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CHINA WHITE: TAKING D-FUNK TO HOLLYWOOD AND BEYOND – INTERVIEW BY NIGEL CARTNER
Warrington based duo, ‘China White’ are beginning to cause quite a stir on both sides of The Atlantic with their self confessed D-Funk style, a vivacious blend of funk, hip-hop and acid house with an undercurrent of indie vibe. Made up of Liam Croker and Antony Egerton, their ballsy and creative blend has seen them collaborate with many well known artists in the past few years, such as Rowetta and Kermit, also leading them to work with producing legend Danny Saber and tour with the enigmatic Keith Allen in 2012. This Spring will start with the release of new EP, ‘Yeah Fool’ and ‘Keep on Livin’’ at Antwerp Mansion, Manchester in April, which is sure to be a highly charged launch party, compounding their recognition as serious players. I caught up with Liam and Antony at Dry Bar in Manchester where in the midst of a power cut and interview by candlelight they shared the reason for the name D-Funk, stories of Keith Allen on tour and why Alice Cooper may look up the next time he goes on the toilet.

NIGE: Before we get into what you’ve been up to this last year, can you give us a history of the band?

LIAM: We’ve been together for five years now and we’re marketed as a collective as opposed to a band, a bit like ‘Massive Attack’ like they did with ‘The Wild Bunch’. Me and Anthony are the prominent parts as such, we’re ‘China White’, and everyone else who we’ve worked with in terms of vocalists and musicians through the years have all been part of the collective of ‘China White’. We’ve worked with ‘Rowetta’, ‘Kermit’, Inder Goldfinger’ and ‘Danny Saber’ so it’s a big collection of people. You can’t really pinpoint what it is we do because it’s such an eclectic bunch of influences, but that brings a lot of diversity into the group. We sort of pick the best bits and mould it into our own hybrid sound, so we’ve never really been put into a genre. At first that was a bit harder getting a leg up in what we were doing because no one was quite sure what to do with us. As years have gone on it’s worked to our advantage because it’s not put us with the indie bands, but we’ve got enough of that kind of vibe in the group to allow us to play with them, or we can be put on an acid house night and be a proper live dance band. We had a hit list of people to work with when we started and we’ve worked with them all. I suppose the profile of the band has grown over the years up to the point we’re at now where things are bubbling.

NIGE: How come you went into this more funkier, acid house, hip hop sound because I’ve noticed some of your influences being ‘Beatles’, ‘Rolling Stones’  and ‘Stone Roses’.

LIAM: I think you can be into a band but not necessarily be influenced by them. We’re musicians that both grew up playing guitar and bass guitar, that’s our background. There are certain types of music that we just like for pleasure and certain types that inspire us to make music as such. I was well into ‘Guns N Roses’ when I was younger and watching them do ‘Appetite for Destruction’ at that time is what made me want to be in a band, so I think bands can inspire you, but not necessarily in your music. It’s that mentality where you get an understanding from certain groups. For me, ‘Tricky’ and early ‘Massive Attack’ were huge influences on what we do. I think it’s healthy to have an eclectic taste in music because I hate people who say, “We’re just into reggae music” or “We’re just into hip hop music” because you’re not really music fans then, your just into the stylistic of a certain genre, but we’re more into music as a whole. I understand what you mean because I’ve put certain things on Facebook of my musical taste and I can imagine people thinking they can’t see us being into that sort of thing.

NIGE: I think it’s interesting because you might get bands who are well into ‘The Beatles’ for example but end up sounding more like ‘The Rolling Stones’, but it’s still part of typical band music, whereas what you do is a completely different genre, but I suppose the likes of Ian Brown and Shaun Ryder have done something similar in the past.

LIAM: Yeah I remember reading an interview with Shaun saying that he wanted ‘Happy Mondays’ to sound like ‘Parliament-Funkadelic’. The interesting thing was that they didn’t know how to make them sound like that, so basically what you’re listening to is a band failing to sound like something else, but ending up sounding like themselves. When we started off we were trying to sound like ‘Massive Attack’, ‘Tricky’ and ‘Screamadelica’ by ‘Primal Scream’, but we didn’t have a clue how to do it, so what ended up happening was this hybrid sound of us attempting to sound a certain way which ended up sounding like ‘China White’. Music’s a language at the end of the day, it’s all connected, it’s just very subtle things that make it different. A lot of our songs are written on acoustic guitar, then we’ll take the structure and arrangement and programme it up, and that’s what you end up hearing, but they come from a rock n roll background with our beats added to it.

NIGE: Focussing on your collaborating, what was the inspiration behind making ‘China White’ this type of set-up to begin with?

LIAM: Well we didn’t have a band for one, it was just me and Ant at the time. Listening to a lot of early hip hop and bands like ‘Happy Mondays’ with Rowetta and ‘Black Grape’ with Kermit, a lot of these bands had different vocalists. I always liked how that brought different textures to the song. It also gave us a way to look at our music as not being that precious. I might write lyrics for a track but not necessarily be the best person to sing that song, I could have someone else in mind when I write. The person who’s singing is secondary to the end result of the music.

NIGE: You spent some time in Hollywood last year recording with Danny Saber. How did that come about?

LIAM: We’ve been working with Danny for a couple of years as he’s done remixes for us. We went to work on more tracks with him last year and two of the tracks have been signed to a big publishing company and are coming out on Danny’s album, ‘Saber Bytes’ on the 19th March. One features Kermit and its just exclusive to America, so it’s our first international release which we’re happy about. We spent some time living with Danny at his house in Hollywood, which was just mental!

NIGE: Any rock n roll stories you can tell us whilst you were there?

LIAM: When we got there ‘Alice Cooper’ had just left Danny’s house because he’d been recording a new album with him. In Danny’s toilet you could see the ceiling plastered up where it fell in on Alice. Every day was rock n roll though! We were knocking about with ‘Harry The Dog’ too much, a guy who looks after all British bands when they go over.

ANTONY: We played golf with Jim Brown out of ‘The Dirty Dozen’ who’s also an ex American footballer.

LIAM: We were playing in our woolly hats and parkas, hungover in the Hollywood sun. Also, as you went into Danny’s studio there was a crucifix on the wall with Mr.T hanging off it.

ANTONY: All gold records were hung up everywhere like what he did with ‘Black Sabbath’, ‘David Bowie’ and ‘Rolling Stones’.

NIGE: You also toured with Keith Allen in the summer, how did that come about?

LIAM: Keith noticed that we were working with Danny Saber, and Keith’s old friends with him so that’s how the contact was made. We went to Keith’s in Gloucestershire with Kermit after we got back from America and he was starting work on an album called, ‘Will Cliff be There’, which was a pop opera concept album taking the piss out of the Olympics. We recorded some vocals, wrote a few parts for the tracks and did a remix B-side for the single. We got a phone call six weeks after and started doing rehearsals as part of the band. Me, Ant and Kermit were the vocalists, like ‘The Supremes’ in the background doing all the harmonies. We did a mini tour of the UK playing Camp Bestival, Strummer of Love and at Keith’s house in Wales where they did a massive show.

ANTONY: CBS recorded the first rehearsal at Keith’s, which we didn’t know about until we got there, but we’d stopped off at several pubs on the way down on the train so we were slaughtered.

LIAM: Some rock n roll shit happened with Keith!

ANTONY: That night was pretty legendary because we had nowhere to stay and ended up in some woman’s gaff with Keith and Kermit. Her husband came down in the morning and just seen Keith Allen and Kermit sat at his kitchen table, thinking, “What the Fuck, you’re Keith Allen!”. Keith nicked his baccy too but brought it back.

LIAM: Camp Bestival was great because ‘Happy Mondays’ headlined it and we were onstage at the end with Keith dancing with Bez. We did a track called, ‘It’s Alright’ which was our first cover which was us, Keith Allen, Kermit, Inder Goldfinger, and Eva Gardner who’s ‘Pink’s’ bass player. We’ve still got it recorded and need to do something with it.

NIGE: What was The Strummer of Love Festival like?

ANTONY: Muddy as fuck!

LIAM: There was a massive campfire and everyone was off their heads dancing around it when we headlined our stage at two in the morning.

ANTONY: We did our slot on Friday as ‘China White’ and did Saturday with ‘Fit Les’ but no one could really stand up by that point.

NIGE: Bringing us to the present, you’ve got an EP release coming up, tell us about that?

LIAM: What we’re putting out is a double A side single and a remix EP, one song called, ‘Yeah Fool’ and one called, ‘Keep on Livin’’. We’ve got three remixes of each track, which include one by Rob Tessera, a big house DJ, Alabama 3, Inder Goldfinger and The Laboratory Project, which is a record label in Manchester who’ve also done mixes. It sounds good and is a bit of a stop gap while we’re doing our album. It gives people something to listen to and get their teeth into really. We’re putting it out through our own production company, ‘Slack Neck Productions’. It’ll be released on the 1st April, but we’re doing a big EP launch on the 30th March at Antwerp Mansion with Bez DJ-ing so it’s just going to be a big party and a really good night.

NIGE: You also have a few acoustic sessions lined up on radio?

LIAM: We have! I think it’s really important to us for people to hear our acoustic stuff as opposed to just lads on a computer making dance music. We’re doing one for Manchester Radio Online, one for BBC Manchester, a session for BBC Merseyside and Leeds. It’s almost like an acoustic tour for BBC radio, but it gives a nice, alternative edge and lets people hear us in a different light, more stripped back and organic because it’s pretty full on and much heavier live than what you’d hear on Soundcloud.

NIGE: Do you notice anything different in terms of attention when you play acoustically?

ANTONY: Yep! Sometimes we get better feedback. It’s more edible for people’s ears, but it opens another door for us to get our music across.

NIGE: Where did the self confessed D Funk style come from?

LIAM: People always asked, “what are you because you’re not proper dance music, or proper hip hop or proper funk music so what are you?” So we called it D-Funk, which came from 2009-10 when we put out an EP called ‘Pitchin’ Session’. We were pissed when we did so we called it D-Funk, ‘Drunk Funk’. Dr.Dre had G-Funk, George Clinton had P-Funk, we’ve got D-Funk.

NIGE: You managed yourself up until recently, is that the advice you’d give to younger bands starting up?

LIAM: We did manage ourselves till recently but other people have come onboard now, which Danny Saber set up from his contacts in England. Yeah, don’t let nobody take your baby from you because no one’s ever going to love it as much as you. The reason we ended up with so much creative freedom, image wise and music wise is because we did it ourselves. It takes a lot of self belief and confidence in what you’re doing, but if you don’t then no one else will.

NIGE: Has running Slack Neck Records helped ‘China White’ in anyway?

ANTONY: It’s give us another branch to our tree! Loads of bands have their own little side things going on, but it’s a release for ourselves.

LIAM: It’s allowed us to become acknowledged as producers as opposed to just being a band, which it has done because we did the Keith Allen remix, a UK remix for a guy called Dynamax, something for Harry the Dog and we’re talking to Jake from Alabama 3 about doing one of their tracks through it. I think it’s a nice balance being recording artists and being established as producers. As the years go on I think it’s a good bow to have.

NIGE: Who would you most like to collaborate with?

LIAM: I’d like to work with Tricky and Ian Brown.

NIGE: Are there any further collaborations planned?

LIAM: Not at the moment. I think you’ve got to be careful because you hear a lot of records where people collaborate for the sake of collaborating. We always did it for the artistic thing of adding it to our music. We don’t want to be known as a band to use it just for a step up. I think if you do it all the time you can lose the identity of who you are.

NIGE: Is there an album in the pipeline?

LIAM: Yeah definitely, this year will see a ‘China White’ full album.

NIGE: Apart from the EP releases and the album, where do you want to take ‘China White’ in the future?

LIAM: We want to be a big band touring. I don’t mean in the way of ‘Oasis’ as we’re a totally different entity, but I want the brand and profile to get bigger. Touch wood things seem to be going really well, hopefully we’ll be around for a while doing everyone’s heads in, shoving our D-Funk down their throats!

NIGE:  Do you think your style of music can make it to the more commercial side of music as it does have that aspect to it?

LIAM: There’s definitely a commercial aspect to what we’re doing and I think if we want to go all ‘pop-tastic’ then we can. Obviously we’d never go out there sounding like ‘Mel & Kim’, but it’s going to have a pop edge to it. Pop gets such a dirty name these days, but the ‘Beatles’ were a pop band. We’ve got better at writing songs over the years and we’re more aware of how to write a sellable track.

NIGE: Finally, what’s your perspective of the music industry at the moment?

LIAM: I think it’s pretty healthy. People get all doom and gloom about it, but I think the top 40 Radio One thing has become very small, produced by very few people with the same acts. There’s a massive underbelly of bands, there always has been apart from a small blip at the start of the century. I just don’t think there’s any money in it, either in the industry or the country, but with that comes great music. What nobody seems to mention is that we’re at the very beginning of the century. In the 1950s we had rock n roll, the 60s had psychedelia, the 70s was heavy rock, the 80s was electric pop, but by the 90s it was everything and indulgent to fuck where everything was better, but it peaked and it had to stop. This is the beginning of a new journey! The internet has had a massive impact but I think that’s going to sort itself out. Even the X Factor ratings are dropping, you can’t polish a turd! You still have the people in their 20s, 30s and 40s going out listening to music, and you still have great bands out there flying the flag! It’s there to be found!

www.chinawhitemusic.net 

China White’ will be playing Antwerp Mansion in Manchester on 30/03/13 for the launch of their new E.P, ‘Yeah Fool’ and ‘Keep on Livin’.

“China White...the most exciting, edgy band I've worked with since Black Grape. Destined to be huge!!!” Danny Saber (Rolling Stones, Black Grape, Charlatans producer)

“These lads are the best out there, pure uncut raw talent. I can promise you that they will astonish us all!!!” Dr.D.Wayne Love (Alabama 3)

Interview by Nigel Cartner
All photos by Karin Albinsson

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