We spoke to vocalist Duncan Wallis ahead of Dutch Uncles’ set at the Radio 6 Music Festival on 24 March about playing at St Luke’s, the therapeutic aspect of music and a bit about how their latest album Big Balloon compares to their previous work.
So you’re playing the 6 Music Festival this month.
Yeah in a few weeks on the Friday night, St Luke’s, it looks good. I’ve never been there before. Our guitarist Pete, his girlfriend is from Glasgow and she was very excited when she found out we were playing there so that’s a good sign. We’ve not really done this for a while at least not in this respect.
All the gigs we’ve done so far this year have been either TV or radio which are just terrifying experiences or we’ve done in-stores at record shops where we’ve had to strip down as much as we can.
We’re not an acoustic band so whenever we try and do acoustic stuff we just remove one guitar amp and yet we’re still using an electric marimba, samples and all this other stuff. We can’t just whip out the acoustic, that’s just like a four letter word for us, it just doesn’t make sense.
So Big Balloon, what’s your thoughts on coming from Oh Shudder to where you are now?
I think it was about having a bit of a do over really cause I just remember feeling very unsatisfied after Oh Shudder, I just felt a bit confused. Had the singles been received well on and played more on the radio I probably wouldn’t have felt so confused about it. It kind of felt as if, not the industry itself as a big monster, but it felt as if a few backs had been turned with us releasing this album which already felt as if it might be a little too indulgent in places.
Me and Robin when we stared writing the album we didn’t really have any idea what to write about which is very much why it ended up becoming such a diary pop album in a sense because if you haven’t got anything to write about write about yourself. We got ourselves some funding from the PRS foundation to make the album, that was really great and very encouraging to get that. At the same time it allowed us to get a little bit lost in the instrumentation of the album and what we were doing it for.
We were having a bit of a breakdown with our guitarist, Daniel Spedding, who left the band a week before the album came out where basically we weren’t playing in a live room as a band anymore to write these songs. We were just kind of writing and producing them all at the same time in a studio as opposed to figuring these songs out live and figuring out if these were actually good from their foundations.
It’s a very agnostic album Oh Shudder, the last track ‘Be right back’ expresses that perfectly, it’s all about being unsure but in a sense fearful about being unsure. Big Balloon as a characteristic lyrically is about facing things on your own, it’s a very lonely album, pretty much someone rambling to themselves in their head about this experiencing things on their own and not sharing their experiences with people. But even though this is a problem that kind of does unravel throughout, the character themselves’ not afraid of that.
I think if there’s any sort of motivation we would want to give our listeners it would be about just don’t be afraid to be on your own, don’t be afraid if things don’t work out as you hope they are going to work out. It’s about erasing the fear that was expressed too much in the last album.
With Big Balloon, from a personal point of view we are also talking about how unfashionable we felt as a band because we felt like jazz-prog was, if it hadn’t been on its way out for the last five years it was definitely out by then which was two years ago now.
It felt like a bit of a fireball song for us, when Robin came to us with the music I had the lyrics written to it in about five minutes, which is always the key to
a good song, if you can make the whole thing complete in five minutes then you kind of know that you’re on to a winner.
We knew that as soon as we had that song in our hands it was another make or break for us really. It had to be the first song that comes out on this album and if people don’t get it or if it’s not played on the radio then just fuck it, that’s just the way it is and we’re not going to have any regrets about it if it goes badly. But it didn’t go badly, it’s gone better than we ever thought in many ways. Sometimes you’ve got to be brave and stand by your choices like that.
The title song ‘Big Balloon’ is very much a call to arms about what ever vices you have that get you through the day; whether it’s going to be anti-depressants, or where its going to have to be technological dependencies, or whether it’s being a functioning alcoholic.
Whatever you’ve got to do to get through the day and being you being the way you want to be just do it, just get on with it and don’t worry about it being either unfashionable or concerning to others.
I’ve got a lot of friends who use anti-depressants and I’m always quite surprised that they do it but at the same time the problem is that when those kind of conversations come up and someone accidentally reveals that that they’re having anti-depressants then that conversation immediately had a silence to it and it shouldn’t be there. It should be ‘Ok, like fine you know a lot of people have them, it’s not a problem, you just do what you gotta do’.
IS MUSIC YOUR WAY OF GETTING THROUGH THE DAY?
In a way it’s not really, well I don’t feel like it is, mainly because we’ve been doing this for eight years, we’ve made five albums – year on year off pattern – and because I’ve never really expressed what we’ve wanted to express in any other way I’m not sure if music is the way that I get through my own problems.
I do see it as a platform and I do see it as a way to reach out to other people and I have thought about how scary it would be if I didn’t have this platform. There is a very cathartic therapeutic aspect to what we do as musicians and as writers but it’s never struck me as being something I need to get on with the rest of my life or anything like that. But then again I’d be damned to know what else I would do and actually I’d be scared to lose it.
And the buzz of walking out in front of a crowd is?
[Laughing] Yeah, what the addiction of applause?
Or even just the fear beforehand?
It’s not really a fear so much it’s more like a bizarre dread. I remember Ryan the bass player of Dananananaykroyd all the years ago describing the feeling of before a gig and it was the same feeling that soldiers felt going to war. Just a bizarre empty dread in that you’re not quite sure what to expect yet and I kinda feel like it’s more like that than anything else.
On this album we’re just saying ‘Fuck it, you make a mistake don’t worry about it just make sure you’ve got something to say.’ There’s nothing worse than going out on stage and not having anything to say to the crowd, it’s not about how well you play or not, it’s about not having anything to say whatsoever.
You’ve just got to make sure you’ve got something witty in the bank or something insightful and as long as you have that then you’re fine.