Since their self-titled debut album arrived in 2013, Drenge have been one of the most well-received guitar-based bands that Britain has spawned this decade, amassing and consolidating a hardened fanbase over two records and pretty relentless touring. After a four-year wait, abridged only by an EP last year titled Autonomy, this week finally saw the release of their third LP, Strange Creatures, an effort that has gradually introduced some new elements into their template of swirling, atmospheric post-grunge.
READ MORE: Drenge // ‘Strange Creatures’ – review
As this piece was published, the new album was sitting at a pretty healthy no.18 in the UK Albums mid-week chart, and looks like it might exceed their previous best chart position set by their last outing Undertow. Daniel Antunes sat down with brothers Eoin and Rory Loveless after an in-store show at Leeds’ Crash Records to discuss the build-up to Strange Creatures, as well as weird fan interactions, jazz and electronica influences, and their plans for the future.
What we got was a snapshot of a clearly passionate and intelligent rock outfit, keen on challenging themselves and not content to merely repeat past glories.
The Student Playlist:
It’s been four years since your major release [2015’s second album Undertow], why the wait? What’s been
going on in those last four years?
Just trying to get the album done, there were sometimes where we weren’t
allowed in the studio because it was booked up so we had to wait. And…. yeah it
took a long time.
Eoin Loveless: We
took our time. Part circumstance and part like, I don’t know we didn’t wanna
thrust it out or anything. [To Rory] What’s
the other answer you say? What’s the other answer to this question?
Rory: (laughing) Make
Eoin: Yeah make
them wait, build up a bit of anticipation. I think from the start of 2013 to
the end of 2015 was such a busy few years for us that it kinda felt sensible to
stop and have a break and just think about what is next?
TSP: So what was
so busy for you? Touring or…?
Eoin: A lot of
touring. Touring pretty constantly for three years, basically non-stop. I think we could’ve kept going but we would
have gotten pretty close to our limits if we kept going.
TSP: There’s a
lot of ghoulish elements in your music, what influences that?
Rory: We love old
spooky horror films. We went and watched the original Suspiria [from 1977, re-made in 2018 with a soundtrack by Thom
Yorke]. It was fairly recently but we thought that kinda matched up with what
we were trying to achieve with this album. Really garish, lurid imagery and
great unsettling themes. And it’s got an amazing soundtrack as well. So yeah,
we just wanted to make a spooky album, and this is what came of it.
Eoin: You can
live a spooky life if you want to. And I think I’m aware of it more if you walk
around a city at night especially as we’ve just come out of winter and the days
have gotten a bit longer, I’m aware that it’s brightening up a bit, I feel like
I find myself in a lot of circumstances where there’s like something spooky, a
bit kinda weird going on.
TSP: Kinda like a
Eoin: Yeah, Yeah
I get you. I get what you mean.
TSP: In that
case, Strange Creatures is the album
title. What’s strange about you guys?
Rory: Where do I
begin. Errr… don’t know. what’s strange about us?
strange that we kinda get on as well as we do. Most people you chat to even
though they might have brothers or sisters, they’re always like, I don’t know
I’m not that close. I always find that the older you get you’re more likely to
drift apart. We’re pretty good mates I think.
Rory: Yeah we’re
pretty good mates.
Rory: We don’t
look very similar, some people think we do but yeah. What else is strange about
us? Um, just dead boring I think. Should’ve called it Boring Creatures.
TSP: So there’s a
lot of mixes of realism paired with spooky elements. Was that an easy element
to bring forth, or did you really have to focus on balancing it out?
Eoin: I think I
take normal stuff and then put spooky stuff into it. Rather than, I don’t know,
like normal stuff, I don’t think I could pull that off very well. I just though
let’s keep it weird. We came up with the album title before most of the songs
were written. We wrote a lot of stuff with that image in mind.
TSP: We were
talking about how tight you are in performance. What’s the dynamic like when
you are creating music? Do you riff, or is it more structured the way you come
about with music?
Eoin: It used to
be just messing about, trying stuff out, and now it’s a lot more planning that
goes in. Yeah we chat and send stuff back and forth, even for these kinda shows
we put little things together. And I was happy with it then, was it Cliff or Rory,
who, two evenings before we started doing these shows just sat down and remixed
the whole thing. There’s these little that that make it more interesting. A lot
more special really. We did another thing that was quite collaborative. There
wasn’t a whole lot of talking that went between us it was all quite
instinctual, making music for a karaoke night we put on, where we did karaoke
versions of our own songs. Rory would just work and make the beat to these
tunes even though they were just based on our songs. The way we were working
was quite, what’s the word.
Eoin: Yeah but
like work less, like a natural flow?
TSP: So what’s
the weirdest and most surprising fan interaction you’ve had?
Rory: We got
given a naan bread once, with a message on it.
TSP: What was the
Rory: I think it
was something like, ‘hope you like naan’ but in pen. So you didn’t really wanna
eat the naan after that. What else? We’ve gone to an airport, to play a
festival and someone’s waiting there to get autographs of everyone who’s
playing at the festival regardless of whether they actually know them or not,
that is a really weird thing because usually when you sign something it’s
strange anyway, but the person who wants something signing knows who you are
and they’re excited but this person is almost doing it like a chore to get
everything down in their book. That was a bit odd.
Eoin: Yeah we pass through life quite unnoticed, even in Sheffield no one really stops us and is like “you’re Drenge”, which is fine by us because we like kind of living normal lives. So it’s very odd for a man from another country, at an airport with a pen with pictures of you or a book come up to you. It’s a bit weird, like how do you know which plane we were on. I don’t know, it’s all a bit strange!
TSP: You do a lot
of things like Rough Trade performances and smaller performances like this, how
important is intimate fan interaction to you guys?
Rory: We love
it’s great. It’s so much fun meeting all these people who are into your band.
Eoin: It’s how we
started as well, playing small rooms and we’d know most the people who’d come
to our shows anyway but the people who come see us wherever we play you build
up friendships with. When it gets bigger it just gets a bit soulless. You don’t
have that same connection with people.
Rory: Yeah it’s
nice to be able to talk to people who come up and tell you a weird story about
how your music’s fit into there life and it like really blows your mind
TSP: What’s the
best gig you’ve ever played?
Rory: Playing in
Japan was pretty fun I think.
Eoin: That was
pretty good yeah, a lot going on there. I think there was a gig that we did
that I wouldn’t even say was that special but it was good. I remember someone
coming up to me that was like, “that was you nailing it but not knowing, you
were just doing it unconsciously. You played really good because you’ve been on
tour for three months and you’re just at your best”. You might not feel like it
was an incredible show but because your entire band is so tuned it’s one of
your best performances but your just not aware because you’re so in the zone.
Rory: Where was
Eoin: Think that
might’ve been Birmingham, supporting Wolf Alice. It was a really good show but
it wasn’t like afterwards we were like ‘Yeah’ but that’s not what makes a good
show. A good show is like just being great at what you’re doing. We were
celebrating because we were good rather than because it was a sick show. I
don’t know how up yourself this sounds!
TSP: There are a
lot more electronic and jazzier sounds in Strange
Creatures. Why have you brought those elements into your creative process.
Rory: We just
wanted to try something a bit different. It would also be hard to try and do
something in the same vein as the last two and keep it interesting for us as
well so we wanted to branch out a little bit. But that’s the sort of music we
listen to anyway but we never brought those influences in but we thought we’d
push the sound a little bit. And Ross [Orton], our producer, is really into his
electronic music and is into his synthesisers and stuff, and he really wanted
to push the sound as well, so it just ended up going somewhere unexpected.
Eoin: It feels a
bit weird talking about this record without Ross, because he was, to me at
least, more than a producer for this record. He was like an actual contributor,
creative and had opinions and thoughts about how the album should sound. He’d
go to a gig and be like “I want this tune we’re working on to sound like this”.
We’d worked with him before and he was never like that, I just think it got to
a point working with him where it was just nice to have that free flow. It was
like, we trust you to contribute towards this band’s record. Rather than,
you’re the producer and we’re the band. We were going the other way as well,
where we were like “no, we want it to sound like this”. The roles were a lot
more fluid than they ever had been before. It was nice for us.
TSP: So you
mentioned you listen to jazz and electronic music. What are your favourite
records from those genres?
Rory: There’s an album by Miles Davis that I really like called On The Corner. The first track off that’s really, really good. It just feels like walking down a street in a busy, bustling city, it’s really exciting, lots of rhythm going on.
Eoin: Another Miles Davis record that I really like is Sketches Of Spain. It’s just so genuinely beautiful. I remember I was in the south of Spain and I stuck it on in this car and we were driving round. Listening to that album in Spain, and it’s not even recorded in Spain, maybe he’d never even been to Spain, but it sounds so Spanish. I was actually thinking a lot about how something is Spanish, like we saw this film Vertigo recently, and Vertigo has these quite Spanish sounding musical motifs in from the guy who did the score, Bernard Hermann, is from San Francisco, a place that has a kinda Spanish-American feel to it. And yeah, sorry, gone on a bit of a tangent![laughs]
Rory: Our Dad
plays saxophone, he’s the guy who played sax on the album. He’s really into jazz,
brought us up on a lot of it. But electronic music, we love things like Aphex
Twin and John Carpenter.
Eoin: LFO from
Leeds. Ross got us into all this early techno. LFO’s techno Right?
Rory: I actually
don’t know what LFO is but I’ll go with it.
Eoin: What you
don’t know the tune? It’s like, “wooo,
wooo”, then “L-F-O, L-F-O”. What
the other one he played us, Redmist, ‘Red Planet’. What’s that?
Rory: I don’t know.
Eoin: That’s like another techno thing, like all the old-school, original techno.
TSP: So what do
you think draws people to Drenge’s music?
Eoin: God knows.
Sympathy? People are just very sweet aren’t they, they’re supporting our weird
little arts charity.
Rory: I think
it’s the spirit we do things in. I don’t really know how we’d define that
spirit, but we try and be genuine and authentic as much as possible. We try to
put out the best stuff we’re capable of making. And keeping the standard high
instead of putting anything out. I don’t know. It’s a difficult question to
answer because I’m sure people are drawn to it for lots of different reasons,
rather than just the music.
probably just the music. They just like the tunes. That’s probably it.
Rory: Yeah, I’ve
probably just sounded like a complete idiot, sounds a bit narcissistic!
TSP: The album
cover, I think that’s probably one of my favourite pieces of LP artwork that
will come out this year. Why did you decide to shoot that album cover?
Eoin: We like
album artwork, it’s as important to us as our music. Especially as the world
becomes a lot more about streaming. And I’m just lucky, been playing it to a
lot of records and that to me is just awesome. All the artwork within it, dead
proud of it, pleased with what we’ve achieved.
Rory: We had the album name and there were all sorts of different ideas we could’ve gone with to visualise the album name but we ended up hiring a bunch of costumes and throwing a weird kind of party in Sheffield Town Hall. We got this big hall with oak panelling and this huge mirror at one end. And it’s a bit creepy, strangely illuminated, so we ended up doing this ‘Strange Creatures’ party, took a lot of photos and came out with that. That one came out right at the end of the day. That was pure accident, which was annoying, but we just saw that one and it stood out head and shoulders above the rest and went with it.
TSP: What sort of
real life experiences do you put into your music?
Eoin: We try not
to keep it too personal. I think we’re better fiction writers than we are
documentarians. I’m more interested in telling a story, making someone feel a
certain way rather than, I went to the shop and there were no baked beans maybe
there will be more tomorrow.
Rory: It’s the
things that you encounter that build up these fictional vignettes though isn’t
it, subconsciously. It’s not like you’re just pulling things out of thin air.
Not saying that these things are based on anything in particular, but obviously
it’s the things you encounter.
Eoin: As much as
anyone else who works in fiction, we make fiction, whether it’s inspired by
real life or not, it’s not what we’re going for. I think we made quite an early
decision when we were doing this for this not to be a band that writes about
personal things like here’s my heart on a page. We’re after more of a vibe or
experience that you can share much further, it’s not ‘’uggh these are all my
feelings now you deal with them’’, we try to enjoy what we do and make
something we feel doesn’t exists out there.
TSP: What, almost
like acting as voyeurs?
Eoin: I don’t
know, I see it like we’re the Coen brothers, everything we do is slightly
different but comes from a similar place. I think there’s an expectation in
music for it to be from here [points to chest] and it’s not that it isn’t from
there, but we try and play around a bit more with what we include in our music.
TSP: Yeah, you
include some interesting things, let me ask you, you included the uncanny
valley in your lyrics in one of your songs, what’s your interest in stuff like
that, the slightly unsettling. I know I already asked you about spooky elements
but that’s a different kind of field, I guess.
Eoin: Yeah, well
it’s all about the human experience, I think. Why are we here, what are we
doing, why are we so reliant on technology in modern day to provide us with so
many things in our modern life. We do we
need all this stuff we’re creating. What’s its purpose? How much longer are we
gonna be around. I think the uncanny valley thing says a lot about what the
human is today. You wouldn’t have been having this conversation two years ago.
Are we even human beings anymore, we’re beginning to become another species
that’s part organic and part digital. If we’re hooked up to huge information
systems through our phones, if we’re constantly online, constantly with access
to the technological world we can’t really call ourselves an organic species
anymore. We’re kinda coding ourselves into some sort of technological permanence.
TSP: As we know
politics has had interest in you [referring to Labour’s now-deputy Tom Watson
famously name-dropping Drenge in 2013]. What’s your in current political
movements going on right now, if you don’t mind me asking?
Rory: We’re just
completely through the looking glass right now. We’re in the most bizarre
situation. I don’t think anyone ever envisioned the country being like this. I
don’t think anyone enjoys the country being so polarised. I always get really
into it, but this year I’ve tried to read less news and I’ve not been keeping
up to date with it as much.
Eoin: It’s almost
like the less is said the better. Like everyone’s got an opinion on it,
everyone’s disappointed, everyone’s been let down by politicians and it’s
depressing. I guess just personally trying to make small changes in my life like
where you deal with people in a lot more open and positive way. Don’t go to the
self-checkout in the supermarket, go chat to the guy at the counter, have a
conversation with him. We’re just distancing ourselves, carving out niches for
the things we believe in. Not really opening up dialogues with people, it’s no
coincidence with technological innovations going on, everyone on their phones,
we’re not really having face to face conversations. Like these interviews are
nice, it’s nice to talk to someone for a bit but nobody has these experiences
anymore, everyone does it all through screens. It’s no wonder the world is the
way it is because of that.
Rory: I think the
most heart-breaking thing as well is how the incredible atmosphere that went on
up and down the country during the World Cup last year, it was like the first
time I’d ever felt patriotic, and I think a lot of people felt that way. There
was a real carnival atmosphere in the streets which was strange because the
country was still so divided, but it really took everyone’s mind off it. It
wasn’t like a sinister patriotism or anything jingoistic. It wasn’t like
looking back to the past as if that was a better time it was just pure pride in
this country and its abilities, and that’s seems so far away before and since.
TSP: Do you have
any rituals or post gig rituals that you normally do to relax or get into the
Eoin: Get into pyjamas
and get into bed I think. That’s my favourite one.
Rory: I don’t
Eoin: You like a
good stress, you like a good unnecessary stress before a show. Like where he
lost his bag last night and it’s like “we’ve got a gig in half an hour”.
Rory: Yeah it’s
not good, I don’t know. When we’re playing a proper gig and I’m on drums, I
like warming up before. I ended up doing quite a bit tidying actually on the
last tour before we went out on stage. Just needlessly tidying up everything. I
guess when your on tour for a while your just nervous or something. Afterwards
usually just have a drink with friends. Nothing mystical, no candles being
light or any pentagrams being drawn out.
TSP: What’s next
for you guys, musically or just in general.
Rory: We’re doing
a full band tour at the end of March / start of April and doing a few festivals
as well. And probably make some more music, crack on with that.
Eoin: Because of
the uncertainty of what’s going on in world right now, it’s hard to plan out
anything. It’s difficult to work being in a band is barely even a viable career
anymore so… maybe I need to start looking for a bit warehouse work or something!
TSP: Where do you
feel you fit into the UK scene?
states… not part of any particular clique or scene or anything. A foot in one
camp, a foot in another.
Rory: We’ve sort
of been striking out on our own really because we played all our early shows in
Sheffield and by rights the band is from there, but we weren’t actually living
in Sheffield. There was a bit of a disconnect, and that meant that we probably
weren’t integrated in there so we’ve always been our own thing. We’ve got loads
of friends in bands and stuff but it’s not like we’re sort of part of anything.
Tags: Eoin Loveless, in conversation with, interview, Strange Creatures
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