White Arrows Let it Fly

Contemporary musicians are often reticent to insert themselves into a specific genre. White Arrows, however, fits snugly into the “psychotropical” classification, a designation invented somewhere along the line by a fan or journalist that caught on with band members and fans alike. Inspired by the pharmaceutical mood-enhancer, the moniker is an apt description of White Arrows’ sound—it can viscerally and euphorically alter the listener’s mood and consciousness. Vocalist Mickey Church spent his formative years without his sight, his vision only fully corrected at age 11; and White Arrows is a wholly sensory project, reminding us that sound is intractable from sight in all iterations. Coming from a humble launching place, White Arrow’s jaunty indie-pop is at once epic and humble, and has built an impressive amount of anticipatory tension as the five-piece’s bow primes for release.

AMANDA DUBERMAN: I’m having some trouble identifying from which coast the band originates. Can you tell me a little bit about the band’s background?

MICKEY CHURCH: Sure. Before the band existed I was going to school in New York at NYU, and I wrote and recorded some songs there. The band officially started a couple years ago in Los Angeles, which is where I am from and where my brother, who plays the drums, is from, and the rest of the guys in the band. So the band came together about two and a half years ago, and since then we’ve written everything and recorded everything in our house out here in Los Angeles where I live. 

DUBERMAN: You personally have a very interesting story about how you perceive and see music and what that stems from. Can you talk about that?

CHURCH: Sure. The fact that I was born not being able to really see anything except for colors and shapes, and my eyes progressively getting better, but not good enough to see clearly with glasses until I was 11, kind of allowed me to have a very vivid and active imagination and also be very un-self-conscious and all the stuff that goes along with it. Most kids are generally less self-conscious, and that was even magnified with me, because I just assumed people couldn’t see me if I couldn’t see them. That has a lot to do with the imaginative quality of the songs. 

DUBERMAN: A lot of bands these days are very eager to call themselves “genre-less,” like they are too original to be classified. But you, on the other hand, have invented a genre for yourself. What is that exactly, and can you tell me a little bit about it?

CHURCH: I’m not really sure. I have trouble classifying it, too, so I usually use the terms that writers such as yourself have used in the past. But I think our genre, which I think is pretty accurate, is something that is more visceral and visual as a music genre, which is kind of left of center—which, in some ways, makes sense for our music. 

DUBERMAN: Where did the “psychotropical” term come from?

CHURCH: I’m not really sure. 

DUBERMAN: I thought it was a kind of self-descriptive thing. But it’s just something that someone made up?

CHURCH: Yeah, and it’s just caught on. I think it’s funny and it’s fitting because there are so many genres and sub-genres—it’s like every band has its own genre at this point. Anything really goes. There are so many descriptions that kind of contradict each other when describing us, but they all make sense in their own right. 

DUBERMAN: Your full-length is on its way out, but prior to that, you had some EPs exclusively on vinyl or for download on the internet. What has been your trajectory over the past few years in terms of touring and releasing music? Has anything surprised you?

CHURCH: I’m definitely ready to get all these songs finished. It’s been a work of progress. We put out the seven-inch and gave out a bunch of free demo songs early on. They’ve done really well for themselves. We’ve been playing these songs live and we’ve gotten really good response to them live, but I can’t wait for people to actually know the songs coming to the shows as opposed to hearing for the first time. We’ve been playing these songs out the past few months and the past few tours, it’s definitely exciting to get our first record out and to have people be more familiar with the songs when they come out to see us. 

DUBERMAN: I read that you earned a very interesting undergraduate degree, what is that?

CHURCH: I got to form my own major, because I was in the individualized study school at NYU. My advisor actually led me to study shamanistic ritual. He was a really interesting guy, and I ended up spending a lot of time with him in school and out of school and going to his cabin in Pennsylvania and making art with a bunch of really influential people in my life, like Harmony Korine and Will Oldham were out there doing the same thing. It’s just really cool coming from a really rigid high-school background, a small school where I was very limited in terms of my choices academically, that being able to form something as far out as this was a really unique and amazing experience. 

DUBERMAN: Do you find that is of any utility in your songwriting?

CHURCH: I think so—it has an influence on my life in general, so inherently it’s had an influence on my art. 

DUBERMAN: Your videos are really interesting—are you influenced by visual art? 

CHURCH: Yeah, definitely. Everything about it. When I said before I was really un-self-conscious when I didn’t realize people could see me, kind of transversely, when I could see for my first time, really what everyone else saw, I just became hypersensitive and really self-conscious. I think that’s carried a lot into our live show being such a visceral experience. I’m still uncomfortable with the idea of people just looking at me or us just on stage with lights. I want visuals projected onto us, I want a lot of dense fog, a lot of strobes, I want it to be the least intellectual experience possible. 

DUBERMAN: And your bandmates have been pretty amenable to that?

CHURCH: Yeah, I think they are all on board with that, even though it’s somewhat far out. I think the worst thing a band can do is play songs in succession. I like it when there are a lot of visuals and a full experience as opposed to just a show or just songs. 

DUBERMAN: Your vision was righted when you were 11, but have you maintained that heightened auditory sense? 

CHURCH: I’m not sure. I’ve got really nothing to compare it to. I’ve just known what I’ve liked and I’ve obviously been a fan of music my entire life, maybe because of that. My scent and my auditory sense have always been my keenest. 

DUBERMAN: In terms if your name, why do you privilege white arrows above any other color arrows? Why not “blue bullets” or something?

CHURCH: [laughs] It was not a cognizant thought, in terms of the name. It’s kind of taken on new meaning. What I like to think of it now is white is a very angelic, seraphic color, you know, from the heavens, and arrows are obviously a sign of war. I liked the contrast between that. I can’t say that there’s much more than that. I kind would rather not tell people what I think it means, but to hear what everyone else think it means. I’ve gotten interesting answers about what people assume it means, but I like that it is open-ended. The last line of this Shel Silverstein book Where the Sidewalk Ends is “I’ll meet you where the chalk white arrows go,” so a lot of people think it’s a reference to Shel Silverstein. Maybe subconsciously that’s what it is, that was one of my favorite books growing up. 

DUBERMAN: What’s next for you guys?

CHURCH: We’re in the final stages of mixing the record. I finished vocals for the last song yesterday, which is exciting. We just got off tour with Unknown Mortal Orchestra about three days ago. Now we’re doing South By Southwest; by the time we leave for South By, we hope to have the record mixed. We’re playing eight showcases. Also a few other festivals before and after that. And then we come back and play one local show before we leave for Europe and do a bunch of festivals out there.