as well. So, it kind of aligned with giving us an opportunity to try out some of the material we want to play in the US but also let’s see what we can do in terms of creating a collaborative community with the people who share our studio. We share a studio with a few of the bands who are playing such as The Orielles, so it just seemed to make sense. I think we also did it as a way of saying why can we not put on our own gig? It seems like there are more middlemen now than when we first started. You have to think about promoters, booking agents, the space that you’re playing in and what it looks like, etc, etc. Whereas we just wanted to put on a DIY show with some of our mates, practice some of our material for the US tour, and hopefully everyone has a good night. Partisan are an organisation that we’re really happy to support as well, and doing it as a fundraiser for them helps take the pressure off us and means everyone will be more inclined to enjoy themselves and have a good night. Hopefully, if all goes well, it might be something we take into the future on a regular basis. I don’t envy promoters because it is a difficult job having to chase and check everything before then on the night. But I am really looking forward to it. It was just a case of, “Why not?” We played sixty shows last year whereas we haven’t played that many this year as we’ve been writing, so I wanted to make sure we had a bit of live experience under our belts before we went to the US as well. Because most people over there won’t have seen us before, and I know what we can do live. So, I want to make sure those shows are as tight as they possibly can be to the best of our abilities.

Moving onto the US tour. It’s W.H. Lung’s first time playing over there. Are there any shows or cities you’re particularly looking forward to playing or visiting? What can people expect from the setlists?

It’s interesting because the songs we’ve played loads and loads of times most of those people never have heard played live before. I think we will try out what we are thinking of doing at the Islington Mill show. We’re playing four brand new songs in that set and then seeing which others work best around them, because US audiences won’t have seen us play either Incidental Music or Vanities live. So, we can almost pick from the whole catalogue in that respect. The new songs will be going in because they feel like a really strong representation of who we are so we need to play them. I think we’ll just pick what feels the best rather than if we did a headline tour here following an album release we’d want to play the whole record pretty much. There, it’s more a case of showing them who W.H. Lung are and have been up to this point. I’m really excited for the tour. It will be like playing the very best of what we’ve got to people hearing it for the first time. We also get to experience that newness through vicariously playing to a new audience so it’s a good opportunity for seeing what those older songs will sound like in a new setting.

One thing that’s always stood out is the massive progression from Incidental Music to Vanities, and even the two new songs played at Deer Shed (“High Pressure Days” and “Will Set Fire”) suggest the next record will be entirely different again?

I think with each new album, you put down ideas you’re having at that moment in time about who you want to be as a band in the future in a way. When we wrote Incidental Music it was who we thought we were up to that point. It was about us starting to explore synths and modular synths with Matt Peel at The Knave. Longer songs and jams, literally just discovering our sound then recording that discovery at the time. With Vanities, me and Tom (Sharkett) just wanted to record an album that would be really fun to play live and dance to when we finally got out into the world after the lockdown years. If Vanities was the sound of us writing into the computer a little bit more, this new one is us going back to guitars again but in more of a live sense. I guess it’s a combination of what the two albums represented for us. So, we found our sound with the first one then became more concise and hookier on the second. Now we’re combining the two on the next record while working out how we represent that as a live band. We have found a lot of our sound and who we are through playing live so it’s also about translating that onto a record. I’m really enjoying writing at the moment. It seems to be flowing out quite naturally.

Is there a working title and projected release date for the third album?

Titles fly around while we’re writing but there’s nothing I’d even commit to myself yet. I think the release date is also pretty vague at the minute, because there’s a lot of other factors to consider when releasing an album once its written. It will be next year; or we’ll at least be getting a tour together next year. Playing festivals and touring after the summer. But I also think its just as important to grow our understanding of who we are as a band as much as it is making sure its out in time to play festivals or do a tour. The third album cycle has started.

Some of the older songs have developed in a live setting from their original recordings – “Inspiration!” for example. Have you ever listened back to songs from the same period and thought if you had your time again, you’d do things differently?

Songs change don’t they? I don’t think its that practical or healthy to think what would I have done if I’d written that song now because you’d never stop. Those songs and that music were recorded in the way we wanted them to be at that time. We did the best we could with the tools we had, so the recorded version will always capture that moment in time but what’s great about live shows is songs do change, evolve, and adapt for whatever setting we find ourselves in. I remember playing in South-By-Southwest (SXSW) for a week and that was a baptism of fire. The variety of shows that you as a band can play – so you play big stages then tiny record shops and you have to just do what you can with the sound and setting that you have. So, songs are fed through this filter of your experience over time, and who’s to say whether they get better or worse? They just change, so we have these songs in our set because they work with each other in this set. These songs are adapting into each other every time we play them together. Maybe the newer ones will change when I record them again. There are bands that do re-record whole albums but I think you’ve got to be comfortable with how that song was then. I know once its recorded that will be the final version but it doesn’t have to be the final version for you because music is inherently a live medium. That’s why live music is important, because it then becomes a changeable beast and when it’s good it’s amazing, when it’s bad it’s very hard to watch. But that’s what makes it exciting. We just don’t want it to be boring.

Do you prefer playing live or working in the studio? Do you get an equal amount of satisfaction from both?

It’s a different release with different levels of engagement. I love playing live because it’s a big old confirmation or affirmation of what I’m doing or supposed to be doing. If you’re playing to an audience it feels like you’re properly communicating and connecting with what the song seems to be originally for. To be there in the moment while its being communicated feels like a confirmation of what you’re meant to be doing. When you’re writing a song the process can be quite slow and excruciating at times but then the win’s big when its finished. Its like slow release, quicker release really. If something goes wrong live, there’s like a real “oh shit!” moment. Whereas when it goes right, there’s a real “This is amazing!” moment. When you’re writing and things aren’t going well it’s more a case of grinding to a halt. When things are going well you’ll continue because everything’s flowing and feels right. It’s a fine line between the two because even when things aren’t happening its usually just tiny step away from your grasp. I guess that’s just the nature of trying to put something down that was originally just an abstract thought in your head. They’re different, but then one leads into the other.

A W.H. Lung show is very engaging, almost to the point where audience participation is a must in some ways. That must give you a buzz to see the whole room responding in the way the audiences did at Glastonbury or Rockaway Beach for example?

Yeah, it’s great. Sometimes it just happens. There’s times where you need to just marshal the energy a little bit. I guess we’re fortunate enough to have songs that can just bring the energy up in a room and then just follow wherever that takes you. I’m always surprised by it in a way, then you just go along with the surprise of seeing people responding to it. So, that gives you more energy which then gives them more energy and you end up feeding off each other. I’m interested to see what American audiences will be like. Even cities in the UK are different to one another. I remember Austin being great when we played there at SXSW, but perhaps that’s a microcosm? I don’t know. We’ll see. When you play live, you need to allow yourself the moment for discovery. That’s your job as a performer, seeing what people want. It’s not necessarily about adapting but it is about locking into a particular rhythm you believe is what the audience want presented to them on that particular occasion. Who knows though? I don’t know what a New York crowd will be like in comparison to an LA crowd or a Milwaukee crowd. I haven’t experienced what the people are like in any of those places before so it’s going to be an exciting few days for us.

Now the band is established as a five-piece do you feel this is the perfect W.H. Lung line-up to make the songs sound how you’d always intended them to, particularly in a live setting?

The live band as musicians and people are all awesome. It feels really good for us playing. I’m really confident we’ll go to America and do what we need to do. It allows each person to go on stage and express themselves individually because we’re so tight as a unit. We’ve played so many shows together now. We see that on stage when you’re watching a band that are all meant to be playing together. There’s this focus or synergy that looks like they’re choosing to play the songs they’re playing. It’s not like everyone is trying to remember their parts or they’re technically proficient but not in tune with one another. It’s almost like the intentionality is to just be in that moment and communicate with each other and the audience. It’s not just about trying to play the songs. There’s something more than that when you’re playing with people you have that understanding with. So yeah, I feel really good about the band.

You all have other projects as well as W.H. Lung – Hannah and Alex with Team Picture, Tom’s solo work and your own acting career for example. Is W.H. Lung still the main project or is it a case of trying to balance everything as equally as possible?

We’ve always known that W.H. Lung is a long-term endeavour for us. I don’t know if you could say this is my priority over that, or that’s my priority over this. We’ve just got to trust that W.H. Lung comes to the fore when it needs you to and you stock up on other things. In any creative life you need moments of space and exploring other areas of yourself. Then you come back and are refreshed. You’re stocked up, so it all kind of fits into each other. I don’t necessarily think one thing is more important to me than another. I think I speak for Tom as well but it just feels like we’re doing what naturally needs to be done with W.H. Lung. We trust each other enough to know its going to happen at the right times. Then maybe I’ll go off and do a job, and he’ll go off and do a job, and then we’ll come back and focus on W.H. Lung again. We’re always writing all the time as well. Passing ideas back and forth, that’s a constant. I couldn’t not write music with Tom. That’s just like a natural thing that I do. Sometimes it feels like a procrastination where I’ll just finish a song we’re working on as a reward.

What advice would you give to a new artist or band that’s just starting out? What would you tell them to avoid?

Write loads of tunes and play loads of gigs! At the very beginning when we went into the studio with Matt Peel; it was the first proper session we did and ended up being our first release. We were asking him about management, how to promote ourselves and if we needed to use social media, and he just told us all we needed to do was write a load of tunes. That’s the best piece of advice we’ve ever had and something we’ve taken with us throughout W.H. Lung’s existence. If you’re in any craft, you have to be prepared to be a bit shit at it for a while. Because you will be comparing yourselves to your heroes that got you into it in the first place, and if you’re comparing yourselves to your heroes, your nascent early attempts will seem like bollocks! But you have to have the courage to keep going, and you’ll play live shows where its not working. Or you don’t know when to push and when to come back. You have to experience that as much as possible to get better. Always be working, and always be meaning to do it. Especially in music now. You see lots of new bands coming through, but they’re older. I don’t know why? It seems like its taking a little bit longer now. Obviously there are still artists and musicians breaking through that are very young as well and just hit it straight away, but it seems an increasingly common theme for older artists and bands now.

Do you think the downtime associated with Covid lockdowns might have something to do with that, where people had time to just take a step back and learn their crafts more?

Yeah, quite possibly. Its an oversaturated market isn’t it, so everyone’s got an idea of who they want to be. But if you play the long game of this is what I want to do, you shouldn’t want to be like anyone. Just discover what it is that you want to do. That might mean for two years you’re trying to sound like this band or sing like Scott Walker, work out what kind of singer or writer you are. Just allow that all to happen and keep going with it. It takes a little bit longer doing it like that, although I guess that also depends who you are. Some bands just connect straight away with whatever it is the zeitgeist was needing or wanting. But if you stick by what is authentic to you eventually you’ll find an audience, and I think we’ve found ours by sticking with what’s authentic to us. We’ll continue to do that, and hopefully discover what more can be done by W.H. Lung in the future.

You just have to look at where W.H. Lung have gone so far. The boundaries are non-existent.

We’re hopeful for the future. I just think we need to understand what we’ve got to do now, which is smash the US, write a new album, and continue on with hope in our hearts!

W.H. Lung are currently on tour in the US, calling in at the following: -

28th September - New York, Le Poisson Rouge
29th September - Philadelphia, Milkboy
3rd October - Detroit, Lager House
4th October - Chicago, Empty Bottle
5th October - Milwaukee, Cactus Club
8th October - Seattle, Barboza
9th October - San Fransisco, Rickshaw Stop
12th October - Los Angeles, The Echo

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