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Where you live shapes how you engage and interpret the world around you. Your city determines how you operate and navigate through life. It can toughen you up or break you down. It can swaddle you in comfort or put you on perpetual edge. Los Angeles is an intense city to live in. There are reality TV show pockets of L.A. for sure, but the rest of the city is expansive, diverse, and—to the unprepared visitor—intimidating. White Murder are a reflection of that intensity. Singers Hannah and Mary always deliver a mercurial performance of violence—sometimes directed at each other—and enthusiasm, spot-on dual vocal layering and unhinged dancing. Paul, Mike, and Reuben take the sound from pummeling instrumental sections to explosive choruses, directing the chaos of Hannah and Mary. Seeing White Murder live is like driving through the wash at night with your lights off while your friend Teen Wolf’s it on the roof. You’re concentrating on the recklessness and the stakes seem high. It’s an intensity that’s fun, cathartic, and just the right amount of dangerous. And that’s everything punk should be.
An entirely different interview with White Murder was published in Razorcake #76.
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Mike D’Amico—Bass Guitar
White Murder Website
Interview by Todd Taylor and Noah Wolf
Photos by Shanty Cheryl
Videos by Todd Taylor
Additional questions by Daryl
Todd: What is an impulse you wish you had more control over?
Paul: The one impulse I wish I could have more control over is buying VHS tapes and records.
Paul: That’s my impulse every time. “I gotta have this.” It’s kind of stupid.
Reuben: It’s only bad if you don’t get anything from it.
Paul: No. I do and I’m like, “Okay, what’s the next one. I gotta go back.” [Makes jerking off hand motions.]
Reuben: That’s the real impulse.
Hannah: I’ve never seen a shrink, but I feel like I’m seeing a shrink with this question.
Reuben: I feel like I’m seeing a shrink with this band. [laughter]
Reuben: My first impulse is to stay quiet and not talk. Fuckin’ talk. Speak.
Mary: I can’t help but think back to the moment of holding you back when you were wanting to punch someone out of anger. I think more about the moment that happens in your brain that you are trying to control your natural impulse. When we’re performing, no matter what, I try to take whatever impulse I’m having, whether it’s hide under the stage or whatever it is and I try to take it to the most extreme point. So, if my impulse is like, “Oh, this music makes me want to jump on Hannah,” then I better jump to the fullest extent on that. I’m not going to do it just a little bit. Like Paul said. Listen to the music. It makes you want to shake your shoulders. Just follow it. Listen to it. Take it all the way to the limit of that impulse and follow it through because I think if you hold back all your impulses, that’s what makes you all persnickety and blocked and shitty.
Hannah: You’re evading the question.
Mary: I’m not evading the question.
Hannah: You are.
Mary: What is my impulse? My impulse is always to jump on things. I always climb things. If you hold still, I’ll climb you right now. That’s my impulse, truthfully. My impulse is climb on top.
Hannah: I’m like sweating.
Mary: Can everybody’s impulse be sex and death? Can it be fucking and fighting?
Todd: I think The Exploited already covered that. “Sex and Violence.” [laughter]
Hannah: I like ice cream. I have a whole thing of Trader Joe’s Joe-Joe’s ‘n Cream ice cream in the freezer. My impulse is to be too honest. But that’s not a bad impulse, but it’s not constructive and that’s what I’ve learned. It’s not helpful sometimes to be as honest with others as you are with yourself.
Mary: That’s how Hannah and I balance each other out because I just want to make everybody happy.
Todd: So, Mary, how do you make the transition between Mary Animal and Marianne Stewart?
Mary: I had to separate my two lives. There comes a moment where fear gets in the way of being honest. I struggle so hard in my life. I’m just like that person who’s like, “Hi! Life if great!” I just really needed to create from an honest place and I feel like Hannah has taught me more than anybody in my whole world about being honest. And to feel safe, I had to just start using a different name. The minute I did that, I felt completely safe. It’s funny because I don’t mind switching between the two now. At that time in my life, I was going through a crisis. We all had crises. I was going through divorce. There was just so much going on; taking that moment and saying, “I’m just going to call myself this,” and it made everything better. I just needed to do that.
Todd: I’m a big fan of punk names.
Mary: Me, too. So many of the people I admire do that. Fuck it. I can do it, too.
Paul: Blue Balls Johnson.
Mary: Whatever you fucking have to do to have permission to be real. I don’t want to be anything but real.
Todd: Where do you enjoy your mind being when you play when you’re doing a show? Where do you go?
Paul: I just feel the music, seriously. Every time, I let the music carry me where I go. I follow the music. Usually, my eyes are closed. Even as a singer, if you look at me, usually my eyes are closed. Sometimes they’re open and angry. Usually, I just go to another world. To be honest with you, I don’t even notice what’s going on.
Reuben: Paul’s not there at all.
Hannah: I usually stare at someone in the band. Paul or Marianne or maybe Reuben and Mike.
Reuben: I just try and kill my guitar when I play.
Paul: Kill my cymbal, too.
Reuben: There’s so much anger and anxiety and everything when I play. I try and channel it and if people recognize that or watch me and not them two, then I did my job.
Todd: There’s something to be said about being very present when you play and that’s another thing I realized when I saw you play. There was an intensity—a band intensity and a personal intensity, which is really cool.
Reuben: It’s really hard to be in the moment sometimes.
Mary: There’s nothing I hate more than some singer who’s closing their eyes. Yeah, it’s pretty. But, we’re here in this room. We’re together. We’re sharing this experience. It’s so uncomfortable sometimes singing completely sober and doing that and that was new for me, too. We were both sober. It’s so important to me. Present, present, present. Sometimes you almost feel comfortable because we do a lot of shows. I’ll have to stand on one foot or do anything so I can be more present, more sideways. I’m trying to find that balance again so that it’s constantly right in the instant.
Hannah: I love getting to sing with Mary.
Mary: I love singing with Hannah.
Todd: So, Paul, you knew Jacob Gaxiola in high school?
Paul: Yes, I went to high school with him.
Todd: I know he’s done a couple of your covers.
Hanna and Mary: All of them.
Todd: He did the tiger, too?
Hanna: Yes. He came up to us at Alex’s Bar one night with a manila envelope and just handed it to us.
Mary: He handed us the gorilla, the first single, and he pointed out each little bird. “This is you and Hannah.” There are two birds together. “And this is Reuben and this is Mike.” And there’s a little snail. “And this is Paul.” He just gave it to us.
Hannah: It was amazing because we were struggling over a single cover. We had mockups of a dozen.
Todd: Of like a dove impaled on a middle finger!
Reuben: A dog flipping you off.
Hannah: Brick walls behind everything.
Mary: A train track running up to a brick wall with a fire escape.
Hannah: We were really struggling. When you know when you’ve got a song written, you’re like, “We’ve got it. That’s done.” We did not get that feeling from any other covers. And just Jacob, randomly, “Here, I made this for you guys.” And we’re like, “Oh, okay. Cool. What’s this going to be?” “Oh fuck. That’s the single artwork.”
Todd: Did he have any Gorgomoth in there?
Mary: Maybe the next one. You never know.
Hannah: This is why we’ve been lucky to have all of these cities to claim because we get this amazing Pedro stuff.
Todd: I’ve come up with this new thing lately if people go, “I hate Los Angeles.” I just call them racist.
Todd: You hate a lot of fucking races. It’s the most culturally diverse city in America. You hate three hundred towns. And if you hate the one L.A. on TV, you’re a boner. You’re paying attention to the wrong fuckin’ thing.
Mary: It’s a Venn diagram. It all crosses and you’ve got to find your little pocket.
Paul: I don’t hate Long Beach, I just hate the parking. That’s all.
Hannah: That’s a good way to think about it. I need to adjust my attitude on that.
Todd: Are your parents proud of what you’re doing or could they care less?
Hannah: They are so fucking proud and I am so grateful for that.
Paul: My parents don’t even know what I do, to be honest with you. My Dad kind of knows. My Mom saw The Red Onions one time and she was like. [No expression on his face.] I’m all, “I’m the next Mexican James Brown.”
Todd: “Hold my cape.”
Paul: She’s all, “I don’t give a fuck who the fuck you are. Get down.”
Mary: [laughing] It really upsets my parents. Still. Especially the name. They grew up in the ‘60s amongst so many racist families and so much racism in their face. “How could you?” Yeah.
Reuben: I think my Mom really does, for sure. Because I’m happy. My Dad, when he heard that name, he wanted nothing to do with it. He said, “You runnin’ with those White Murderers, no, Murdering White People?” Yeah.
Hannah: My Dad wears our buttons and my Mom came to see us once when she visited L.A.
Todd: When did you become convinced that this band had its own sound and direction?
Reuben: I think it was the first time I heard us recorded. It was a shitty cassette recording, but it was a practice recording. I have no time or patience to be in a fucking band right now. I had no job.
Mary: He was losing his apartment, his job, his car, his girl.
Paul: He was selling oranges off the freeway. [laughter] “What the fuck are you doing, dude?”
Reuben: This had to be really good and when I heard our practice recording, I was like, okay, this definitely has influences that I love, but it’s new and it feels different.
Hannah: It taps into all five of us being totally real.
Mary: You can’t imitate any one band or say, “We’re going to be like this,” because we all come from different places, musically.
Reuben: That’s the trust thing. Trusting everybody.
Mary: Oh, yes. So much trust.
Hannah: “Don’t sound like Rancid.”
Paul: I want the drums to be as simple as possible, almost like Velvet Underground, but Velvet Underground times one hundred. That’s how I play the drums, pretty much. Not show off.
Reuben: Moe Tucker with tree trunks.
Paul: I’ve got nothing to prove. I want to keep it tight. Let them do what they do and just hold it down. That’s what I want to do.
Todd: It takes courage to go to another instrument. Actually play it.
Mary: A lot. Everybody here makes themselves so damn vulnerable.
Paul: I wanted to play the fart… machine, but they weren’t having it.
Mary: Some day.
Paul: “I’ve got a new bass line for you. It’s called… [makes fart noises].
Todd: So, since Reuben sells oranges for a living…
Reuben: Used to.
Todd: So, currently, where do you all work?
Hannah: I work from home in my pajamas. I edit and write math test questions for standardized tests.
Reuben: I sell guitar straps all day.
Paul: That’s what she said.
Todd: Do you provide guitar straps for White Murder?
Reuben: Yeah, but it’s just for me.
Hannah: I use them.
Reuben: Not with our band.
Hannah: No, in another band.
Mary: That would be really weird. A guitar strap on a microphone.
Todd: On his drums. When he walks around.
Mary: I teach dance.
Noah: What kind of dance?
Mary: All kinds. And English, too.
Noah: At the same time?
Mary: Yes, at the same time. [laughter] “You dance with those verbs. Shake those nouns.”
Noah: In a school setting?
Hannah: You’re being so vague, it’s crazy. “Conjugate those tap shoes.”
Paul: I work at K-Mart.
Todd: The Gardena one?
Paul: There was no Gardena K-Mart. That was a myth. [laughter]
Todd: It was in Flapping Jet’s bio.
Paul: HarborCity. Correction. Ha-ha [he says ha-ha]. The truth comes out about twenty-five years later.
Todd: Do you have any seniority now?
Paul: I am the señor of señors. [laugher] They call me mister. You need a job?
Mary: Mike works at a coffee shop called The Library.
Noah: I just wanted to ask about the diaspora of the band because everybody kind of lives in different places to some degree and I was interested in how that affects the writing process and the existence of the band. The difference between living in the same neighborhood and being spread out.
Reuben: We’re so busy right now. It’s hard to even get together anywhere, but I don’t think that it affects us that much.
Hannah: We practice in Long Beach because three-fifths of them live in Long Beach, so that makes sense.
Reuben: There’s only been a couple songs where we didn’t write them in the room together.
Paul: Hannah does the most traveling for practice. I just go over the bridge.
Noah: Do you reimburse for gas mileage?
Hannah: No, I do not reimburse myself for gas mileage.
Reuben: [in low voice]… or for anything else.
Noah: Do you feel like where you live brings different ideas?
Mary: I think it does, at least perspective-wise. Spread out-wise (geographically, as a band), it does.
Hannah: Different venues, different bands, different scenes.
Mary: Different friends.
Reuben: If anything, it might just add to that tension because we don’t see each other enough. Or if we just show up to a show separately, it’s just weird, as opposed to when we’re together and hanging out before a show and there’s a better vibe.
Mary: We had to instigate a dinner rule before shows.
Reuben: Or something.
Mary: We don’t necessarily have to practice before a show, but we have to spend time together.
Paul: We need quality time.
Mary: It sounds so cheesy, but we have to. We just have to be together and it makes such a difference.
Hannah: It wasn’t always like this. We’ve been a band for over two years and for awhile we were practicing two, three times a week.
Mary: We’re now playing shows so much that that doesn’t work out and so we realized, “Holy shit, it’s just a mind thing. We just have to be together.”
Hannah: But the different neighborhoods are pretty interesting.
Mary: Especially exploring the different neighborhoods. I’d never spent that much time in San Pedro until I met Paul or any time in SilverLake until I met Hannah.
Paul: I like playing everywhere and anywhere.
Hannah: I like playing Pedro and Long Beach.
Mary: I think your neighborhood becomes haunted. You attach so much to the places that you have so many memories with. So, for me, I like being some place fresh. I always say, “Oh, we love playing in Portland” or “We love San Diego,” but just because maybe it’s new.
Hannah: No, we all agree with you.
Reuben: I can see how that affects other bands, where it could be a fuckin’ nightmare. Someone’s in Costa Mesa, someone’s in Sherman Oaks, but we seem to make it work without bitching about it.
Paul: I think if you like doing what you’re doing and genuinely like the people you play with, you’re always going to make it, no matter what.
Hannah: I think it gives us an edge because L.A. is a really tough city to be a band in and Pedro is an amazing city to be in a band. So I think we’re kind of lucky that we can play in Pedro at the drop of a hat and have an amazing night. We can play a really cool show in Long Beach, we can play a really shitty show in Long Beach, and we can play a really shitty show in L.A.—not the Razorcake one. That one was great.
Todd: Thank you. [laughs]
Hannah: They had hot dogs and big beans. They were really good. I had it.
Noah: But also, often someone asks so much of being a band or being anything and one of the first things people ask is, “Where are you from?” People often lump the whole area of L.A. into one thing, but it’s definitely a lot of great, different communities with different cultures and different ideas. The question of “where you’re from” can be responded to…
Paul: Where we’re from is where we’re at, pretty much.
Mary: Also, it’s true. If somebody says L.A., and they mean super-shimmery Hollywood leather pants.
Paul: I love leather pants.
Mary: Do you? I didn’t know that about you.
Hannah: Well, a lot of bands say L.A. None of you guys live in L.A. Rancid said L.A.
Paul: I never claim L.A.
Reuben: Well, if you live in Buffalo, you can be, “Oh, they live in L.A.” and not some small neighborhood.
Reuben: White Murder, from L.A.County.
Noah: You’re repping.
Mary: If there’s a place we rep or we sing about, it’s Ohio.
Paul: Okay, we’re from Cleveland.
Todd: Cleveland, California.
Mary: I’ve met more people from Cleveland since I’ve lived in Long Beach than I have my whole life.
Hannah: Clevelanders are everywhere and we rule… well, I say we’re from L.A. because it’s easy and it’s true.
Paul: It’s easier for people to deal with.
Reuben: The Southland.
Noah: You sound like an auto dealer. “White Murder, servicing the Southland.”