Frog and Fiddle, Cheltenham, 16/06/12
With their track sweeping hooks, tender vocals and artfully assembled sound, Dry the River are an increasingly cited band in the world of…folk…rock…just in their own world– they’re just too modest to admit it. Peter Liddle and Matt Taylor talk about restraining their acoustics, releasing those acoustics, the possibility of Dad the River and what they’ve experienced from condiments.
If Dry the River were on Mastermind, what would your specialist subject be?
Peter Liddle: Probably power metal. We know quite a lot about power metal, certainly Scott and John know a lot about power metal. John had a band on in the van yesterday called power wolf– It was amazing. Lots of shouting about satan and vampires not dying.
Matt Taylor: Or condiments. We know quite a lot about condiments.
Peter: That’s another thing we’re very well versed on. We actually have a flight case that tours with us and just has our condiments. We ask for either a local or an unusual condiment so we get a different one every night. We experience quite a lot. I’d like to think we’ve taken something from it.
Matt: I think pickles and chutneys are our real…can you choose pickles and chutneys for Mastermind?
Yeah I can’t see why not. For fans that haven’t seen you live before, what can they expect tonight?
Peter: A shaky rendition of our album songs, like our album songs played louder and slightly worse. Tattoos.
Matt: Pretty much. Some bad haircuts. Dodgy dance moves. It’s basically our songs played louder. A bit more aggressive than what you’ll hear on record.
Peter: And faster and drunker.
So what inspired the name, Dry the River?
Peter: Just plucked it out of thin air. We often fabricate lengthy answers to this question, but the truth is there is nothing behind it at all. If you could look around the back of it..
Matt: There’s nothing there.
Peter: it would be like looking around the back of a McDonalds. There’s just bins.
It’s nice to have a bit of honesty. So do you prefer touring in the U.K, Europe or the U.S?
Peter: As a band probably the U.S. I personally like being at home.
Matt: I don’t want to say it means more but last time we toured the U.K we had a lot of people that we’d seen at shows over the years, more people would come and sing the songs back at us. It just felt really really good. America we love that for different reasons. It’s quite refreshing going over there. We feel like a new band again because we’ve never toured there before. We just did our first tour there two weeks ago. Really small venues. That was a lot of fun. And it was really cool driving across America seeing all the cool things America has.
Peter: When we were in the U.S we toured in an R.V. which makes life a lot cooler. We basically live in it, we all had beds in it– It’s kinda novel. We like the food in the U.S. Scott and John– our rhythm section– are big fans of bad BBQ food and horrendous garishly coloured sweets, so they love touring the U.S. from a culinary point of view.
Matt: They’re both quite different experiences and they’ve both got their positives.
Peter: Touring in Europe is like touring in the U.K. just without good service stations and no data roaming.
I did notice that your video diary was quite food based.
Peter: John makes those. They were saying ‘just submit the raw footage to us and we’ll edit it to make it really professional,’ but John insisted on editing it himself in iMovie. Everyone else’s looks really polished, like the trailer for a blockbuster film.
It looked friendly though. So what with the N.M.E article and being shortlisted for BBC’s Sound of 2012 and all the positive reviews floating around about you, do you think that fame has or will change you guys?
Peter: I don’t know, we haven’t got there. We’re still in relative obscurity, so it’s not something we have to deal with.
Matt: I also think that because we’re on tour so much we kind of live in a bubble. We’re slowly morphing into the same person, having the same conversations day in day out. It’s quite difficult to penetrate that bubble, so I don’t think we’re going to change at all.
Peter: In a way we’re so tied up in our own mythology that regardless of what people write about us, you know, whether it’s positive or negative commentary, I don’t think it influences us either way. We read a five star review in the telegraph saying that Shallow Bed’s an incredible album. We were like ‘Hmm it’s not really, is it?’ and when we read a one star review in The Skinny, some little hipster publication, we were like ‘Ah it’s not that bad’. We just maintain this myth of mediocrity in our band. no-ones allowed to be too positive or too negative about anything. It keeps your feet on the ground.
Well, you’re on the staff recommended shelf here at H.M.V so I don’t know if that brings it all to you. It looks like you guys had a lot of fun with your music videos, any plans for any future ones?
Peter: I had a brilliant plan for one the other day: I wanted to try and get all of our dads in a music video as us. So, we’d just shoot a video where my dad is playing guitar and singing in my baseball cap and skinny jeans. Matt’s dad playing guitar. That would be great. All of our dads are so normal and middle class– they’re all business men. John’s dad works for FISA, the pharmaceutical company. My dad works in oil. Matt’s dad is in insurance. Scott’s dad is an accountant. They’re all such normal middle age men.
Matt: It would be so cool to see them rocking out.
Peter: I don’t know if my dad would be game for it. I really hope he would be.
Matt: I’d like to get him to sing three-part harmonies for real. It would be hilarious.
Peter: Dad the River.
That does sound cool. So I know that you moved around quite a lot when you were young, do you think that found its way into your songs?
Peter: Yeah, certainly on the first record there’s a lot of stuff about communities and a sense of belonging to somewhere. I didn’t really realise at the time. A lot of those songs are six, seven years old, from a band I was in when I was 16, 17. Looking back on it, there’s a fixation with belonging and family history and coming from somewhere geographically, because I’m from all over. My parents are the same– they moved around a lot in their childhood. There’s nowhere in Britain, or anywhere, where I can say ‘all my family’s from here’ and I could go back there and say ‘we’ve always lived around here’. I moved around a lot. I try to address the balance in songs, in this fictional sense of community.
So you had some support from BBC Introducing when you were just getting started. How did you get involved with that and do you think you would have gotten this far without them?
Peter: I think we submitted something…
Matt: Yeah, we recorded two demos with a friend of ‘Weights and Measures’ and ‘No Rest’. We uploaded them– they had an uploader as part of the whole scheme– and we got an email one day saying…I think…
Peter: Basically, we had forgotten all about it.
Matt: They said ‘Huw Stephens [Radio 1] is going to play your song.’ Then we remembered that we’d uploaded them and then from that we got invited into BBC Berkshire and did some stuff on the radio there. From that we went on to play Glastonbury on the BBC Introducing stage.
Peter: We found that to get on the BBC Intro stage at Glastonbury you had to be recommended by a panel, put forward by whatever regional BBC your with and then it goes to a panel who decides who’s going. We knew Huw was on the panel, and he was really enthusiastic, so we hounded BBC Berkshire. By that point we’d just moved to London but because we’d initially come to BBC Berkshire we just kept hounding them. They weren’t allowed to say if they would put us forward. It all had to be shrouded in secrecy, but I guess Huw helped us out on the panel and we got to play Glasto and that was our first festival.
Matt: They definitely helped us in a massive way. Most notably that they put us on at Glastonbury.
So you’ve come from heavier, more punky bands, did you have to restrain yourself with Shallow Bed?
Peter: Maybe with recording we restrained ourselves.
Matt: Initially when we started the band, me and Pete particularly tried to restrain everybody– we wanted it to be a much more kind of rootsy, less aggressive type of endeavour. But the level of restraint since that day has kind of disintragated.
Peter: I think we gradually let it get heavier and more intense. A lot of people were going ‘there’s millions of folky rootsy bands at the moment’ and Mumford and Sons were just becoming a popular band, so I think there was a lot of that going around and we knew that we were trying to be a very folky band, which we found very artificial. It wasn’t even a conscious decision; I think naturally we just got heavier and people seemed to really respond to it and we enjoyed it a lot more live, jumping around and enjoying ourselves a bit more. We started to get some really good feedback from labels and stuff . It was like ‘you guys have stumbled on your own thing here.’
Matt: I think your songs worked initially how we were doing them, but also when we did go heavier and we let loose with them, they worked just as well– they didn’t lose anything, in fact I think they gained something because they’re pretty epic songs. It just seemed to pan out and kind of came together a bit better when we let loose.
So you guys spend a lot of time together, do you ever get to the point where you just can’t stand one another anymore?
Peter: I think we’re always there, always on the brink of…
Matt: Yeah I live perpetually on that brink.
Peter: No we don’t really If we’re honest. We lived together for a year when we started the band in a two bedroom house, kind of on top of one another all the time. I think you just accept that’s part and parcel of what it is. We get annoyed with each other all the time.
Matt: We toured for so long now. We’ve been touring without any serious break for about three years, so if there were any problems to be had then we’ve already been through them. The fact that we’re together now means there are no problems.
Peter: It’s a pretty sarcastic environment to be in– everyone’s relentlessly trying to piss each other off.
Matt: We have our ways of dealing with it…just by laying into each other all the time.
Peter: When you live with your family you argue with them all the time but you never think ‘can I leave my family’ because you just accept the fact you’re stuck with them and endure it. I think there’s an element of that as well. What would we do if we weren’t in this band? We could do what we used to do and have horrible day jobs.
Matt: It’s definitely more brotherly than colleagues.
Peter: And when we’re not on tour we don’t really see each other at all, which I think helps.
Do you have a favourite venue or festival?
Peter: My favourite venue used to be The Luminaire in Kilburn, but it got shut down. We played there a couple of times– lovely little 200 capacity venue with great sound.
Matt: My mind always goes blank when we get asked that question because we’ve played so many…
What about festivals or venues like this?
Matt: I like playing club shows.
Peter: Me too, we never play very well at festivals– Outdoor stages, the sound is notoriously bad. Everyone’s so distracted by what they’re going to see next and who’ve they seen that audience wise everyone kinda has the attention span of a rat.
Matt: You have to hit the right moment with a festival. It could be absolutely amazing.
Peter: At Reading festival last year it started to rain and we were on the Radio 1 stage, I think it has the capacity of a couple of thousand, and no-one really knew us but loads of people were pouring in. Everyone went berserk and absolutely loved it. People were crowd surfing. From that we came off buzzing, it was brilliant.
Matt: And Will [Harvey] said that was one of the best gigs we’ve ever done.
Peter: But then we’ve done a lot of festival shows where it’s been like…especially with the smaller European ones where you get off a plane and bus straight to the festival and we immediately go on stage with no sound check– it sounds horrible and no-one knows who we are. Then we get on a bus, drive back to the airport and fly somewhere else. Whereas club shows are reliably fun, you can have a couple of beers and you don’t have to think about what you’re doing after the show you can just go and have fun and see what happens.
Thanks Peter and Matt.