Wildly Addictive: An Interview With Dutch Uncles
, January 17th, 2013 05:14
John Freeman finds out that Dutch Uncles’ third album, Out Of Touch In The Wild, was fuelled by a thirst for creative freedom and anchored by the concept of addiction
Dutch Uncles are sitting in a bustling Manchester pub, and conversation has turned to tour riders. "We were on the same bill as Prince at Hop Farm in 2011. Apparently, he asked for the décor from his favourite Soho strip club to be ripped out and put up in his dressing room," recalls drummer Andy Proudfoot, somewhat misty-eyed at the notion. "We were just discussing the rider for our next tour. We were hoping to ask for a Gregg's pasty - each - and that might be pushing it."
The remark is met with raucous laughter, but it's typical of a band that seem resolutely grounded, even though they have just released their finest album to date. Out Of Touch In The Wild is officially album number three – the Marple five-piece's lesser-known debut was released via small German label Tapete, before they signed to Memphis Industries ahead of 2011's Cadenza - and is both grander in scope and more consistent than its predecessors. Singles 'Fester' and 'Flexxin', for example, are both beautifully spacious songs, making clever use of strings and marimba respectively.
This new Dutch Uncles sound was born of a desire to cut free from their previous twitchy, Wire-inspired guitar pop. "I didn't want any boundaries when it came to writing the new songs," reveals bassist and primary songwriter Robin Richards. "With Cadenza, I was always writing music with the idea of us playing it live with two guitars, drums and bass and maybe some piano. With this album, I wrote whatever felt right for any other instruments, be it strings or tube percussion."
"We thought we'd freed you," grins singer Duncan Wallis. "And if you love someone, you should set them free."
The result of this artistic liberty is a very fine pop album that doffs a cap to venerable artisans such as Kate Bush, Japan, Talking Heads and, indeed, Prince. As opposed to the claustrophobic, slightly math rock-ish feel of their older recordings, here the band - completed by guitarists Daniel Spedding and Peter Broadhead - show off a desire for wider explorations of texture and mood, via songs such as the lush pop of 'Bellio', which dazzles with pretty synth lines, and the gentle xylophone refrain of 'Phaedra'.
"The Cadenza songs were almost set in concrete," admits Broadhead. "We didn't want to fuck with the formula. Whereas the new songs [on Out Of Touch...] could go in any direction and would start off life completely differently to the way they ended up. We wanted marimbas, xylophones, vibraphones and we wanted a string quartet. If you say that from the off, it is going to sound different."
Unlike Cadenza, which was recorded over snatched weekends spanning several months, the band decided on a different approach for the new album - having already written the songs, they booked two weeks in the studio last January and set themselves a tight deadline. "90 per cent of the record was done in those two weeks," reveals Broadhead. The focused recording process ensured that Out Of Touch In The Wild became, as Richards reflects, "a cohesive block of music, even if it took slightly longer to add the final touches." Indeed, from there it took the band months to complete the album after that initial burst of recording.
Lyrically, while the new Dutch Uncles sound revels in its use of broader instrumentation, Wallis delves deeper into bleaker aspects of the human psyche. "The starting point was thinking I'd never be able to find anything to pick out of my life after the songs about the funerals on Cadenza," he admits, when talk turns to lyrics. I'd previously interviewed Wallis as part of the promotional schlep for Cadenza. He's extremely good company; affable and articulate in equal measure. The funerals he mentions – one for a grandparent and the other for a young friend – became that album's emotional cornerstones. "I thought I was drained of all personal emotion. It turned out I wasn't," he says.
So Out Of Touch In The Wild hones in on addiction in all its virulent forms. "This new record is darker and more personal, despite the fact I was trying to do more character writing than ever. For the song 'Nometo', I tried to imagine Leonard Cohen doing his thing - full of regret - then I started to think about the idea of addiction, and then it seemed that every song contained a person who was addicted to something or another. The next two songs that were written – 'Threads' and 'Flexxin' – were about autoerotic asphyxiation and S&M, and people becoming addicted to those types of things."
Its subject matter elevates Out Of Touch In The Wild - it's a complex and rewarding record that gradually unfolds to reveal its sinister side. The tense 'Godboy' picks at the dying embers of drug addiction, while the beautifully subdued 'Zug Zwang' alludes to a concept in chess in which a player has no other option than one particular move. Wallis is unclear as to the reason for this addiction to addictions. "I dunno – it's my obsession," he admits. "Addiction seems such an ugly theme, but when I listen back to the record I personally feel more affected compared to Cadenza."
Out Of Touch In The Wild's title, explains Proudfoot, is a nod to "our position in the music industry over the last two albums - we have always been outsiders looking in." It's a fair point. The band's music has never exactly been over-immediate - every track on their debut album was written in a different time signature "for the sake of it" (according to Richards) - and Wallis admits that the band previously struggled to jump through the usual hoops required of a breakthrough artist. "When Cadenza came out we were treated as a new band and we did a lot of things to promote it that we shouldn't have to have done. We had to do all the new music circuit stuff and the 'acoustic session' thing for everyone. We are not an acoustic band, it was complete rubbish – we'd be looking at each other going 'what the fuck are we doing?'"
Richards is a little more sanguine about any deeper meaning reflected in the title. "It sums us up and sums up the album," he says. "We've taken a different route to a lot of bands - that's why we feel like outsiders and it might take a bit longer to get to the same stage as some of our peers. But that's fine with us." Some addictions, it would seem, are worth the pain.
Dutch Uncles are on tour at the moment - you can catch them at the following dates.
17 - London, New Slang, Kingston
05 - Newcastle, The Cluny
06 - Glasgow, Art School
07 - Leeds, Brundenell Social Club
08 - Liverpool, Kazimier
09 - Sheffield, Leadmill
12 - Cardiff, The Moon Club
13 - Brighton, The Green Door Store
14 - London, Hoxton Bar & Kitchen
15 - Birmingham, Hare & Hounds
16 - Manchester, Gorilla