Interview: Dry The River
Having paid their dues on the gig circuit for a year and half, Dry The River found themselves at the centre of a major label bidding war back in 2010. Now signed to Sony, with a BBC Sound of 2012 nomination to their name and an epic debut album ready to go, the future looks bright for the indie-folk five-piece.
We caught up with guitarist Matt Taylor about the band’s journey so far, the inspirations behind Shallow Bed and why everyone should listen to Michael Jackson’s Dangerous for six-hours straight. You can read the full interview below!
Hi Matt! For the benefit of those who don’t know much about Dry The River, can you give us a bit of background on the band’s formation please?
Hi! So Peter, our singer, had given up being in a band to concentrate on studying medicine at university, but started writing acoustic songs in his room in halls. Once he had a couple of songs together he called each of us whom he knew from the Newbury/Reading band circuit, having played with some of us in bands before, and we went and recorded a four track demo and got a gig. We haven't looked back…
We read that you used share a house in “near-medieval living conditions”! Can you elaborate please?! And who made the most irritating housemate and why?
Ha! I’m not sure about medieval! When we got a bit of publishing money a couple of years ago we figured out that if we all lived in one two-bedroom house, then we could just about afford to quit our jobs and concentrate on the band full-time. So we did just that. It was very cosy: climbing over Peter’s head in the middle of the night to get to the bathroom, Will slept on the basement floor (where we rehearsed) in a sleeping bag. It definitely brought us closer, that’s for sure. I just moved out this month, and I’m not missing it! With regards to the most irritating housemate, I'd have to say all of them.
So, congratulations on Shallow Bed! Can you tell us what your aims were when writing the record, and about some of the inspirations, both sonically and thematically please?
Thank you! When we recorded it, we weren't exactly overflowing with songs; we only had 12 or 13 that we actually recorded for it. Some of them were 6 or 7 years old and some were written whilst we were there, so we really just wanted to make a record that sounded cohesive and representative, despite the songs being different ages and having some different themes.
Sonically, we were quite open to experimenting in the studio with Peter Katis, who recorded it. We wanted to capture what we were doing live, but also not restrict ourselves in any way. We used lots of instruments that we've never even seen before! The idea was to make certain parts quite rich in texture, and Katis' ideas and skills allowed us to do that. I also think we were keen in some part to show that Dry the River wasn't necessarily just a “folk band”.
The band’s roots are in punk-rock, what prompted you to explore a folkier sound? And do you still take inspiration from punk music at all?
It was a semi-conscious decision by Peter initially. All that he had to write with was an acoustic guitar, and while into post-hardcore and heavier music, he always appreciated classic songwriters like Leonard Cohen and Paul Simon. So he tried his hand at writing songs that had that kind of vibe; trying something different. We all still listen to a lot of heavy music and it can come across in bursts at live shows. I think despite writing seemingly “folk” songs, the more we played them, the more we realised that the songs were pretty epic and could be taken much further than what the initial idea for the band was.
You worked with Peter Katis on the album. How did that come about and what do you think he brought to the record?
We feel really lucky to have gotten to work with Peter. He was at the top of our list of producers to work with so we were stoked when he agreed to do it. We love The National’s records and Jónsi and Interpol, and a bunch of other things he's done in the past, so it was a real privilege to record at his studio.
He has a real ear for what a track needs in order to sound “full”. It’s kind of as if he's painting a wall and he needs to get it evenly covered: not miss any bits! That’s maybe a bad way of putting it, but on some tracks, we'd all be saying, “Sounds great! Done.” and he would just sit thinking and then have me play some irregularly-timed single piano notes to just sit in the mix. The record really benefits from the extra things he had us do to the songs. He's great with a tremolo pedal too. Recording there was an incredible experience.
If you had to single out one standout track on the album, which would it be and why?
Ha, that’s tricky. I'm a big fan of ‘Demons’. That song changed the most while we were recording it. It was initially just an acoustic track but ended up being this big, swelling song, which I think now works as a sort of intro for the second half of the record. It’s definitely the track I enjoy listening to the most.
For us, one of the most striking things about Shallow Bed is the lush instrumentation you use. How do you plan to recreate that expansive sound live? And what can audiences expect from the live show?
It’s tricky. Obviously we don't have all of the instruments that are on record, so live is a different thing. Really, we just play the songs as we always have done. We gigged most of them for a long time before we recorded them so they’ve grown into themselves “live” in a separate way. Audiences can expect some rock shapes and a lot of sweat!
You’re about to embark on a big tour of Europe and the US – are there any gigs in particular you’re looking forward to?
We’re looking forward to playing a room called ‘Rotunde’ in Belgium. It’s a circular room at the old Botanical Gardens in Brussels, which used to house a tree. Half the room is made up of the stage; it’s a very cool thing. We can’t wait to get to America too – 8,000 miles in an RV. And I’m driving. Roadtriiiip!
How did it feel to be nominated for the BBC’s Sound of 2012? Has it changed anything for you yet? And if you had to recommend one emerging band who didn’t make the list, who would it be and why?
That was a great thing for us, and quite unexpected. I wouldn’t say it’s changed anything necessarily; I think that’s up to us. We played with a new band called Alabama Shakes, when we were in the US earlier this year, and they’re amazing. I can see them absolutely killing it at the summer festivals this year. Check them out.
Aside from Shallow Bed, which record would you recommend as a must-own and why?
Tough question! Me and Scott did a six-hour drive the other day and only listened to Dangerous by Michael Jackson, just on a loop. That record is incredible and everyone needs to have it. It has a couple of cheesy moments but on the whole I think it’s his moodiest record. It’s pretty broody. You’ve just got to own it. And listen to it for six hours.
What’s been the highlight of your time together so far, what’s the plan for the rest of 2012, and what are your ultimate ambitions for Dry The River?
There have been a lot of highlights. Playing John Peel Stage at Glastonbury was incredible and a really important moment for us, but I think making this record has been the biggest highlight. We just hope people are into it. The plan for this year is just to tour and tour and tour some more. The same as last year! Ultimate ambitions? We don’t really have any lofty ideas about what we'll be doing in years down the line; the mission statement has always been to “keep going”. As long as people keep coming to the shows we're happy.