If you ever get the chance to do karaoke with Mish Way, don't even hesitate. Just go for it, right away. You really do owe it to yourself. About a year ago I found myself in a Lower East Side karaoke bar with Mish and various New York music gadflies. We'd become fast friends (Way and I, that is. I was already friends with most of said gadflies) after she began regularly contributing smart, open-hearted and often blush-inducing pieces to the Talkhouse, a website I help run, and I'd been a fan of her band since I'd heard White Lung's 2012 Sorry, a hardcore blitzkrieg that doesn't even hit the 20-minute-mark. But despite seeing her perform just a day before the karaoke party, it wasn't until, goaded by peer pressure and an appropriately inappropriate amount of whiskey, Way took the mic for a revelatory rendition of one of the worst songs of this century. I won't embarrass her by naming it. (Maybe you can get it out of her.) But it was at that moment that I realized "Damn. She can sing. Like, really, really sing. Not just growl. Damn.”
I think a lot of people are going to have that reaction when they hear Deep Fantasy, the third album from White Lung and their first for Domino. She is really, really singing here. But don’t worry. She hasn’t gone soft on us or anything. Again working with producer Jesse Gander (who did both Sorry and their 2010 debut It’s the Evil and has also worked with Japandroids), White Lung are every bit as confrontational as before, but they’ve managed to open their sound up just enough to draw listeners in before kicking them in the face. (In a good way.)
“I wanted it to sound more like a rock record than a punk record. I didn't want to lose any of the speed and aggression that we have, but I wanted more melodies,” says Way, calling from her new home in Los Angeles. “But it's still a really hard record.”
After more than a year of touring behind Sorry — which won raves from Pitchfork, Rolling Stone and Interview —White Lung slimmed down to a three piece in the studio; drummer Anne-Marie Vassiliou and guitarist Kenneth William would fly in from Vancouver to hash out arrangements with Way in person, often right before it was time to record; the album was made with Gander in two ten day-long sessions at the end of last year and the start of this one. (William handled bass duties on Fantasy; Wax Idols' Hether Fortune will take up bass and backing vocal duties on tour for the foreseeable future.)
"Kenny would record something in his house on his computer, and send it to me so I could start thinking about it before we all met up, but we got a lot of them done in the studio because that was where it all came together and we could hear all the components," Way says. "That's always kind of been the way we've written and it stresses us all out so much, but it keeps Kenny from overthinking things because he overthinks so much. He's such a perfectionist and if he didn't have a deadline where it was ‘that's it, it's done,' he would work on something until he absolutely got sick of something and threw it away, and it's probably a brilliant song."
The near constant touring had turned the trio into an intuitive, locked-in unit, but it also took a toll. After a particular rough run of festival gigs in which she "totally lost my voice," she sought out a specialist for help. "I always had this idea in my head that I had to be projecting, screaming to get my aggression out, and I realized, ‘No, I can sing and still have the same power,'" Way says. Though she felt "inherently dorky" doing her prescribed vocal exercises, they helped repair the damage and gave her confidence in her natural singing voice. "This album was written in my vocal range and sung in my vocal range. I have to begin to produce stuff that I can reproduce again and again for another two years without completely blowing my voice out."
White Lung’s approach and line-up have changed since the band started in Vancouver at the end of the aughts, but the ethos and core line-up has remained the same since Kenneth, a devotee of Johnny Marr that “plays with the speed of an 80s hardcore dude,” asked Way and Vassiliou if he could join their band after the original guitarist bolted. (Which was a surprising request, since they knew him a drummer. “He came and played and was amazing and we were like ‘how the hell? this guy plays guitar?’”) Simply put, Way doesn’t give a shit what you might think about her, and you can deal with her opinion or you can go listen to one of thousands of other singers that can’t be bothered to have a stance on anything.
Now that she’s embraced her voice, Way is more provocative than ever on Fantasy, surveying addiction (“Drown With the Monster”), body dysmorphia (“Snake Jaw”) and sexual dynamics (“Down It Goes,”) amongst other dinner table topics. “I feel like there's such a vapidness to lyrics in bands now and that bums me out,” she says. “Like sex for me is one of the most interesting topics to talk about, because as a culture, it's the one thing we can all do and the one thing we all do enjoy and there's still so much fear about it. I want to normalize talking about sex and sexual dynamics and all of those things because it's interesting. And we're all thinking about it.
"I just think that it's important to let it all out, and some people won't get it," she says. "But I gave up being embarrassed a long time ago."