Alex Even has no idea where he is right now. Last night was Newport, Ken. The night before was Chicago. Tonight is Washington, D.C. But at this very moment it could be Ohio. Or maybe Pennsylvania. Wait, this isn't West Virginia, is it?
“I actually have no idea. I was kind of zoning out in the van,” Even says, yawning for effect. “It's a truck stop somewhere west of D.C.—that's all I know.”
One of the subtle perks of being in a band like White Rabbits is that you don't have to know where you are because you're big enough to have a tour manager handle most of the driving and small enough to still think that's pretty fucking sweet. It isn't a private Cessna, but it isn't borrowing your mom's Dodge Caravan, either.
That's what reviews in Spin and Rolling Stone, appearances on NPR and The Late Show with David Letterman (twice) and festival slots at CMJ, SXSW and Bonnaroo can do for you. Not that White Rabbits are exactly fighting off paparazzi.
“It's a bit less glamorous than you think it will be when you're 17 and still learning to play the guitar,” Even says. “I still feel like we're pretty anonymous. I mean, it's not like we're getting played on MTV every day or anything.”Not yet. But the band's second album, It's Frightening, makes strides in that direction. In particular, the single
“Percussion Gun”—with its thundering drums, clanging keys and sharp handclaps beating a Pavlovian toe-tap into your brain—loudly announces the arrival of White Rabbits on the national stage.
“It had very pure motives,” Even says of the song, adding dryly, “We just wanted a banger.”Mission accomplished, in so much as a band that pals around with Spoon and The Walkmen—and earns comparisons to The Specials and Radiohead—is capable of producing a song that could earn reverence from both indie snobs and FM radio.
The band didn't exactly fit that mold five years ago when it formed as a quintet at the University of Missouri. They drew from a wide variety of styles (including ska and world music) but didn't really polish their rough edges until they added a second drummer and relocated to Brooklyn.
“New York solidified everything,” Even says. “It's a pretty cliché rock story. You know, pack a suitcase and move to New York and live in squalor for a few years just hoping to catch a break. Lucky for us, we've been able to catch a few.”The band released its debut, Fort Nightly, in May 2007 and soon began to distinguish itself from the thousands of other would-be indie-rock darlings teeming in the boroughs of New York.
What largely set White Rabbits apart was its Doublemint approach to drums (Jamie Levinson and Matt Clark), vocals (Steve Patterson and Greg Roberts) and guitars (Even and Roberts), along with Patterson's ability to give the piano a little more edge than, say, that dude from The Fray. But where Fort Nightly was peppered with disparate influences, It's Frightening was more consciously straightforward, albeit for a sextet with two drummers, two vocalists, two guitars, a bass and a piano.
After touring behind Fort Nightly, White Rabbits enlisted the help of Spoon frontman Britt Daniel to produce It's Frightening. And while Daniel's steadying hand has led to inevitable comparisons (“In a way, that's flattering because Spoon is a great band, but I don't think it really holds water,” Even says) it also helped White Rabbits distill a distinct sound to call their own.
“I think it's less of a maturation and more of an evolution,” Even says. “I think this album sounds a little grittier, and for me, musically, it's maybe a little more interesting. I think it's just a much more genuine article of our music.”
If that's the case, it's pretty clear where White Rabbits are headed—even if they don't always know where they are. White Rabbits play with The Subjects and Hotel St. George on Wednesday, June 17, at The Casbah. www.myspace.com/whiterabbits.