Words and Photography Zarah Cheng
White Lung had a rough time getting to Brooklyn. But lost luggage and general van problems aside, the four-piece finally made it to Glasslands relatively unscathed. The band, made up of vocalist Mish Way, drummer Anne-Marie Vassiliou, guitarist Kenneth William, and bassist Hether Fortune, breezed through their sound check with the ease of a band used to being on the road. When their set started a little bit after 11 PM, the crowd went ape shit, which is honestly the best word to describe it. White Lung delivered a show to a crowd that seemed to writhe and pulsate with the same visceral energy matched by the band. Outspoken and hilariously crass, we caught up with Mish before their show to talk about Avril Lavigne and sexual fantasies. In a mutually exclusive context. Obviously.
What have you guys been up to since playing Fuji Rock Festival?
I've been trying to spend time with my boyfriend and relax. We played a show in Los Angeles. I went up to Vancouver for my brother's wedding. Kenny has been in Montreal. Anne-Marie is in Vancouver. Hether is in the basement, working on her band's new album.
I heard you guys loved playing in Japan. Does it feel different to play for a culture that is so different from North America’s?
Having people care in any continent other than our own is a blessing. We aren't pop stars. We have low expectations growing up in the circus, you know? The great, big, ridiculous "punk rock" circus. Japan is everything I love: stimulation, organization and professionalism. And everything is open 24 hours.
You recently relocated from Vancouver, where White Lung was based, to LA. Do you find that the music scenes in the two cities are very different?
LA is bigger than Vancouver, that's all. Just a lot more going on but it's not always both quality and quantity. I hermit out when I am home in LA. I'm looking to increase my domestic skills and move to a country home in Alabama. I'm looking forward to being barefoot and never pregnant.
White Lung has become known for its hard-hitting lyrics about some tough subjects like rape culture and body dysmorphic disorder. Did you guys set out to start this dialogue when the band first started?
The lyrics are my thing. I do that alone and no one has any say in it. They don't even really know what I am talking about until they read the lyric sheet or Anne-Marie and I talk it over. I'll share with her. Lyrics are extremely important to me. They always have been, as both a musician and just a fan.
Back in 2012 in an interview with Pitchfork, you said that being labeled a riot grrrl band didn’t really bother you. But earlier this May you tweeted that you didn’t want to be called that anymore. What caused the change?
I was greener then. I'm still green, but less green. I just got sick of it. It makes no sense. Riot Grrrl was a localized, time-specific political music movement that happened when I was in the second grade in a town I have never lived in. How could we be "riot grrrl"? It logically makes no sense. I just wish journalists would stop being so lazy and instead of comparing my band and myself to the past, just describe what they think it is. I get that readers need a reference point, but it boxes us in.
Unfortunately, punk music is still very dominated by men. With three-quarters of the band being female, do you guys still have to deal with assholes at shows?
Sometimes, but the "punk scene" has never treated us like crap. I rarely experience the sexism I experience in other walks of life in this scene. I also find that as I get older, my political views become a little more... relaxed. I'm not as angry. I'm willing to hash things out. I'm willing to listen. It's a better headspace to be in. My passion isn't lost, I'm just not walking around with my knife out and ready to fight.
What’s the biggest misconception that people usually have about White Lung?
That we play punk music. We don't play punk music. We play pop songs at the speed of hardcore.
I loved your article, “What I Learned About Style From Avril Lavigne’s ‘Hello Kitty.’” What’s your opinion on artists appropriating other cultures in order to make a buck?
With that specific piece... and that song, I mean, my editor was like, "Do you think this song is racist?" And I was like, "Why don't you ask a god damn Japanese person? That's who knows... not me. My culture isn't in question here, what right do I have to say if this is racist or not?" That's how I felt. So I made fun of the other stuff... the woman stuff. That's my bread and butter, man.
Even if you guys weren’t intentionally setting out to be style icons, the band dresses super well. Where’d you guys learn to dress so good?
My mother, grandmother and Stevie Nicks. Stacey and Clinton taught us nothing.
I feel like I’m about to be tied to a chair and locked in a basement forever when I listen to “In Your Home.” What’s the song actually about?
That song is about the feeling of wanting to reveal all your deepest, twisted sexual fantasies to your boyfriend, but being afraid of judgment. Being afraid to ask someone to pretend to rape you or double penetrate you before you even know their middle name and why that fear even exists. That fear is stupid. That fear is a cause of so much harm. That fear should be abolished.
What does White Lung listen to while on tour?
Our headphones or each other's stupid stories.
What creeps you out the most?
Short people and horse cocks.