With the release of their new album, “Grandeur,” which comes after a few long years of radio silence, the time has come to catch up with the talented members of WHITE WALLS and talk about not just the latest record, but also the band’s history, the Romanian music scene, and influences. Read the full interview below.
Hello guys, and thank you for doing this interview with Tuonela Magazine! How are you doing?
Șerban (bass): Hello, thank you for having us! We’re doing well, we’re actually all together in Constanța right now, rehearsing for the release concert that may or may not happen because of COVID-19.
Since our readers may not be that familiar with you, let’s start with a little presentation. Who are WHITE WALLS and how was the band formed?
Dasu (guitar): We’re based in Constanța, Romania, and the beginnings of WHITE WALLS date back quite a bit. The band was founded in 2009 by Marian (our former drum player), Șerban, Eugen (vocals), and myself. Actually, me, Șerban and Marian played in another band before that (PROTEST URBAN), we had some demos for a new project (later WHITE WALLS) that we handed to Eugen and he really blew us away with the vocals that he laid down for us. It was instant love and, thus, WHITE WALLS was formed. We released two full-length studio albums (“Mad Man Circus” – 2010 and “Escape Artist” – 2013) and one single (“Death Follows Me” – 2016 with Andrei Ilie on drums) prior to “Grandeur.” Since 2017, Theo (drums) joined the band and we couldn’t be happier.
Speaking of the band’s history a bit more, what were those early days like for the band? Were you well accepted? What kind of exposure did you have? Did you see a lot of doors opening for you?
Șerban: Our entire strategy for our first few years as a band was staunchly go and play gigs literally anywhere we could get them. We didn’t care about it being financially sustainable, we didn’t care about having humane conditions, we just really, really wanted to get out there and perform our music, because we were so excited about what we’d been writing. And one of the consequences of this approach was that we entered several band contests that were happening at that time. We ended up winning quite a few, and some of them offered us either amazing exposure for a virtually unknown band like us (like Stufstock 2010, even though we got fucked by the organizers, who vanished and cheated us out of our prize), or the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to represent Romania at Global Battle of the Bands in freaking Kuala Lumpur, of all places.
How would you describe the last couple of years for the band?
Șerban: I feel like working on “Grandeur” has breathed new life into WHITE WALLS as a band and as a group of, well, brothers. The writing camps that we did were some of the most exciting times to be in this band that we’ve had, and seeing all our excitement and emotions over our music all spill over to other people now that it’s close to release, I feel like I can honestly say that ironically, even with the whole COVID-19 thing, these are the best times WHITE WALLS has ever had.
With a little over a decade since the formation of WHITE WALLS, you have certainly gone through ups and downs. What was the best and worst phase of the band?
Șerban: I just touched on the best phase a bit on the previous question, but I’ll also add that each European tour we’ve ever done has been nothing short of amazing times, even when we only had two people at the infamous Mikolow gig. As for the worst times, when Eugen got sick in 2014 we were all very worried about our and his future, and when Marian, our original drummer, left the country the next year, it was really hard to put our collective heart back together. Luckily we had our amazing manager Mihnea Ioan Grecu to see us through those rough times with his infinite wisdom, and we found the perfect new limb for this creature in Theo, our current (and hopefully forever) drummer.
Talking about the current album, did the band have a game plan when you started working on “Grandeur”?
Șerban: Nope, we just felt the urge to get together and work on some of Dasu’s (guitar) awesome riffs. As we went on, we started feeling like “okay, this is turning into an album.”
Can you tell us a little bit more about the songwriting process that went behind the creative process? How do you usually write songs?
Șerban: Most of the time it starts with either a couple of riffs or a more developed demo by Dasu, our guitar player; we usually flesh it out together, and we always get everybody involved into the final version of the song. A recent development for “Grandeur” as opposed to our previous studio releases has been working directly into a DAW [ed. digital audio workstation], not just jamming on stuff during rehearsal; we feel like this has helped give us a better big picture look on our songwriting, and resulted in a very rewarding writing process.
Are there any surprises or major stylistic changes for the upcoming album, or will the album continue roughly in line with your earlier material?
Șerban: I love how these questions tie into one another, great job helping guide our answers [laughs]! We feel like this is the most “streamlined” WHITE WALLS record so far; not to say that it’s less complex or poorer in music than the others, but I feel like this time around we did a very good job of telling our musical stories more ‘to the point.’
What can you tell us about “Grandeur” in terms of lyrical content? Is there an overarching theme to the album, or some recurring themes? Are the lyrics of this album in any way inspired by the current situation (maybe “Locked-in Syndrome”)?
Eugen: Delusions of grandeur. This is the main theme. We decided to use just one word for the title though: Grandeur. The album also speaks about self-importance, the lack of empathy, revolt, war, and religion. We finished “Grandeur” before COVID-19 so “Locked-in Syndrome” refers to the actual medical condition.
There’s a certain modern vibe to the sound on the album (like in “Starfish Crown” or “Velvet”). Are there any contemporary bands that you find particularly influential towards the band’s current sound?
Șerban: I’m pretty sure we all felt a DEFTONES vibe while working on “Starfish Crown,” and we’ve been told that “Velvet” sounds like LEPROUS meets OPETH, but we never really let our influences guide us knowingly; we try to interiorize them and let our songwriting be guided more by instinct than reason, and only use influences as precise, to the point landmarks when words fail us (“yo, just the fucking “Sad But True” drum fill”)
The guitar work is really the focal point of the album for me, there are so many intriguing riffs and licks (as, for example, in “Speaking in Tongues” and “Month’s End”). How long did it take to write these parts? Who came up with the ideas?
Dasu: Usually riffs come from mindless noodling and fooling around on the guitar. Then, when something interesting starts to develop, I go with the flow not knowing where the road will take me. Sometimes after an hour or so I stop, play it back with some demo drums and all and realize that it’s a shit riff [laughs]. Usually the good ones come faster, guided by unknown mysterious forces.
Speaking about specific songs on the album, “Holy Worse” and the closing track “The Slaughter (Marche Funébre)” stood out to me. Can you tell me a bit more about these two tracks?
Șerban: When I first listened to the original demo for what became “Holy Worse,” I got a strong nu-metal vibe, and it got me kind of scared but also kind of excited; I loved the idea of having something like that first riff on our album, but I also realized if the whole song was like that, we might as well put a backwards red baseball cap on Eugen’s (vocals) head [laughs]. Luckily, inspiration grabbed us by our necks, threw us into a synthy, ’80’s pre-chorus, dragged us through a very unique, very WHITE WALLS chorus, and even threw in a couple djenty riffs. She’s sweet like that.
For the mixing and mastering, you’ve worked with Forrester Savell (TWELVE FOOT NINJA, KARNIVOOL, DEAD LETTER CIRCUS, ANIMALS AS LEADERS). Did he understand your point of view and what you wanted? How was it to work with him?
Șerban: Forrester is a consummate professional and we are lucky as hell to have worked with him. I feel like he got our shtick perfectly, did a hell of a job and was one of the easiest working relationships we ever navigated through. We feel like working with him bettered us as a band and gave new meaning to what we sound like.
Regarding the cover art, I’d like to know a little bit more about how the cover art is connected to the music. Did you give Radu Damian (the visual artist) any guidelines, or did you give him a free hand in designing it?
Șerban: Radu is simply stupidly talented, a fucking visual wizard if I ever knew one, and we just gave him Eugen to share some vague ideas about his lyrics and themes; apparently they’re both crazy in pretty much the exact same way because they came back with a huge-ass wall of interconnected post-it notes (kind of like the Pepe Sylvia scene in “It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia”) filled with an entire, epic fucking saga built on top of our music; the complete story they managed to tell is something not for the faint of heart, I think only the true nerds among us will get entirely, and I think that’s the perfect way to do something like this.
Romania is not exactly known as a metal country, still it has a very active underground scene. As insiders, how do you see the Romanian metal scene? Are there any bands / artists that you like?
Theo: In my opinion, in Romania, there are a lot of very good musicians and bands. Even though this genre is not that popular here, people that are into this kind of music are true fans and we feel proud of the “community” we have here. Regarding the bands, I’m a fan of BREATHELAST, WE ARE NUMBERS, LUNA AMARA, DAYS OF CONFUSION, etc.
Besides writing and recording a new album, what else have you been doing during this downtime?
Șerban: We’ve been getting fitter and healthier, which is going to help when we can finally go on tour. We’ve also been doing some live streams on our YouTube channel, gaming, or otherwise just spending quality time together. There’s also been a bit of work put into some new demos, or so I’ve heard…
Do you have any last thoughts you want to share with our fans and our readers?
Șerban: Be awesome.
Interview by Andrea Crow