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Dry The River

“I think people are surprised when they come to see us live.” says Peter Liddle, heavily tattooed frontman of London’s Dry the River. “Theyexpect us to be really calm and quiet but in some ways we’re the opposite..

You can see why people get confused: this five-piece band has all the hallmarks of the latest folk sensation: elemental name, beards,acoustic guitars, even a violinist. But what sets Dry the River apart is a background in hardcore and post-punk bands, hence the tattoos,lyrics that read like a Steinbeck novel and a sonic palette that sweeps from gentle t ...read more

“I think people are surprised when they come to see us live.” says Peter Liddle, heavily tattooed frontman of London’s Dry the River. “Theyexpect us to be really calm and quiet but in some ways we’re the opposite..

You can see why people get confused: this five-piece band has all the hallmarks of the latest folk sensation: elemental name, beards,acoustic guitars, even a violinist. But what sets Dry the River apart is a background in hardcore and post-punk bands, hence the tattoos,lyrics that read like a Steinbeck novel and a sonic palette that sweeps from gentle to giant like an incoming storm.

“Emo has become a term of derision, but originally it meant emotive hardcore - all these DC bands like Indian Summer, Rites of Spring,Antioch Arrow who wanted to move away from political music to express personal things in an intense and energetic way. They screamedand cried in their sets and more often than not sounded like an amplified food blender,” says Liddle. “But the underlying idea is cool:although it’s important to play with passion, I believe that there should be an emotional underpinning to all music and all performance..

Dry the River’s origins lie with Liddle. Born in Norway to British parents, his early life was a shifting one thanks to his father’s work as anengineer in the oil industry. Ever-changing homes and schools gave Liddle a peculiar set of reference points: “I think I have a fixation withcommunity and belonging, because that wasn’t something I had as a child.” And though his parents are only “quietly religious,” Liddlebecame fascinated by the iconography and language of the Roman Catholic Church at one of his many primary schools, where his voice washoned in the school choir. Though he’s not overtly religious, religious symbolism creeps into Dry the River’s lyrics, not least in Bible Beltand Shaker Hymns. “I think if you play with King James’ vocabulary it accesses a solemnity; something deep within people,” says theLeonard Cohen inspired singer. “It sets a tone that says this is some serious [ketchup]..

By the time Liddle returned to Newbury as a teenager, he and the various members of Dry the River – guitarist Matthew Taylor and violinistWill Harvey, plus Scott Miller (bass) and Jon Warren (drums) – were crossing paths in various bands on the DIY scene centred aroundSouthampton, Reading and Newbury’s Waterside Youth Centre. “It was this cool, grimy little venue,” says the singer. “You could rehearsethere, and they always put on local bands alongside touring artists, which really helped cultivate the scene. It meant you could sell out adecent venue with your 16 year old punk band..

University took Liddle first to Bristol, where he studied anthropology, and then to London’s Kings College, where he enrolled in medicalschool.

“I don’t know if I wanted to save lives in a hands-on way,” he muses. “I saw myself more as a lab doctor than a people doctor. You know,spending a lot of time in a white coat looking down a microscope. I think in some ways I also wanted to look illness and mortality in the eye,to see how things like human dissection would affect me..

Throughout his first degree, music had been a major distraction: “I was off touring with bands while I was writing my anthropologydissertation,” he says. “I would do stupid things like take three weeks off uni and not tell the lecturers.” At medical school, with ten years ofband experience behind him, he resolved to put music on the back burner and focus on his studies. But in spite of his best efforts, theacoustic guitar in the corner was calling. Liddle started writing folky material in his hall of residence room and, on summer break, called onthose old friends from the Reading scene – by now all living in London – to record them. “Initially the emphasis was on it being somethingdistinct from our old bands - really gentle and lo-fi,” says Liddle. “Every time Jon tried to rock out I’d say, No, no, keep it stripped back..

Following that session, Liddle embarked on a summer 2009 solo tour under the Dry the River name. On returning, he assembled the fullband for a debut show at London’s Lexington, and found it was well attended by label A&R. Soon after, Liddle stopped telling the band to holdback. “When we started to do live shows, we found it felt wrong to restrain ourselves. Playing in a heavier way brought the songs a freshintensity - it was more fun for us and for the crowd..

In the ensuing months, the band’s snowballing success was to medicine’s detriment. On signing to Transgressive publishing, the band wereable to quit their jobs and studies. “We went on tour straight after and went absolutely wild for six months,” says Taylor. “We just partied thewhole [ketchup] time.” They clocked up some miles too, playing across Europe, the UK and even the Outer Hebrides.

When not on tour, the five were living together in a house in Stratford, East London, in what can be described as near. medieval livingconditions. “Pete sleeps on a mattress on the dining room floor,” says Taylor. “You have to climb over his head to get to the toilet in thenight.” For at least one band member, it’s an improvement on what came before: “When Jonny was in hardcore bands he couch surfed forthree years,” says Taylor. “It’s pretty normal behaviour on that scene.” The close living conditions and hard touring have fostered animpossibly tight bond between the band. “We know each other well enough to tell when people are actually pissed off,” says Taylor. “I guessin that respect it’s like living with four brothers - we rip it out of each other relentlessly, but we know when to leave each other alone..

In March 2011, the band traveled to Bridgeport, Connecticut to record their debut album with producer Peter Katis (The National, Interpol),a man whose professional ethos was a perfect match. “We were looking for someone who could strike a balance between lo-fi and hi-fi,” saysLiddle. “We wanted to record the bulk of it to tape, to use analogue stuff in favour of computer wizardry where possible, but without itsounding like an old folk record. I think we tried to preserve the fragility and honesty of the more stripped down tracks, but still get theintensity of the live show across too - to marry those two aspects of our music without it sounding incongruous.” In downtime, they playedshows in New York, growing a grassroots following there with each passing week.

Back in Britain, the band’s progress remained rapid – videos of off-the-cuff acoustic performances became internet smashes, EPs sold outand festival bookings began to come in. In March 2011, they stormed South By South West, despite performing without a drummer for five ofthe six gigs due to visa troubles. “We decided we’d still use our amps and still be loud - we just played as if Jonny was there. For a couple ofshows we put some drums on stage and kind of hit them when we could..

In September 2011, the band sold out London’s Scala a clear five months before their debut album hits the shelves. When it does, the bandhope their particular musical heritage and circuitous journey will shine through. “I’d be pleased if people felt that it’s not just another indiefolk record,” says Liddle. “I think we’ve agonised over every note of it. It has some hooks and big melodies but it’s contemplative andconsidered too..

Dry the River have laid the groundwork for a stellar year in 2012. Don’t call them the next great folk band. Just call them the next greatband, full stop. « hide

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