Glock Rock with the Clogs Off, Baby
Aug 20, 2013
Change is, in a musical climate at least, unquestionably a good thing. With its proud tradition of laddish, loutish Madchester and Britpop monoliths, however, Manchester, England is perhaps not the city you'd first associate with pop evolution. But perceptions of its music scene are altering and, along with the likes of fellow Mancunians Egyptian Hip Hop and Delphic, Dutch Uncles are producing intelligent pop music that gives Britain hope of catching up with its European and American forerunners. Under the Radar caught up with singer/pianist Duncan Wallis and drummer Andy Proudfoot for a chat in the heart of Manchester's trendy Northern Quarter. The rest of the band includes guitarist Pete Broadhead, bassist Robin Richards, and guitarist Daniel Spedding. The band's third album, Out of Touch, In the Wild, was released earlier this year via Memphis Industries.
Dan Lucas (Under the Radar): Do you feel as though you're at the forefront of the shift in people's perceptions of Manchester's music scene?
Duncan Wallis: That was a very 2010 kind of thing, I think. We all sort of came to light at the same time thanks to our manager's EP that he'd released on his Love & Disaster label featuring us, Delphic, and Everything Everything, and I think that back in 2010 it was very important to say "Manchester isn't just lad rock," because it was shortly after the demise of Oasis and it feels very different now.
Andy Proudfoot: [The kind of music we make] actually feels like the norm now. It's not really what we'd call "a scene" because although it started with all of us doing this thing, no one's really followed it up. It's a shame, you don't get bands saying "we want to make intelligent music" and carrying on from that. The industry itself has changed so much nowadays. Bands are much more independent and have to get by on their own means: they make their own albums in their own practice rooms because budgets have been slashed so much. Because the industry's changed so much the national music scene has had to change to accommodate it. It's all bedroom projects now and some of them work out really well.
What prompted the decision to record your debut album in Germany?
Andy: It was the only thing that became available to us, the only offer we had at the time. It was the only opportunity to record an album really as we weren't in a position to do it ourselves. We didn't know what we were doing or anyone who could help us out, then our old manager got an email saying "Do you fancy signing to a German label?"
Duncan: We were really young, we'd just turned 18, and this Hamburg label had initially offered us a five-album deal. We thought "well that's a lifetime" and even at this stage we knew it was a bad idea. That was when we were in a band before Dutch Uncles, and then when we changed our name and our ideas we did another tour over there and that was when we were offered the one-album deal. I think we saw it as (a) our only option and (b) a laugh. It felt like a good stepping stone, because I think at that time we realised a lot of bands around us were taking their time to sit back on their ideas.... It was around the time that Delphic were working on their sound in a basement in Night & Day [popular Manchester hipster bar not far from where we're sitting] and it was all going to be ready. They were going to have a label after one gig and it was all going to be in place, whereas we thought "let's just get an album out, we've got 10 songs here," and that album was the first 10 songs we had.
How would you describe the evolution in your music, particularly between previous album Cadenza and your current record Out of Touch, In the Wild?
Duncan: There's definitely been a change in a production sense. We've taken a lot more time; with the first record we had no idea what we were doing, no idea about production values, we just played the songs and that was that. Cadenza and Out of Touch, In the Wild are a lot more focused on production. We've got a friend who's produced these records and brought a lot to it. A lot more thought has gone into exactly how we wanted them to sound.
Andy: It's that, and then our writing style has changed. The first album's our first 10 songs, so we didn't feel we were doing that thing of writing songs for five years to make an album. After your first album your writing style changes because you know you've got to have an album out next week and you have deadlines you impose on yourself. In terms of the sound it was all about getting Brendan [Williams, producer] involved as well as sitting in the practice room thinking "How are we going to make this song sound different to the last one?" We've always had a bit of a reputation for being a live band and being in the studio has always been our challenge. We're trying to surprise ourselves more and more each time we do it.
Some people have described your music as "math rock" or "prog pop." Do you think that there's an unfair perception of your music as a bit self-indulgent?
Andy: I think perhaps in the past we've made the mistake of billing ourselves as that. We were telling people about our writing process with weird and intricate time signatures, and maybe if we'd not said that then people wouldn't have thought about it. I think sometimes when people know too much about something it changes the way they listen to it. It's fine really, as long as we're not coming across as too pretentious.
Duncan: That's the danger. Like you say, it can sound a bit self-indulgent, but from our perspective we're trying to write the most popular music we can with the styles and with the way of thinking in our heads that we're stuck with. We can't go too simple because just it's not what we've done. You want to say "we've got no boundaries" but it's not true: we do have boundaries because people do have expectations to a degree. We're still trying to find a balance between popularity and sophistication at the same time.
With two guitarists, a bass player, drummer, and singer you have quite a traditional line-up for a band that makes very unconventional music. Are you consciously looking to find unusual sounds from your instruments?
Duncan: Well, I've got some excellent noises on my keyboard: choir sounds, harpsichord, electric boogie-woogie... it's terrible. No, we started as a college band so it was natural to form with that kind of line-up. After that thought we could play whatever instruments we could get our hands on. It's not as traditional as it was before because everyone's developing strings to their bows all the time.... We're almost there with the marimba! We've just invested in an electric xylophone because we're trying to recreate the actual sounds of our albums these days. On the albums it's all acoustic instruments, apart from the electric drums, but when it comes to playing live you can't take an acoustic xylophone with you everywhere because it's too big. The electric one works more as a sample pad really, me and Pete play it together at times...it's a really expensive mouse. It's aesthetically pleasing, but it's also a departure from that kind of The Strokes line-up.
Duncan, can you tell me a bit about how the dance moves are worked out?
Duncan: I watched Michael Jackson's Moonwalker film a lot as a child. Maybe too much? There's kind of a David Byrne thing going on, although I was already doing some kind of jittery dancing before I really knew about Talking Heads. Everyone just said it looked like I was doing Ian Curtis. I don't think it did, but wearing a grey shirt didn't help. I remember when we were in college all the bands were trying to make a name for themselves around the college and we were the only band where I was just a singer. I didn't have another instrument so I had to do something and it came from that: don't just stand there, do a dance! I like the number of people who think it was the result of four hours of choreography, but it was a series of spontaneous one-takes. It was Andy's idea to do a waltz thing on the intro and outro [of the "Flexxin" video] but that was the only preconceived idea and the rest was just going for it. Until we play a song live I don't know how I'll dance to it.
Who are your musical influences? Have they changed over the course of the band being together?
Andy: We started off with about five bands in mind when we became Dutch Uncles. It was Talking Heads, XTC, The Smiths, Field Music, and Tears for Fears. Then Robin, who writes all the music, went off to university and discovered a lot more classical music, and we discovered that we liked a bit more prog so King Crimson and Steve Reich came in there. Now, after pulling off a song like "Flexxin," I guess guilty pleasures start to play on the mind a bit more; Prefab Sprout are sounding pretty good these days!
Duncan: I guess we don't really sit around and listen to music together anymore. We all have different ways of getting into it: I DJ so I listen to a lot of '80s disco, which is a great way to understand how they did it. Pete listens to a lot of "now" music, what's hot in the reviews sections. We try and keep our finger on the pulse, but we're all getting our music in different places these days so we don't talk a lot about what we like these days that much. Although Robin and I were listening to [Kate Bush's] Hounds of Love together, which sounds so sensual!
So as this is the Pleased to Meet You section of Under the Radar, how would you pitch Dutch Uncles to readers less familiar with their work?
Duncan: Glock Rock with the Clogs Off, Baby. You don't have to include "baby."
It's obviously going to be the headline now.
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