"It's easy for people to compare us to whichever indie band's just released a record" - DiS meets Do
Whisper it quietly but Nottingham five-piece Dog Is Dead might just be the hardest working band in the music industry right now. While their native city goes through an unprecedented wave of critical and commercial acclaim, Dog Is Dead are out and about doing what they do best: touring their collective butts off. Their transformation over the past eighteen months into a live proposition of considerable force is anything but coincidental with the fact they've barely stopped for breath since the turn of 2011.
Nevertheless, in between times they've also managed to finish their long awaited long player, All Our Favourite Stories. Produced by Bat For Lashes cohort David Kosten, local studio boffin Guy Elderfield and the band's own songwriter in chief Rob Milton, it's the result of nearly five years solid graft, and testament to its creators development into the band that stands before us today.
And what a day this is too. In just over an hour's time, they'll take to the stage in Nottingham's Boat Club, a venue steeped in history having hosted some of the biggest names ever to grace the planet over the years. You see, tonight just happens to be the launch party for All Our Favourite Stories, the album having been released in the shops earlier that morning (Monday 8th October). Having sold out this evening's show well in advance, DiS manages to grab half an hour with Milton and multi-instrumentalist Lawrence "Trev" Cole. Take it away...
DiS: Your album's out today and you're about to headline The Boat Club to commemorate its release, then next March you're headlining the main room at Rock City. Where next for Dog Is Dead, the Capital FM Arena..?
Rob Milton: It's a weird one because we've wanted to do this for some time. It's an honour playing somewhere that has a lot of history, and I guess a lot of personal history to us as well being from Nottingham. Rock City we want to do it again after playing there last December and hopefully sell it out this time. Last time we played there was easily one of our best shows to date. In terms of Nottingham, who knows where we're gonna go next? I'm sure there'll be opportunities to do lots of cool stuff but I don't know about playing the Arena.
DiS: Talking of selling out gigs, tonight's show was completely sold out weeks ago. Did you expect that to happen so soon after first announcing your album launch?
Rob Milton: I'm really bad at gauging how big we are as a band. Going back to last December when we did the Rock City show, I remember thinking to myself "that's insane!" You know, how on earth can we possibly play that? But then we pulled it off and it was great. Even now though, I'm just relieved people still know about us and want to come to the shows.
DiS: I guess one way to gauge it is by the response you receive at festivals, and this summer alone at Leeds and Reading it was one in, one out in the Festival Republic tent when you were playing, which kind of tells its own story.
Rob Milton: Totally incredible, especially Leeds because it's the first festival we ever went to, and now we've played there three years on the trot and gradually moved up a stage every time from BBC Introducing onwards. Whenever I've played Leeds, it's always been my aim to give the people watching us the same kind of feeling I always got from watching bands there. To actually do that in a style where we pack out a tent is just amazing.
DiS: You're playing the album in chronological order this evening rather than your conventional setlist. Is that something you'll do again in the future?
Rob Milton: I don't know to be honest. Tonight is more about us challenging ourselves to play the album in full as it is on the record. Partly because we've never actually played some of those songs live before. It's a gamble because we wouldn't normally structure our live show in this way. I've seen several bands I love do this and I always wondered what would happen if we did the equivalent with our album, so I guess we'll find out later whether it worked or not! There's quite a lot going on with the record that we've spent weeks figuring out how to make it work live, so from that aspect it's actually quite a difficult task for us. That we're playing every song in the same order as on the record means any mistakes will be very noticeable too! But then I think even the minor discrepancies could be quite fun as well.
DiS: The band's progress has been a slow-burning one in some ways, but at the same time testament to the hard work you've put in, particularly the relentless and seemingly never ending tour schedules. Was there ever a time where disillusionment set in and you questioned whether the band were doing the right thing?
Trev: I think we've always planned to be here for the long haul. We never expected things to happen overnight. We want to keep the snowball rolling and I guess it takes however it's meant to take.
Rob Milton: There was definitely a period where we perhaps didn't take being in a band that seriously. When we first started out it was a lot of fun and we'd play things like birthday parties and then Club SOS at Junktion 7 which were great, but I also remember it being like a sixth form college night out where loads of people would just gather to see their friends and no one was really interested in watching the bands or listening to music. It was almost as if they used it as an excuse to have a night away from their parents and drink cheap booze! I remember having a conversation with someone once and they said to me that Dog Is Dead were just a college band, when in all honesty we were always so much more ambitious than that. We never stopped to think about whether it was just fun for now. We don't have that mentality.
DiS: The album has taken a lot longer than initially anticipated to be released. Was there much deliberation over the tracklisting between when the record was first muted to come out at the start of the year and now when it's finally surfaced? For example, early single and live favourite 'Young' isn't on All Our Favourite Stories.
Rob Milton: Definitely. It was quite a crazy recording process. When we first got signed we thought we'd be going to these really awesome and expensive studios. Not just for the sake of the expense, but because we wanted to record at a studio with some kind of heritage. So we went to RAK where Radiohead have recorded and The Cure mixed Disintegration, and we were like, "Wow!" We worked with David Kosten who is incredible, a genius even, but then at the same time we thought it sounded too polished, and that really isn't what Dog Is Dead are about. So we did a complete u-turn and recorded the album back in the industrial estate where we made our first demos with Guy Elderfield and myself producing it. Because that took a long time to come about and we were still growing as songwriters, it meant that a few songs crept onto the record at the end which might not have been ready had it come out in the early part of this year. That's definitely why 'Young' didn't make the cut at the end because it wasn't a current representation of what we were doing.
DiS: Did any of the David Kosten recordings make it onto the album?
Rob Milton: Yeah, three of them in total. It wasn't that things didn't work with him, it was just that going forward we felt we'd developed as a band from the sound on those original recordings. It's incredible when listening to the difference between the two sets of recordings. One bunch of songs was recorded in this big posh studio in central London and the others on this industrial estate in Nottingham. It's amazing really.
DiS: Songs like 'Teenage Daughter' and 'Talk Through The Night' do seem like a massive progression from the likes of 'Young' in terms of structure. There's more of an American influence there for starters with both Smashing Pumpkins and Other Lives springing to mind. Is that the kind of direction you'd like to see the band go in?
Rob Milton: I guess we like to keep people on their toes. We like to change our musical direction quite a lot and I think one thing that stands out about All Our Favourite Stories is that no song sounds exactly like the last one. We want people to have no idea what to expect from Dog Is Dead rather than make something that's safe and predictable, so in terms of the next record, at this moment in time, I can honestly say we have no idea where we'll end up going with it, which is really exciting for us.
DiS: As well as not being on the album, 'Young' has also been omitted from your live set in recent months. Have you drawn a line under that song for now and do you see it returning to the set in time?
Rob Milton: I think we'll play it live again for sure. It's just that with it not being on the album, it doesn't really fit in with the current set. It's still part of the band's history and something we're really proud of. The thing with 'Young' is its place was on that Your Childhood EP.
DiS: Some of the reviews for All Our Favourite Stories seem to compare you to Two Door Cinema Club, Mumford & Sons and Bombay Bicycle Club, which for the most part although flattering in one aspect also seems fairly lazy in another. Are there any comparisons which you're particularly proud of, or indeed quite bewildered by?
Rob Milton: It's easy for people to compare us to whichever indie band's just released a record. It's a bit disappointing that certain bands keep being mentioned, particularly as most of our influences are older rather than current artists. I don't quite get the Two Door Cinema Club one especially as I don't think we sound anything like them. It's just that some people see us as fitting into this accessible indie bracket even though the music we listen to is so eclectic and far from what those bands represent, even though we respect them as artists.
DiS: I guess the fact you've toured with Bombay Bicycle Club in the past also makes it easier to draw parallels.
Rob Milton: It makes it so much easier. I mean, they're a great band so I don't take it as a diss, but I'd rather us be recognised for what we're about than compartmentalized into a one size fits all enclosure.
DiS: It must have been a positive experience going on the road with Bombay Bicycle Club though, even from the perspective of watching them every night and picking up a few tips along the way. Did it have a lasting impact on the band, in terms of the way you approach your live shows or influence your songwriting even?
Rob Milton: I think just having the experience of playing in big venues to lots of people was a big thing to us.
Trev: Having a thirty-second line check rather than a full soundcheck kind of prepares you for every eventuality as well.
Rob Milton: Yeah, we were like, "Oh, it's only Manchester Apollo and it's sold out... Who needs a soundcheck!" Their live show really is incredible to watch. They smashed it every night.
DiS: Going back to your involvement on the production side of All Our Favourite Stories, is it something you see yourself becoming more involved with in the future?
Rob Milton: I'd love to. When we first went back to Nottingham to record the album again with Guy I was a bit uncertain about production, but once we all got stuck into it everything kind of fell into place. Plus, I get on like a house on fire with Guy. He's like another half to what we do. I really enjoyed experimenting with sounds and getting geeky and technical in the studio. If you listen to 'Any Movement' towards the end of the record there's a programmed electronic drum sequence that not many people know about which I'm quite proud of. So yeah, it's definitely something I want to do again. I guess it depends where we go with the second record before I can make that kind of call, but I think there's every chance we'll end up working with Guy again too, so who knows...
DiS: In terms of new songs, are there any ideas kicking about that could end up on the next record?
Rob Milton: There are but we need to concentrate on touring All Our Favourite Stories first before we think about introducing any new material into the live set. We're such a restless band that we never stop writing. A day off hasn't existed in such a long time. But that's just the way we work.
DiS: Have the record label set a timescale with regards to the follow-up?
Rob Milton: Well, as a band ourselves we'd really like to get on with it. I don't think there's any sense in waiting a long time, especially in the current climate. People's attention spans are short. We don't want to become just another forgotten band after one record.
Trev: I don't think it would benefit us to just sit back and wait anyway.
Rob Milton: No, we're keen to get it out as soon as possible.
DiS: Nottingham's music scene has come under the microscope in recent months largely because of the success people like yourselves and Jake Bugg are enjoying nationally. Do you think there has been a resurgence of good, new artists within the city, and is it something you like to take credit for, in drawing attention to that at least?
Rob Milton: I think it had already started to happen in various ways before then. What's really special about Nottingham at present is that there is no scene as such. I was saying this to someone the other day that for all this talk of the city's music scene, there is no scene in terms of bands sounding identical to one another or anything. The only thing linking most of the artists who are breaking through now is Nottingham, which I think makes it even more remarkable because everyone is so diverse. For me, that's got as much to do with the national focus on Nottingham as the success of any individual artist. I think we're a part of that whenever we go on tour or release a record in the same way Jake (Bugg) or Natalie (Duncan) is whenever they do something. It helps spread the word but the buzz has already been created, and I think the other thing that helps is everyone involved is so supportive of each other.
DiS: Which Nottingham artists do you predict being the next ones to attain national recognition?
Trev: There's this great three-piece called Kagoule and another band, Kappa Gamma who I really like.
Rob Milton: They both supported us last year at Rock City and we've watched them grow into something special ever since.
DiS: Have you got any advice for new bands or artists that are just starting out?
Trev: Write good music and work hard...
Rob Milton: ...and don't just wait to blow up. It works for some people but we just kept on playing shows. We genuinely love what we're doing. This is what we get off on. I can't just tell someone how they're going to make something happen, but at the same time I see so many talented musicians and talented bands fall by the wayside because they weren't prepared to put the work in, and that really saddens me. I guess it's difficult when you have nothing to base it on in terms of high expectations for what you're doing, so when the job opportunity or university offer comes along a lot of people are quite keen to take it simply because they haven't seen anyone else make it from Nottingham. So hopefully, people like ourselves and the other musicians from the city that are doing well at the moment will provide some kind of inspiration in the future.
DiS: What are your plans for the foreseeable future?
Rob Milton: We just want to carry on playing to as many people as possible. Europe's on our agenda next year, America too, so we won't be slowing down as far as touring goes for a while yet. I think we've proved that hard work pays off, and there's no greater buzz from seeing people get into what we're doing when we play live.
The single 'Teenage Daughter' is released on 17th December.
The album All Our Favourite Stories is out now.
For more information on the band visit their official website.