East London’s indie-rock outfit, Dry the River released their debut album Shallow Bed in 2012 to mixed reviews from the critics but gained a loyal following of fans. This year saw the band release their successor to Shallow Bed, Alarms in the Heart which showcased a slight curveball from their folky beginnings of and taking a step firmly into the indie-rock genre (not that they like to be pigeonholed of course!). Alarms in the Heart is familiar in patter, from the theological and medical linguistic crafting solely written by Pete, to the three part harmonies which fill any gaps that might be left to fill. However there is something fresh and raw in the recording, the seamless blending of climatic grit with an intense musical ascent. We caught up with Matthew Taylor (lead guitars/vocals) to reflect on the journey so far and their process from conception to recording.
S] How do you feel about ‘Shallow Bed’ as a record a few years on?
M] “It’s strange, this interview made me go back and listen to ‘Shallow Bed’, which I hadn’t done since it came out back in 2012. It’s funny how a record can change so much in your mind when you don’t remind yourself of what it actually is. It sounds at times quite musically naive to me now. Peter’s voice sounds different to me. I think there are definitely strong songs on there. There are undoubtedly things that would be done differently if we were to go and record the same songs now, but that’s in our nature – certainly mine and Peters – we’re rarely satisfied.”
S] ‘Alarms In The Heart’ has a certain rawness in the production, can you tell us about your process from writing to the actual work done in the studio?
M] “The initial idea was to make this album quickly and release it quickly, stay on the same path in terms of touring and just keep on going. It turned out to be very difficult to achieve what we wanted to in the time that we’d allowed ourselves. We spent two or three months writing at the start of 2013, and went out to Iceland with producer Charlie Hugall for six weeks to record. It was an amazing trip, very intense but helped by our amazing surroundings.
When we got home and mixed it we realised we didn’t have the album we wanted. We did another song with Charlie back in London, then we worked with another brilliant producer – Paul Savage up in Glasgow. We still didn’t think we had the songs that constituted the album we were aiming at. Then things broke down with our label and we ended up leaving, which turned out to be a blessing in disguise, it afforded us more writing time, and we got four more songs together, including ‘Everlasting Light’. We recorded them with our friend Peter Miles and they turned out to be exactly what the record needed. These later additional songs have a punchier, perhaps rawer sound to them. The whole process of making the album was quite fragmented and was much more work than we’d anticipated, but the later songs really saved us. They injected some energy into the record and really galvanised it as a whole.”
Who is the female vocalist on ‘Roman Candle’?
M] “It’s Emma Pollock. She was in The Delgados and has released a bunch of her own great records. She’s amazing and really brought something special to the song. we’d wanted all along to have someone else sing the second verse of that song as it felt a little much to have Peter sing all the way through it for some reason. It almost felt too operatic! So it was great to work with her on it, she really helped give it the pace and tone it needed.”
For ‘Shallow Bed’ Pete wrote all the lyrics, was that the same for this album?
M] “Indeed it was! It doesn’t really feel like any of the rest of the band’s domain; to be involved with the lyric writing. There are a few backing vocal lines that respond to certain things in the songs that I added, but certainly Peter is the lyricist.”
In reference to the lyrics; there is a lot of abstract theological and medical grounding and intense imagery in the terminology, can you tell us a bit about that?
M] “It’s always been a tool for Peter I think, to use the imagery you’re talking about, to add weight to what he’s writing about. It’s rich imagery, and the ideas are ones that people can relate to easily, if there’s that familiarity there.
I think there’s much less of it this time round however. A lot of the lyrics read much more directly, and speak more literally about real-life situations. There’s more honesty on show.”
S] It’s interesting to me that the strong religious overtones don’t seem to alienate or attract your listenership – why do you think that is?
M] “I think it’s because people can see that it’s just a relational device. We don’t present ourselves as an overtly religious band, because we’re not and I think people get that.”
S] What causes the most arguments in the writing or recording process?
M] “We’re an argumentative band full stop. That’s just how we operate. It’s hard to pick out a one thing that causes arguing more than another, because it’s pretty much constant disagreement, 100 per cent of the time.”
S] What is each member’s quintessential track from the album Which defines where the band is at this moment?
M] “‘Jon’s is Med School’ I think. Scott would say ‘Vessel’. that song took a long time to reach its current arrangement and seemed to grow and settle with the same trajectory as the album as a whole. I personally enjoy ‘Hope Diamond’. That was a tough job seeing that song through, I really believed in it and was the only one a lot of the time. I think I still am. Pete himself is a fan of ‘Rollerskate’.”
The album showcases a creative approach to the way you use your instruments, there’s something very fresh about it – is this something you wanted to achieve?
M] “I think that flatters us slightly! I’m glad that you hear it like that. We approached things a little differently this time. ‘Shallow Bed’ has an awful lot of different instruments playing at once – filling the sound and frequency spectrum. This album was more about finding interesting textures and sounds that would satisfy, without necessarily having to cram in everything and the kitchen sink. There are more modulated keys sounds and drum delays and backwards reverbs, things like that. It kept things interesting in the studio.”
S] When you were writing and recording the first album you were all living together, is that still the case? How does that affect the dynamic of the band?
M] “That’s no longer the case. That was a fun but trying period! I think it’s better people have their own space when they need it. It definitely gives peter more space to write and it makes inter-band relationships a bit less pressured if you’re not climbing over another band member to get to the bathroom.”
S] This album seems to have a lot more post-rock influences, dramatic climbs and climaxes – was this intentional?
M] “Post-rock is a funny term! I think it means different things to different people. In terms of dynamics for this album, I think there was an effort to make things a little more subtle. On the first record songs just got bigger and bigger and exploded at the end. We tried to make the song structures more interesting this time around, and sometimes that meant making them more traditional, more pop. We certainly wanted to get away from gradual builds and get to the rewards more quickly.”
S] With Will leaving the band will you be recruiting for a new violinist? How has the dynamic changed?
M] “That was a shame but was part of the progression and development of both the band and Will. He’s a real talent. We have a new touring buddy called Pat who plays keys with us and plays violin on one song. There is generally much less violin at shows now, which is no mistake, but part of where we wanted to be heading.”
S] You guys are often on the road, touring hard, what are your intentions for touring this album?
M] “We have big intentions. We’ll be touring UK starting 2nd October, then the US starting October 21 in LA. We’ll come back for European shows through November and December. We thrive at live shows so we’ll tour as much as we can.”
S] As a magazine we’re based in the North East, any plans to come this way?
Definitely! We’ll be in York October 5th and Hull on the 7th. Then we’re in Leeds on October 15. My dad’s from Hull, so Yorkshire is a bit of a second home for me. City of culture 2017. See you there!”
S] Anything else you’d like to share?
“Check out the ‘Everlasting Light’ video on Youtube – we went through a lot of real pain making that so people need to watch it, it’ll make us feel better.”