Our Interview with UK duo Drenge

UK duo Drenge caught up with northern Transmissions for an in-depth interview

Drenge hit the headlines when they were named NME’s Best New Band of the Year, an accolade they shared with past winners like The Strokes and Arctic Monkeys. Their debut self-titled album had slamming tracks on it like “Backwaters”, “Fuckabout”, and “Bloodsports”, a song that Zane Lowe had as one of his hottest tracks. They played Glastonbury, and turned up wearing dresses at Reading Festival, delivering a blast of straight energy to the throbbing mosh pits of faithful fans. Now Drenge are back with their second album, Undertow, out on Infectious Records on April 6, worldwide release this time round. Northern Transmissions was able to catch up with the band when they came over to New York for an appearance on Letterman, and two blistering live shows. Alice Severin braved the bad weather to have an early coffee with Eoin and Rory Loveless, who opened up about their new album, the new bassist, and recording.

Northern Transmissions: Hello, good to see you again. And you just arrived in New York. How’s the jet lag?

Rory: Not too bad. But I hear him snoring at night as well.

NT: That definitely makes it tricky. Hang on, there’s a lot of background noise from the dishes being cleared – just checking you’re loud enough.

Eoin: Levels. One two one two test test. Yeah? (laughs)

NT: So, back in the spotlight again. I remember last summer you said you were going to be recording. Did you go to the same studio in Sheffield?

Rory: We had done a bit of recording before that, but yeah, we went back to the same place, the same producer in Sheffield, Ross Orton.

Eoin: The studio’s about 50 meters away from where we practice, so it’s not like a studio that you have to lug all your gear over to the other side of town, or the other side of the country, or somewhere. So we throughout all of last year we kind of popped in every couple of months to try something and then from September through to December we just sat down and wrote and recorded the album. And just not like, it wasn’t day after day, because they were about to bill us and kind of like a couple of days that kind of got lost, kind of recovering from five days of really intensive writing and stuff. But yeah, really much longer than I expected it to be. But the album though, we got, it justified the amount of time we spent on it. We’re really proud of it.

Rory: Yeah. I don’t want to call it like a difficult second album. But it was kind of difficult, in a way, to finish it, but we’re super proud of it.

NT: I’ve heard the four sampler tracks and it’s just brilliant.

Eoin: Thank you.

NT: I was a big fan of the first one, but this one seems to me to be a bit darker. Serious is the wrong word, but definitely darker, a bit more moody.

Rory: Yeah, yeah.

Eoin: Yeah. And a bit more listenable as well. I think there’s more stuff in there that rewards a listening session of the record, as opposed to kind of, versus live. It’s an album, it’s not a document of kind of songs or performance.

NT: The production values seem to have changed a little bit, the vocals are down a bit more. Was that something that you definitely thought about?

Rory: I guess, part of that, was a decision on Ross’ part. But I feel that was where we were trying to aim since we started the band. I feel, anyway. A lot of bands that influenced us when we started share a couple of those features and production. So, yeah.

Eoin: When you are using modulation on the musical things, like basses on all the tracks and guitar, I’m not sure if there are any tracks that don’t have some delay or some reverb or some chorus on it. Like the guitar is treated as well, and the dry vocals along with Ross’ very kind of like expansive drum sound, if the vocals were just kind of dry in that mix it could just be a bit… It just didn’t suit. And, I mean, like all kind of bands that we were listening to at the time, be it like Ty Segall or Jay Reatard or stuff like that, their kind of music has always had like slap back delay on it, or something. And with the first record, we weren’t really kind of going for that, we kind of wanted something a bit clean. But on this one, it just made sense to tie the sound of the voice in with the music more.

NT: Listening to it is interesting, because the first song, which I guess is going to be the first single, sounds almost a bit punky.

Eoin and Rory: Yeah.

NT: A little more Ramones – in a way. It still sounds like you, but lots of fast vocals, and the drums on that seem much more forward, so it’s kind of poppy, but it’s not poppy at all.

Eoin: Yeah. I played it to my housemate, and now he plays live with us, because now we got Rob playing bass with us. But recorded that track, took it home, played it to him and he went, “sounds like a hardcore band covering the Simpsons’ theme tune.” (laughs)

Rory: It’s a very Simpsony song. Yeah. I don’t know why.

Eoin: In the UK there’s this radio soap called The Archers, which is just about farmers. And it took me a while, but I realized that the instrumental part of “Bloodsports” is almost a note for note rip-off of the theme tune of The Archers. (laughs)

Rory: It’s such an institution as well, that theme tune, everyone knows it. For April Fool’s pranks, they’ll say, oh we changed the theme tune to something. And everyone would be like, what?

Eoin: Yeah.

NT: It is an institution. Now I have to go back and listen to that song and listen to the theme tune.

Eoin: It is worryingly close. I’m surprised we’re not being sued by BBC Four or something.

NT: And now you’re adding a bass player. How and why?

Eoin: The songs just needed it. They just weren’t…You can manufacture low end with guitars in the studio, but they can just sound muddy, so it was just easier to get, easier to record the sound of bass and use that as a rhythmical thing as well. I mean, I play bass on a couple of tracks on the record, we asked Rob to play bass on some of the other songs as well, some of which he helped us write when we got in a room and just started jamming together. And, yeah, it was just like…I mean I’m not a professional bassist, neither’s Rob, so the quality of playing on that isn’t particularly high, but the attitude’s there and stuff. And it just made the tracks sound a lot bigger, and a lot sharper, and no one was really kidding themselves that like, let’s try to fake low end. Let’s just put a bass in there.

Rory: A lot of the songs were written in the studio as well. So there wasn’t really much of a focus on trying to capture the live sound, because there wasn’t one. We hadn’t got any of these tunes, hadn’t played them. So sticking bass on there defined the song in a way, rather than trying to play a tune you’ve got all your energy on stage and you’re trying to get that down in the recording. So then I guess the bass sort of started expanding, started complicating it a little bit, made it more interesting to get the sound a bit better.

NT: The sound is definitely thicker on this one.

Rory: Yeah.

Eoin: On the single, “We Can Do What We Want” the bass kind of sticks with the guitar all the way throughout the song, and then it starts like punctuating stuff, and then on the last like instrumental chorus part, it does something that pulls it away from the guitar. It’s just like…it’s just a really interesting listen. It’s something we’ve never been able to do before, with songs to write, different parts, especially on the last record, there wasn’t a lot of…it was just guitar and drums. There was very little in the way of, on the first record, of two guitar parts or stuff. So on this one…at times if you’re recording guitars, and if you’re going through two amplifiers to catch different sounds, or a stereo effect, and then on top of that you’re recording another set of guitars to pan to the left and right, and there might be like a lead guitar, then there might be something that’s in there to back up the lead guitar, if you like, if you have it all together, it’s like sixteen audio files of guitar which is just ridiculous, but you’re in the studio (laughing) so what can you do?

NT: And when you go out live?

Rory: Get an orchestra of guitars on the road, yeah.

Eoin: Well someone did something called like 22 Guitars or something. Got like a group of 22 guitarists to all play the same piece or something.

Rory: Cool. (laughs)

NT: So the bass player is someone you’ve known for a long time.

Rory: Yeah, known him for about 10 years, I think, way back in school, we were doing the school play, or something like that.

Eoin: And as well as that he’s been instrumental to our taste in music. He was the guy that passed me like my first Cribs CD, he took Rory to see Gogol Bordello one night when he was like 12 or 13.

Rory: Yeah. He gave me like a punk rock compilation for my 13th birthday, I think, yeah. Had some great stuff in there. I think I’ve still got it somewhere, I should dig it out.

Eoin: So, yeah he’s just instrumental to how we listen to music, and what music we listen to, and what sort of music that we play. He was the guy that made me want to play guitar, so that’s pretty cool having that guy in your band. It’s like, you’re never going to get Hendrix, or Jack White in your band, so why don’t you get the guy that got you to pick up guitar.

NT: I want to ask you about the other songs. Ok, looking at my notes, trying to remember the titles.

Eoin: Oh, go ahead, we had to change a load of titles so we’re not like 100 percent familiar with them, but yeah. There’s like three songs we had to change the titles of at the last minute, so I don’t know what to properly call them.

NT: Running Wild.

Eoin: Oh, ok that one. Yeah.

NT: It seems to me it is a bit grunge in a way, but it’s got this psychedelic feel to it?

Eoin: Yeah, that’s the oldest song on the record. Also the opening track as well. Loud sonic expansion. We kind of wrote it before the first album came out, so it’s been in our set a long time. And played it, the first time we really started playing it was when we went on tour with Temples. And when we did like a load of really grotty venues together. And there’s something just really funny to playing that track to a room that was mainly filled up with Temples fans. You’re playing like this bastardized, psychedelic music, and then they’d come on later and play like something more twinkly and poppy. And when we wrote that song, we were just looking for all these massive like (sings riff) TV kind of theme. I don’t know, seems to be a theme of this record, or all our music, that we’re just ripping off TV theme tunes. (laughs)

Rory: It’s like the Countdown theme. (starts singing)

Eoin: Yeah.

Rory: I never thought about that before. (they both start singing the theme tune, laughing)

Eoin: Oh no.

Rory: Yeah, I guess since writing and recording the first album, our music tastes kind of like expanded a whole lot more. Found a load of other bands that we really liked, after going on tour and playing loads of festivals and stuff. Yeah, I guess that kind of influenced what we were doing, in a way. But also as a kind of reaction to those bands as well, I guess. I don’t know.

NT: Anyone in particular?

Eoin: Who we’re being influenced by? It’s more kind of like…It’s unusual these days because people will go and listen to Exile on Main Street three times every day just before going into the studio.

Rory: Yeah yeah yeah, like Jamie T’s influences, you can just see everything in that in his music. It’s like, yeah, ok, I really understand how you got to that point through listening to all that in your childhood. But it’s like completely original and stuff.

Eoin: For us it’s us it’s like…

Rory: It’s like putting trees in a wood chipper and then, I don’t know, you get a load of mulch out the other end.

Eoin: I mean, like bands that we’ve loved that are kind of like quite local to us, like Eagulls and Hookworms. They’re all bands that we’ve played with, or you’re kind of mates with, and you go to their gigs and stuff, and like, musically, there is… There was something on the telly last night about The Beatles, and all the bands in the early sixties just like listened to every other band’s records. They just got the wider picture and then from that, they could make their own specific music. Instead of like, going back and going to try and revive something.

Rory: So what you’re saying is that we’re The Beatles…

Eoin: No, no, no, that’s not what I’m saying. But like if a group of bands are listening to music they’re all making and they just understand where all their…You don’t want to write those songs, because at the end of the day, they’re all bands of very similar, distorted guitar and it’s all aggressive. I mean no one’s really picked up on it, but there is a stream of aggressive UK guitar based music that’s growing quicker and bigger. And, I don’t know, it’s dominated by white men, which is kind of not particularly interesting or cool, (laughs) but you don’t want to write a Wytches song, and you don’t want to write a Hookworms song. Because you want those bands to be able to do what they can do.

Rory: I feel wary of discussing those bands in this context though. I just feel like, they’re some of my favorite bands, I never really want to like put us on the same level. I know that sounds ridiculously over humble and stuff, but…

Eoin: But you make music within the same kind of …that they make music.

Rory: Yeah, yeah, yeah, I guess, yeah.

NT: It always seems to me that your music – it reminds me of certain songs, but not that you’re channeling one band or another. There’s something about your sound that is particularly unique. I suppose you can say that about every band in a way. I may be going out on a limb here, but some bands that are very popular tend to – they only remind you of one thing. They’ve only done one thing. Your music is something completely different, you don’t sound like anybody else.

Rory: Thank you.

Eoin: We’ve got a show with Wolf Alice at the end of this week, at the Mercury Lounge and I find like a similar thing with them in terms of writing music. They cover such a wide base of music, there’s like a country song in there, there’s some kind of 90s grunge punk in there, and there’s such a weird variety of stuff all in between. And it’s like an incredibly varied band. I mean unless you want to do it, and use exactly the same sound and the same genre of music and just keep trying to find like the purest thing of it. Or if you listen to stuff like Brain Donor or like working with Ross or Rob in the band, they’ve got such an eclectic taste in music and a lot of stuff that Rob plays me is just impenetrable. Like with Om or SUNN O))). You don’t go to one of their gigs and go ‘very varied set that’ it’s like that’s going to be like 90 minutes of very low-end distorted thing, and that’s what they excel in. But for us, we haven’t found what we’re comfortable with and you write a song, and you’re like ‘this is great’ and a year later you’re not playing it live because that other thing is interesting you more. We’re just casualties of modern day culture, we’re just really distracted.

Rory: That’s it. Two thousand and fifteen.

Eoin: I mean, it might be a good thing, but it might also be something really…

Rory: Like a Twitter feed of different information. All conflicting and…bullshit.

Eoin: I suppose the other thing is like…I got a text off a mate of mine the other day and he went, weird to think first songs from your first record were written five years ago. And the most recent of these songs was written three weeks ago. So. There’s kind of like quite a varied thing between an early song like “Backwaters” which is incredibly simple, incredibly basic, and to us, not that interesting musically, as opposed to something like…There’s a track on the record called “Side by Side” which is just a lot more varied, changes all the time, kind of like the bass starts running away and doing something else, there’s kind of like noise in there, but then there’s also just kind of brings itself back in, and I don’t know…

NT: On these songs, there’s changes, there’s stops and starts, there’s space, it’s not just all the same crashing level all the way through. And not necessarily the same tone or mood.

Eoin and Rory: Yeah, yeah.

NT: Overall, it’s got an atmosphere but it’s not banging you over the head with that.

Rory: Yeah, I was kind of wary of that. From listening back to the first album, and listening back to live shows, and stuff, that there was kind of like not a whole load of difference in dynamic. I mean, there was, but compared to some of my favorite records it was just a bit full on, I think. But I mean that’s part of what makes the record great in a way, I guess. But I wanted to sort of change it up a bit and try some extra stuff. Put some subtleties in there, we put them in, and I think it worked.

Eoin: There’s like a similarity with the first record as well where the first like five or six tracks are all just like, let’s just get all this energy out of the way, and then it gets interesting.

Rory: Second half, yeah.

NT: The first single, “We Can Do What We Want” gives you that anxiety, that buzzy energy that makes you have to jump up. But then the other one that I really like, “Have You Forgotten My Name”…

Eoin: Oh cool. “Have You Forgotten My Name” is the album closer. After like the big ballad of the record. It’s almost like we looked at the first record and we saw what was good about it in terms of…

Rory:…listening to it as an album. Like an experience.

Eoin: Yeah. And this record is similar to that in terms of its energy, like experimental stuff. And a ballad like “Let’s Pretend” on this record it’s called “Standing in the Cold” and then a closer which is probably the most open song on the record because it’s like, I don’t know, it has room to breathe, or whatever. You wouldn’t be able to open this record with the closing tracks on the record, so.

NT: People don’t seem to do that so much now. They think in terms of pieces, rather than the whole album.

Rory: Yeah, I think, I guess the idea of the album is dying out in a way, and it’s more about single tracks you can listen to whenever you want, whatever. In a way, the way we tracklisted the first album was chronologically, how we recorded it. So the first track we recorded right through to the last track we recorded. And it worked, I guess. But like a lot of other stuff on this album, we had to put a bit of thought into what we were doing.

NT: Did you play that ballad live last year, in the summer?

Eoin: Yeah. We haven’t played it with Rob yet.

NT: Good – I was hoping that track would make it in to the album. I was looking for it – a bit worried – thinking maybe you dumped it.

Rory: Got to wait, got to wait. (laughs)

NT: Listening to the drumming and the guitars, you are doing more than before.

Rory: Yeah, I feel like we’ve gotten a hell of a lot better. Our instruments and other things as well. Yeah. I feel a lot more confident. I feel I know what I’m doing. Which is interesting in the studio, because it’s always been a place for me, where you just chuck something out there and hope for the best. And you listen back, and you’re like, ah I didn’t quite nail it. But yeah, recording this album, I got it done in like four takes, or whatever. I mean it didn’t happen often. But when it did, it was like, now I feel like a professional musician. (laughs) Know what I’m doing.

NT: Do you have a time of day that you like recording at?

Rory: We usually start off about midday, and go to about 7 or 8.

Eoin: Yeah. I mean like, we both moved to Sheffield and it was sort of fitting, just around everyone getting home in time for tea, there wasn’t like where you start at five and finish at two in the morning. Records that are recorded at night always sound great, really interesting.

Rory: That Bob Dylan album.

Eoin: Yeah, yeah. And you kind of think about what that does to your performance style and the way that you play music and the way you think about music. When it’s actually kind of what we were doing was a sort of 9-5 esque…not like aggressively, but it was all down to the studio, clock in, do this many hours and clock out.

Rory: But a lot of that sort of thing has to do with atmosphere in the studio as well, I think. It was recording in winter as well, I guess that puts a spin on things. Leaving, it’s dark, it gets dark at like four or five.

Eoin: Ross is quite keen that vocals get recorded when it’s dark. Doesn’t like recording vocals early on in the day. Yeah.

NT: And you’re going to be on Letterman tomorrow. Are you looking forward to it?

Eoin: Yeah.

Rory: Giantly nervous. I know that all it is, you play your tunes. A few cameras sort of spinning around you and an audience, and David Letterman over there. That’s all it is. You’re just in a room. But. Yeah. We’ll see how it goes. I don’t know. I almost can’t like play the tune, and that’s the thing. It’s really fast with my right hand, and every time we practice I’m like out of breath, so yeah.

Eoin: It’s just a nice to play his last series as well. I mean, like watching, you know when you’ve got something coming up and references to it become a lot more vivid or clear, so that we went to see Birdman recently and Edward Norton says to Michael Keaton, what you need to do is just go on Letterman, and revisit this. You get what he’s talking about because it’s an encroaching event when it comes up.

NT: And the album is out in April. Is it going to come out in the UK and here in the States at the same time?

Rory: Yeah. I was annoyed about the last album, the giant delay between the two. I kind of felt like it was a bit of a non-event when it did get released over here, because people had already heard it.

NT: I put you on my top of 2014, and thought I can get away with this because it was just released here. But a weird kind of difference, because some people here are very aware of what goes on in Europe and the UK.

Eoin: Yeah.

NT: Are you going to be touring?

Eoin: Yeah, the tour kicks off in April.

Rory: There’s no really concrete plans other than the UK tour, which we haven’t really announced yet. But we will be back in the States.

Eoin: Probably before summer.

Rory: Oh, you said it.

Eoin: Why not be open?

NT: Well, really excited for the new album to come out. Thank you.

Eoin and Rory: Thank you very much.

Alice Severin

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