Entertainment & Arts

White Lies star on composing for theatres and supermarkets

White Lies bassist Charles Cave has written the score for a new stage version of Cat On a Hot Tin Roof. With the indie band at a crossroads, he explains how he is adapting their style for the stage and why he could write soundtracks for supermarkets next.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Charles Cave says composing soundtracks is a 'back-up plan' in case White Lies ever split up

Cat On a Hot Tin Roof is Tennessee Williams' scorching southern masterpiece about self-denial and greed in a rotten 1950s American family.

White Lies are a band from London whose three albums of dark and grandiose Joy Division-influenced synth-rock have all reached the top five in the UK.

The play and the band's music share an intensity of atmosphere, perhaps, but not much else.

So it will be intriguing to hear how the soundtrack by Charles Cave, the band's bassist and songwriter, sets the mood for a production that opens in Newcastle on Friday before touring to Northampton and Manchester.

"It's a million miles from White Lies, really, other than that there are moments of general drama within it," Cave begins.

He has also eschewed the retro 1950s soundtrack an audience might expect for this play. The new production is "quite a radical" version, he explains.

"Fortunately or unfortunately, when people think about the play, they think about the film," Cave says, referring to the Oscar-nominated 1958 screen adaptation that starred Elizabeth Taylor and Paul Newman.

"It's a brilliant film but it's very stylised, it's very jazzy. While there are hints of that in this [new production], it's quite far from that. Much more stark.

"The text is pretty miserable really, and it's dolled up a bit with the glitz in the film.

"This production is going to focus more on the fact that we're dealing with a really nasty relationship that's gone so horribly sour and everyone's pretty hopeless. Everyone's just narcissistic and self-obsessed."

Image copyright Robert Day
Image caption Mariah Gale will play Maggie in Cat On A Hot Tin Roof
Image copyright Robert Day
Image caption Charles Aitken will star as former football hero Brick

Keen to flex his musical muscles, the 26-year-old says his soundtrack has been influenced by Debussy, avant-garde US composer Moondog, German electro-classical maestro Nils Frahm and minimalist guru Steve Reich.

It is a long way from Joy Division. Cave says: "I don't want to sound arrogant, but the sonics are fairly timeless in that there are classical instruments played in fairly conventional ways in order to create atmosphere."

The play follows a score the musician wrote for a British gangster film called Peterman, and he is following a long line of rock and pop artists who have moved into soundtracks.

Goldfrapp were the last group to score a stage play, working on Medea, which opened at the National Theatre in July.

Cave says: "I've been lucky in that the first two projects like this that I've taken on have been working with very nice, professional yet down-to-earth people.

"I've heard stories of bands or artists who have ended up trying to do music for Hollywood.

"Suddenly they find themselves really shocked by how they might spend three days making 10 minutes of music, send it over for whatever action film they're doing, and just get it sent straight back going, 'Nah we don't like this, can you have another 10 minutes ready for us by the morning?'"

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption White Lies are looking for a new type of record deal after their previous contract expired

So where does this leave White Lies?

The trio have just finished touring to promote their third album Big TV, winding down with a show at the gloriously named Bum Bum Festival in Italy at the end of August.

Their record deal with Fiction - part of the Universal empire - has now expired. Courting record labels again, Cave says, is "interesting and quite liberating".

But rather than signing an old-fashioned contract, where a label would pay a hefty advance and control the recording and release, the band are in a position to make the next album on their own.

When it is ready, they could then enlist a label to simply take care of distribution and promotion.

'Be your own master'

"At this point in our career, album four, we're confident enough to be able to do that," he says.

"We all feel that our last record was, in many ways, our best musically speaking, so hopefully we're just going to keep getting better and better.

"If you don't have a conventional label, you can do everything. You can do the artwork, you really can be your own master."

Countless records are now made with a laptop instead of an expensive studio, he says. Which is good and bad.

"I'm pretty convinced we'll never have records like Aja by Steely Dan again because records like that cost insane money to make because they were recording them for eight months, every day using different session musicians," he says.

"We have to find a way of getting somewhere near those records at some point. Let's not worry about it now."

Waitrose: The album

If his band were ever to split up, Cave says, he wants something else "on the back burner".

As well as the film and theatre work, he says there may be scope to earn a crust composing a soundtrack for "something really, really odd".

"I know Brian Eno's done his Music For Airports, but I find myself going more and more into public spaces where music is playing, and thinking, this is totally the wrong music to be playing here. It's really annoying me.

"Bespoke music should be created for certain places.

"It would be wonderful if, I don't know, a coffee chain said, 'We've got all this money, why don't we hire in five composers to make two hours of music each, pay them really, really well, and we'll have 10 hours of music that we can play in our coffee chains that is bespoke and fitting with what we want for our atmosphere?'

"There could be commissions like that for public spaces. Knowing my luck it will be Greggs. I'm holding out for Waitrose. But it will probably be Greggs."

Cat On A Hot Tin Roof opens at Northern Stage in Newcastle on Friday before travelling to Northampton's Royal and Derngate theatre on 1 October and Manchester's Royal Exchange on 30 October.

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