In the following phone interview States vocalist Mindy White chats about making the band’s first full-length, how States first got started, being without a label and her past in Lydia.
How do you like living in Nashville?
I like it. I’ve been here since I was 5, so to me it’s awesome. I know a lot of people are like, “I love Nashville. I want to move there.” I feel like everybody eventually moves here, and it’s great. I don’t know. I’ve been here since I was 5 but I kind of love the beach, so if I had my choice I would definitely move out to either Orange County or Santa Monica area. I’ve just been here way too long, but I enjoy it.
First, I want to talk about how States first started. You announced you were leaving Lydia around the same time Copeland announced they were breaking up. Was that something you had talked to the guys about before you had made that decision? How did that work out?
It was really strange. Copeland and Lydia had toured together in 2008 with Lights. That’s how we met each other. Literally, the first day I remember goofing off with the Copeland guys. I was a huge fan, so for us to be on tour with them, I was super stoked. I was impressed with how personal they were. They were really funny and really cool, so we got along really well. Their young guitarist, Stephen, he had moved to Nashville right after that tour.
I had actually wanted to leave Lydia for a long time. I wasn’t happy in that place. Loved the guys, loved the band, but it wasn’t what I wanted to do. There were a lot of things that made we want to leave Lydia besides that, so I had decided to leave. For me, it was getting up the courage to leave because it’s so hard to say goodbye to that chapter. So it’s been a long time.
Finally, it was way after that and I had come home to Nashville and Stephen had just gotten home. We were actually hanging out at a friend’s house catching up. He was like, “How was tour? Blah, blah, blah.” I was kind of bummed. I was way over it. I was like, “It was OK. To be honest, don’t tell anybody, but I’m quitting Lydia. I just got to decide when I’m doing it, but I think it’s really soon.” He was like, “No way, are you kidding me? Well, nobody knows this but Copeland already broke up. We’re in the middle of our last tour.” It was really crazy. It was the weirdest timing ever. I still don’t know how it ended up working out like that.
So months later, or actually that night, we decided that, hey, when you get back from tour we should work on music. So they went on tour, he came back, and he and I started working on music. I had stuff on my laptop that was really terrible demos. They were GarageBand. We would just trade out ideas and songs and stuff, and literally within two days we had three or four songs written, just between the two of us. We sent them off to his brother, Bryan, who was also in Copeland. He was freaking out over them and loved them. He was like, “I want to be a part of it.” So originally it was just the three of us coming up with stuff. Then when Copeland ended, we needed someone to play the drums and bass on the songs when we were going to record the EP. Jon and Dean heard it and immediately were in. They were like, “We’ve been wanting to be in a new project this whole time, so we’re absolutely in.” It just kind of fell into place. It was crazy.
How did you figure out what direction you wanted the band to head in?
That’s another thing that had to do with the history of our bands. Copeland and Lydia were both more indie and way different than States’ kind of music. I grew up in all kinds of different roots, and so did the guys, so for me I had a heavy pop influence. I had everything. I grew up listening to Southern rock and all this stuff. I wanted the freedom to be like, “This doesn’t have to sound a certain way.” Going into recording with Lydia, I had no say so on writing. I had one song I was able to write on on Illuminate. It was the very last track, and I think that one is significantly different than the rest of the record. With Lydia, they would go in and say a song had to sound a certain way. It had to sound like Lydia does.
With States, we wanted the freedom that if we’re feeling a song needs to be poppier or more grungy, then we’ll roll with it. For us, it was discovering the sound coming together. The guys, Bryan and Stephen, have a really heavy ‘90s influence as well. That’s our favorite kind of music all together. We wanted to bring the ‘90s back, but even though we really wanted to do that, the CD didn’t end up sounding like all ‘90s. We didn’t set a limit on anything, I guess is what I’m saying. We would go in certain directions and just kind of roll with it and see how it turned out. I feel like all together, song-to-song, they all have their own identity, and then when you listen to them all together on the record they all definitely sound like States.
We put an EP out in the beginning, and that was the first stuff we ever did together. Literally, three or four of the songs were the songs that Stephen and I wrote together within the first couple days of experimenting. We were still discovering our sound whenever we were in the studio for Room to Run. We honestly didn’t know what it was going to come out sounding like, but I think the end product graduated us to the States sound.
The last couple Copeland records were pretty experimental for that genre, and Lydia was a little experimental as well, while States is a lot more of a straightforward kind of sound. Was that something you wanted to pursue and play around with?
Yeah, and I think it’s just a different writing style. With Lydia, there’s a lot of mystery. I love mystery as well, but lyrically I don’t try and work to make things sound super mysterious. I love experimenting and thinking of different ways to say different things, and musically the guys are the same way, but for us we just wanted to have fun with it and do something different than what we ever did before. We didn’t want to put an album out and have it sound like Copeland 2.0 or Lydia 2.0. We definitely have our own sound.
That was the coolest thing with States, and it still is. We’ll have a little nugget of a song that Stephen and I will write, and then we’ll go into a room and everyone is a hundred percent able to throw in their ideas. No one’s shot down. Speaking from my standpoint, we come in there with a song and I’m surrounded by these ridiculously talented musicians. I don’t ever fear that any part is going to be weak because Jon is an amazing drummer, Bryan is an amazing guitarist, and so on. There’s so much respect in the room whenever we’re writing. There’s that direction where we want to make sure it sounds like States, but besides that it’s never like, “We want to make this poppy or we want to make this simple and easy to listen to.” It’s just how it works out.
So you were able to write most of this all together in the same room?
Yeah, pretty much. The guys live in Florida besides Stephen. Stephen and I live in Nashville. Most of the writing begins with Stephen and I or Bryan. They’ll send little half-songs through email, and if I love it or if I can work with it then I write the lyrics and melodies to everything, and then I’ll send it back. From there, once we have a good group of songs, we’ll go into a room together. We’ll go down to Florida or they’ll come up here and we’ll start making the songs into actual songs. Dean has a couple ideas as well song wise, so we’ll just experiment. I have little acoustic piano things that I’ll give the guys, but Bryan and Stephen are definitely the music makers. They have the best take on how to use Logic and stuff. Whenever I experiment in GarageBand, it always sounds like a mess. I can hear it in my head but I can’t translate it through Logic or anything, but oh well. It’s good to have them.
Obviously, you were a Copeland fan before. Do you have a favorite song or album by them?
Oh my gosh. I’d have to say Beneath the Medicine Tree just because it’s such a nostalgic record for me. Literally, any time I listen to it I think of being 16, or however old I was whenever I was listening to it, driving through the summer or going to high school listening to it. That album was definitely my favorite, but I feel like every album had its own identity to it. They’re all pretty amazing.
You worked on the full length with Aaron Sprinkle, who the Copeland guys were familiar with because he did their last record. How did you like working with him and what was that experience like?
I love Sprinkle. I didn’t know much about him whenever they were suggesting him, so I actually went on Google and looked up some of his previous work to see what he would potentially make our record sound like. He’s all over the place. He’s not going to make your record sound like one band, which immediately I was like, “That’s awesome.” The first thing I saw was he did Phantoms by Acceptance, and I was like, “Yep, we can record with him now.” They loved him and said he was so cool. I was still kind of nervous with it because like I said I had never had that creative output. It’s kind of nervous going to a producer because you never know if they’re going to be like, “All right, yeah, we’re going to make this into a pop record, or we’re going to make this into a rock record.” That’s the last thing I wanted or the guys wanted, but I know they trusted him, so I was like, “I’ll go for it.”
So day one when we got in there, he had been listening to the songs obviously beforehand, and he started going through what direction he saw the songs going in or little ideas here and there. I was just like, “All right, that’s exactly what I wanted. Yep, that’s what I wanted for this song.” He was oddly spot on to exactly what we wanted to do and how we wanted it to sound. All around, he’s just an awesome guy. I tell everyone next time you’re recording, literally, go with Aaron because he’s so creative and just a rad guy.
States and Lydia beforehand were both very DIY with limited label involvement. How would you characterize that for you?
Lydia in the beginning did it all on our own. We were barely scraping by and it was a big learning experience. I had never toured before and I don’t think the guys had much experience. Literally, day-to-day in Lydia was learning. Our drummer was doing everything. Then finally we ended up signing to Universal, which was nice. It was exciting, but there’s always these promises in the beginning. You think, “This is great. We’re all taken care of finally. We’ve worked our butts off. We’re finally signed. This is the right deal.” Universal Motown was great to us, but at the same time we kind of felt like we were more productive when we were on our own because we were able to call the shots and able to do things when we wanted to do it.
So going into this with States, Copeland had also been on labels before. I can’t remember the exact ones, I think Columbia and a couple others, and they had experienced the same thing. They’d been on major labels, and it was great and everything was shiny and new, but at the same time you have to abide by what they want to do because ultimately they are the people who call the shots. With States, we weren’t exactly turned off by the idea of a label. We weren’t like, “Absolutely not,” but we definitely had the idea that we wanted to do this on our own. We were leaving the option open just to hear what anybody had to say, but in the end we felt absolutely like doing this a hundred percent on our own and taking baby steps.
It’s really hard because there’s things that hold you back from doing the things you want to do immediately. Definitely money is an issue, but we take it as we can. We put out the EP. Whenever we make enough money to go into the studio and record, we’ll record. That’s what we did and it’s baby steps, but it’s definitely worth it. We don’t have someone on our back calling us and going, “So for the next album I’m going to need you to write this hit song that sounds like Cobra Starship,” because that’s not what we want. We’re never going to have these people telling us what song to write because that’s what we got out of. It feels great. It’s definitely hard, but it’s worth it.
Do you think you’ll end up signing at some point or do you want to see how far you can get on your own?
Well, we want to see how far we can get on our own, definitely, but like I said that option is always open. If someone were to come up to us, honest, and had a great deal, we couldn’t pass it up and we’d definitely do it. There’s a couple labels that actually appear to be kind of amazing. We think Glassnote is amazing, but they sign one person every…, so there’s a small chance. We’re leaving the option open, but we’re not exactly going after anybody. Who knows what will happen in the future? Right now, we’re just steadily doing it on our own and seeing what happens.
You were able to write all the lyrics by yourself for this one. What did you take away from that and how did you like doing it?
It was awesome. It was a lot of work and definitely a new experience for me. I’ve never been able to do that a hundred percent. I have all these notebooks and I’ve always been writing. Literally, since I was young, I’ve been writing, so I would just piggyback through the notebooks I had and expand on ideas. I had tons of ideas going into it and then when we actually got into the studio, it just flew. It was a real doozy.
You’re also very vulnerable when you’re writing because it’s like opening up a journal and saying, “Here, read my journal.” It was new. When you’re in the studio singing and the guys had never heard any of the lyrics before, it was kind of in the back of your head like, “Oh, they’re going to think this is stupid. This is an emo song and they’re going to think I’m being an emotional woman or something.” But it’s all a credit to the songwriting. The guys are so supportive and they loved it, like “Oh, that lyric was awesome.” It was really cool. I’m so excited to go into LP two and expand even more on it.
Did a lot of the stuff you wrote from earlier end up making it onto the record?
Like the stuff I did on my own?
Yeah, like the stuff you did in your notebooks.
There were a couple things that came out of it. “Generation” was a song we put on our EP and carried over to our album. That was something I ended up writing as soon as I was leaving Lydia, and it also kind of was stuff from high school. You’re closing a chapter and opening up another chapter. That was a mix of the two things of when I was 18 and leaving town. My parents didn’t know what the hell I was doing when I told them I wasn’t going to college and was going to tour in a band. I definitely would go back and forth, writing the second that it came into my head, and also combining that with old stuff from the notebooks I had.
Is there anything you think the album is about specifically, maybe an overall theme or anything like that?
Room to Run is definitely a reflection of being able to do what you want and having the freedom to do so, like I said. It definitely reflects Lydia and that situation. I love that band and I love those guys, but there was a lot of things that I wanted to escape. I was not able to say what I wanted to say or have the freedom of expression. I can’t speak for the guys in Copeland, but that was one thing I craved, more writing. Also, obviously, there’s things about love and heartbreak and all that stupid stuff. There’s definitely a common theme of branching out and stepping into a territory you’re unfamiliar with, but you’re testing yourself and challenging yourself.
I saw that you’ve been surprised at how much you have to be in shape to be the main singer. Are there any other surprises that you didn’t expect with being the main focal point?
Yeah, I used to sing maybe two lines per set in Lydia and I also sat at a keyboard. It was definitely different getting onstage and dancing around and singing for a 45-minute set or even longer. There was a lot to learn and I had to get myself in shape for it. We also didn’t know what to expect fanbase wise. We knew that having older bands that people enjoyed is kind of a scary thing, starting a new project. If my favorite band had ended, and I had followed them for years, and they started a new band there would honestly be a lot of hurt there. It’d be like my puppy died and you didn’t want to say goodbye to it. It’s also exciting for what they’re going to continue to do. We were kind of scared, and I was scared, that a lot of fans wouldn’t accept it. At the same time, if they don’t want to accept it, they can always listen to the older bands.
That was kind of scary, but I feel like the response has been greater than we even imagined. The fans are so loyal. They’ve been there the whole time. Also, we didn’t know what direction we were going to be going in once we finished the album, and I feel like now we’re able to tour with so many different types of bands that it’s leaving us open to go anywhere. It’s really exciting. Getting the album out and having so much press and people approach us has been a big shocker. I just did an interview with Zooey Deschanel’s blog. People approaching us about streaming our first song, big websites, and we’re like, “Wow, this response is crazy.” The response in general has just been mind-blowing for us and we’re all really thankful for it.
What do you have planned for 2012? Do you have anything you’re working on already?
We don’t have anything set yet. We don’t have any tours set or anything like that, but we’re definitely looking at it and going back and forth with what’s available and narrowing down our choices. We just want to be out on tour. I literally told our booking agent, “We don’t want to be home next year. Literally, just book us up.” We want to be touring. We want to be out and promoting this record and meeting everybody.
Doing the Circa tour was amazing because I’m a huge Circa fan, always have been, but also because I feel like a lot of the fans that came out, most of the people I would talk to, were like, “We have never heard of you but we heard you tonight and we bought your record.” That was a big wakeup to me. I thought the only people that would want to see us were existing fans, but we actually picked up tons of new fans just by touring with a slightly different band. I feel like Lydia never would have toured with Circa. I tried to make that happen in the past and it just wouldn’t happen and I was so bummed.
I feel like this next year’s got to be a heavy touring year. That’s what we’re going to do is tour, tour, tour. We don’t have any plans on putting a new album out because we just put Room to Run out, but Stephen and I are always writing. I already have a couple new songs for the next record. It’s just exciting to write. We don’t have any plans on putting anything out, but who knows? We might put out extra little b-sides or something maybe by early summer or something like that.
That’s another thing that’s cool about not being on a label is that once you record the music you can put it up the same day or whatever.
Yeah, literally you can put it up the second you want to put it up. There’s no, “Let’s make a strategy for this. We need to wait to this day to put it out.” It’s more like if the fans want it, let’s give it to them kind of a thing.