The band started while you were at University. Did it just happen instantly or was it an organic growth?
The band was the result of a long organic progression over several years. We’d been in various bands together in the past and knew one another from the punk scene in southeast England. I moved to London to start medical school and found myself writing and recording a lot in my bedroom. The guys kind of gravitated to London from Southampton, Bristol and Reading and Dry the River kind of coalesced. It was never a strategic endeavour to try and build a career, we just took it one day at a time and we still do.
You hail from East London which right now is seeing a major influence on modern music. How do you fit into the mold or break it in the influential neighborhood?
We all live in Stratford now which is a little further East than Brick Lane, Shoreditch, the trendy areas of London. The area is very diverse culturally and ethnically, it’s an exciting place to be. That said I don’t think we draw heavily from the locality in a musical sense, we just hole ourselves up in the basement and write the way we always have. It seems to me people perceive the East London scene to be very homogenous musically but that’s not really the case. The prevailing attitudes are just an appreciation of a lot of different forms of music – you will find electro, indie, hip hop, pop, folk and everything in between under the umbrella of East London and that’s a good thing. At home we see as many shows as possible, try to enjoy the music around us and write songs that we love playing. I like to think the scene is really trying to break out of itself, not repeat itself over and over again.
The sound of the band has you being compared to Mumford and Sons. Does the comparison get old after a while?
In my first days at medical school I started to write gentle acoustic songs for a number of reasons. In a practical respect I had to keep the noise to a minimum in halls, but also I’d only ever been in punk and rock bands, and it was a chance to explore different avenues, return to the music of my youth and so forth. The early EPs reflect this. When we started to build the live band, though, we began to experiment with building the songs up. We would take my simple folky songs and make them as expansive and energetic and intense as possible. That process has continued and today the live show is louder and heavier than ever it was when we were in screaming post-punk acts. That’s not to say I don’t admire Mumford and other new folk acts, the music seems to be heartfelt and honest and has done a great deal to popularize more cerebral music, but I don’t see the kinship between us and them.
How would you describe your sound to someone that has never heard of you before?
A recent reviewer described it as “hardcore gone soft” and I think that’s probably a good description. We say stealth rock.
Who are some of your influences and why are they important to you?
This question is a tough one for us because everyone mines very different influences. Jon and Scott, like many rhythm sections, are deeply into 70s and 80s prog, hair metal. Bands like Genesis, Tool, Rush, Dream Theatre (haha). It might not be prominent in the music but often there are hints of it lurking in the lower registers. Matthew (guitar) listens to post rock: (Mew, Sigur Ros, Mono, Godspeed) which is where the shoegazey stuff comes in, and also robs Gram Parsons and The Band for his country licks. I’m into a lot of late 90s and early 00s post punk: At the Drive-In, Antioch Arrow, Refused, Drive Like Jehu and I guess lyrically more classic songwriters like Leonard Cohen, Paul Simon... Finally Will our violinist listens to a lot of classical music but also electro stuff. The only band we all really agree on is CCR, the greatest band of all time.
The songs have been based around your studies of medicine and anthropology, how do you make these topics interesting to the listener without sounding like a professor?
The study of anthropology is the study of human behaviour - in many ways the discipline simply encourages you to be open minded and observant. There isn’t a great deal drawn from Malinowski or Levi Strauss: it’s more an approach. I try to reflect on human relationships and obstacles in such a way that allows people to find meaning wherever and however they’d like to.
Dry the River gained much attention after you played SXSW this year. What was the experience like for you?
SXSW was everything we’d been promised and more! Nothing can prepare you for the madness. Jon (drums) had visa trouble so we ended up doing the vast majority of the shows acoustically, or with the rest of us playing bits of Jon’s drum kit. That’s the spirit of South By though, make do and mend. Jon finally made it out for our last show and we had the most rewarding and sweaty 40 minutes of our musical career to date – it was such a relief!
You decided to give your three track EP away for free. Why? Do you think that, with the internet, it’s not a major issue to sell records any more?
I’d like to think selling records will never be obsolete but perhaps that’s the traditionalist in me talking. There are a lot of interesting alternative models out there now, bands building themselves up through publishing or other funding sources etc, which is great because it opens up opportunities for a lot of bands. That said, from an artistic perspective I think it’s a powerful thing to go into a record store and buy a physical record. It’s a direct exchange of resources for music and that’s a very cool thing. It would be a shame to lose it.
What has been the best thing about being in Dry the River so far?
There have been so many things. I think we’re very grateful for the opportunity to travel, to see so many places and meet so many people that we otherwise would not have.