Monday, 20 December 2010

Dutch Uncles- Facing the Future

[A much-shortened version of this piece was published in the last issue of High Voltage; here's the unedited version]



So now the NME is saying what we already knew; Manchester is the most exciting city on the planet for new music. When you cut though the buzz however, there's only really one true contender for the title besides your Delphic and your Everything Everything- Dutch Uncles. Famous already in these parts for their math-meets-indie guitars and frontman Duncan Wallis’s er- interesting dance moves, Dutch Uncles have just signed to Memphis Industries, recorded an album and their days as a carefully-kept secret of the city are about to end. High Voltage caught up with Duncan before they left for tour with Tokyo Police club, and had a pleasant chat over a cup of tea.

So Duncan, what are you guys upto at the moment?

“We've just been promoting the single, the d├ębut on Memphis Industries...”

Are they putting out the record then?

“Yeah, they are with us for a whole album.”

So your current focus is the album then?

“Yeah.”

What sort of stage are you at? Recording, mixing?

“We thought we'd finished- we spent the summer doing it in Salford University. It was good to get down and it got us a label. We were just doing it to get tracks down, and then found ourselves with a  little sampler, and then label interest...”

So, did you send it to them, or did they approach you?

“We sent it off to them. They'd been in touch in the past- they liked 'The Ink', so we thought, “you liked 'The Ink', let's see how you like these four...””

It's a great single.

“I like what it does as a single, but unfortunately not enough people in our camp seem to think it will penetrate enough.”

Well it's quite different, compared to say 'Face In' or 'Steadycam', the songs you hear fans calling out for at shows... that's quite a bold choice for a single.

“It was the only song we had at the time we were choosing. We wrote this album very fast- we spent about nine months writing six songs, and then spent two months getting another five.”

Was that as a result of practising more, once you knew an album was in the works?

“As we saw a vision for the album, and as soon as you've got certain degrees, and knew what was missing, your writing becomes a lot more structured rather than 'make a single, make a single, make a single...'”

What's the songwriting process then? Do the songs come out of jams, or does everybody go away and work on things?

“It's strictly eighties- music, band arrangement, lyrics.”

Well, I meant, do you approach the structure organically, or is it all very planned- section A goes after B, X will be the chorus, or whatever?

“Well we always argue over what's a chorus and what's not. I personally think that vocals make a chorus... I write the hooks, so I know where it's going to be [laughs]. At the same time, I'm playing piano in the band again-”

It's funny you should say that, because I had this smug question all lined up about being a guitar-only band, and then I heard the piano...

“Well I used to play the synth, standing up, but it looked a bit Hot Hot Heat- like I didn't know which band I was supposed to be in... [this time] I was adamant I wanted to sit down, play it two handed, give the instrument some respect...”

Like Meat Loaf? Out front of stage with the spotlight...

“More like Axl.”

You'd need to grow your hair a bit longer, get a fan-

“Get a bit more bloated, and get on the coke.”

I don't know why every interview I do at the moment comes back to slagging off Axl Rose. I wonder if it's my influence...

“Well, he did come back and make a big mockery of himself. I'm not a fan, but y'know?”

In the wake of Everything Everything and Delphic breaking though, as well as that NME article, do you feel a bit weird about the exposure you're getting at the moment, or do you think it's come at a good time and you're ready for it?

“It feels great. If we were feeling cocky about it, we could say that we've been waiting for this for a long time... I mean we have- we've been playing in bands for six years, but I've now got a small collection of NMEs for my mum with me in them. Because it's been six years, and we've seen what's happened to Delphic and Everything Everything, we're very mature about it- we aren't like 'this is happening, it's going down'. We're realistic about it, we don't want to get too excited about it... until we get recognised in the street, I don't think we have to worry about it.”
 


I recently saw you described as a 'young band'- I mean, you're not old men or anything [Duncan is actually about a year and a half older than I], but you have been at this a while- you've already put out an album, after all, and yet major publications I've seen haven't made any mention of it at all. How do you feel about that?

“Well, that's often our doing. Our first album, well, it's obviously an album, but we always looked at it as a very professional demo that we did at the beginning of being Dutch Uncles, our first ten songs. We thought we'd go over, get big on the continent before jumping back over and going 'AHA!' but it didn't work out like that. We never thought it was over, but we had to say 'right, let's forget that happened, but let's keep the songs that we and the fans like'... it was never released properly in the UK, in our eyes anyway- I mean, it was in HMV in the Imports section, but... our 'Face In' video never got any video play. We only started getting radio play after we joined Love and Disaster and Memphis. It felt like starting again.”

So you had to draw a line under it?

“This next album has been treated very much like a first album- we're trying to write as many singles as possible, catch as many people as we can. When it comes to the next album, we'll be a bit more reserved and go, 'let's do two really good songs, and then try and weird people out as much as possible'. We've written in 4/4 as much as we can-

That's a change.

“Exactly. The last album was lots of different time signatures that sounded like 4/4, where as this album is lots of songs in 4/4 that sound like different things.”

So we can expect less King Crimson comparisons then?

“Yeah probably [laughs]. I never knew where people got that one from.”

The other day, the BBC ran an article, that (dumbly summarised) suggested that guitar music was “dying”. What do you think of that?

“Well yeah, as a fashion it's been on the way out for ages because people give too much respect to synthesisers... it's a thing a lot of people hide behind. They make a synth-based band, then bring in the backing tracks and it all gets a bit messy for my liking. My personal opinion is that I like nothing better than two guitarists on stage, doing it like it should be. It's really good, and it shows musicianship. Guitar music is never going to die out, but I think guitarists feel like they are fighting synthesisers and synthesiser [players] feel like they are fighting guitarists.”

I guess the whole 'synthesisers putting guitarists out of a job' argument has been around for a long time- that whole Musicians' Union thing from the '70s...

“The short end of it is that guitars don't sound like guitars anymore. They've had to evolve to survive. Since 2004, indie has had two waves- guitar-based and synth-based, and it's usually pretty obvious which way a band has gone...”

Bringing it back to Manchester, do you think the descriptions of the 'scene' here have been a help or a hindrance?

 “People are a lot more willing to listen to your stuff, so if they like it, great!”

You've done most of your releases on vinyl, is there a reason for that? Do you think there's been a move back to it in recent years?

“Vinyl comes with download, so you get that, you get both. Downloads alone are just crap- you can't hold your music at the end of the day, that's what it's all about.”

The 12” sleeve is awesome...

“Yeah... it's like there's a Television vinyl that's been in Piccadilly Records for years... I got Islet's new EP- saw it and bought it without thinking about it. I'm collecting them up. I got the first one, so I got the second, and I'm going to have the third.”

So you're obviously a fan of the physical product, but you've now got enough stuff out there- and especially with a new album coming out- that you must be thinking about downloading now. Does it affect you as a musician? Is it something that concerns you?

“I don't like hearing about it. I've had people tell me they've downloaded my album illegally, to my face. It's kind of funny at the time, but...”

How do you react to that?

“I just go 'good lad', whatever. If you like it, you like it. It's not my fault if you've got bad taste in music collecting... I've got morals about it- I don't do it, I only buy vinyl. In relation to being an artist, we're told for a band at our stage, if it gets leaked then more people can hear it, and we're told that the money is in live shows, unless you're Kings of Leon... although we plan for the album to be as big as it can be, we haven't thought about making any money off of it; we've thought of making money off tours, off merch...”

So you're happy to see it getting out there as its own reward?

“Yeah, but don't leak it. [laughs]”

Speaking of shows, can you remember the best gig you've played? Is there one that sticks in your mind?

“The Bombay Bicycle Club gig at Koko. It was a full crowd and we could handle it. It was a great feeling... though every time we go up to Sunderland it's always a good gig. Barry from the Futureheads has championed us up there and Frankie and the Heartstrings push us too... but that Koko gig felt like we could handle a full crowd of kids, probably on legal highs...”

I can still remember when it was legal to buy mushrooms. I feel old now. That's probably why Muse were able to record Origin of Symmetry on shrooms...

“Really? How did they play all of those arpeggios on shrooms? Was it all a fluke? [laughs]”

Kind of a change of subject, but what's the best and worst part of being in a band?

“The best part is if you can be successful- there's nothing better than calling it your job, than being able to treat your friends, or get gifts around Christmas- if the band can pay for you to be a social, giving person. The worst part is the rest... [laughs] seriously, though the worst part is becoming your own harshest critic; there's a lot of negative thinking.”

The post-record blues?

“Probably. It's not like post-natal, but I do feel exhausted; I don't feel like I could write any more lyrics for a while now.”

Well, that's pretty much all of my questions exhausted, so to wrap up: what do you love about music?

[BIG pause] “...It makes you feel good to feel weird? I like singing along like an idiot. Also it's my job.”

To love music?

“Yeah, and I love that it is my job. You aren't going to write down every word I say right...?”


Dutch Uncles' new album is out soon on Memphis Industries. Their last two singles, The Ink and Fragrant, are out now on Love & Disaster and Memphis, respectively. They are playing a one-off special show on Monday the 29th of November at St. Phillips in Salford where Duncan assures me, “we're gonna play pretty much the whole album, plus some old ones... I get to play a xylophone solo.”

Now how could you possibly miss that?
 
 

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