About Whitelands

Black British shoegaze band Whitelands debut album ‘Night-bound Eyes Are Blind To The Day’ will be released on February 23.

The London-based four-piece are at the forefront of the new generation of Black British guitar music alongside Big Joanie and Bob Vylan and their debut album appears in the middle of their UK tour supporting shoegaze heroes Slowdive. It follows an incredible run of singles since signing to Sonic Cathedral, which has seen them playlisted by BBC Radio 6 Music and many others.

It may feel like things have moved quickly for Whitelands, but in reality this has all been a long time coming. In fact, there’s an argument that this isn’t their debut album at all, with a self-titled, self-released 2018 release still sitting on Spotify, alongside some other teenage try-outs. This is their debut as a full band, however, as they have grown organically from a solo outlet for singer and guitarist Etienne – who took the band’s all-too-knowing name from the college at Roehampton University where he played his first show – into a brilliantly balanced four-piece with the addition of first Jagun (drums and backing vocals), then Vanessa (bass) and finally Michael (guitar). The four of them have since formed a tight bond and supported each other through various life struggles and their neurodivergence.

Ostensibly a shoegaze band ever since Etienne stumbled across the reformed Slowdive’s KEXP session in his recommended videos on YouTube in 2019 (“I listened front and back, again and again, it was that sound that I just really connected with,” he enthuses) they come at the resurgent, Gen Z-soundtracking genre from a refreshingly different angle.

Their mishmash of musical backgrounds adds to this uniqueness. Etienne played in a school band, Jagun used to sing in a choir and makes R&B as a solo artist, Vanessa comes from the metal and punk scene and Michael dabbles in techno. Or, as Vanessa puts it: “We’ll chat about a bass riff in an Explosions In The Sky song to an Ice Spice remix.”

There’s also the fact that their line-up is fully PoC in what is traditionally seen as a predominantly white genre. “I assumed there wouldn’t be many Black shoegaze bands,” admits Etienne. “So discovering A.R. Kane [who remixed the previous single ‘Setting Sun’ for an EP of reworkings last year] and The Veldt was a real trip to me.”
“There’s an underlying narrative that it’s OK for white men to be romantic, sensitive, emotional and make dreamy music and, by contrast, young Black men should be making angry music,” adds Vanessa. “We’ve all grown up with these stereotypes and therefore I think people are mystified when they see Whitelands.”
She’s right, everything about the band is slightly disarming. Not least the overtly literary liminality of it all. The album title is taken from ‘The Prophet’, the philosophical 1923 book by Kahlil Gibran. “The full quote is ‘the owl whose night-bound eyes are blind unto the day cannot unveil the mystery of light’,” says Etienne. “I think it encapsulates the feeling of the album. A common theme running through the songs is lots of ‘I’, ‘you’, sense and emotion. Very physical and intimate settings. Lots of descriptors of light, celestial bodies, water, Biblical stuff, abstract stuff. I don’t really know why I write things the way I do, but I do tend to write emotions as anything other than what they actually are.
“I consume a lot of media. Videogames, music, news, paintings, manga, animations and film are my go-to, especially anime. There is this drive to want to understand and feel the whole weight of an expression. So, the songs are based on other songs, pictures, aesthetics, ‘vibes’, an emotion someone else felt. Fundamentally, you are what you eat.”

As a result of this diet, the lyrics are stunning, dealing with everything from unbalanced relationships (‘How It Feels’) and vulnerability (‘Born In Understanding’) to depression (‘Cheer’), being diagnosed with ADHD (‘Chosen Light’) and, on the single ‘Tell Me About It’ (featuring vocals by Dottie from labelmates deary), trying to navigate love following that diagnosis.

The album is bookended by two poetically political songs: ‘Setting Sun’ is “another song of sadness from the Black diaspora” dealing with racism, tokenism and performative ignorance following the murder of George Floyd and the stormy final track ‘Now Here’s The Weather’ is a commentary on Brexit, racism, post-9/11 and imperialism. “It wasn’t originally written about the genocide in Gaza,” adds Etienne, “but events like that are so common the brush fits a broad canvas; the band has ancestry in previously colonised countries.”

“We’ve experienced tokenism, micro-behaviours, envy and resentment,” concludes Vanessa. “So we feel we have to continually prove ourselves. We know we’re making a positive impact, but I want Whitelands to really break some barriers.”

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