Nottingham five-piece Dog Is Dead may have barely left adolescence, yet they've already amassed a steady flow of critical acclaim courtesy of a relentless live schedule that's taken them up and down the country on an increasingly regular basis.
Having formed in 2007, the quintet of Rob Milton (bass/vocals), Joss Van Wilder (guitars/keys/vocals), Paul Roberts (guitar/vocals), Lawrence Cole (guitars/saxophone/vocals) and Lawrence Libor (drums/vocals) have built up a loyal and vociferous fanbase within their home city culminating in them playing the largest headline show from a Nottingham band in the city for many years.
With current single 'River Jordan' following its predecessors 'Young' and 'Glockenspiel Song' onto Radio One's playlists, these are exciting times indeed for potentially the East Midlands finest musical exports in over a decade. Literally hours before the aforementioned sold-out show at the Rescue Rooms, DiS finds ourselves in the company of Rob Milton, Lawrence Cole and Lawrence Libor along with some very appetising looking Chinese food...
DiS: You've just started your latest UK tour. How has it been so far?
Rob: Fine. We just managed to sell out Manchester at a venue called The Castle.
Lawrence C.: It was a lovely place, very small I guess, but we couldn't have got any more people in the room which is brilliant.
Rob: And then we did Darlington which is like a whole different world! They really do care about their music and I think because there isn't a wide choice of venues or much else going on it's a major event when a band comes to play their town.
DiS: Tonight you're playing the biggest headline show that a Nottingham band has played in many years. Is that quite a daunting prospect?
Lawrence C.: I think we're more excited about what it's going to be like, and because we're in the middle of a tour in a way it feels like just another date. That's not to say we won't be trying to make it special for people because we know this is where the main part of our fanbase lies.
DiS: Do you feel as if you're carrying the expectations of the city on your shoulders, particularly as Nottingham hasn't really had that much to shout about musically in recent years?
Lawrence C.: Not really. We'll just treat it like any other show and hopefully play as well as we know we can.
DiS: I remember the first time I saw you play at one of Censored's old 'Club SOS' nights a few years back. When did you first begin to realise that maybe the band were onto something big in terms of breaking out of the city's underground scene?
Rob: I think it was when we all left college. We took a year out to concentrate on the band and see how things went, and everything started snowballing soon after. It was after that when we decided to take a second year out, and hopefully by the end we'd be recognised as professional musicians.
Lawrence L.: It's funny looking back, because I guess at first it was something we chose to do as part of our college gap year, but as time goes on you suddenly realise that it may turn into a gap decade, which obviously doesn't exist in reality!
DiS: I think the band's development is clear to see for anyone who witnessed some of those early shows two years ago to where you are now. Has the way you approach songwriting changed and in some ways, has that affected the dynamic within the band?
Rob: Well, I think we needed those early shows just to get used to playing together in front of an audience. We've been together for just over three years now and I see the first six to twelve months as being the period where we gelled as a band. I'm glad we didn't rush anything or try and run before we'd learned to walk properly. Things have come together really nicely because we've just worked out that formula for songwriting and where we want to be musically over time. Influence isn't a big deal any more either. I don't think we listen to music as a way of influencing our sound. Just being around each other on a daily basis for such a long time has helped the songwriting process.
Lawrence C.: I think we've all matured as people over the past couple of years and that shows in our sound as well.
DiS: The name Dog Is Dead still raises a few eyebrows, particularly with people who probably expect the band's music to sound completely different on seeing the name for the first time. Has there ever been a point where you've considered changing the name?
Rob: It's a weird one because we did pick that name in the early days but it's actually been a really powerful tool in helping the band get noticed. It's been a point of interest. We've spoken to radio DJs who've admitted playing our music out of curiosity from seeing the name for example. I guess when you look at other band's names, Arctic Monkeys being one that springs to mind, you wouldn't expect them to change their name now would you?
DiS: There have been a lot of opinions cast about Nottingham's music scene over the years and the lack of any real breakthrough artist since possibly Six By Seven over a decade ago. Do you see Dog Is Dead as being the band to change people's perceptions of Nottingham musically?
Lawrence C.: Hopefully.
Rob: We want to be the starting point for sure, although at the same time we don't just see ourselves as being Nottingham's biggest band or whatever. There is no competition between us or anyone else. There's a handful of really decent bands all trying to push things forward in the city at the moment, and if we're lucky enough to be the first ones to break out then it would be great if all the others could come with us.
DiS: Why do you think the city's music scene hasn't been taken seriously in the same way as places like Leeds and Sheffield?
Rob: I think everything gets bogged down and ends up being quite specific in terms of scenes. There always seems to be one band that shines and gets to a certain level. The difference at the moment is that there are a lot of good young bands coming through who have a decent work ethic and really want to push things as far as they can. We're gradually noticing that the more press we get, the more press Nottingham seems to get.
DiS: Do you think the media still has enough influence to make people gravitate towards a city or a scene compared to maybe 5-10 years ago?
Rob: Yes and no. I think it can be quite detrimental as well. I look at what's going on in Oxford at the moment, and I genuinely feel sorry for some of those bands because at this stage of their careers it's not always good to get that level of exposure. A lot of those bands aren't ready to be put on a national platform yet, and I think the media needs to take a step back every once in a while and work hand in hand with the bands it's trying to promote.
DiS: The reviews you've had so far have generally been quite positive. Do you pay much attention to what people are saying about Dog Is Dead in the music press?
Lawrence L.: Some of it we take seriously, others we learn to get used to. Sometimes when we get compared to certain bands it's a bit strange but I guess that's par and parcel of what we do. We have no idea where they get those references from but at the same time if someone whose a fan of the bands they've compared us to ends up checking our music out or coming to a show it can be quite positive.
Rob: The thing I like about reading reviews of our band is when is obvious the writer is trying to pigeonhole us in a scene or genre, yet because we're quite diverse ends up namechecking about half a dozen bands with nothing in common!
DiS: I've seen your band compared to Vampire Weekend, Mystery Jets, The Rumble Strips and Mumford & Sons among others. What do you take from such weird and wonderful comparisons and do you see a time where other bands will be compared to Dog Is Dead?
Rob: I think we're gradually proving that we are a band in our own right. All of those bands have changed from record to record. You listen to Mystery Jets now compared to their first album and it's almost like hearing a different band. The NME recently compared us to Hot Chip, which we couldn't quite understand, and yet at the same time it's great because we don't know where to put this. I think when you're being compared to such a wide range of artists it highlights the diversity within our sound, and I think as a result it can only benefit us by getting more people interested.
DiS: It's one thing criticising a band for having influences and not re-inventing the wheel, yet someone still had to invent the wheel in the first place.
Rob: Totally. We're not about jumping on any bandwagon or attaching ourselves to a scene.
DiS: You're currently managed by Dan Ealam who's a major part of the DHP organisation that own several of the city's more renowned venues as well as being a highly respected promoter in his own right. How important have DHP been in terms of moving the band forwards, and do you feel there is a tinge of jealousy from other bands in the city envious about who you have looking after your interests?
Rob: I think they've been absolutely vital in our development.
Lawrence L.:: There's no doubt we wouldn't be anywhere near where we are if it wasn't for Dan and DHP's involvement. He's catapulted us into a different league really, not just in terms of Nottingham but through his endless support in getting our music out to a wider audience beyond the city. I can't really comment too much on other bands but I'm sure there are several who'd swap places with us were such an opportunity arise.
Rob: That's not to say all of our success is down to DHP either. The songs have to be there in the first place, as does the work ethic. The best thing about their involvement has been pushing us on a day-to-day basis to work harder and get better. All they want is to get the best out of us, which is pretty much what anyone would expect a manager to do.
DiS: They've obviously spent a lot of time, effort and money on the band. Do they have any kind of expectations in terms of commercial achievement?
Rob: They have the highest hopes for us, but nothing's ever set in stone.
Lawrence L: They're definitely great at organising a timeline of what we should be doing at specific stages of our development. They're very skilled at marketing and I think that comes across in how they want us to be doing certain things at certain times.
Rob: Going back to what you were saying about other bands, I think it works both ways to be honest. I'm sure in an ideal world DHP would love to have a hold on every band in Nottingham and be able to bring them up to a certain level, but obviously they don't have the time to be able to do that.
DiS: Your new single 'River Jordan' is currently receiving a lot of airplay on Radio One, and once again marks a development in the band's sound from both its predecessors. Would you say it's representative of where you are at present or is there more to come which we're yet to hear?
Rob: The thing is, 'River Jordan' was actually recorded quite a long time ago, so I think people are gradually catching up with where we are at the moment. But that's the good thing about playing live in that it an act as a preview of where we're at and what's going to come.
Lawrence L.: It kind of feels like we're slowly building up to where we are as a band now, and 'River Jordan' is an example of how far we've come, and also a mark of what we have to give in the future. I think it's the best song we've recorded so far, although we also know there are better songs in the locker just waiting for the right moment.
Lawrence C.: The good thing from our perspective is that all three singles we've released so far have shown completely different sides to the band, whilst still retaining our identity throughout. I think it's going to be quite exciting seeing how we can fit all these different songs and ideas into making an album.
DiS: I hear your previous single 'Young' has had an episode of 'Skins' written around its lyrical theme. How did that come about and what was it like to work on set with the cast?
Rob: It came about because the script writer was watching the BBC Glastonbury coverage from last year, and he saw the track and felt it summed up the series in some way. He then used it to write the final episode of this series around, and it was quite surreal hearing the cast sing our song to us about nine times in a row!
Lawrence C.: It probably would have been more surreal if it had been the old cast members but at the time we recorded the episode it was an entirely brand new cast so they just seemed like normal people to us. Maybe if we'd known them for being famous at that time it would have been a bit more weird.
DiS: Did you pick up any new fans from the 'Skins' team along the way?
Rob: We did at the beginning but then after the 97th time it was played some of them were going "I really hate your band mate!"
Lawrence L: Seriously though, we had a lot of good feedback. The cast were really nice and friendly, and generally positive about the band.
DiS: While it's a good form of recognition for Dog Is Dead at this stage of your career, are you concerned about being labelled a "Skins band" in the long term?
Lawrence L: I don't think that will happen. We've got enough going on release wise for anything else to take over. Apart from that, it won't just be the 'Skins' episode that gets us recognised. We'd already had a considerable amount of media coverage and radio play months before the opportunity to be on that programme arose.
Rob: 'Skins' is nice but there's a whole lot of other stuff happening as well, and I don't think Foals or Crystal Castles would ever complain about being featured on 'Skins' in the past!
DiS: I gather there's been quite a lot of label interest in the band with regards to releasing the album?
Rob: I guess I can't say too much at this moment in time except that we are talking to various labels. We want to record the album in the summer so we'll see what happens around then.
Lawrence L: We've never tried to rush things whether it's releasing singles or going on tour, so with something like an album everything has to be right, especially the timing.
DiS: I gather you've been confirmed as main support on the forthcoming Brother tour in May. How do you feel about that, bearing in mind they've not exactly endeared themselves to many sections of the press?
Rob: It's gonna be great playing with a new band, and I think it's fair to say that the majority of those shows will sell out so for us it will be quite a major tour.
Lawrence C.: To me it's not really about them, it's about us, and as long as we play every show like we can, and treat each slot like we would a headline show, I don't foresee us having any problems. I think we're quite a modest band compared to a lot of other artists out there, and hopefully that will work in our favour on this tour.
Rob: One thing you always want to do as a support band is upstage the next person regardless of who it is, and I think people are very open minded about music these days so I'd like to think a lot of the audiences will see us as equals. Musically, we probably stand for everything they don't and vice versa, but that doesn't mean we're not happy to be going on this tour. We need to be playing that first big support tour, and this will be a fantastic experience for us.
DiS: Finally, what festivals are you confirmed to play this summer and what are your plans for the rest of the year?
Rob: The only ones we're confirmed for so far are Camden Crawl, Great Escape and Splendour I think.
Lawrence L: I know we've been lined up for quite a few others so we're just waiting for some of those dates to come in. We're still quite a new band so a lot of it is about seeing what we can get really. We'd love to do Leeds and Reading this year as we haven't played that before, and obviously Glastonbury would be great again too.
Rob: I'd be lying if I said last year's Glastonbury appearance and the subsequent BBC coverage didn't act as a spark to get people interested. The main thing after something like that is being able to take it on ourselves, and then go further with it, which I think we've managed quite well.
Dog Is Dead can be seen at the following...:-
8 London Bull And Gate
9 London Village Underground
10 Bristol Thekla
12 Cambridge Union
13 Brighton Hope
30 Camden Crawl venue TBC
12 Brighton Great Escape (venue TBC)
9 Gloucester Barn On The Farm Festival
24 Nottingham Splendour Festival
For more information on the band visit their MySpace.