Dutch Uncles: “We’ll be breaking a lot of festival cherries this year I hope!”

VF's Chris Eustace talks to Dutch Uncles about looking like David Byrne, dancing like Ian Curtis and sounding like 'Math-Soul'.

If people aren’t wondering what Dutch Uncles’ easily googled name means, they’re trying to pin down what they sound like, a taller order than just typing something into a search engine. Singer Duncan Wallis’ opinion on it “changes every day”, and today he’s railing against “math-pop”: “Everyone says that but I don’t really get it, all of a sudden you can only use patterned guitar if you’re using it coldly. If people want to use ‘math’ to describe it, I’d call it ‘math-soul’, just to counteract it, and make it feel like there’s something at the heart of it.

The twists and turns of songs like “The Ink” should be a given once you learn of the band’s love for Steve Reich and King Crimson, but there’s plenty of catchy melodies too, married to oblique lyrics that beg to be analysed, with singles like “Fragrant” and “Face In” suggesting DU could emulate the likes of Talking Heads, something that Wallis wouldn’t shy away from: “I do look to David Byrne. His singing voice doesn’t sound human. But you can tell he’s a sensitive guy, he can make a song about renting an apartment sound heartbreaking!

Stepping up to the festival circuit once debut UK album “Cadenza” is released next month, the band are part of a new broom of Manchester artists, forming their own community rather than blindly following the ghosts of the city’s past. This network also features two of Virtual Festivals’ Ones To Watch for this year: “We’re from the same village as Egyptian Hip Hop. We showed them our album before anyone else and now they’re doing the same with us! We’re really good friends with them, Everything Everything and Airship. It’s great that the standard of music here is so high that our strongest competition is our friends.

If the legacy of “Old Manchester” is inspiring to these bands at all, it’s as something to kick against, Wallis explains: ”The only time we ever notice it or get affected by it is in lazy journalism. If you touch your quiff, you’re Morrissey.  No-one who knows what Manchester is about in this day and age plays FAC 251 (Peter Hook’s Hacienda-echoing venue). It’s all student and 80’s nights, no encouragement to get anyone into playing live music. Whenever I see a band I like is playing there I think ‘has somebody told them yet?!’” 

Wallis’ trademark jerky dancing, a feature of the band’s absorbing live show, has also been subject to predictable comparisons: “A lot of people compare it to Ian Curtis, but mine flows with the beat more! I’ve separated it now by wearing silk shirts. I wore black t-shirts for a while, but then when we started getting photos , I thought ‘OK, this looks bad!’ I’m a bit sick of the comparison now.” 

“I lost my nerve for about half a year and stopped doing it. Then we went on tour, and three gigs in, I was like ‘I‘ve got it back’, I was doing wrist twists and stuff! We don’t want to be moody young men onstage, that’s really boring.”

Having been offered a deal while on a German tour in their previous incarnation – “basically our college band doing a gap year” – the band were offered a one-album deal by the same company following their first video as Dutch Uncles in 2009. “We recorded the first ten songs that came into our heads. We felt lucky that people picked up on it, Marc Riley (Of 6 Music) in particular said some very flattering things about it. It opened a lot of doors for us.

So does Duncan regard their new effort as their “proper” debut? “The first one never got officially released here, so if people see “Cadenza” as the first one, but then find this other album, great. It adds to the intrigue.

So with “Dutch Uncles” earmarked for ‘hidden gem’ status, it’s up to “Cadenza” to act as the band’s big statement, but even then it’s not all intentional: “We tricked ourselves really, we thought we were making a pop album but listening afterwards we were like “it’s still quite proggy!” We’re trapped into writing in weird time signatures.

While a veteran of the urban festival  – “We’ve played In The City so many times it’s taken up all my memory!” – this summer will largely mark the end of Duncan’s long outdoor festival drought:  “The last festival I went to was Leeds Festival in ’06, I remember stating ‘I’m not going back to another one of these festivals ‘til I can play it!’ We spent last summer making an album which has lead us to a great label (Memphis Industries) and a great team behind us, so we’ll be breaking a lot of festival cherries this year I hope!

There’s enormous enthusiasm for the festivals they know they’re doing so far, with one especially close to home:  “We’re doing Beacons, it’s nice to be playing for people who’ve helped you out, and we’re the first band on the main stage at Parklife, which is great for us as we live literally right outside the park!

Of their dream festivals, one cat is already out of the bag: “We’ve told too many people we’re going to be playing Glastonbury!  There’s also Latitude, Bestival, and Reading & Leeds – those are our big four that we’d like. We know our position, the ‘interesting’ guitar band on quite early.

Asked to nominate his own new band to watch, Wallis is quick to name some touring buddies: ”We loved having Young British Artists support us, they tick a box that we couldn’t possibly tick. They’ve got a great guitar sound, and the singer has a mic which acts like a megaphone but isn’t. It’s really inspiring to watch, especially if you’re playing afterwards! Hopefully they’ll have material out soon. They’re an embarrassingly good export for Manchester music.

As are Dutch Uncles themselves.  Make sure you catch them soon, because if Duncan gets his way, they’ll be on a fine-tuned world tour this time next year: “We want to see the world a bit more. We’ve been playing music together for six years now, and I’ve not seen a holiday out of it yet, or at least not one where I know everything’s going to be ok!

Dutch Uncles’ new album “Cadenza” is released on 25 April through Memphis Industries. See www.dutchuncles.co.uk for forthcoming live dates.

Watch ‘Face In’ by Dutch Uncles below;