WHITE FENCE: PRETTY AFRAID OF PHONES
Darker My Love’s Tim Presley delivered one of the most unexpected and impressive LPs of last year with his solo project White Fence’s self-titled debut. At the time, it was one of the best records L.A. RECORD ever randomly received; about a year later, it is still completely fascinating. White Fence plays Friday at Blue Star with Cold Showers, the Urinals and Night Control (win tickets here!) so we are re-printing this interview by Daniel Clodfelter now!
Was it your intention, when making the first record, to make the listener wonder if their record player was broken?
Ha! No! I grew up listening to tapes so it just sounds right to me. I haven’t really thought about this growing up but I’m pretty sure that possibly my ears—and maybe a lot of people are on the same boat—have just adjusted to hearing music from a cassette. Like that’s what music’s supposed to sound like—like an old cassette or music you’ve already known. If you listen to—not to get all Steve Albini or whatever—a tape, it just sounds good to me, like a mixtape that has been dubbed a million times. That’s what I’m trying to do.
How did you create that warped cassette sound on the first LP? Is it a delay effect?
No, that’s just because it was dubbed from cassette. It’s just from bouncing it back and pitch-shifting things. My 4-track recorder does a weird almost pitch-shift thing on its own sometimes. I don’t know why it does it! And from bouncing the tracks so many times some natural warpage occurs as well.
How do you reproduce the delay effects and warped sounds that appear on the record in a live setting?
I try not to think about how to recreate the record live, but I think in the future I’m definitely going to try to incorporate some weird loops or something. It turns into a big thing. Since I don’t really have a solid group to practice with all the time, as Sean [Presley, of S.F. band Nodzzz and Tim’s brother] and the guys live in San Francisco, so far it has been more of a straightforward rock show.
Last time you talked with L.A. RECORD—as a member of Darker My Love—you stated your distaste of genre labels like ‘punk’ and ‘psychedelic.’ How do you feel about White Fence being tagged with genre labels like ‘lo-fi’ and ‘DIY’?
It’s hard to say. I feel like ‘lo-fi’ is more of a technical term, whereas ‘psychedelic’ is just a perception of what a kind of music is. The ‘lo-fi’ thing doesn’t bother me as much, though there is a lot of that going around, and that’s fine. My whole point was that the label ‘punk’ can be used to describe so many things—all the way to Blink-182. It’s just so wide that it doesn’t get down to what it really is. It doesn’t mean anything. As far as ‘lo-fi,’ you can call it whatever you want but it’s a matter of whether the music is any good or not. Maybe you could just file it under ‘good music.’
I’m ready for the ‘good music’ copycats!
I’m not that bummed about the genre thing. But I feel like if you get stuck in some genre you keep making the same thing. In a weird way, it seems like that is what people want. With the new Darker My Love record, it’s not very psychedelic, and I feel like a lot of people are like, ‘What happened to the psychedelic-ness, man?’ I dunno—it’s all just music.
What made you want to start White Fence when you were already doing Darker My Love and touring with the Strange Boys?
I had recorded the songs at home and they sounded fine to me. I didn’t want to re-record them or nitpick them. There’s something special about recording a song right as you write it. The thing is, I never expected these songs to ever be released. My brother, Sean, was over one night and asked what I was doing recording-wise. I played him some tracks and he asked me to make him a CD. Later he was playing it in his car and his buddy Eric—of Make A Mess Records and at the time the drummer of Nodzzz—heard it and decided to put it out.
What inspired you to record by yourself in the first place?
I think I just all of a sudden had the guts to do, say and write exactly what I wanted.
When you’re writing, what makes you decide whether you will use it for White Fence or Darker My Love?
I don’t know! I have no idea! I guess I just had a bunch of songs written and didn’t think some of them would work with Darker My Love. Not to sound selfish or weird, but I didn’t want to go through the whole band process, which is dealing with a democracy of five guys. When I write a song for Darker My Love I have four other guys in mind. It’s like writing a play and having the actors bring it to life. White Fence is just me.
Who is White Fence when it’s not just you?
So far all the recorded songs are just me. Live, my brother has played every show. He’s been the ringleader at getting the group together. His roommate, Moe, has been playing drums and we swap two different bass players.
I really enjoyed the Johnny Thunders and the Heartbreakers cover at the end of your upcoming LP, …Is Growing Faith—the toy keyboard you added is a great touch!
Between 18 and my early twenties I was obsessed with Johnny Thunders. Don’t ask me why.
I went through several years of Thunders obsession myself!
I revisited his stuff again recently and was blown away by how great of a song ‘You Can’t Put Your Arms Around a Memory’ is. New York Dolls cheesiness aside, it is a really amazing song. The lyrics are insanely well-written.
The first song on …Is Growing Faith seems to be simply someone answering a phone with ‘If You’re Happy and You Know It Clap Your Hands’ playing in the background. What recent phone call made you the happiest?
Probably when Ryan from Strange Boys called me last week to come down and record some vocals for their new album. That was a good one. I’m generally pretty afraid of phones. When the phone rings I can’t answer it; I hate it. Phones freak me out. I try not to answer the phone as much as possible.
I just picked up a copy of the Nerves tribute album on Volar/I Hate Rock ‘n’ Roll, which features your art and a White Fence track. [And a track from the interviewer’s band, Shark Toys!—ed.] How does being a graphic artist affect your music?
It’s kept me humble—because I don’t get paid. For anything! I’ve done so much art for a lot of people and I never get paid. I don’t really ask for money, though. It doesn’t really do anything for the music. However, it is fun to listen to the music and to try to apply some visuals to it. I get a real kick out of that.
You have an art opening this month—with Ryan from Strange Boys and a few others. What kind of art will you be showing?
I’ve been trying to focus on art and showing it in galleries. The work displayed at this show—opening January 8th at Family bookstore—is the cover art for the new White Fence LP, …Is Growing Faith. I have also recently written a book called You Don’t Have Your Eyes Yet. It’s mostly prose and poetry.
Who are some of the musical—or nonmusical—influences for White Fence?
Maybe Ben Franklin. He was an ideas man. I admire that. For one man to accomplish all that he did—he invented a lot of strange and important things. I really admire Frank Zappa. I don’t really enjoy half of his music but there are some records that I really like. I’ve read two books on him already and I like the way he thinks. He can be kind of an asshole though. I have a weird thing with him and his personal politics. I’m 50/50. There are songs I like and the others I just forget about. I’ve been infatuated with Darby Crash lately!
In your last L.A. RECORD interview, you mentioned that you and Mark E. Smith jumped somebody. Who would you want to help you beat someone up next?
As an older brother I’d like to beat up anyone who messes with my little brother, Sean. I haven’t been feeling very violent lately, though I do go through spurts where I feel like I want to just kill everybody. No, I’m a peaceful guy!
Do you feel like this is a good or bad time for ‘good music’ in LA?
The state of music right now is actually amazing in Los Angeles. But when people start realizing it then it will probably get really weird and bad. For example, the Best Coast phenomenon—that’s awesome, but how about all the other bands that are just as good? I dunno. I think there are amazing musicians and great ideas in a lot of people in L.A. right now and I feel like I’m just waiting for it to pop. We have a lot of great bands here. You see what No Age did was kind of set a really good precedent for really good DIY bands to just do their thing. So now it’s in the toddler stages. I think No Age kind of kicked it all off.
Someone posted a comment to the Darker My Love L.A. RECORD interview claiming you sounded like ‘a corner in Silverlake.’ In what realm of Los Angeles does White Fence truly dwell?
It would have to be Echo Park because that’s where I live. I think it’s more domesticated than that—the four walls of my room! But when it’s the live band in San Francisco, it’s basically a party. It’s everywhere. What do you think? Does it sound like it’s from L.A.?
I think Dan Collins described it best as ‘a multi-colored slug sliding through your brain.’ And that slug could be crawling through our brains anywhere.
That’s good! That’s my new answer! I don’t really get the ‘Silver Lake’ and ‘Echo Park’ thing. You couldn’t really say that about L.A. punk really; for instance, in the 1980s, X sounded different from the Germs—etc., etc., etc.!
L.A. RECORD PRESENTS WHITE FENCE WITH COLD SHOWERS, THE URINALS AND NIGHT CONTROL PLUS DJ TOM PILLA ON FRI., JULY 15, AT THE PSYCHO BEACH PARTY AT BLUE STAR, 2200 E. 15TH ST., DOWNTOWN. 9 PM / $10 / 18+. GET TICKETS HERE OR WIN TICKETS HERE! WHITE FENCE’S … IS GROWING FAITH IS OUT NOW ON WOODSIST. VISIT WHITE FENCE AT WHITEFENCEARTCOLLECTIVE.BLOGSPOT.COM.