Interview | Whitley

Words by Ash Kissane

Despite two highly acclaimed albums, and years of national and international success, 2010 saw Lawrence Greenwood put Whitley to rest, adamant that it would never be revived. Only two months ago, Greenwood announced Whitley’s return, with new album ‘Even the Stars are a Mess’ in tow. A product of a four-year international quest of self-discovery, and recorded in a secluded Tuscan church under the influence of magic mushrooms, Lawrence says the album is the truest representation of Whitley yet. I had a chat to main man Lawrence about the record, why he chose to abandon the Whitley project, and the journey that lead to its resurrection.

How’s your day been so far?
Yeah it’s been pretty good. I think I’m going to eat a pomegranate after this.

That sounds good.
I’ve just figured out how to get all of the fucking bits out, it’s really difficult.

They are tricky.
You cut it in half, and spank it with a wooden spoon on the outside and they all just fall out.

Oh, yeah. Are you going to eat it with anything or just straight pomegranate?
You’re going to think I’m fucking crazy but I usually put it into a big bowl and put a little bit of cold Oolong tea, some mint and a big chunk of ricotta and it’s just the best.

That sounds really good.
Yep, it’s delicious.

I won’t keep you from it too long; I know you’re probably keen to get into it now.
No, no it’s fine. I ate a pretty big breakfast.

So, ‘Even the Stars are a Mess’ is a really beautiful album, I heard it was recorded in an old church in Tuscany, what was that experience like?
Thank you for that. It really makes a difference when someone likes my stuff for me. Usual self-conscious artist; “Do you like my stuff?” It was beautiful, in the building. It was beautiful for a lot of reasons. One; it was secluded. Two; it was hundreds of years old. Three; it was in the middle of a beautiful forest in Tuscany. And four; the food was out of control. When you walked up to the town to order a pizza it was just the most incredible food. I put on quite a lot of weight [laughs]. Probably put on 10 or 15 kilos in the space of a couple of months, got some stretch marks now but that’s cool.

What was the best part of the experience for you?
I think just being able to spend time with two of my best friends was really special for me. I’d been missing my friends because I’d spent years travelling to some really strange places and places where people didn’t speak English and they didn’t know what you wanted, which was brilliant and beautiful. But by that stage, I was just ready to hang out with my childhood friends and they were there in Tuscany with me and I just couldn’t have pictured anything better for that time.

You wrote a lot of the album in Europe and South America right?
Yeah, some of it was written in Africa as well, and some of it was written in Los Angeles. A lot of it was written in Mexico, to be honest.

Did you feel that place had the most impact on you creatively?
Yeah it did. It wasn’t influenced by Mexican culture in any way, or the Mexican landscape, none of that came into it in any way. It was very much a case of, I was very influenced by the people who were around me. Mainly a very close friend of mine called Ben. He, as we were travelling together, was really good at shaking ideas on philosophy through conversations that we would have. Spending time with him and just being able to have time to let my thoughts condense was probably the most beneficial thing.

Your video for your first single is amazing, how was shooting in the amazon?
It was great, I’m very comfortable in the jungle. It doesn’t bother me, I get strange skin conditions and I tend to laugh at them. You get bitten by something and it definitely, definitely, definitely looks like it will kill you and I just kind of shake it off a little bit.

I heard there were a lot of psychedelics were involved…and a Shaman.
Yeah, this last three or four years of personal growth involved a lot of reading of new books but certainly a lot of exploration of psychedelics and meditation and dietary related changes and health choices. They’re kind of all within one holistic treatment of myself, I think. When we were in Tuscany recording, there may have been some magic mushrooms involved. While we were tracking the actual songs… It was pretty good, pretty special. I enjoyed them; I think a lot of curious people enjoy psychedelics. Especially, a lot of emotionally sensitive people need to test of psychedelics. The fact that they’re illegal makes me laugh my arse off.

So, back in 2010, you were adamant that Whitley was over, why did you decide to bring it back?
It was kind of gradual, very gradual. I knew that I would record some new music and at that stage I was doing it for myself, mainly. The label were very supportive of it, they wanted me to come out with a another album so that they had a new album to put out but they weren’t fussed whether it was as Whitley or a solo album, acoustic album or electronic album. They just support me as an artist. When I was back in Australia and it was being mastered, I listened to it and it just made sense that it was a Whitley album. The right band was going to be three Whitley members and two new members. I didn’t want the last thing that I did to be ‘Go Forth Find Mammoth,’ I think it was a bit too poppy, maybe. I just felt that I owed it to myself to explore new territory with a bit of depth to it at the same time, under the same name so that people would be able to access it.

Tell me if you’re sick of talking about it, but what were your main reasons for wanting to stop making music as Whitley?
It’s a very simple case of I wasn’t enjoying it. At that time, I wasn’t managing myself then so I didn’t feel like I had the kind of control that I wanted. I felt like I was at odds a lot of the time with people around me. Bad vibes and bad times on every level. That was very much coming from me and the situation that I had found myself in, it was kind of the two things teaming up. I just thought, “Fuck this, I don’t want to become one of these casualties of the music industry because I need to keep touring to fucking pay bills or whatever… Fuck this, I’m out of here.  I’d rather work in a factory than be a slave to something that I’ve created.” So, I kind of jumped out of it and I really, really love the fact that I did. I’m very proud of myself for doing what a lot of people in that position don’t do. They just keep touring and release shit music and end up becoming predictable and boring. I wanted to challenge myself if I was ever going to do anything again. I definitely thought if I was going to release an album that was going to be interesting in any way I would have to have a few quantum leaps in my own thought anyway. Those things needed to happen first before anymore music came out, and it did and I feel like I made the right choice.

Are you enjoying Whitley’s revival?
It’s not really a big deal for me. Some people are taking it as a big deal but really, no one really fucking cares and the people that do are just happy that they’re going to be able to go to a show that they like. I’m not curing cancer, I’m just a dude that stopped making music for a while who’s going to play music again. There are some people who will be happy about that and most of the people on this planet will not give a fuck and it’s totally fine. I’m completely ok with it; I just hope that the shows are a special moment for those people that do want to be there.

Your album launch tour starts next month and your last tour was in 2010. Do you think it’ll feel strange at all to be back on stage with the band?
No, you can kind of tell in rehearsals where things are going to go with the shows and it’s just way more stripped back and everyone in the band is really enjoying what they’re doing. We all love each other a lot, we’re all really close friends and I think that comes across in how we interact with each other and how we play. That’s kind of the best thing for me, just looking forward to playing with my friends. I’m not scared about getting trapped in that loop again because I’m completely in control of all of my own stuff. I do everything from posters to booking cars, everything. I feel like I’m running the show, I get to do it the way that I want to. I’m a midsized Australian band, I’m not a huge band. I shouldn’t tour like I’m a huge band, I should tour like a midsized band. I’ll be happy because I won’t be playing 250 shows a year to tiny towns that don’t give a fuck and don’t want me there. I get to play capital cities on weekends and be home through the week to hang out with friends and write more music and hopefully be more productive as an artist. It’s just all positive things.

Where are you looking forward to heading particularly on this tour?
I’m kind of looking forward to Sydney gigs, which is unlike how I’ve been in the past. I’ve always had a really dislike of Sydney but I feel like in the last decade, it’s changed dramatically. It seems like people are becoming more switched on. Or maybe I’m just moving in different circles there now or something but there just seems to be a good energy now in Sydney. I’m really looking forward to that, also really looking forward to playing in Melbourne. They’re all just fun for different reasons, I mean, there’s only four cities (on the tour) but there will be a more comprehensive solo tour after this.

You’ve got splendor coming up as well, are you looking forward to taking that stage again?
Yeah, definitely. It has a sort of nice poetic aesthetic to it that I’m playing the same festival that was going to be the last festival years ago. It’s kind of like my way of putting my hand up and saying, “Sorry about the wigg out. I’m back, I’m all good” [laughs].

What’s coming up that you’re looking forward to?
I’m going to do a more comprehensive solo tour after this kind of dappled city tour. Then two; I’m probably going to start recording some music with two of my friends, two of the guys from the band Seagull. We’re going to start a little band and rehearse every sunday and try to develop some new music. So I’m looking forward to that.

Sounds really nice, well thanks so much for chatting to me today!
My pleasure, good to talk to you. Take Care!

Enjoy that pomegranite.
Ohhhh shit!

Details for Whitley’s ‘Even the Stars Are a Mess’ tour below.

With Esther Holt

Tickets on sale 9am, Monday 27th May

Fri 12th July: Black Bear Lodge, Brisbane
Oztix: 1300 762 545,

Sat 13th July: Jive Bar, Adelaide
Moshtix: 1300 GET TIX (438 849);

Thurs 18th July: Oxford Art Factory, Sydney
Moshtix: 1300 GET TIX (438 849);

Fri 19th July: The Hi Fi, Melbourne / 1300 THE HIFI (1300 843 443) or Moshtix: 1300 GET TIX (438 849);

Fri 26th – Sun 28th July: Splendour In The Grass – SOLD OUT