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Interview: Peter Liddle of Dry the River

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The following is a transcription of an interview between Jordan Martich and Peter Liddle of Dry the River.

For the review of their show with Alabama Shakes, click here.

NUVO: What's your name?

Peter Liddle: Peter.

NUVO: And what do you do in the band?

Liddle: Sing and play guitar.

NUVO: From what I've heard about you guys you all have pretty different backgrounds musically. How does that affect the songwriting process?

Liddle: We all were in kind of punk bands and metal bands and hardcore bands when we were kids. Nothing really like what we're doing now. Even within that, within the broad genre of alternative music, all of us listen to very different things. The drummer and the bassist are very into 70s prog and kind of Rush and early Genesis. Jon's very into Poison and hair-metal. Then our guitarist is very into post-rock and shoe-gazy stuff. It really is quite diverse. So the way it works is I kind of write an acoustic skeleton of a song and then everyone brings in their own influences and their own musical taste to the palette I guess.

NUVO: You guys post a lot of videos on YouTube, a lot of covers and stuff like that. You're very involved in social media, how do you think that's affected the band's popularity?

Liddle: It's not something we really set out to do I don't think. I'm not sure we ever decided that we're really going to harness the power of social media. We're just of a generation where everybody uses Facebook and Twitter and Instagram or whatever it might be. For us it's a way to keep in touch with the people that we meet when we're touring. It's very cool that, whereas in the past maybe a band would have like a press person, a PR person who made all the statements on behalf of the band and the band wouldn't really be able to interact in the same way directly with their fan-base. For us it's very cool that there are 40,000 people on our Facebook who get our updates and we can just directly talk to those people. We don't have someone in between conveying our messages. We can communicate with all of the people who listen to our music, I think that's really nice. And we can hear feedback from them as well, which is really cool. We can come off stage and read Twitter and see instantly how people felt it went and stuff. It's a really nice arrangement.

NUVO: And you guys have toured the states one time before, right?

Liddle: Well, we've been here a lot of times, but only one kind of big, long tour. We made the record over here actually in Bridgeport, Connecticut, with the producer Peter Katis. We came over I think maybe 10 separate trips when we made that record. We've played in New York a whole bunch and the West Coast a few times. Maybe we've done two kind of long tours, one with the Bowerbirds and we supported them for three weeks. That was like a 9,000 mile tour around the outside of the U.S. And then we did a very similar route ourselves, kind of like a headline tour, but it was just like a week long. So this is our third time doing consecutive shows.

NUVO: Are there any comparisons you can make, not like one is better than the other, but touring the states and touring Europe?

Liddle: For one thing, just the distances are just so vast over here and that really changes the feel of touring day to day. All the stuff outside the shows it really makes your daily living very different. It means that, more often than not, when we were in the U.S. we toured in an RV and we were living in there and sometimes you're driving for two days, morning til night with no stopping, which you can't really do in Europe without falling into the sea. In Europe we still stay in hotels and we just tour in vans. We'll maybe do three or four hours driving a day. It's less intense. In some respects touring in the U.S. can be quite a lot more absorbing because you don't really have any time to yourself, you're really on the road all the time. I think maybe in Europe, and certainly in the U.K., people are a lot more concerned with where you're from, and where your musical heritage is from and whether you're being authentic. Whether you play the music that comes from the area where you grew up and this kind of thing. We read some reviews of our record saying, 'We love the record, but these guys are from London, they're not from the Appalachian Mountains or something. It's not authentic music, they shouldn't be playing folk music.' I kind of think that if you like a record, then why does it make any difference where it comes from? Especially with Internet the way it is and just modern music the way it is, nobody writes traditional folk music from the town where they grew up. Everybody is allowed to be influenced by everything and that's really cool. Whereas, in the U.S., there really isn't that attitude so much. Everybody just likes to hear music. Maybe the fact that we're a British band helps, people just think, 'That's cool,' and they stop asking questions. I've found people to be a bit more accepting over here and just supportive, which is really nice.

NUVO: I think foreign accents are just an icebreaker for Americans, a lot of the time.

Liddle: Yeah, we've found that too actually. We always come on stage and Scott will say, 'Hi we're Dry the River from London, England,' and that's it. From that point forward people are kind of interested. But I think too, in the U.K., often if there are three bands on a bill people won't show up until the last band is coming on. They don't want to see support bands, they don't want to see bands that they don't know. Unless they know that they're good somehow, they've heard the band, they just can't be bothered. Whereas in the U.S. we've found, shows are generally earlier in the U.S. anyway, but even then, if a stage time is 7:30, eight o' clock, you still generally have a decent crowd in America. In the U.K., if you're on before 10, like no one's going to be there. And I think that's a difference. In the U.S. people feel they've paid for a show, they want to enjoy themselves and they just want to come and watch the show. Whereas in the U.K. they can't be bothered to go and listen to a band everybody already likes. I guess it's a different attitude.

NUVO: You guys tour with a lot of different acts like Alabama Shakes tonight, and you were saying Bowerbirds. Is that something you guys are seeking out?

Liddle: We have three part harmonies and acoustic guitars and this kind of thing, so obviously there's a folky element to it, but also we have some moments where it really descends into post-rock noise and weird time signatures and stuff. I think because of that. Alabama Shakes, which we've played a lot of shows with before, and the first show we played with them was at CMJ in New York last year, and they were on first and they were a very new band. They said to us after the show, 'We'd heard you guys were kind of this acoustic kind of folk band and we were really stoked to discover that you're actually a rock band and we really like it. Let's do some more shows together.' Then things went really well for them and we've done a whole bunch of shows with them since. It's been really fun. Brit says the same thing to me, she says, 'People are always telling us that we're a a blues-revival band or soul-revival band, but we listen to Black Sabbath, and we like to think that we're kind of as much a metal band or a rock band as we are a soul band.' We just tend to play with bands who are less kind of, you know . . . We toured a lot with The Antlers as well. Same thing. They really don't stick rigidly to a genre. They just play the music that they like and, again, our music doesn't sound very similar, but it does always seems to work for us no matter who we've toured with. It just always seems to work. I think we're lucky in that respect.

NUVO: When I discovered you guys I thought, 'This is great.' It's such an amalgam of everything that I love about music in general. When I heard that stuff I was blown away. So, how do you balance everything? Or does it just come out?

Liddle: It's weird, yeah. I was always in bands that sounded like At the Drive-In, you know, and like, Refused. I was really into screaming, like hardcore and post-hardcore bands. I spent a lot of time just jumping around and shouting, and it wasn't really until I was 18 or 19, maybe a bit older, 20, that I started to think, 'Well.' I'd always grown up listening to more folky stuff, Paul Simon, Leonard Cohen, and these kind of people. And I thought, 'Maybe I should try to write something more vocal and a little bit more kind of melodic.' And we just played around with it. I'd written these acoustic songs really, and in my head they were just going to be like acoustic songs, then it just so happened that the rest of the boys, who I knew from other bands, they all moved to London, and I was like, 'Let's just go into a studio and kick these around. The first few demos we did were really folky. I was kind of trying to force them to be much more folky and simple than they normally are, and then after a while, we realized that it just kind of sounded like we were trying to be this kind of folk band, even though we weren't really from that kind of background. So instead we decided we would let our influences creep back in and play it a bit. Take these kind of folk songs and play them in a way that we would have done previously and then we just stumbled on this sound that people responded to. It was a lot more fun for us to play live if we could let ourselves go a little bit more. So we just kind of landed on this sound that's halfway between the two. It was quite an organic thing.

NUVO: I've seen something like that happen here and with bands that I know in the Midwest. A lot of the people who were in metal bands or hardcore bands will go into the more folky stuff or just the rock kind of feel, and it's weird. We'll have shows and it will be the folky stuff, the rock kind of feel, and then the hardcore bands, and people will go and watch all of them.

Liddle: Yeah, that's really cool.

NUVO: Is that something you see back in the U.K.?

Liddle: Not so much. Again, I think it's from this whole fixation of genre and what scene are you from, and what bands are you referencing. People are constantly really hung up on that in the U.K. and in Europe, so less, but we always try, when we're choosing. I think we're quite lucky in that we normally get to choose who comes on tour with us when we're doing our own headline tours, so we always choose bands that are quite different from what we're doing. We're about to go on tour in October in the U.K. and Europe. We're taking this band, Arcane Roots and they're like a really great, pretty techy, like sort of post-hardcore band. So that's very different. We took a band called Tall Ships on tour, lots of like real math rock and kind of tech, and stuff we really like to listen to. I don't think people feel used by it. I think people really enjoy and want to see a different line-up. When Bowerbirds came to the U.K. they brought us on some shows, and again, they're like a bit more folky than us, but I don't think people are as hung up on that as the music press is. People just like to listen to good music. I don't really see people being put off if they come to our shows and find us being supported by heavier bands. People generally are into it.

NUVO: You guys have been touring for a while now right?

Liddle: Yeah, I mean we're more or less always on tour. I think that's something that comes from our background in kind of punk stuff. Some of the guys we meet in just DIY punk bands touring like the whole time and living on people's sofas, you know, and living on floors and eating pasta all the time. That influence comes from being in post-hardcore bands and that sort of thing. We get really bored if we're in one place.

NUVO: You don't take it for granted.

Liddle: Right. We were a bit older when we signed. I was 24 and we signed and we'd all had kind of day-jobs. An exception is actually the violinist. He actually came straight from university. The rest of us, we'd been in day-jobs and we'd done other stuff, so we had this renewed appreciation for it and just wanted to tour all the time. Everyday we more or less wake up and we're like, 'This is incredible.' Especially with the economic climate that we're in and the state of the music industry that we're in. It's increasingly difficult to be able to tour full-time. People always ask us, 'Do you want to be playing arenas? And we couldn't be asked for any more than we already have of the opportunities we already have. If we could just continue to tour all the time that's an incredible achievement in itself and if things get bigger or whatever happens that would be great, but it's not something we're obsessing over. We just feel really grateful to get on stage every day and be able to play shows. For the foreseeable future we're just going to try and continue with that.

NUVO: How does the touring affect the music? Like, live performance?

Liddle: You definitely get into a groove. That happens. When we toured with Bowerbirds, they just took two or three years off. Beth had some health problems and they went through a whole bunch of stuff. Then they kind of reformed, and even then, obviously, they've done massive amounts of practicing, they were say for the first few shows it felt very unusual to be on stage. Then they really hit their stride and really came together. Especially for us, because we're on tour so much of the time, it's all kind of muscle memory and we're so familiar with it that, even if we come off tour for like a week we suddenly feel really out of sorts when we get back on stage. For us it's much more unnatural to not be doing shows and that's cool, you know. Playing in a band like ours is not incredibly challenging in terms of the technical side, it's more just trying to convey the emotions that you want to convey. You always want to feel when you come off the stage that you did absolutely the best that you could and stuff like that. That's something that you have to work out. All the tiny little things around playing shows, how you set up. You learn little tricks from other bands or you learn little tricks through trial and error and then you realize, 'Oh this makes my life much easier. If I do this when I arrive at the venue it's going to be a lot better,' and all these sorts of things. I think it's the minutiae of performing you get better at, rather than performing itself. Especially if you travel with the same crew, you fall into a routine of how to do stuff the simplest way possible.

NUVO: Do you have anything planned for the next album?

Liddle: Yeah I think. We're desperate to make it because even by the time that this record came out some of the songs were two, three years old. We started the record, more or less, a year before it finally got released that even by the time it came out some of the songs were pretty old. We've long been waiting to make a new album. We've just been on tour all the time, so, you know, but we're going to take some time off December, January and sit down and hopefully write the record. We have some stuff. I have some stuff written. We'll just see how it goes. I think this time I really want to just write a bunch of songs and just go straight into the studio and just start hammering them out in the studio with the producer and not before the songs were so old and we've recorded them about ten times before we ever got into the studio. Some of them were from previous bands and this kind of stuff. We got to the point where we were thinking about all this kind of stuff and it was a very laborious process. We want to really get stuck in and see what happens. I have much less of a preformed idea of what I want the record to sound like just to see what happens. I think that could be really fun.

NUVO: What are you hoping to do in the states this tour that you didn't get to last time?

Liddle: Well, we're playing Lollapalooza, which is very exciting, it's a pretty big deal for us. Other than that we're actually trying to tick off states. I think we're at 37 states, or something, that we've been keeping track off. We're trying to tick off a few more. Colorado, we're going to Boulder for some shows and that's going to be the first time we've been in Colorado, so that's very cool. We're always just trying to experience things that we can't get at home. We try and visit even dumb stuff like different fast-food places, you know, just see different attractions that we haven't seen. We try to be tourists as much as possible. I think it would be a shame to travel through America and not really experience the cool stuff you can do. We went to Niagara Falls and the redwoods in California and Yellowstone. We try to do a lot of touristy things, which is fun. Then we're coming back in October or September for like a month of extensive tour, and that's like a headline tour, our first proper U.S. headline tour up the east coast and through Canada and down through the Midwest again and then down the west coast. That should be really exciting. That should be fun.

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