At first glimpse Dry The River are a rather angelic and thoughtful folk band but as we catch up with them at Eurosonic Noorderslag 2011 in the Netherlands, we discover they have a surprising appetite for post-hardcore and hard partying.
This London-based five piece have been making good progress recently with forthcoming single ‘New Ceremony’ receiving Radio 1 airplay, summer festival appearances already booked and a string of sold out London shows.
“We did about six weeks of shows with just a couple of weeks off and then we did the Magic Numbers Irish tour for a week – which was kind of heavy partying,” said singer Peter Liddle. “We had a little break after Christmas and this was our first electric show of the year, so it was nice to get back into it.”
The band had just played the European showcase festival, Eurosonic Noorderslag in Groningen, on a bill spoilt with those ‘ones to watch’ for 2011, whose names are semi-permanently tattooed on the minds of music critics and eager fans alike. However, on evidence of the lesser-endorsed Dry The River’s passionate live performance, they have a great chance of bursting the banks in their homeland as well. How do they wring so much intensity out of their heartfelt songs?
“We’ve all played in progressive or post-hardcore bands at some point,” guitarist Matt Taylor reveals. “I was obsessed with At The Drive In until I was about 17 – it was all I’d listen to,” Pete adds, “everyone was in punk bands and we all listened to prog and metal. And we still do.”
Perhaps these hard-edged influences give Dry The River some steel in their fight to immerge from an already competitive folk scene that’s increasingly diluted with radio-friendly sensibilities.
“There is a really prominent folk scene now and kids listen to folk music and that’s a brilliant thing,” explains Pete. “It’s a lot better, in my opinion, than what kids were listening to in the 90s – the 90s manufactured stuff – I’m glad that died a death. It’s really cool that people want to listen to music that’s meaningful, lyrically thoughtful and all that kind of thing.”
Thoughtful they may be; hymn-like at times; Dry The River transmit an intensity and enthusiasm that transcends the self-awareness of some songwriter-led bands like Coldplay and places them more comfortably alongside acts like Arcade Fire and the hardcore bands they take influence from.
To be lazy and cross them between two artists, Dry The River are part Jeff Buckley, part Fleet Foxes; but the influences, as you might guess certainly don’t stop there – the chorus of the ‘New Ceremony’ even sounds almost like the Killers.
While Pete’s vocal, the harmonies and his smart lyrics are the selling point; his falsetto is wonderfully controlled and unique, but they do operate as a band under a moniker – not that that means they’re without friction. “We bicker like anyone like families do and anyone who spends a lot of time together,” Pete admits, “It never gets nasty and we all know when to walk away.”
“If we have arguments they last about ten seconds. Sting and Stewart Copland used to beat each other up in between sets but we don’t have any of that going on. They probably weren’t in the same van all the time or the same two bedroom house.”
2011 may or may not see the release of the first Dry The River full length album, “Tentatively I think we’d like to have an album out at the end of the year,” Pete tells us. But one dead cert is that they’ll be appearing at plenty of festivals this summer; hopefully better turned out than last year: “We really rough it. We take shorts and a vest and a sun hat and that’s it,” they tell us of their festival preparations.
“They filmed the BBC Introducing Stage and we were looking back at the video and we went: ‘Oh God, what do we look like?’ We were all wearing flip flops and swimming shorts and we were sweating.”
Recalling his memories of their festival shows last summer, Pete says, “Standon Calling is a great festival… everyone was hanging out in the swimming pool together and we met the Lady who owned Standon Manor when we were all hanging out with the Magic Numbers’ in their dressing room which was in the manor house.”
“She told me to ‘stop playing the bloody piano’,” Matt interjects laughing. “It was at 3 o’clock in the morning.”
In a Britain that’s dominated by dub-step, pop and hip-hop, it would seem unlikely that there’s a place for fragile, harmonious, lyrically refined folk songs. But if there’s always reaction in direct opposition to the mainstream, perhaps London’s folk scene, for some, is it.
Johnny Flynn and Laura Marling have achieved critical acclaim and strong followings, while Mumford and Sons, though questionably ‘folk’, have practically achieved mainstream success themselves.
With Matthew and the Atlas among others passing-the-hat to the same kind of tune, there might not be room for another folk act in town; so maybe it’s a good thing Dry The River aren’t any ordinary folk band. “I get so grumpy and insufferable when I haven’t had enough sleep,” says Pete, “But if we’ve got a day off we go out and party really hard.” That sounds like the vicious cycle of a rock star, rather than a sensitive folkie; but then that’s how they folk’n roll these days.
The band are set to play the Next Big Thing Festival 2011 at London’s Borderline on 5 January before a second London dates and shows in Liverpool and Glasgow in March.
Head to the official Dry The River’s website for more.