We recorded it across the road from a brothel and a sandwich shop — but we just ate sandwiches.
Drenge really need no introduction. These two brothers emerged from an isolated northern town a few years ago and now their gritty debut album has found its way to Glastonbury, Letterman and assuredly many knackered iPods. The duo return this April with their second album ‘Undertow’ and will stop by Bristol’s Trinity on the 20th. We thought it was time to catch up with half of the operation, Rory Loveless..
So the new record arrives next month, how did the whole creative process differ this time around?
Well I guess we knew we were actually going to write an album this time because the first record was made up of what we thought were going to be two EPs and a bunch of demos. This time we knew we were making one which means that the songs all came from the same place whereas last time they weren’t. There was definitely a running theme and concept though the last one but it was just written over one and a half years and written and recorded in tiny bits whereas this one was just done in one chunk.
How was the recording period this time then?
We did it at the same place as the last one with the same producer Ross Orton in Sheffield. We did it in a place called Attacliffe which was across the road from a brothel and a sandwich shop — but we just ate sandwiches.
You’ve had an intense couple of years, has this reflected on the album at all?
Well I can’t say we feel isolated anymore because we’ve been on the road for so long, but yeah I guess there’s a sense of escape and running away on it. It’s definitely changed us as people – I don’t feel like a bratty little teenager anymore.
There’s more intimate moments again like ‘The Woods’, is it more rewarding to do those slower songs as well?
Yeah, it’s just nice to branch out in anyway because I felt we would be limiting ourselves if we tried to do anything similar to the first album. So we wanted to try out as much things as possible in terms of song-writing, production, playing, doing new things and teaching ourselves. It was super rewarding, those slower songs were interesting for us because we’ve always gone at it playing as hard and fast as possible which makes for a great track – but we had to challenge ourselves a bit which was cool. This album is us essentially expanding on the debut.
Was the decision to bring in a bass player a natural one then?
Yeah, we were recording in the studio trying to fake low-end with guitars and synths, then we realised there’s just no point, we might as well just put a bass down and make it sound like an actual instrument in its own right and write a part for it. With the first album we tried to record the live aspect of the band but this time we worried about how we’d go about doing that after recording the songs in the studio. We wrote these bass parts and then got Rob to come and play them.
Does that take a bit of the weight off then?
Yeah, especially on those long drives when we don’t say anything to each other. Yes I guess it does though, it means there’s someone else to rely on. It means we don’t have to be so tight I think because with a two-piece you’re out in the open if either of you makes a mistake. Whereas with three of you onstage it’s a bit easier to just play songs and jam out and not worry so much about the mistakes because they’re less noticeable.
Your videos have come to have a very unique aesthetic, what was the idea behind ‘We Can Do What We Want’?
Well I think we just wanted a video that instead of it being an all singing, all dancing freedom kind of thing, we wanted it to look like what would happen if you give yourself too much freedom. I guess having rules and constraints has effected this band quite a bit. With their just being the two of us and no-one else around to play with on the first album, that defined our sound. I guess we really needed those rules but if we had a sixteen piece orchestra or whatever we would have done something awful like those guys did in the video. It’s kind of distressing to watch.
You seem to look at everything with a sense of humour, is it important for you not to take things too seriously?
Yeah, this band is just a load of fun I guess. It’s not something I’d want to take too seriously. Although it is a job and sometimes I have to take certain things seriously, I wouldn’t want to carry on if it meant that I wasn’t having any fun – I’d stop and think about it for a bit because what’s the point? Music has always been fun for me and turning it into a job… I couldn’t imagine waking up on a Monday morning and being like ‘agh, I’ve got to go and be in a band’. It would never happen but yeah… I mean the humour thing is just part of who we are and what we’re doing.
That comes through in your music as well…
Yeah, on this second album I don’t know if it comes through in the lyrics so much. We had a lot of fun recording it and putting some daft stuff on the album which other people will probably dismiss as self-indulgent or just plain daft. On the first album there was a load of funny lyrics on there, like ‘I Wanna Break You In Half’ and ‘People In Love Make Me Feel Yuck’, just like funny song titles, whereas this ones a bit more mature and grown up I guess — but it’s still a huge part of what we do.
How do you think the new album will translate into the live environment?
I am excited to get out there and play it live. We’ve played a few new tunes and they’ve gone down pretty well actually. I think it’s going to be a constantly evolving thing where we’ll always try and get right but never quite get there. It’s not a live record like the first one, but it will be cool to see how we can go about re-creating it live. In the studio we put down like three tracks of guitar, I don’t know if we’re ever going to get three guitarists to come and play with us but we’ll just see what happens as the year goes on.
You’re very much seen as a ‘live’ band, but you seem to be really enjoying the studio stuff at the moment…
Well the first time we went into the studio we were just a live band – we went in and recorded live. We didn’t really know what we were doing, it was almost like we were playing a gig to no-one. It was just weird, and we didn’t really understand the studio or technicalities at all, like I didn’t know what compression meant. So it was just a bit alien to us, we went in, played the song and then Ross did his thing and that would be it. With this one we got a bit more keen on interfering and producing, colouring the sounds and seeing where we can take it. We’ve listened to a lot more stuff since we wrote the first album as well, so that’s influenced how we went about producing the sounds in the studio.
You’ve got a massive tour lined up next month, how does it feel to get back out on the road?
Yeah, I’m just really looking forward to it. It will probably be a bit different to some of our last tours. We’ve got a load more people in the van so it’s just going to be a load of fun and I can’t wait.
How does it feel to be coming back to Bristol? I caught you at The Fleece last time where you just put down the drumsticks and launched yourself into the crowd…
There’s something about Bristol where I always feel like I’ve given a bad show. We played Dot To Dot and I thought that was really good. I remember playing The Louisiana but we’d had a really long drive and just played a bad show, then we did the same thing at The Fleece when I was really hungover from the NME Awards — so hopefully we’ll try and give you a good show this time. The Fleece was amazing though, it was like a waterfall of kids getting up onstage and then jumping back off. I jumped out at the end but I didn’t realise that all the kids were quite a bit younger and couldn’t hold me up so I just flattened them. I feel really bad. Sorry everyone. Sorry Bristol.
You’re normally fully in the zone onstage, do you try not to engage with the crowd too much?
I guess we’re worried about breaking up the show. I hate bands where half the show is banter because that’s not the reason I’ve gone to see them. I don’t want to disappoint anyone with my personality or anything – they’re there for the music I guess – we’re also in the zone, so that’s just how we do things.
Drenge have come so far in such a short space of time, does it still feel surreal to be doing certain things?
It’s just odd, it doesn’t really sink in for quite a while. I mean, I’m just coming around to the fact that we did David Letterman – it’s so weird thinking about all the bands who’ve done it that I’ve watched over the years. It’s weird that we went and did it and we started in Castleton. I mean some things you do understand why you’re there, like the second time we toured America – but it is still largely odd.
So lastly, we’re fast approaching summer now, what are you most excited about in 2015?
I guess just getting back out there on tour for a few weeks, I’m really excited for that. I can’t remember the last time we were on tour for a few weeks. It’s nice to get out from home and see the world for a bit. So going around the UK then into Europe will be cool — and all the festivals as well which will be ace. Of course Bristol as well.
Drenge play our own Trinity Centre on 20th April, with ‘Undertow’ out on the 6th.
Check out the video for ‘We Can Do What We Want’ right here: