White Rabbits broke out with 2007’s Fort Nightly, a hazy collection of dark calypso-inflected rock that brought the firepower with two drummers and banging keyboards. The Brooklyn-based sextet spent the next year and a half as tour workhorses, supporting bands such as The Walkmen and Spoon as well as signing to TBD Records, home of Radiohead; their sophomore album, It’s Frightening, was produced by Spoon frontman Britt Daniel and finds the group stripped down and satirical. The A.V. Club caught up with drummer Jamie Levinson ahead of tonight's show at The Rock And Roll Hotel and talked about bringing in the big guns, going analog, and surviving paranoia.
The A.V. Club: What’s the story behind you asking Britt Daniel to produce It’s Frightening?
Jamie Levinson: We were sitting on our friend’s porch trying to figure out who we wanted to work with. We had just spent the evening hanging out with Britt, and someone brought it up, and it seemed like an interesting route to pursue. So I sent a text message to an engineer friend of mine, basically just soliciting his interest, and I got this text message from Britt asking, “Who is this?” I was thinking, “Why the fuck did I get this text message from Britt?” because he doesn’t have my phone number. And then it dawned on me that I had sent it directly to Britt. But we lucked out—he was forgiving of it.
AVC: The sound on It’s Frightening is much sharper than Fort Nightly. It seems like less but more.
JL: Yeah, Fort Nightly had a lot going on there in the mix. Britt really taught us that you can be just as loud [and] just as powerful by not cramming the sound into every nook and cranny—that there is a final product from reduction as opposed to compilation.
AVC: When did the material come about for It’s Frightening?
JL: Some of the songs are older. There are two songs that we had been tinkering with for about a year, but the road is a hard place to write. We really hadn’t been writing at all, just touring and touring and touring. And when you’re a band that has a lot of opening slots, you don’t get any extra time during sound check to jam or explore anything. You’re really just expected to check and get the fuck off stage. It wasn’t a very productive place to get any work done. Most of the writing occurred once we finished touring on Fort Nightly.
AVC: It’s Frightening is more spaced out. Songs like “Company I Keep” really take their time. How is that material translating live?
JL: Before it was just, “How much sound can you create?” and, “How much power can we create?” This time we wanted to take that and incorporate some more subtle nuances. It’s the same kind of process by which we write music, really—finding out who would be best to handle which kinds of parts, dividing things up so that everybody gets their moment.
AVC: There is a snippet at the end of “Rudie Fails” of someone saying, “The rhythm doesn’t seem right.” Who is that and what’s that about?
JL: I think that’s probably Britt. We recorded it all at Rare Book Room, and it was the first time that we had exclusively used tape, which really limits you in some respects. But it also makes you pick and choose things that are essential to the song. Britt is great at using anything; it’s almost like found sound. He was really great at encouraging little slugs or bad punches on the tape machine or talkback. It think if done well, it makes the listening experience a little more intimate, and that’s why those moments end up on there.
AVC: That snippet seems prescient of your over-the-shoulder paranoid feel. What’s the dark shadow in White Rabbits’ world?
JL: Oh, I’m sure our paranoia’s the same as everybody’s paranoia. Even the most cheerful people still have concerns that they deal with on a daily basis. There’s probably not a singular monster that I could just point to. It’s just life.