INTERVIEW: Dutch Uncles

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Manchester’s Dutch Uncles are neither Dutch, nor your uncles. Instead they’re tearing up Manchester’s local music scene. Originally known as The Headliners (name changed due to another band having the same name), the Mancunian Quintet base their music on odd rhythms and eccentric time signatures mixed with the influences of The Smiths, Talking Heads and XTC. They’re the next Foals or Everything Everything if you will. Their self titled debut gained good reception but it is with their second album release Cadenza that they’ve finally hit big music radars. GIITTVZ’s Alex Yau caught up with singer Duncan Wallis…

1. Cadenza is a brilliant album. How did it all go in the making of it?

I guess we went quite slowly really. We already have a German album which was only released in Europe, so we called it “The German album.” That was made quite quickly and we were snatched up really quickly to do all that stuff. When we started writing Cadenza, we probably had an extra year in terms of writing on top. I guess it’s our longest effort definitely. We were quite slow about doing things and being very busy doing it in between jobs and university. It was quite traditional as we already wrote 30 songs by the time started writing for Cadenza. We do it in quite an old school way where the bassist writes all the music, and then I write all the vocal melodies on top of it. It’s an Eighties way of doing things if you must, like The Smiths of Joy Division, although they’re Manchester examples so it’s not great. We tried to make every song sound like a single. By the time we started recording it, we had a producer on board who was very experimental with synth work and it was an element we never educated ourselves in. As all the extra synth work in, we realised we made a live album into something more powerful. I was scared it was over produced and I was worried at first about whether we went too far, but now I don’t think we’ve gone far enough. The third album will probably take it further.

2. You’ve said you wanted to make it flow much better. How did you do this?

We never thought we made a proper album with our “German album.” It felt like we made, not a live album, but a collection of songs that only had one way of fitting. With Cadenza we experimented with eight different kinds of track lists, all of which worked, but we always thought what would work best? That’s why we have the track list now and it was all about making everything coherent especially from a lyrical point of view. I stapled a style into what we wrote and after that, if I ever felt lost, I’d always have something to look back on.

3. Has the longer time scale been beneficial in making Cadenza?

Yes, it would help if we had that time again but we’re probably going to have to push ourselves the next time round. It was such a long time that it changed our idea of what the album was going to be. You never get the full picture of an album until a month before it’s finished. I looked at my old lyric book and saw all these old album ideas. There were so many demo songs and others that turned out to be B sides in the making of Cadenza. It’s changed shape so much. It kind of comes down to how you release singles around it as well because we didn’t get Memphis Industries until we released one single (‘The Ink’). The whole single regime changed because we don’t write the best obvious singles and the fact that we released ‘The Ink’ once meant: “Are we going to be able to release it again?” The whole re-release thing was a bit shady for us. We did end up re-releasing ‘Face In’ which was on “the German album,” and we thought this would be a taster for anyone that’s heard our new stuff and wants more. We thought we’d put that out for radio purposes and it was interesting in the way of writing an album wondering how many more singles we need to feel we’re writing here. For some reason, at that point of making Cadenza, we had a dial of “are we making a single or not making a single?” It was always quite obvious to us when we knew what the singles would be. When we do a third album, we’re just going to write every song and not worry about the singles because there is a label there.

4. Speaking about the single ‘Fragrant,’ the lyrics are about releasing odours in the family. Compared to other lyrics out there, these aren’t the most conventional. How do you think of these?

We just needed a starting point and a first couplet. When you have that first couplet, you think: “I know what I’m singing about and where I’m going.” It’s the trouble of getting past that and getting inspiration. It was literally through watching a film about an incest which had Clive Owen in it. We took it from there, by the time we got to the chorus, we thought it was definitely about incest but let’s just say it is. It’s something that looks at the capability of people and whether they’re capable of incest. It’s all very laughable really. In the middle eight for example, I say something about “The crime of pride, in both our lives” is a very vain aspect of the act. It’s not to be taken too seriously but it worked out.

5. The definition of Cadenza also means improvised and free. Is this your entire outlook on your own music?

I think the reason why the album is named Cadenza is because it all came at once, hoping it was the single and also because it sounded good. It was either that or The Ink but we thought that sounds too definitive. Cadenza is such an ear pricking work. In terms of its definition, the title of the song is reference to the nature of the lyrics. It’s about a loved one dying, about separation and it was never something to reference our music by. It was just a humorous way of looking at the dynasty of my family as it were. It’s actually about my grandma. I’m over exaggerating here but in a positive way. Using Cadenza is an Old Italian word and we never really thought of the meaning much. It was an easy an obvious choice and we’re glad we chose it because the others weren’t as good.

6. What other titles did you think of?

I got asked a lot to find lyrics. I’m always sceptical about that and I think you can’t choose lyrics to extract in that way. My word choice is quite simple and I thought maybe it’s in the rhythm. It’s never knowingly poetic, trying to be real about things because if it gets too poetic, it will sound like something else. The only one I could find was think tall which was from ‘The Ink’ and it was always like a statement and intrigued people. ‘Cadenza’ was always my plan B, if not A, because I knew it was always coming down to plan B. I knew it was always going to be ‘Cadenza’ but I humoured everyone for a month making them worry about an album title.

7. You’re also signed to Tapete in Germany and Love and Disaster in the UK. Do you find there’s a difference with both labels being different geographically?

I think Tapete gets government funding, they did at the time, and it was weird when they signed us up for an album. It was fine and dandy as we made the album in Hamburg and we were their flavour of the month. Apparently the single was on TV. We were back in England and then all of a sudden they had another 20 artists. I’m not criticising them but because of this funding, they can get all the bands, put albums out and see what sticks. There’s less A and R work. There was no real press of the first album. It was a bit of a joke but it was also our problem as well because we were at university so we couldn’t tour as much as they hoped we could. We’re managed by Love and Disaster now and it feels like we’re part of the family. It’s very tight knit. Every aspect of the band is looked after and cared for. There’s more press than ever and Memphis Industries is very dedicated to us. We had our fears after Tapete
because we were scared of being forgotten about. Memphis is a real indie label with an indie way of thinking. They’re doing a great job and that was the difference. Those two labels are good here, Tapete not so.

8. You’ve also said that you like girl singers. Any particular favourites and why?

I used to. Back in college when I was listening to the majority of indie music which I still love now, the girls were always a bit more wild, you know, the Karen O or Jemimah thing. Guys on the other hand, such as Jules Casablancas, just have microphones. Guys looked cool and girls were going mental. Whenever I write, I took a female perspective as escapism being a man naturally and it was more interesting really.

God is in the TV is an online music and culture fanzine founded in Cardiff by the editor Bill Cummings in 2003. GIITTV Bill has developed the site with the aid of a team of sub-editors and writers from across Britain, covering a wide range of music from unsigned and independent artists to major releases.