Dutch Uncles Interview: Bad living conditions & good art tend to go hand in hand

Ahead of our sixteenth birthday Dylan Wray chats with the guys headlining our live room, Dutch Uncles.

Skiddle Staff

Date published: 17th May 2017

Image: Dutch Uncles

Over the course of almost a decade, Dutch Uncles have gone from a group spawned in what felt like the shadows of a math-rock boom into a multifaceted pop group, gliding from genre to genre often within moments of each other.

Over five albums the group have expanded on a sound that has touched upon indie, rock, prog, art rock, funk, post-punk. They've created a distinctive hybrid of all these things that always manages to sound uniquely them, whether they are in thrusting sex romp mode or tackling subjects with more political or personal weight, as explored a little more on recent album Big Balloon.

Like fellow contemporaries Field Music or 80s masters XTC, there is a seamless blending of craft and fun and the band have continued to manage to create music that always feels clever, structurally varied and melodically rich. Yet, like all good pop music should, it still manages to hit on a basic, simple and reactionary level - music that tickles the brain and moves the feet. 

This is one of many reasons why we have invited them to play our big birthday bash at Sound Control on May 18th, so we caught up with lead vocalist and piano player Duncan Wallis to see how life in the band is almost ten years in.   

  

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Your most recent album, released in February, tackled some current political issues. Given things have altered so much since even then. How are you feeling about Britain and the future right now?

Honestly quite shocked at the level of hatred towards leftist voters and left-wing ideas at this very moment. The Murdoch-owned press have certainly done their job in indoctrinating a right-wing movement with incredibly selective memory towards the state of the economy and foreign policy. 

But it’s incredible to see the emotional support and warmth towards Corbyn. I’m so glad he’s not making it personal, because that’s all the Tories can do, and it stinks. It’s too early in the morning to consider the actual future of the country.

Moving back to music, you guys have almost a decade behind you now, which is probably been the decade with the most significant changes in the music industry ever. How has the movement into an increasingly online world affected you as a group? Are you a fan of streaming and the likes and what changes, if any, has it had on the way the band operates?

It’s been interesting for us to view in some ways. After we’d released our second album Cadenza in 2011, and started getting some good radio play across Radio 1 and 6 Music, we felt like we were slotting into a much more traditional way of exposure, so we didn’t feel the need to keep up on the new social media platforms like Bandcamp and stuff, and just focused on radio really.

It changes the way you write your music when you set those kinds of targets for your singles, but we have to admit that Spotify has certainly made us change the way we tracklist our albums now. It’s all about keeping people hooked from the beginning which gives you less chance to make something more subversive and clever if you’re a relative unknown.

Similarly, you've seen some personnel changes fairly recently. How does life in a band for this period of time impact on friendships and relationships? Does it become easier or tougher as time goes on? 

It doesn’t get easier necessarily. When you start these endeavours you treat yourselves like brothers, and you expect to keep that closeness and living in each other’s pockets for the foreseeable, but there comes a point where you realise you’ve all got too close and need your own space.

I think the point it peaked for us was when me and Robin woke up kissing each other in a Travelodge bed we had to share, whilst Andy was screaming from the other bed at the horror of the sight of it all, then we all started screaming. We all knew then that we were probably in too close a quarter with each other. 

You've previously said that you find the recording process to be a very stoic and restrictive environment. Is playing live the chance and opportunity for you to create and express yourselves, do you feel? Is this where the band are most alive? If so, why does one work more than the other for you?

You certainly find the variety and space you want live, but it’s hard to know whether it’s any better for it or not. I’m just always surprised as to how out of tune I always seem to be in a studio, even when I’m sure it was in tune. We still don’t dabble in atmospheres as much as we should when we write, so it doesn’t leave much room for interpretative swells within the songs in any context really.

How does your relationship to your older material change over time? Do you fall in and out of love with certain moments or are they all equally as important and cherished?

You can’t really talk about it all in the same breath really. Sometimes you can feel sad that you felt a way about a certain situation which you’ve now immortalised and distorted for yourself at the same time. This is why I sometimes change lyrics to our older songs, as if to make an addition to it, but sometimes a gem can stand out forever. 

For us at the moment, it’s the very first song we wrote as Dutch Uncles called ‘I Owe Someone For Everything’. The lyrics are a little dark but it's counteracted perfectly with the Talking Heads-esque jangle of the guitars and it’s the song we probably have the most fun with in our set at the moment. 

 

I know you're technically from Stockport but I’m sure Manchester has been something of a second home to you over the years. What are your thoughts and feelings on the city at the moment? Both culturally and socially? A lot of groups I speak to from there seem to view it as being in good, healthy shape in terms of what's going on musically but also express some serious concerns about things like increasing gentrification and the rising homeless situation.

The homeless situation is dire, and so are the spice wars. But that’s what happens when you live in a city that doesn’t vote for the current government in power because they’ll just cut off your funding like that. The Northern Quarter is also a sad sight in terms of the gentrification but it still won’t push all the artists out to Salford just yet. 

Artistically speaking it seems in pretty good nick. Bad living conditions and good art tend to go hand in hand right? It’s good to see that major labels and big indies are once again investing in bands again, especially where Manchester is concerned. Just wish I could hear more chemistry in the music is all.

I know we mentioned the change into digital music/streaming etc before but how crucial do you think people like Marc Riley and the radio have been in supporting and promoting your group over the years? Even a cursory listen to 6music and you would probably realise how much airtime/support you seem to get, does this impact meaningfully on you?

Like I said before, we still consider the radio to be the most vital channel for exposure, and Marc has done us a favour by supporting us throughout the years. I remember when he called us up for our first radio session with him. It was New Year's Day morning in 2009 and he rang Pete up after the band had been to Jabez Clegg for a Juicy/Up The Racket New Years mash up, and he said he wanted us to do a 6 Music session, but Pete didn’t believe it was him and just told him to fuck off. 

It took about three calls to convince Pete it was actually him. We’ve never taken our support on 6 Music for granted though, and it still gives us a tingle to hear it as it plays whenever we’re tuned in!

I read that 'Oh Yeah' is basically your Prince song. Was that as a reaction/in tribute to his passing or would it only have been a matter of time until you did that anyway? What impact has his music had on your lives and the band? Does it still continue to inspire?

It was certainly pointed out when he died that maybe we should rip him off again - we had done previously with our single ‘Flexxin’ - so we did. I’ve collected a lot of his albums for DJ material, but I think his inspiration to us as writers is two-fold.

One is his constant fascination with sex, like an alien coming to this planet and discovering it. The second one, is his ability to constantly write party hits time and time again. He never felt the need to obviously change up the formula, and it just goes to show that you don’t have to completely re-conceptualize your work to make it your best.

Dutch Uncles play the Skiddle Sixteenth Birthday at Sound Control on Thursday May 17th. Secure FREE tickets via the box below.

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