Interview: Dutch Uncles

Interview with Dutch Uncles

Dutch Uncles


Following two albums of infectious, inventive, fidget-pop, Marple’s Dutch Uncles are due to drop their third long-player on 14th January. Ahead of its release, we rang front man Duncan Wallis for a chat about the making of Out Of Touch In The Wild, and ended up covering porn-addiction and auto-erotic asphyxiation too...

Questions and answers

Happy New Year Duncan! Did you have a nice Christmas break?

Yes, very much so, thanks. I was away with my girlfriend’s family for Christmas for the first time, which was nice. They bought me lots of booze, which was interesting ‘cause I don’t know what they think of me... (Laughs) I don’t drink that much... And for New Year, the band went out to a “1999” rave in the middle of Salford. Very bizarre.

So, congratulations on Out Of Touch In The Wild – it’s great. How long was it in the making?

Oh, thank you. It was very quick, actually – particularly in comparison to our last album, Cadenza, which probably took double the amount of time. This one felt like it was a concentrated block of a year and a half, tops, with the first music being written around January 2011. If we hadn’t have been touring at the same time it would probably have been even less than a year.

Did you road-test the new material?

Not really. With Cadenza, everything was road-tested, so people who were coming to our shows pretty much knew every song. Whereas we always knew this album was going to be a studio thing; we wanted to have a lot of surprises, basically. We did road-test our first single ‘Fester’ because it was a different sound, but because it’s a minimal, Kraut-y song it was easy to bring to life on-stage.

Is it a collaborative writing process in the band?

Yeah... It’s typical of a Manchester writing partnership, in the sense that one person’s writing the original music and one person’s doing the lyrics, but as a band we are arranging. I mean, obviously bands from outside of Manchester have done that but I always think of Morrissey and Marr, and Curtis and Sumner. Everyone has to be happy with the songs before they’re signed off.

You worked with producer Brendan Williams again, didn’t you? Has he become like another member of the band?

Yeah he has, in a way. After Cadenza we needed somewhere to practise and he needed somewhere to work so we found ourselves moving into the same rehearsal space. So whereas with Cadenza all our songs were road-tested and it was just a case of Brendan adding percussion, this time round he was very much listening to us writing music as we went along. We had to work in that way in order for us to get the “studio album” effect that we wanted.

The arrangements are a lot more expansive than on Cadenza. What was the goal sonically for the record?

Well, you know, you always want to break through the next boundary each time; you don’t want to be hitting the same glass ceiling. Our goals were to build on where we’d gotten to, and to get a bit more exposure and a bigger audience, but not in a sell out way. It’s impossible for us to be sell-outs; we don’t really work like that.

It’s strange, really, because I think a lot of these songs will gain more exposure than Cadenza and yet, like you say, the sound is much more expansive and there are more of those quirkier moments (without mentioning time signatures, because a lot of it is 4/4). The progressive plan with our albums is to stay complicated but get more subtle with it every time, making it a lot more accessible on first listen. I think we refined that balance a little more.

Were there any key musical reference points for this record?

The two albums that we listened to – probably too much for our own good – were Japan’s Tin Drum and Kate Bush’s Hounds Of Love. Myself and Robin, our bass player, were sort of living together at the time and we were trying to analyse a great album every week. But we only got through those two because we had to keep going on tour and forgot about it. (Laughs)

I remember we were streaming Hounds of Love and it just wasn’t clicking, because that album is essentially two mini albums within one album. I always see an album as two halves anyway, but I think that was amplified by listening to Hounds Of Love.

I listen to 6Music a lot, and that’s where I get my contemporary fix. When it comes to personal listening it’s always [a case of] harking back to old skool classics from the 80s, like Ian Dury & The BlockheadsDo It Yourself, the first two B-52s records, Grace JonesIsland Life. And recently I liked the Pet Shop Boys album, Disco.

Do you have a favourite track on the new album?

Probably ‘Phaedra’. Mainly because it was written very quickly and it felt like it was easy, but it’s also very good. (Laughs) Listening to it makes me feel good. And it was probably the turning point in writing the album.

Sonically the new album’s uplifting, but thematically it’s pretty dark.

Yeah, I noticed that it is a lot darker, and there’s some more experimental stuff on there. For example the song ‘Zug Zwang’ is supposed to be a very ugly song lyrically, because when we hear people feeling sorry for themselves it’s annoying.

It’s a more personal album too. But while you have to write something personal in every song in order for you to be able to connect with it, that’s not necessarily what the song’s about... I thought that I’d drained all of my personal life on the last album, and I was a bit worried about what I was going to find to write about. I had to start with character writing and, for some reason, I started with auto-erotic asphyxiation: don’t ask me why, I just did.

It’s ended up being said that there’s a loose theme of friendship and addiction on the album, but I don’t really like that phrase because it makes it sound like a drugs album. And while there might be some drugs references, it’s really about bad habits as opposed to addictions: whether that’s feeling sorry for yourself, or being addicted to regret, or to the way you felt when you were at school, where you know your social position and you can adapt that to life sometimes if you’re not careful.

But there’s humour as well as darkness. I don’t want to talk about darkness too much, it sounds like we’re talking about a Batman film! ‘Brio’ – the last song on the album – is about being addicted to getting caught watching porn. That’s not a personal song... (Laughs) I thought it would be a cheeky wink at the end of the album.

So what’s the significance of the title?

Firstly, it was the only title we could all agree on. Secondly, its meaning is sort of humorous. We’re still very much an unknown act to the vast majority, and so Out Of Touch In The Wild plays on the fact that we’re sort of out of place, but not that bothered about being out of place.

Do you feel like outsiders, then?

Personally, I like to. I think every band has to feel like they are, because that’s what separates you as artists. We all have our own journey, and our own story to tell and life to live in the industry.

We’ve been a band for eight years and we’ve seen a lot of sides to the industry in those years. We’ve gone through managers like Fleetwood Mac did line-ups; we’ve seen a lot of bands go from small bands to big bands; and we’re only just touching on certain grounds now. So though people are still finding out about us for the first time, we definitely don’t feel like a new act. This is album number three...

It’s quite rare for bands to make three albums nowadays...

Yeah, there’s that too. And it’s only going to get harder at this point. I’m not just speaking for us: for all bands it’s only going to get harder.

If you had to impart one piece of advice on emerging bands what would it be?

Don’t let anyone convince you that filming your video in 3D is a good idea... (Laughs)

So what acts do you think we should be keeping an eye on in 2013?

The Everything Everything album is good. Our friend Alex from Egyptian Hip Hop has got a sneaky little side project called Aldous Robinson, which is good – very funky and there are some Paul McCartney II covers in there. Our friends Fiction have a new album called The Big Other, and that should be out imminently.

And what’s your plan for 2013?

We want to reach new territories, play bigger stages with more production, and generally look more pro. I hope we’ll be playing some festivals too.

Might that include Glastonbury?

We’d like to, but that’s no confirmation that we are. (Laughs) We played Latitude, Bestival and Reading and Leeds two years ago, and Glastonbury was the one that got away...