INTERVIEW: Dutch Uncles | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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In 2013, Manchester quintet Dutch Uncles released one of the most complex yet accessible alt-indie albums of the year with Out Of Touch In The Wild. Two years down the line, the band have just released their follow-up, O Shudder, which keeps a great deal of the lush orchestration and all of the lyrical wit of its predecessor while also expanding on the band’s already eclectic sound. While reassuringly familiar to Dutch Uncles fans, it’s also a very assured step into more electronic territory, with tracks such as Upsilon presenting almost EDM-levels of cascading synths. 

The band recently embarked on a UK tour of record stores and are due to finish their journey at Pop Recs in Sunderland on Sunday. I caught up with singer and pianist Duncan Wallis and bassist Robin Richards to talk about the new album and the record shop tour.

You cover a vast range of lyrical themes on O Shudder, including pregnancy, job seeking, health scares, social media, even terrorism. Where did the idea to imbue the album with such a variety of different themes come from?

Duncan Wallis: It started out with one theme really, which was about being on the cusp of 30. From there, it was just a case of questioning every aspect around that desperate time.

Since there seems to be a main character that threads together all of the songs on the LP, would you say that O Shudder is something of a concept album?

DW: It has a narrative to it certainly, but we weren’t determined for it to be so. Even though I could see an arc with about two songs left to write, we really didn’t stress about a tracklist at all until all the tracks were finished. After a few albums we’ve realised you can pretty much make up a story concerning any order of the tracks really if you want to, but it is a relief that this one makes sense.

Lyrically, it’s been said that you’ve taken John Cooper Clarke, Sparks and Ian Dury as inspirations. How do you think they have impacted how you write lyrics?

DW: Out of those examples I think it’s only Sparks who I channelled any lyrical styling from, in particular the track Upsilon. It just sounded to me like something off their No.1 Song In Heaven mini album, so I was encouraged to put in as many syllables into the verses as was possible, which was a lot more fun than wailing over them. In terms of John Cooper Clarke and Ian Dury though, they were more positive examples about being natural with your voice, and not using it negatively just to sound inoffensive with the music.

You’ve cited The Blue Nile, Japan and Kate Bush’s third album (Never For Ever) as major inspirations for the LP. How did these artists inspire the album?

Robin Richards: I listened to a lot of Kate Bush over the last few years, and it was her third album in particular that provided the most prevalent inspiration in terms of composition for this record. The way she crafted stunning pop songs over intricate and complicated chord structures and key changes was something I tried to use as a foundation for the songs on O Shudder. Similarly, Japan’s album Tin Drum delivers equally ambitious harmonic structures, but also pays extra attention to the specific synthesised sounds. This was something we definitely wanted work on when approaching the songs’ instrumentation and textures.

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“I was encouraged to put in as many syllables into the verses as was possible, which was a lot more fun than wailing over them”

You still incorporate a lot of classical sounds into this album, including string and woodwind instruments; is it ever difficult to incorporate these sounds into your work?

RR: I wouldn’t say it was particularly difficult to incorporate these sounds into the album. When we recorded Out Of Touch In The Wild we had a very specific ensemble in mind; the standard Dutch Uncles line up with a string quartet and tuned percussion. For the new album, we let each song decide what its individual instrumentation would be, allowing the record to potentially be more expansive. For example, pieces of music that I had written for the previous albums that might have included a woodwind quartet or harp would probably have been substituted for guitars and synths. For this record we just went for it if they suited the song! It is proving more difficult to work out how to play them live now however.

Have you changed the way you work or write at all since recording Out Of Touch In The Wild?

RR: We didn’t change a huge amount in terms of the writing and recording process. There was a fair bit more trial and error during the recording sessions I suppose, when experimenting with synths in particular. 

Part of the album was recorded above a pub in Salford. How did you come to record in such an unusual location?

DW: It’s our practise room and we have a small studio there, which also handy for after rehearsal pints.

Since the album was recorded in three very different locations (above the pub, in a studio, and Salford’s Peel Hall) was it difficult to bring all the elements together?

DW: Not particularly. We recorded like this for the last album and it gelled then. The main difference and challenge this time was recording some string lines and woodwind lines separately and having to edit them together.

Why have you decided to do a tour of record stores instead of a more traditional tour?

DW: It’s a chance to play some shows where we’re not trying to suggest our size or ambition I suppose. It’s also a very nice idea to play some afternoon shows to vibrant crowds in some of our favourite cities.

Are you planning on doing anything differently on this tour considering that you’re playing much smaller venues?

DW: The last time we played some in-store shows we decided to warm up by playing older material which confused everyone present, including ourselves. So I don’t think we’ll do that this time, just the new stuff. Maybe some old stuff after if people ask nicely.

Last but not least, is it true that a shop in Manchester named a burger after you? How did that come about?

DW: That is indeed correct. It was lovingly crafted by the slut food geniuses at Almost Famous. It was called the Godboy Burger, after one of the track titles on our previous album. It was a double cheeseburger with wild boar sausages, a “marple” syrup made from Robinson Breweries’ own Dizzy Blonde Ale and it came with a miniature Philly cheesesteak burger on top of it with a little jelly baby holding it up (with the help of a big skewer of course). It was delicious and I still don’t know how we managed to eat two of them in a week!

Dutch Uncles will play at Pop Recs Ltd, Sunderland on Sunday 1st March.

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