INTERVIEW: Dry The River Take Over The U.S. One Tour At A Time
By Gianna Hughes on November 20, 2012
For as uneventful as suburbia may seem, it certainly tends to spark the flame for various artistic inclinations. Perhaps that is what happens when you grow up safe and without stimulation—you may begin to question everything, and you may turn to the music that holds the answers you are seeking. For myself, I turned to punk music. It literally and figuratively screamed at me, breaking through the wall of comfort. It taught me to question politics and relationships. And most importantly, it taught me to share my voice and to never apologize for doing so.
Dry the River were raised under similar circumstances, although thousands of miles away in the suburbs of South London. They grew up listening to punk, post-punk and metal—and they still do—but you might not assume this while listening to their debut album, Shallow Bed. However, when you watch their live show their influence becomes clear. It is not rare to see band members jumping off of a kick drum or spinning around the stage. And, believe it or not, they will be releasing Shallow Bed in an acoustic format on December 17. Although they could be considered folk music, it is as though Dry the River are challenging themselves to create something completely out of the ordinary.
Earlier this year, I saw Dry the River perform at the Troubadour in Los Angeles when they opened for The Bowerbirds. And only months later, they returned to the same venue to headline their own show. And although they come all the way from London, they have seen more of the United States than most Americans ever will. And not only is their music accessible, it is evocative because they’re able to channel their rebellious energy into their performance. When you combine that with the desire to work harder than everyone else, you have a recipe for well-earned success.
I had the chance to speak with Dry the River’s frontman Peter Liddle and bassist Scott Miller while they were in Los Angeles, and when watching them perform, it was clear that it won’t be long before they’re back in the States selling out even larger venues.
You seem to be in America often, especially for a band that lives overseas.
Scott Miller: We honestly just love touring out in the States. There’s just something about it. It’s really exciting for us as a British band with the dream we had as kids driving across America and now getting to do it and exploring all these cities. It’s such a big place that even though we’ve been out here five times it’s tough to break. You’ve really got to come out here and work at it if you want to make a name for yourself.
But mainly it’s just that we love it. All the crowds are super accepting of new music and seem to be into discovering new bands, which is something we need. We’re able to come play awesome prestigious venues like the Troubadour here and all the other ones we’ve done on tour in different cities.
Peter Liddle: Plus the food!
Miller: Yeah, the food. The 24-hour culture with food and diners and truck stops.
Liddle: And everyone’s way more attractive here than in Europe.
Miller: There’s a whole list of stuff as to why we love to tour here. Don’t tell anyone back home, but I actually prefer touring in the States to continental Europe.
How does playing here compare to playing overseas?
Miller: We’re still a bit behind here. We’ve toured more in Europe and in the U.K. for the last three years. This is the first time we’ve really come out here, so the crowds are in slightly smaller rooms than we’d play to in places like Holland or Germany because we’ve hit those places so many times already. But it seems to have picked up quicker here, actually.
Liddle: I think we had more label support by the time we came here, and in Europe we were a fledgling band. We were still learning a lot of stuff ourselves as well, like all kinds of little things you’d never think of. Even simple things like how you set up your instruments and all the different gear we had when we started. It took us awhile to figure out what we wanted to sound like live and we didn’t have our own sound engineer or anything like that when we started touring. Gradually in Europe, it took us a long time to get a foothold, whereas over here we already had a tour manager and an engineer and a label behind us and promos set up for us to do. Things seemed to pick up a little quicker.
Miller: I think the accent helps as well. You go on stage and you’re like, “Hey! We’re Dry the River and we’re from London!” And half the room is like, “Wow, your accent is so cool” So we kind of win that battle without having to play a song.
Did you guys feel like you were starting over a bit here since you had a little more success overseas?
Miller: Yeah, I think so.
Liddle: Some of these rooms do remind me of our early days of touring. It’s really nice actually. In the summer we did some nice—for us—quite big festivals to like ten thousand people. We still do a mixture of different size venues in Europe. We’re just about to go back to our U.K. tour. I guess those rooms are mostly 600 capacity, so coming here doing like 200-capacity rooms is kind of different. You can see everyone’s face and you can really read their reactions and you can talk to people off the mic and you can do stuff that’s fun to do. And on this tour, a couple of times, we just got off the stage and walked into the crowd and played some songs acoustically—stuff you can’t really do in a festival environment. It’s fun because it gives us a different option and you can play in a different way, so it keeps you interested.
Miller: It takes me back to when we were kids growing up playing in our little hardcore bands and rock bands. You play in a local, small 100-cap room opening for some touring band, so it kind of takes me back to that. It just has that sort of nostalgic feeling of playing in these small rooms. I love it.
Your story reminds me of my own. When I was in high school I was into hardcore and punk, and now I’m more into the style of music you play. It’s funny seeing that transition. For me, I grew up in a suburb and it wasn’t too rare for kids to get into punk music. Why do you think you were so interested in that kind of music living in a suburb?
Liddle: For everyone in the southeast of England, either you were into football and dance music, or you were uncool and went to grimy punk clubs and tried to skateboard.
Miller: It’s that thing about being trapped in suburbia. You grow up bored, so you want to find some sort of rebellion.
Liddle: You’re all from pretty comfortable families and everyone’s very affluent. We come from areas not with super wealthy families, but safe areas with very little excitement. We definitely opted into trying to find a way to…
Miller: Relieve teen angst or whatever it is.
Liddle: To be honest, we never really made that transition in terms of what music we listen to and what stuff we follow. We still only really listen to hardcore and rock. Less pop punk, but lots of classic rock and prog; lots of Led Zeppelin, King Crimson and Pink Floyd.
Why do you think the music you play is so different from that?
Liddle: I don’t know really. I definitely listen to that stuff as well. If these guys were left to their own devices and I wasn’t in the band it’d probably be a lot heavier because I write of a lot of girly acoustic songs.
Miller: It’s fun though. I never sang before I joined this band. We do these three-part choral harmonies all the time. This just feels cool when the voices all come together. Something about it just really works for me. I really enjoy playing it. Plus when we’re playing live shows we do get to rock out a little bit and jump around and pretend we’re in a punk band, so we get the best of both worlds. We get to sing these soft harmonies and then rock out like we think we’re in Iron Maiden or something.
If you didn’t listen at all you would think you were a metal or hardcore band.
Miller: Listen to a different track and watch us play. There’s a tendency to just stand there and play the songs because for a lot of folk music that’s the traditional way. Because of our background this is just so much more fun. It’s more enjoyable to jump around and have a bit of a laugh onstage.
Liddle: I don’t think it really occurred to play to us any other way. When we started out, people would tell us, “We listened to your EPs and they were really quiet and folky. And then we saw you live and you were jumping around and rocking out and we were surprised.”
Miller: But what else would you do?
I remember being 15 and growing up in a suburb. Everyone was middle class and conservative. And then you found this music that’s angry and political—but not the politics or religion your parents followed. Do you think how your parents raised you influences what you write about?
Liddle: My dad is slightly more conservative than my mom. My mom is more chilled out. She’s very liberal and supportive and she was always cool. I remember hiding Rage Against the Machine records from my parents because I was worried they’d be upset. I wasn’t worried that they’d be angry, but I thought they’d think I’d gone off the rails. That music was a bit edgy and as I grew up I realized my dad has a pristine collection of everything Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd ever did. And my mom was really into a lot of rock music when she was growing up, so I don’t think I ever really had to hide it. I just think I did it because I wasn’t sure how they were going to react.
But, certainly, mum gave me a very good musical education. She had me listening to Leonard Cohen and Paul Simon and Bob Dylan—songwriters that anyone in the world should listen to. If you’re trying to be a songwriter, that’s a really good place to start.
Again, I never really had anything to rebel against. My parents were really nice and supportive, so it’s not like I was tortured or had a troubled youth particularly. The only one thing was that we traveled a lot because my dad is in oil, so I grew up in a lot of different places, so I think maybe a lot of the songs talk about community and belonging. I think possibly some of that is because we don’t have a nuclear family based in one part of the world. My family is scattered all over the world and I like the idea of being able to say that 10 generations of my family lived here.
Is the band all in London now?
Do you think it influences you in terms of community?
Liddle: Where we live in East London there is a pretty vibrant community. Where we all came from originally, west of London and those various satellite towns, we played in bands there for six, seven, eight years and that’s where it really all happened. We formed a band in London and within the first month we had a record label come to shows and had magazines writing about us. We did a thing with Black Cab Sessions in London, and before we knew it there was all this press and people offering to manage us, and it really is that different in London, and especially East London. Someone forms a band and instantly labels will come trying to find the next thing to sign. I think that’s how you learn things.
Miller: It’s competitive as well, which is good for a band. There are shows every night and we’re there with four or five bands that you’ve never heard of and they’re all from within a 20-mile radius of where you live. It’s just crazy how many are constantly coming up. You really have to work at it. It’s really one in a million that gets a chance to do what we’re getting to do. If you’re willing to put the effort in and the hours in to be able to make that happen.
Liddle: I think we were really lucky.
Miller: And now we’re getting to live the dream.
Liddle: People keep asking, “What advice would you give other bands?” Well, just move to London and play shows every day. And then it’s just basically luck. You can give yourself a better chance, but at the end of the day it just comes down to what the labels want, what the market wants, and what’s going on at that particular moment.