Formed in Manchester in 2008 Dutch Uncles’ latest album O Shudder has been well received as they bring a fresh sound to the indie pop world. They are gearing up to headline Clouspotting Festival, 24 July and frontman Duncan Wallis chats to Big Issue North.
In what ways would you say O Shudder has moved on from Out of Touch in the Wild?
Musically I would say that it sounds more settled, especially in regards to the extra instrumentation. For example, on Out Of Touch… the string arrangements were very erratic on songs like Brio and Godboy, and although they still held a groove they were used more like guitars. On O Shudder the strings were being used to provide more of a texture, which made for a more accomplished sound overall where we felt we could perform the songs live without needing 10 people onstage. Lyrically the difference is very obvious. For a start, all of the song titles on O Shudder come from the lyrics within them, whereas on Out Of Touch… it was more cryptic. That was my main aim, to be less cryptic, and therefore feel like I was reaching out more to whoever is listening.
You cover some heavy topics such as pregnancy, terrorism, and divorce. How much of it is based on personal experience and how much on the world around you?
I suppose it’s all personal because none of it feels alien to me, but I never meant to delve into such “heavy” topics and I think summarising them as you have in the question makes them more so. When I was writing Babymaking I just kept getting the phrase “baby babies” in my head every time I heard the track, and it felt humorous and absurd, so I went with it. Now obviously I didn’t feel humorous and absurd about the “divorce” track and that was more a track to fit into a certain place on the album, but it ended up becoming a B side in the end. So I guess if anything felt too heavy, or like it’s not pointing towards a progression on the subject, then it wouldn’t get included in the final 11. I really wanted the overall feeling of the album to be that it’s all right to not know what you want yet, now or ever.
Lyrically, do you think the new album is going to appeal to an audience of twenty-somethings who relate to the protagonist of the album more than other demographics?
I hope not. I remember when I said that it was only because a lot of the material felt to me at the time like an Adrian Mole-esque narrative about the challenge of establishing yourself before your thirties. I remember reading a lot of Adrian Mole books way before I was old enough to understand the actual disposition of his character, and I thought they were great, so I don’t think it should feel exclusive to any age group.
Your signature sound marries rock bombast with classical arrangements. How do you marry the two influences and are any of you classically trained?
Robin is, but it makes him feel queasy to say it. The way we write has always felt quite traditional to Manchester bands, where the music comes first and then I write the vocal melodies and lyrics afterwards. I suppose the classical stuff gets in there pretty early and gets disguised with a lot of synth sounds as it’s an element we don’t want to ham up really, and on this album the arranging as a band came a lot sooner than usual (before any lyrics were put down a lot of the time). I did lyrically reference Stravinsky in the song Drips, but that was purely coincidental.
How would you say Manchester has shaped and influenced you as a band?
As I mentioned before, we feel like we keep in tradition with some of the local writers that influenced us back in the early days, and the decision for everyone to stay and go to university here definitely felt like it was one based on musical significance, landscape and heritage at times. The opportunities that have come from within and just from being from here have never been taken for granted. It’s been a relief to find such talented and like-minded people to work with in the same place – on everything from artwork to videos. Apart from that, in the day to day of everything, it could’ve been four guys doing it anywhere. We would definitely like to get beyond the M60 to record the next album – no offence.
When you emerged there was a lot of talk of a new breed of so-called intelligent pop. Do you think the musical landscape has become more thoughtful and complex since then?
I think the scene has adapted itself to survive more than anything else, and for me that’s intelligent. A lot of new bands have a stripped-back set-up and retro sounds going for them, and I’d like to think it’s to do with keeping costs down. Lo-fi used to be very expensive to achieve and now with bedroom studios it ain’t. But it depends what aspect of “intelligent” pop we’re going for really. Our aspect of it is a prog-pop-classical persuasion with some sex minded warbles that make you feel sick on first listen, whereas Everything Everything’s is an urban pop shimmer with up to the minute lyricising about undo buttons and MS DOS and such. In regards to the new bands in town, I’ve only seen the few I know of in a live capacity so I’ve yet to hear if their lyrics reach beyond what their soundscapes suggest, but it’s all good and thriving.
Apart from Cloudspotting, which festival are you most looking forward to playing and who else do you want to see?
I think the one we’re all really looking forward to this year is headlining our own curated stage at Festival No 6. We’re playing the Saturday on the In The Woods stage, and we’ve been able to invite some of the most exciting (we think) new acts in Manchester to play, such as Menage a Trois and Aldous RH, as well as our label buddies Slug. It’s the same evening as Grace Jones so I think we’ll have to come up with another bombastic cover instead of our usual “Slave to the Atypical Rhythm” ‘cos that would just be overkill, but we’ve already got a Grammy Award winning alternative in the bag.