Interview: Dutch Uncles
Fresh from releasing what many are calling their best album, Dutch Uncles are back in Brighton to play a triumphant show at The Haunt. The Stockport quartet, famed for their atypical time signatures and eccentric vocal lines, are out promoting their new album, ‘Big Balloon’, a quirky and confident indie pop record that is already up their with the best of 2017.
We spoke to them before the show and discussed the new album, influencing Paramore and almost being produced by Butch Vig.
The Badger (TB): Welcome to Brighton. Do you like playing here?
Duncan (D): We love coming back to Brighton! I was thinking about this before we sound checked actually, and I think this might be our 10th gig here which is great because its just nice to be in Brighton so much. Three of those times were playing the Great Escape though and I didn’t really enjoy them so much, though maybe that’s just from being an old stubborn salt of the circuit!
TB: Your new album sounds like a reaction to your previous two albums as it is a move away from the instrumentally textured sound of your more recent material to your earlier more stripped back and guitar orientated sound. Was this the idea behind it?
Robin (R): Yeah, I think that we kind of got ahead of ourselves in the last album [2014’s Oh Shudder] in that we spent a lot of time producing the record and layering loads of different instruments that we couldn’t actually play live. When we came to play it live we were like “oh no, what are we going to do now?”
D: The problem was that when we did our third album [2013’s ‘Out of Touch in the Wild’] we discovered a way in with this marimba based music and all of a sudden we were getting really good playlisted singles on the radio and it felt like we had sort of found a formula. We were like “Oh its because of the marimbas” and then when we started ‘Oh Shudder’ we were trying to find another instrument like that weren’t we? We were trying to escape down into another aural concept.
R: Yeah, we kind of said there weren’t going to be any limits in terms of instrumentation and that kind of backfired when we tried to tour it. When touring it we also realised that the songs that were still going down really well live were the older more guitar lead songs.
D: Also the whole process of making that album was very tense because in the band there was a distance with our ex guitarist Sped. We had all fallen out with him individually over time, you know like little bits individually and then all of the sudden, well you know! It was three years in the making really. There was just this moment where it ruined the chemistry of writing ‘Oh Shudder’ I think, like it really got to the writing aspect which it hadn’t before.
This time round, because of that we were just like “fuck it lets just make this sound good in one room and lets play all together whilst we do it and lets do it old school. Lets do the thing where I come up with vocal and lyrical ideas whilst you are still playing the music at me instead of me just listening to a midi demo on a fucking CD Walkman that is skipping all the time,” though that is my fault for not being very good at technology (laughs!)
TB: Where do you think ‘Big Balloon’ stands in relation to the rest of your albums? Is it your best one?
R: It’s really difficult to say, I mean I’m really proud of the record and in some senses I think it’s our best album because the way we approached it, we did everything that we set out to do with this record.
D: It’s my second favourite, my favourite is ‘Out of Touch in the Wild’. The thing is that the achievements that ‘Big Balloon’ has made for us, because after ‘Oh Shudder’ where we didn’t get any playlisted singles, it felt like the end really and so ‘Big Balloon’ was sort of a do over of all of that which is why it has some similar lyrical perspectives I would say.
At the same time though for what its achieved it really feels like it should be our best album but for me ‘Out of Touch’ is still my favourite because when I look back on how we wrote that, and I was saying this with Robin just a couple of days ago that wasn’t it amazing how we were able to just write this album on the road, not really thinking too much about where the music was going or where we were going. We were just getting on with it. We were so busy doing all these other things and even though it was stressful at the time, we still just did it.
TB: A few years back you supported Paramore and were mentioned as a major influence on their last album. That must have been a very surreal experience for you?
R: Yeah, it was just bizarre. It came completely out of the blue and it’s amazing listening in detail you can ever hear like little production influences, which they had obviously taken from our producer like the little white noise blasts with the snare drums.
TB: I’ve always thought that ‘Ain’t it Fun’ sounds incredibly ‘Out of Touch in the Wild’ inspired instrumentally…
D: Yeah, I think I would have been happy had we written ‘Ain’t it Fun’!
R: We might have a Grammy now if we had!
D: It is incredibly flattering for Taylor [York, Paramore’s guitarist] to hold us in that esteem and hear such an obvious reflection on what probably will be their best work. It’s their biggest cross over work and it will make them a rock and pop band finally. It won’t be the same level of success but it makes them a Fleetwood Mac type band: it makes you sound like a BAND that plays pop music and I think the world needs more of that right now to be honest.
TB: You were first linked in with the New Mancunia movement in the early 2010’s and, at least in my mind, have always been really closely linked with Everything Everything. How do you think being closely associated with a band such as them, as well as that whole scene, has effected your carer?
D: Well this is it, we have never been a popular band but stuck around till the sound was popular. We got our break in 2010 when Everything Everything and Delphic both had their first albums out and it started to create this new mancunia and intelligent pop sound, which is something that we were able to fit into. Our ex manager Dan Parrott, who ran Chanel M at the time, was friends with all of us and I think he was orchestrating it somewhat, like that ‘Love & Disater’ EP which was kind of a showcase of all those things and some of the bands that did it.
R: I remember that in our first session with Marc Riley he said have you guys heard of Everything Everything, you are drinking from the same water as them or something like that. We have defiantly got to know them over the years though. Jeremy [Pritchard, Everything Everything bassist] just lives down the road from me so we see them a lot.
D: They are our arch enemies now, in a fun way (laughs.) Well not really, who knows we may end up inviting them out for a namaste curry on Tuesday!
R: It’s this curry house which they told us about in South Manchester and is incredible, and Jeremy and Jonathan [Higgs, Everything Everything singer] used to go their like every week.
D: They used to have their picture on the wall. Didn’t it get taken down for Mr Tumble?
R: Yeah, thats right.
D: Ooh thats got to hurt. Taken down for many pictures of Mr Tumble!
R: It just shows that you can never compete with Mr Tumble!
TB: Finally, what plans do you have for the rest of the year?
R: Hopefully lots more gigs.
D: Yeah we don’t really have many gigs planed after this tour. We are doing BBC6 Music Festival and a handful of other gigs over the course of half a year and we are hoping to double that over the course of the year. We might see if a support tour comes along, but I don’t want to go looking for one so much because we went looking for the Garbage one across Europe the other year and that was a lot of fun but it’s expensive to do those things and you just have to weigh it up really. You get better at sensing what is more worthwhile these days and I’m not saying it wasn’t worthwhile because we almost have Butch Vig produce an album there for five minutes.
TB: Wow, how did that happen?
D: He’s a bit of an album tease (laughs). No, he’s a really nice guy, he used to come to the dressing room every day before the gigs with a bottle of wine and start telling us some stuff about Foo Fighters or Nirvana days. He started talking to us about our music and got us really hyped!
R: Then Phil our engineer asked him “Butch, whats your favourite album that you’ve ever produced” and he just said, “the next Dutch Uncles record” and we were like oooooh it’s on and then it didn’t happen.
D: We waited around for ages after a gig in Edinburgh and he just went “guys, I can’t produce your record” and we were like oh thats fine, we only have a four hour journey home to contemplate that, so you could have told us four hours ago (laughs.) Oh well, we will see what happens.