White Lung has been hailed as one of the best punk bands of our generation. Led by Mish Barber-Way and her bellowing growl, the band has crafted melodic hardcore anthems for today’s disenfranchised youth. Their latest release, Paradise, has topped countless “Best Of” lists from every major publication, marking the band’s transition from Canadian punks to mainstream darlings. But the album also showcases both Barber-Way’s impressive vocal range, and her songwriting skills, with honest lyrics atop Kenneth Williams’ screeching guitars.
While most bands boast clear sonic references, White Lung’s creative mix of melody and aggression make for a sound completely their own. “Kiss Me When I Bleed,” has a pop-punk vibe, while “Vegas” is traditional pounding hardcore, with Williams’ thrashing guitars serving as the perfect backdrop for Barber-Way’s biting vocals. Album opener “Dead Weight,” is a highlight, with the vocals soaring into a guttural howl, and “Below” is the album’s most mellow song, with twinkling guitar riffs disguising Barber-Way’s scathing review of society’s beauty standards. Title track, “Paradise,” is the singer’s most obvious meditation on love and her recent marriage—”I’m all about you,” she howls, “you’re all about me too.”
But Barber-Way’s subtle, yet powerful lyrics make Paradise much more than this year’s best punk record. Her poetic reflections on love and even murder, with “Sister” serving as an apology from notorious killer Karla Homolka to the younger sister she murdered with then-boyfriend Paul Bernardo, create vivid imagery that make Paradise the musical version of a literary classic—the journalist and singer has succeeded in writing love songs that are not only not cheesy, but good. And with a tendency for outspokenness, she’s proven herself to be one of punk’s most exciting frontwomen.
Earlier this week, BULLETT called Mish Barber-Way to talk about true crime, Paradise and how much she hates trigger warnings.
Tell me about Paradise.
The only thing that really separates this record, besides the production of the record itself, was that we all remained quite independent in the process of writing. What that means is, because we were writing everything in the studio, we didn’t come in like, ‘Here’s our 10 songs, let’s bang them out live on the floor.’ We have done that, but this was more of a patchwork, collage effect. I spent two weeks doing vocals without any of my bandmates in the room, just me and Lars. I had these full completed songs to work on top of, which is why I think I was able to come up with melodies that were completely separate from the music itself—that weren’t being dictated by or distracted by guitar lines. It was just a completely different approach—a fresher approach—and I think it worked well for us.
What influences did you draw from?
I was just listening to a lot of old country and blues music, so I was trying to mimic that kind of storytelling that I so admire, but do it in my own way. I was very inspired by a lot of the books I had been reading all year, and by the research I had been doing for various magazines in the other side of my life, which is being a journalist. Everything from little moot stories to ones that I read with more intention, and that spoke to bigger issues that were important to me, to very basic things like love and marriage and motherhood—all these things that I’ve been experiencing as well as desiring to experience. I wrote from fictional standpoints as well, which allowed me a level of freedom. I could say things I couldn’t say as myself being autobiographical, especially when you’re someone who doesn’t want to share that much of yourself. I share only a small fraction of myself in my work, even though people think I’m quite public and open—that’s a big deception.
I read you were hesitant to make the album about love. Why?
When you take on a very common, basic topic that has been regurgitated nine million times, you have to find a fresh way to do it. I just wanted to be able to talk about something so universal in a new way that satisfied my own feelings, as well as looking at it from a different angle.
What do you think you were able to do on Paradise that you weren’t able to previous records?
Besides stronger melodies and the technical side of being a singer, I think that the thing I’m most proud of are the lyrics on this record. I feel as though I stepped out of a lot of my old negativity and anger. I was able to write love songs that are at 200bpm, that are maybe cheesy to some, but that are satisfying for me. I think that we created a really catchy, yet proud and aggressive record. A record that still gets your blood pumping—because that’s a hard thing. It’s hard to sing about love in a positive way when the music itself is so frantic and angry and aggressive. So striking that balance, for me, is something I’m happy with.
You’ve been pretty outspoken about your issues with modern feminism, especially with how it exists online.
I just feel as though the word doesn’t really mean anything anymore. I know what it means to me, and I know my ideology, but I feel that it’s just become a trend—it’s become something people learn about from memes. They don’t bother researching beyond that, they don’t bother looking at the other side, they don’t bother trying to have balanced opinions, and that comes with the quickness of social media and the need to constantly answer to someone else’s opinion, and feel as though you need to be part of the conversation without actually having anything to say. You know, in class you raise your hand when you actually have a question or something to say. But there was always that kid who just had to make a comment no matter what, even if it didn’t contribute to the discussion. I feel like now there’s an entire population of people doing that and it doesn’t help. What good does it do? It just makes a lot of noise.
So you think social media makes it worse?
I think it’s a combination of the way social media has taught us to communicate and taught us to value what we have to say over someone else—it’s always ‘Oh I feel like this,’ or ‘This makes me feel,’ instead of just taking a step back and not being so reactionary, and trying to think about things before making a comment. It’s like this quick answer and reaction culture in social media, and there’s also a level of selfishness in the western world. You’re not going to understand things very well if you never look outside of this country and continue to complain. We can see everything now and yet we still continue to not appreciate all the things that have happened here. I am a feminist and I’m proud to be, but I don’t consider myself a part of that Social Justice Warrior, PC, aggressive movement where people just sit there with their fingers in their ears saying, ‘I can’t even!’ instead of engaging in an actual discussion or argument with someone who they may or may not even disagree with.
It seems like the same people who are preaching tolerance are the first to attack others online.
Having never actually lived in the real world or done anything, it’s very easy to sit there and bark about how the world should be, when you actually haven’t gone out in it without your life jacket on. […] We’re creating a nation of emotional hemophiliacs with that kind of safe space, trigger warning garbage. The world is a public space that contains things you might not agree with at some point — that’s just a reality we have to get used to. Thinking you’re going to create some utopia where everyone is happy is a complete and utter myth. Grow up.
How has moving to LA changed your writing?
When I was living in Vancouver, especially those last couple years, I was not happy. It had nothing to do with the city, or the mountains, or the fact that my family was there, and my friends that I love were there—that’s my home. But I wasn’t being challenged with my work. I firmly believe you gotta go and live somewhere else, even if you end up moving back to your hometown to settle in the end—but you gotta go out and do that. I just needed a change. Then I met my husband there, and he’s completely changed my life. That’s been probably another massive impact on not only my general happiness, but my life goals. I never thought I’d be someone who would care about one day having children. But you meet someone and it clicks and it’s perfect, and it makes you look at the world a little differently. Nothing else really matters.
“Sister” is about murderess Karla Homolka. Why her?
Karla was a game changer. Walking home as a little girl, you no longer just had to be wary of creepy men but women could commit evil too—she proved it. We all talk about equality, but women get away with a lot of stuff. I did a huge report on women who help their husbands rape and murder and commit these crimes, and they often get off with way lower sentences because we don’t assume women can do that. It’s just as ridiculous to assume that a vagina makes you incapable of committing a disgusting act. […] The song is me, pretending in the voice of Karla, not only lamenting Paul but apologizing to her little sister who she offered up to him as a gift—as a virginity gift. I was imagining her apologizing to her sister and how that would look.
What comes first for you, journalism or music?
I think I’m equal parts both. But I’m a writer first—I was doing that long before anyone gave a shit about my music. I didn’t expect to ever become a career musician or to ever make money from it. I did it because I loved it, and it was something I kind of had to do because I wanted to. I get a different satisfaction from both, but they bleed into one another.
If you could go back and give your high school self advice, what would it be?
Calm down. Stop screaming and don’t worry. Your tits are going to come, you’re just a late bloomer.