Dry Cleaning on "Sweet Princess" and "Boundary Road Snacks and Drinks" | Under the Radar - Music Magazine
Monday, December 9th, 2019  

Dry Cleaning on “Sweet Princess” and “Boundary Road Snacks and Drinks”

Cultural Foraging

Nov 26, 2019
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As South London continues to pump out angular post-punk bands with all the regularity of a vending machine, such a well-populated landscape doesn't afford much room for differentiation. It's telling then that Dry Cleaning stand out effortlessly. Much has been made of lead singer Florence Shaw's half-spat, half-sang pithy poems about modern life, but peer beyond her lyrics and you'll find a band totally in-tune with one another in a manner that's grounded in their shared life experiences.

It's refreshing to see such plain talent break through, and break through they have. Dry Cleaning have had the kind of rags-to-riches year few bands could aspire to (if riches constitutes touring endlessly in a van), and they've done it all with two all-killer, no-filler EPs (August's Sweet Princess and October's Boundary Road Snacks and Drinks), and a ramshackle, jumbled origin story that consciously-DIY bands from their peer group would crave. Chatting with Shaw (vocals) and Nick Buxton (drums) on the phone, it quickly becomes clear that it's not a front. All the more, they're funny and self-deprecating to boot. The band also features Lewis Maynard and Tom Dowse.

Blaise Radley (Under the Radar): Hey there guys, how are you both faring from the cold?

Florence Shaw: I'm actually in bed. I'm fully clothed, I just can't handle it. I get home and I feel like I need to be a lot warmer, immediately.

Nick Buxton: I'm in my pyjamas. We're all in the same boat.

So, for readers who are unfamiliar, how did the band actually get started?

Florence: We've all known each other for a long time, but in different ways. I met Nick and Lewis when we were 18/19-they were at Goldsmiths and I was at Camberwell down the road. We've been friends since then... but not made any music together until the last year or so. I met Tom at Art School where we went about... verging on 10 years ago now. We worked together as illustrators, but never worked together musically. And in the meantime, Tom's girlfriend is my very old friend and her twin is Nick's girlfriend. So it's like a really real crazy mix of stuff. In terms of music, Nick, Tom, and Lewis were playing together before I joined for about a year. Was it? I'm never sure.

Nick: Six months fairly sort of halfheartedly. We didn't really do any gigs or anything. It was just mucking around, I think.

Florence: But like, having a nice time?

Nick: Yeah having a great time!

Florence: I think they were wondering about a front person or vocals. They were floating various ideas and people that they knew, and I think my name came up and they thought, 'Okay. Yeah, let's try that.' And so Tom asked me to come to rehearsal and then: yep. Yep. That's how it happened.

And the rest is history! How would you say the songwriting process changed Nick?

Nick: We had the core of the first EP written instrumentally, and then Florence came in. I think the writing process changed because the four of us all put our opinions and tastes into the mix. We record a lot of jams, and then we listen back and people pick out the bits they like. When Florence joined we essentially added another person's taste into that mix to make Dry Cleaning as it is now. It's probably the most mutual band I've ever been in. Florence is the only person that contributes towards the lyric writing, but in terms of the music, everyone's input is there.

Florence: Even with the lyricsobviously I write the words, but you guys will respond to particular lines that you like and that'll have quite an impact. I'll mark things like: "that's a keeper." It's one of those things that maybe sounds too kind of diplomaticbut it's actually true! You couldn't really lose any of us. Everyone's essential.

Well it's good to know you're not ready to chuck someone out just yet.

Florence: Well, if that were to happen we would sound really different. Everyone's really giving quite a lot, which is nice.

You mentioned having different tastes. I assume not, but is everyone into the same sort of music?

Nick: That's an interesting question because there's not a lot someone would put on in the van that anyone would strongly object to, but I think there's quite a broad range of tastes. Just no disagreeable ones.

Florence: It's definitely a broad church, and I think that's something we all have in common. We probably cover almost every genre in one way or another. I listen to quite a lot of ambient music, and Aphex Twin, for example, which is obviously nothing like us. But then I've also been listening to a lot of Tirzah. I don't listen to a whole lot of super high energy rock music. I'd hate to try and label what Tom listens to...

Nick: I can hear him objecting already.

Florence: Yeah I know! But I mean he probably listens to the most punk music out of all of us. And then Nick, you're quite into house and more electronic stuff.

Nick: Yeah I guess that's fair to say. It's really nice that you could make a mixtape between the four of us and it would have lots of really interesting stuff on it that you'd never experienced before. I feel like I learn a lot from the other guys and I'd like to think everyone feels that way. It's nice to be able to respect everyone else's tastes.

To narrow it down, if you guys were all going to go to a gig together, who would it be?

Florence: Oh my god... There's quite a lot you could do. I mean R.E.M. possibly, or DEVO? Obviously these aren't gigs we could actually go to but I mean, god, if we narrow it down further it's going to be an impossible question.

Nick: We we're talking about Deftones in the van that one time. We all used to listen to them a lot at one time in our lives.

Florence: And then there's always songs that we all tend to agree on. I think the other day we were talking about that song "Right Down the Line," the Gerry Rafferty song? We were all really enthusiastic about that. We kind of come together in strange places sometimes.

Nick: Good way to put it. 

Looking more generally, would you say there was any particular moment this year when you got a sense things were picking up speed?

Nick: There's always a live thing when shows sell out. The first headline show we did in London at The Waiting Room, that sold out. And then we did the second headline show we ever did in Brighton, and that sold out, outside of London. That was crazy.

Florence: That was weird, right?

Nick: Who were all those people?

Florence: In the best possible way we were all quite spooked by that. We were preparing ourselves for rooms that were... well, certainly not full. So that was really nice. Something I think of in particular was when we played at Green Man. We arrived at the stage 45 minutes early, and there was no one thereof course, because there was no one playing and it was just the afternoon at a festival. A few people lying in the grass, but basically nobody. So we were like, "Cool, okay"not daunted, almost expecting that.

We went into our little dressing room, and there was quite a nice spread, actually. So that was a little build upwe were like: "This is really comfy in a really rainy festival," feeling very special. So then we went to play, and there were a LOT of people there... It was a bit of a double take: "Is there someone on after us? Have they announced some secret set?" Just little things where you're like, "Oh, crikey! People are really interested." I guess the common denominator is people coming to our shows.

"Magic of Meghan" definitely also felt like a break. It's such an interesting statement; that degree of sincerity towards a royal family member [Meghan Markle] that traditionally a punk crowd would have had animosity for. What are your feelings on that?

Florence: My feelings about it change a lot, to be honest with you. It was written from a sincere place, but also quite a lot of the energy behind the words came from feeling disturbed by the way she was being written about in the press. Not as a member of the royal family, but as a human being who is biracial; is female.

It basically just creeps me out, and it's only actually really got worse since then. The way she's written about and the amount of thinly veiled contempt, which isn't to do with her being royal, which is almost the most legitimate reason for contempt. Really it's to do with a contempt that's often reserved for women and people of color, and it just freaked me out..

I really like that people read it in all kinds of different ways. Some people read it as super sarcastic; some people read it as really sincere, and I don't really care to pin that down too much. I'm very invested in music that's not cut and dry. I think it's good and okay to be confused, or for something to ask a question rather than answer it.

Your lyrics almost feel like cultural foragingwhat's your process?

Florence: I just go about my normal life: working and travelling around London mainly, and I write things down that I see in advertising or overhear. Lots of it is just imaginary scenes where I invent a dialogue. It's a few different types of writing: collecting, inventing, and overhearing and sometimes a combination of all three, as I go about my business.

I don't really sit down at a desk and write thingsI just collect, usually in my phone or written down on spare bits of paper. Then when we rehearse or practice, in the same way that everyone's improvising, I'll leaf through this stack of paper and sing or recite different parts that I intuitively feel work with the music. My process is evolving all the time, just trying to keep a balance between being efficient and not killing it. It's a bit of a challenge. 

On "Goodnight" a lot of the lyrics came directly from YouTube comments, right?

Florence: Yeah, some of them are YouTube comments; some of them are written to sound like YouTube comments; some of them are adapted. That was the first song I came up with words for, at a time when I was spending lots of time thinking, "Oh, how do you write songs? How are songs different to writing poems? How are songs different to drawings?" So I was on YouTube looking at comments under songs where people are talking about what songs mean to them. I was just a bit lost, like: "Uhhh, what are songs?"

Do you ever consider someone might come up to you and be like, you used my comment on "X?"

Florence: I've considered that quite carefully actually! I actually looked into the legal side and it's all very dense. The minute you start looking into it you get lost in a sea of who owns what; it's kind of mad. I would welcome that personally. I just thought, you know what? None of the comments have anything that's incredibly personal in a very unique way. Like, I'm not giving away anyone's address or anything like that. I think if I'd written the comment, I'd think it was cool! "Oh, what? Some comment I wrote three years ago is in a song!?"

So at what stage did you come up with the name Dry Cleaning, and what was the thinking behind it?

Nick: I think it was Tom that put the name forward. It's the same process when you name any band, when you're just trying to come up with a couple of words that mean something. It's kind of a ridiculous process and completely arbitrary, but we quite liked the domesticity of it. We were rehearsing in this tiny garage, next to a tumble dryer....not that those two are connected, really.

Florence: It was before I joined. You were already called Dry Cleaning, and I remember I liked the name. With titles of anything you have to feel good about saying them over and over and over again. The number of times a day I say Dry Cleaning... I mean at least once a day.

You also fall into this dying category of difficult to Google artists...

Florence: Just type: Dry Cleaning band. I mean like: Come on guys!

Nick: I never understood that whole thing about putting numbers or spelling your band weird so that people didn't know how to Google it.

I'm sure you'll be top results soon enough.

Florence: I think I'd be thoroughly disturbed if we overtook actual dry cleaners near you. No one ever mishears itthat's something. People just go, "You mean like dry cleaning?" and I'm like, yeah... So that's quite good. It's not just like a weird made-up word. They ARE words, so that's cool.

So what's 2020 got in store?

Nick: Lots of things already. Lots of shows, and then hopefully recording an album, which we're in the process of writing now. We've got a few gigs, but mainly just a quiet period where we can just chill and write some new music, which I'm really looking forward to.

Florence: We've got a few festivals early next year; we're paying in Slovenia in February, somewhere I've never before. I think things like that really interest me: the opportunity to go to new places, but not for a holiday but like to work there, that's a really nice idea. So going to be doing a bit of that all over the place. We're playing SXSW as well which seems a bit bonkers, but it's all very exciting.

www.drycleaning.bandcamp.com

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Michael Aitken
November 28th 2019
2:36pm

Bought the double EP on vinyl - what a gem! takes me way back into Young Marble Giants and early Grace Jones but with a refreshing clarity.