Interview: Verity White

Since the lockdown forced musicians to start thinking out of the box, Cheltenham-based musician and singer-songwriter, Verity White has provided some much-needed colour in a rapidly greying world. Along with husband Alex, Verity can usually be found every Monday going live on Facebook where the only rule is that there are no rules. The duo recently made a change in musical direction and are now going down more of an indie/alt/synth-rock path, and Verity joined us to talk about how the new direction was a natural development, as well as what it was like opening for music legend and YouTube sensation Toyah. During a very honest conversation, Verity also touched on some of the out-of-date attitudes that she has had to navigate around, and how important her recent diagnosis with ADHD has been. Check-in with Verity, below…

Have you come down from the recent gig with Toyah?

Oh, mate, it was so good! We had played the “Not-Toyah” gig in November when Toyah tested positive for Covid five minutes before the doors opened, and we were asked if we were still happy to play a gig, we replied that as there were people already there that it would feel a bit weird to not give them something. So we played, we elongated the set and added stuff to it, and what was really nice was that a lot of people who were at that one, came to the rescheduled one and they remembered us, and that was really lovely. Toyah and her band are gorgeous human beings, it was just lush, and it was so lovely to see her on such an awesome stage with amazing sound…it was just so much fun…fingers crossed, but we’ve had some great feedback through her guys that all her people, her management…they thought that we were great…which is amazing! You want to hope and dream, but you never want to think too much…but yeah, it was hard to come down from because the next gig could be in a pub to two people! [Laughs]

You go from Toyah to SKAM, some rock festivals, and then T’Pau later this year, that just proves how versatile your music is…

I think that because both Alex and I have got so many different influences on what we listen to personally, what we enjoy, and what we like writing, for us, it’s not about a genre, it’s about what we like and having fun, and I think that conveys. You listen to an album of ours and it’s not really just one genre all the way through, and that’s a negative thing that I had initially. People said to me “Oh, you can’t market this, it’s not one genre…”, and I was like “Well, we’re not one genre, we listen to every type of music and we listen to different things, and we’re about being creative and having fun”. So maybe there is not just one genre that people can market, but they will have a nice time and maybe that’s why we can fit into all these different places, and we know that we’re not going to be everyone’s cup of tea but it’s amazing when you take all these people that do like you on this little journey…you go to a nice place. It crosses all genres! We want to take inspiration from the music that we love and channel it into something new and exciting, and not try and sound like anyone else.

‘When Push Comes To Shove’, the single that you did last year with Hoss Thompson from Thirteen Stars was also very different, and very good…

That was very different again, yes. Americana is something that Alex and I have just never written, so it was great to work with Hoss who is a total ledge…just an awesome human being. It’s not our style so to speak but it was so much fun to do something different. I mean, Alex is a composer anyway so he does all this amazing, random stuff, he did a soundtrack for ‘Robin of Sherwood’, there was a radio spin-off of the ‘80s ITV show and Alex did all the music for it, so he was like “Let’s do some Clannad!”. So we had to go into a studio and do a whole thing that was Clannad…something that we don’t normally do! Alex is amazing, I found it really hard, but he was great at it, we did all these harmonies but they were in really funny signatures to where I would normally do harmony and I was finding it so fucking difficult because it was not normally where I would go, but that’s great because you learn from these things.

Will we get a sequel?

I don’t know?! I’ve not seen Hoss for a while because we both live so far away; he’s up Cumbria-way and we’re down in Gloucestershire, so it’s not like we are just around the corner, but yeah if something comes up then I don’t see why not? We’ve done that one, duets with SKAM, one with Mike Ross also…we just want to have fun and work with nice people.

Talking of nice people, runner-up as band of the year 2021 on Great Music Stories as voted by the listeners, that must be a fantastic feeling!

Absolutely incredible to be voted runner-up, genuinely, it’s awesome. We’ve worked so hard over the last two years to just move things forward, especially since we don’t fit into one genre…although I see that as a positive…that can be quite hard for other people, so for a lot of other people it’s not a positive…”Oh, she’s not rock…she doesn’t dress like she should for this genre…” and believe me, I get that a lot! And that makes me so angry…why do I have to dress a certain way to just be able to sing a certain type of music? But, we are so thrilled about the vote, the support of all the people listening to the show has been amazing. They have seen so much crap from me…I’m not going to lie!

You mentioned moving things forward, one of these things would be performing now as a duo, was that a natural development after being in lockdown mode for the last two years and realising just exactly what you can do as a duo?

Yes, definitely. During lockdown, we were obviously forced into the position of not only living in the same house 24-7 but also writing in the same house, something that we’ve never done before. But, it’s so much easier when it’s only the two of you, even only if it’s just from the logistical side of things like arranging a rehearsal, for instance, all the way through to…” Oh, it’s only the two of us so we just need this amount of PA”. It’s still developing, it’s still a work in progress, but there is so much that we can do, every night we are constantly having a conversation about putting something on a synth, or shall we do this bit live? Taking that whole backlog of songs and reworking them into something that works as a duo has been a huge testament to Alex because he has worked so hard to bring that, change that, and move that up. Obviously, when we write things now we are writing in a way so that we can perform them as a duo, but doing that with the songs that we wrote as a band has been hard. Also, you want to make it genuine, you don’t want it to just look like two people pressing buttons and performing karaoke. Al’s worked hard on that because I’m useless! [Laughs]…I just open my mouth and noise comes out!

Plus, it’s cheaper performing as a duo!

Yes, Alex and I live in the same house, and we have a studio in the house, so we can go in there and talk about what we want to do, and make music. If we wanted to do that with a band, then we would have to book a rehearsal room, find a date that everyone could make, pay for them to get there, pay for the room hire…and that actually becomes quite expensive as well as laborious. Plus, everyone is so short of time that if you are asking them to give up an evening to rehearse, or a weekend for a gig, then you want to make it work for them…and it felt to me that it wasn’t fair to ask them to give up the amount of time that we were asking them to give up without being able to remunerate them properly. Also, I can say no to Alex, and he can say no to me, which is much easier, whereas with someone else it’s harder. We can say to each other “Well, that’s shit”, but I would hate to say that to someone else!

Technology has moved on so much that these days a duo can sound massive, even without a drummer!

It was amazing seeing Toyah because she’s going out there and she has a band, but you know…she doesn’t have someone playing drums…all of her drums and percussion are on a backing track. We saw that and it made us go “Oh, this is really good!”, live drummers are amazing, and a brilliant drummer is an incredible thing but how fucking hard is it to find a drummer! Oh my god, it is so hard!

The use of electronics is often frowned upon within the “Rock” fraternity, but when you cast your mind back to acts such as Depeche Mode, Tubeway Army, New Order…they all came up with some incredible and very influential music…

One of both of my and Alex’s favourite bands is Nine Inch Nails, and if you look at what they do, they have the “live band” sound, but they also have so many synth-based sounds and when Trent Reznor was starting out, it was obvious how influenced by Gary Numan he was. Although it’s synth-based, it’s not pop…it’s something else; there’s a darkness there and there’s a rock side to it, and we both really love that. Trent Reznor has written all these fucking drumbeats and he’s given them to Ilan Rubin, and he’s been like…” How the fuck am I going to play this!?”…and that’s so exciting!

As you once self-described on the official band Facebook page: “The new alternative to alternative rock”

One of the reasons that we have not been booked on a lot of bills is that we are “Not rock enough”, and one of the reasons that we have not been booked on other bills is that we are “Too rock!”. So it’s like [laughs] what can you say?! We tried to make ‘Reclaim: Set Fire’ more of a rock-based album and it didn’t do as well, people liked it and that’s great, but the tracks that people liked the most were the least rock-ish tracks, and that was really interesting. So with the EP’s over lockdown, we thought, fuck it, we tore up the rulebooks and they went better, so we thought…” Well, maybe people just like us for what we do”…and that’s okay.

When we changed to a duo and went with more of an electronic sound, I actually wrote to all the festivals that we have got lined up for the next year and said that although we are still a band, we’re not a band-band anymore and this is what we sound like now. I said to every one of them that I wouldn’t be offended if they thought that we wouldn’t fit with their festival and didn’t want us anymore, but every one of them wrote back and said that they were excited, and really wanted us…and that was so lovely! Not everyone who will be there will like us, but the organisers want us and that’s nice.

In 2022, when it comes to creating music, the sky really is the limit…

Yes! And that’s fucking terrifying! Alex will say to me…” We don’t have limitations”, which is amazing…and awful…because if we had limitations then it would be so much easier to choose what we were doing, but when you don’t have limitations then you potentially risk going too far.

You mean like how some Prog musicians go too far and it becomes self-indulgent?

Oh, fuck no, we are not going down the prog route! [Laughs] We spent too much time touring with prog bands to go down that route! They are incredible musicians, but it’s not what we do; you know what…I just like a song that I can sing along to, where there is a chorus that you can have a nice time with…we just want to have fun!

Your song ‘Another Angle’; touches on what we talked about a few moments ago…

It’s very much about how people online feel that it’s okay – because you are a musician and are out there – to send you their opinions of how you should be. Their opinions of how you should look, how you should dress, you should do this music, not that music. And I’m like “ Actually, I didn’t ask!”. I appreciate that people have opinions, but what gives someone the right to tell someone else that they don’t think that something is not good enough? And I feel that as a woman you get more of that on social media than a guy would. If you are a guy and you put a song out, or a photo up…no one will write to you that your hair isn’t right… your make-up is all wrong, or you shouldn’t wear what you are wearing….” Stop wearing dungarees…” “No, they are comfortable, leave me alone!” Why is that? That’s not okay. So, yeah, ‘Another Angle’ is about that. It’s not meant to sound like I’m a total bitch or anything like that!

There are so many outspoken women that are breaking the mold of what people think women in music should be. They can be bouncy if they want to, or grunge if they want to, and I think…” Good for you” because the number of times that I – as a relative nobody on the scene – have been told, “ You don’t look right, you don’t wear the right clothes, you are not this, you are not that, you should change the way you dress, you should change the way you do your make-up, you should wear more make-up…”. And I’m no one! So what are they saying to the women who are right at the top of their game?!

You speak at great lengths on your blog, and social media, about having ADHD; personally speaking as a parent of a teenager with ADHD, it’s always a help when people with a platform like yourself speak about this condition…

ADHD is massively misunderstood. I misunderstood it until I was diagnosed with it and I did more research on it, but also, mental health is misunderstood…and that’s why I think that it is very, very important to be open about these things. And if you are open about your own experiences then the better people will understand it themselves or in their family or friends. I really think that it is important to talk about it…I genuinely do. There’s so much that I understand about myself now that I’ve had my diagnosis, but also being able to help other people…and I know that this sounds strange, but I’m no one…and the number of messages that I’ve had from people saying “I think that I have ADHD” or “How do I do this?”…is unreal, and even if I can only help them a little bit…how amazing is that!

Even if you can only help just one person, then that’s one more person helped…

I’ve spoken to so many adults who are waiting to be diagnosed, sometimes waiting two years on an appointment, and with ADHD you might not be cutting yourself…but it is self-harm because you are doing these impulsive things that can harm you in a way that the NHS – as much as I love the NHS – are unable to recognise because you are not literally cutting yourself. Some of the conversations that I’ve had with some people have been absolutely heartbreaking because I can see how much they are hurting themselves and how much better their lives will be once they do get that diagnosis and the help that they need. I only got my diagnosis last year, so I didn’t have a diagnosis for my entire school [life]…and it can be missed in girls because you’re not throwing chairs across the room…you are being disruptive in another way like giggling, or chatting, or just drawing. It’s just that our brains work in a different way, we think about things in a different way, and we approach problems in a different way, and if you can recognise it in yourself then it gives you the ability to understand the way that you see the world and then be able to communicate that with other people.

I only recognised this in myself over the last six months, but if I’ve had a day where I’ve had back-to-back meetings, and had to deal with a lot of people…that’s okay, I can deal with that, but when I get home…I’m tired out and I need to sit and stare at a wall and not talk to anyone. I can’t even talk to Alex. But I know now why that is and it’s lovely to know why, because you feel less guilty about it. With ADHD your brain is always going, it’s hyper, and you knacker yourself out really quickly. The little changes that I’ve been able to make, because of the diagnosis, have made it so much better. When my family found out about the diagnosis they went…”Ohhhhhh…that makes so much sense!”, and that has been a massive help.

One thing that features on your Monday night Facebook live sets are monkeys…what’s the story about all the monkey gags?!

Oh, fuck! [laughs] We did the Toyah gig and one of our fans, who is a complete legend, bought the most incredibly horrendous – and I mean, it is the worst thing that I’ve ever seen – cardigan for me. It’s horrible, it’s disgusting…and I love it! It’s banana yellow with all these monkeys on it, and it’s terrible! I mean, the monkeys have pearl necklaces on which makes it even worse! And I hate monkeys…I find them terrifying! But I just love the cardigan…so that’s where the monkey thing comes from! It’s now a thing!

You might just regret that because at gigs people will be bringing you toy monkeys now!

Yes! I will be like “I fucking hate monkeys!” But, I really like dungarees so if anyone wants to give me dungarees…that’s fine!

 

Catch Verity and Alex White going live every Monday on Facebook, catch them live in the flesh at Crazy Cowboy at Facebar, Reading on March 19th, all forthcoming live dates available here.

Interview – Dave

All images supplied by Verity White

 

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