It’s a long way from Castleton to Amsterdam. 577 miles to be exact. But it’s not just the physical distance that suggests Drenge have achieved so much in a short space of time. More accustomed to playing provincial pubs, tonight they’re sharing the bill (but not a stage) with Alison Moyet at Paradiso, the city’s most iconic music venue. It’s the first stop of a short European tour and, having arrived the night before – an almost unheard of luxury when you’re driving between countries in a beat-up minivan – they’re determined to make the most of it; so much so that I arrive to the ominous news that drummer Rory Loveless has gone AWOL, and is not answering his phone.
But far from being ensnared by the city’s seedy underbelly and louche reputation, it turns out there’s a far more mundane excuse. “I went to the zoo,” he explains, breezily wandering in 20 minutes later. “It’s well worth a perusal”. This prompts an amusing exchange with brother Eoin about inner-city zoos and exactly what he saw that was so interesting – apparently a “Mongolian monkey dog rat thing” and a “giant, seven-foot pike with a grumpy face” are what every discerning visitor should make time for.
It’s a fitting insight into the world of the Loveless brothers. Affable and down to earth, they are candid interviewees, equally at home discussing the state of the nation’s youth as their joy at finding real cheese in the backstage fridge. They’re funny too, possessing a sardonic wit that manifests itself in various deadpan observations and lyrics like “If you cannot take another night in his arms / Then I’ll nick all the batteries from his fire alarms”. But behind all that you sense a genuine appreciation for the opportunities that have come their way and an ambition to be more than the sum of their parts.
Creatively restless, despite their self-titled debut being a little over a month old the brothers are already writing and road testing new material, some of which surfaces during an electric 40 minutes on stage; not for them the drudgery of dragging the same twelve songs around the globe for 18 months. They also make several references to how much they’ve developed musically, and it’s hard to disagree. Live, they veer between thrash punk and a more melodic take on garage rock, full of slowed down, thick-as-sludge riffs. It’s all propelled by Rory, who provides so much more than just the beat; with thundering fills and intricate rolls, he’s far more dominating than a Carney, White or Prowse. In fact, some of the songs seem specifically designed to show off his skills as much as Eoin’s, no more so than ‘Backwaters’ and the second half of ‘Lets Pretend’.
It’s all very impressive for a band that weren’t on most people’s radar at the turn of the year. As our time comes to an end, Eoin confides how gutted he was by the Guardian’s description of them as “Derbyshire’s Black Keys”, and it’s easy to sympathise. They want to break free of the thrash’n’bang, guitar’n’drums sterotype, and they make trying sound like a fuckload of fun.
DiS: It’s clear that where you grew up really informs your lyrics and music, but was it really as bleak as you’ve painted it?
Rory: Not really, no. It was a combination of being really frustrated living there, and making it out to be a lot worse. We’d go into Sheffield and say: “This is where we’re from, it’s fucking horrible.”
Eoin: We’re really great at moaning about stuff.
Rory: It’s a British thing though, isn’t it? People like to moan.
Eoin: When there’s something fun to moan about, we get quite good at it. And interviews are the perfect place to just chat bollocks…unlike this interview obviously, where you’re gonna get the real deal.
Rory: We see Castleton a lot less now that we’re constantly touring, so it’s actually a lot nicer going back there now.
DiS: When you started playing was it more a case of wanting something to do, just to alleviate the boredom, or did you harbour hopes and dreams of one day being actual musicians and writing songs?
Eoin: We always thought of ourselves as musicians from the start, but primarily it was having nothing to do during evenings and weekends. I didn’t really have much to base my life around when we started the band, so I decided that if I had some focus, if I had something to do between pot washing jobs and working on ridiculously rich peoples’ gardens – some kind of constant to get me through this really awful year of being in and out of employment – I’d have achieved something by the end of the year. And at the end, we were one of the first eight bands announced for Tramlines festival. I showed our parents: “Look, we’re playing with all these bands!” and they went: “Oh right, you’ve actually done something with your year.” They even recognised some of the names on the list, so I’d done well in their eyes.
DiS: Would your parents recognise Alison Moyet?
Eoin: I don’t know if they’d know. I can text them if you want to find out? They recognised Jools Holland. The 80’s were a bit of a blur for them. Whenever we go: “You’ll know this band” or “You’ll know this cultural reference” our parents just look at each and go: “Nope”.
DiS: A lot of people believe that as our generation has been brought up on very passive forms of entertainment – TV, video games, social media – less and less people are inclined to get involved in sport, art, or picking up an instrument. What drove you to be so creative and proactive?
Eoin: One of the problems with our generation is that we have a really low attention span, in that you can go from watching TV to being on Twitter to reading an article online to eating some food then doing something else. People’s minds are constantly drifting from thing to thing – it’s just really strange. One minute you’ll be talking to people, and the next they’re playing with their phone or something, like they exist in two different lands at the same time. It’s sad when that happens.
DiS: Do you really want to kick against that? I read somewhere else that you want to ban phones at gigs too.
Eoin: That’s just a selfish performer ideal. But you play gigs in Europe, and the amount of people on their phones is far less than in the UK and the US. Whenever we play Paris, and we’ve done Holland a few times too, the amount of people who do that is minimal because so many are concentrating on the music. There’s less talking too, and less stupid behaviour from the crowds, because they’ve paid for a ticket and feel like they deserve to be entertained.
DiS: Phones at gigs baffle me. You wouldn’t go a cinema, sit down and say: “I’m not going to watch this, I’ll just send some Tweets and check Facebook.”
Rory: In Sheffield, because there’s a large student community, people try to make everything cheap so loads of bands are put on for free. It’s really affected how people treat music.
Eoin: In the UK in general, there’s a culture of “Oh well, this band”…for instance Franz Ferdinand. If they’re playing, people will pay £16, £18 for a ticket, and as soon as Take Me Out is played, all the people who’ve just paid £18 to see them leave: “Great, I’ve seen that, now I’m gonna go do something else.” Whereas in Europe, they’ll stay to the end. There’s just this indignant expectation from music fans in Britain.
DiS: Is it safe to say that the whole Tom Watson furore made you better known, and faster, that you would have been had you not been mentioned in his resignation letter?
Rory: I can’t say that the numbers coming to gigs have gone up because of that…
Eoin: It was more of a media acknowledgement, and that suddenly your band was mentioned in the Guardian or wherever because you’re topical; it was “Tom Watson’s favourite band, Drenge, are playing here”. So in the wider world, on all the dinner tables that Saturday there were the weekend supplements, and we were one of the recommended gigs to go see that week. That was the only difference really. That, and a load of political commentators listened to our band and didn’t like it.
DiS: But was there a spike in people streaming your music, or clicking on your website and Facebook page and so on?
Eoin: I think people just listened to the music to grasp the obscure reference in his resignation letter. They checked us out, but it wasn’t like: “Oh, they are really good!” It was just that someone saw us at a festival and got it.
DiS: How was it playing on “Later…With Jools Holland”?
Rory: It was strange, like a Fellini dream sequence or something where reality was put on hold. There was a lot of stillness, but a lot of craziness going on.
Eoin: We were so close to Kanye West, I couldn’t believe it. We were the closest band to him, and I don’t think anyone in the audience was nearer to him than us, so we had a front row seat to watch him perform. It was funny, all the other bands there were – well, I don’t know about Sting, maybe he’s signed to 4AD or some other indie – major label artists, they’ve all done television before, so they all had specialists who could mix their sound for TV. When we arrived, we just thought it was another gig and that we’d play the songs as you would in a normal live environment. I haven’t watched the tape, so I don’t know how it went out live or if our sound was terrible.
DiS: I saw the picture on Instagram of you two chatting to Kanye. What was he like?
Eoin: He was one of the nicest people I’ve met this year. He just came up and was asking questions about the music, the record, and where we were from. We talked about aggression in music, and he started talking about his music and the album [Yeezus] – I’m a massive fan of that record. But there was a point where I was thinking if this were the real world, this conversation would never have happened. Or if it had, it would have finished much earlier than it did. There’s an article in this weekend’s Sunday Times that said he was watching us while we were playing and getting into it, which I didn’t know.
DiS: Did you give him a CD?
Eoin: He asked for a copy of the album and I went: “That’s fine, I’ll give you CD,” but he said: “No no no, MP3.” And I didn’t know how to give him an MP3 of the album. He was talking about Yeezus and how he thinks the CD’s dead, but I got two copies and passed them to whom I presumed to be his bodyguard. I said: “I know this is really lame, but Kanye asked for a CD, so can I give you these to give to him?” Which is probably one of the lamest things I’ve ever done. And he went: “Yeah, I’ll give them to him…if you give me a free one too.” So not only was I being a lame fanboy, but also sucking the dick of his security guard.
DiS: Do you think he might call you up to collaborate?
Eoin: Of course not! Bon Iver watch out, we’ll take your throne.
Rory: We could be the new Mr. Hudson. Actually, what is Mr. Hudson doing now, where is he? Maybe it [working with Kanye] is the kiss of death.
Eoin: I was just honoured that he got our music, that was the main thing to me. Working with him is just a fantasy scenario isn’t it? But he was a cool guy.
DiS: You’re known for playing fuzzy and distorted garage rock; hard, fast and rough around the edges. But for me, two of the most affecting songs on the album are ‘Fuckabout’ and the first half of ‘Lets Pretend’. Are you planning to write more slower, melodic material in the future?
Rory: We put the album track listing in chronological order of when we recorded it, so as you go on, it’s like a progression of us as a band over the one and a half years it took.
Eoin: Yeah, those last two tracks were us getting comfortably in the studio, and I’d also tie ‘Nothing’ into that group. We just kind of knew what we were doing a bit more, and writing songs to be listened to more than be played live; they were written in the studio, whereas all the other tracks on the record had been played live since we started the band. Even the recent things we’ve done in the studio have been a lot slower, but still really fuzzy and feedback driven. For us, it’s great writing a fast garage song, but it’s not something that we can do day, after day, after day; it gets too repetitive. It’s fun, but we also want to make something interesting.
DiS: They’re an interesting counterpoint to the angst – where did they come from?
Eoin: I think the record wouldn’t work without something else on there. It would just be: “Oh, it’s two people making lots of noise.” I love albums, and I love the way that albums are put together, but I knew that if were going to do anything of any worth, there had to be some kind of contrast rather than just have 30 or 40 minutes of noise, garage, or grunge. It was only while recording the last few songs that we knew it was actually going to be an album, so we had a bit more of an idea of what we wanted it to sound like with regards to the earlier tracks.
DiS: Dave Prowse of Japandroids says he happened upon his style because he likes to drum really fast, and really loud. What does Rory’s jazz background bring to your music?
Rory: Probably not a lot. That [the jazz references] was just me playing along to some of my favourite tunes with my dad’s friends. It’s difficult to see what is processed and projected into what we do from anything that I listen to really, because my music taste is so varied.
Eoin: You never set out to be a rock drummer, you never hit the drums as hard or as fast as you can. So when you play, it does come from a more stylistic place; it’s more about the beat. I was watching a video of us playing about a year ago – filmed in Ireland – and it’s really funny watching Rory drum. The sound is fine, but it’s just watching somebody do [imitates really formal, textbook technique]. His sound hasn’t changed, but now there’s much more force.
Rory: I think it’ll come out more as we go on. It’s also working with Ross Orton, who’s a massive Bonham enthusiast. He said it needed to be a bit more like that, so I went in that direction, and since we’ve been playing live for months it’s started to go back over a little more to the jazz side of things with regards to the way I play, not what I play. Time will tell I guess.
DiS: What significance does the line “Everything I say is taken the wrong way” from ‘Face Like A Scull’ have? Do you feel misunderstood, or think think that an entire generation feels that way? It seems there’s a disconnect between people under and over 30 – culturally, politically and so on.
Eoin: It’s funny, because I don’t even think it’s an original line; to me, it just sounds like a massive cliché. The way that young people deal with the world today in all sort of things – especially based around technology, and running their friendships and relationships through handheld phones and laptops – is open to analysis, and the typed word is rarely deleted. If something is spoken…I can barely remember what anyone says apart from the bare details. I don’t know how to explain it, it’s just…everything can be documented in a way it never has before; every moment can be filmed or photographed, and it just goes everywhere. It’s insane how information travels, and there’s nothing to stop it, no kind of respect or anything. So it’s more to do with that stuff getting blown out of proportion.
DiS: The very last line – “I don’t give a fuck about people in love / They don’t piss me off, they just make me give up” – makes it sound like you’re not much of a romantic.
Eoin: That was just a clumsy way to tie the end of the album up with the first line of the first song. But I don’t know…I can do romantic. The thing about the record is, it’s not about being in love, it’s not about not being in love, and it’s not a breakup album. It’s about having a weird attitude to relationships, whatever they are, and that song [‘People in Love Make me Feel Yuck’] was written on the day of the Royal Wedding. I found the way that the media blew that relationship up, and wrote about it, really annoyed me. A few of my cousins were getting married around the same time and I didn’t need to know about anyone else’s, or some public figure’s, love life. I was much more interested in the people who were close to me.
DiS: Did the birth of the Royal Baby inspire you to write something?
Eoin: No, not yet!
Rory: We’ve started playing this song called ‘Favourite Son’, and although that was written before he was born, I’d like to link the two together really haphazardly, and then maybe continue a theme of Royal Family songs.
Eoin: I’m so much more optimistic about the Royal Baby, ‘cause at the end of the day, it’s just a baby. You can’t be mean about them, or cruel, or say nasty things, because they’re the most innocent beings. I don’t care what he turns into – he could be the tyrant that burns down Parliament and becomes a massive right-wing nutter that kicks everyone out the country, at least that would be a change. But at the moment he’s just a baby that shits himself, vomits everywhere, and everyone thinks is cute. No one in the wider world gets to see this fantasy baby, and people go: “I wonder what he’s doing right now?” Well, he’s probably asleep.
DiS: I read that you’ve pretty much released everything you've recorded, and there’s nothing left behind. Do you have plans to write more material soon, or are you going to be touring the album for the foreseeable future?
Rory: We’ve recorded a few more songs, and we’ve got some time-off over Christmas to do various things.
Eoin: It’s key for us, as people who make music, to not tour this record for two years straight. I’ll be the first to admit that it gets boring playing these songs – they are garage songs, and we’re playing them night after night. The reaction is still good, especially when we play ‘Bloodsports’, and I look forward to that point in the set even though we’ve played it the most out of all the songs we’ve done. But there are other tracks we’re playing to fill time in a way, and we want to write so much more. We’re also limited by a release schedule, so it’s not like we can say: “Hey, guys at the label, we’ve just written another record, it would be great if you could put it out next week!” ‘Cause it doesn’t work like that. What we do to keep things interesting for ourselves is whenever we write a new song, it goes straight into the live set so it can start maturing before we take it into the studio. Some of the songs on the album would be so much more interesting to record now; because we’ve been doing them live for such a long time, they’ve finally got their own meaning.
Rory: It doesn’t feel like a golden carriage to take round everywhere, it feels more like a springboard to build on. That sounds like I’m setting something up to be amazing, but it could be awful. I’d happily go to the studio right now, but I haven’t been home for two weeks. Just having my feet on the ground would be nice.
DiS: I see from numerous press shots and photos of you guys that you seem to be big fans of band t-shirts. Is this is a way of supporting your contemporaries and peers, or is it a badge of honour?
Eoin: It’s my way of not buying much high street produce, because I don’t like clothes very much, especially high street brands. For me, I also don’t get the vintage vibe. I have some vintage clothes, but it’s not a fashion “thing” that I’m trying to pursue. Most of the t-shirts I own are band tees ‘cause I think it’s a good way to support bands; when I wore the Hookworms one on Jools Holland, people were talking just about that. Three came up to me after we played and said: “Hookworms, they’re a great band!” without saying anything about our performance or us. In some way, it’s its own fashion statement, but it’s also just a piece of clothing that I use to hide my naked, flabby body from the rest of the world. With this Eagulls t-shirt, I think it’s a nice design but I’m not wearing it so someone will go: “Ah, he likes Eagulls, he must be in the team!” Even though I do love Eagulls.
DiS: The north, and especially Sheffield, has always been a great producer of not just musical talent, but great lyricists as well. Do you think there is some kind of north/south divide in the way that bands approach music, and the importance they give to the words?
Rory: Oh, I dunno…there are lots of bands from up north that are much better musicians than they are lyricists. Whether they are any good or not is a totally different question. I don’t like to generalise and draw a line in the sand that starts at Birmingham and crosses over to Norfolk, and I just don’t think you can divide music up regionally any more because of the Internet. People just listen to whatever.
Eoin: There’s still regionality in music though, there’s bound to be. Just because the Internet exists, doesn’t stop there being a Sheffield sound.
Rory: Yeah, but less so than there was. Bands like Heaven 17, ABC, and Cabaret Voltaire, that was a Sheffield sound. But now you go out to see a band and it’s three students playing aggro beat-pop, supported by a techno group.
Eoin: But I think music bubbles away under the surface, and when a band comes through, they reflect that.
DiS: It seems to me there’s more of an emphasis on storytelling in songs, like the music is built around the words, not the other way around. With yourselves, Arctic Monkeys, Pulp and so on, it’s more about the narrative, but with bands from the south and London, when you look at their lyrics they often don’t have the same level of detail or imagery, almost like they consider those things less important.
Rory: Well, Sting has just written a concept album about shipbuilding yards…
DiS: Exactly, you can’t imagine someone from the south doing something like that.
Eoin: I think it comes from the fact the North is the sort of place where you can walk down the street, make eye contact with people, and even if they don’t know you, they might say hello. Or you can walk in to a pub, and someone that isn’t a drunk or a lunatic will start a conversation, and you can talk about anything. There’s a really great pub in Sheffield called the Brown Bear, which if you can get in and not be completely terrified by the clientele, you’ll learn so much about people. I love that place so much, but it’s kind of scary because it attracts a certain type. If you catch the people that drink there every day, and they see that you’re there, they’ll tell you a bunch of stories about whatever; growing up in Sheffield, or what they did last night. It’s the sense of humour as well. If you’re writing stupidly dark lyrics like we do, its better to put some jokes in to lighten it up.
Rory: Maybe if you're in a band from London – and this is going to sound really insulting – it might be the case that you're writing about things that people are already familiar with, and have already experienced.
Eoin: You might also be trying to make it in London, and feel that if you go bland with your lyrics, you’ll have a better chance.
Rory: Perhaps there’s just a lot more going on in the north.
Eoin: It’s related to the genre of music as well. I feel that with our music, we’re playing ancient, almost classical music, in the way that we still play guitar and drums – there's something almost embarrassingly retro about our band, so the lyrics are our only chance to do something different. Whereas with the likes of Disclosure, London Grammar, or even Chvrches, the music is the main thing; they all get to do interesting stuff with that.
Rory: There might be a vein of truth to all this, but I can’t offer up an explanation as to why. I don’t think we really know enough about music to answer that.
Drenge’s new single ‘Nothing’ is out on Infectious on the 11th November.