The Continual Evolution of Dry Cleaning
“We’re not one of those bands that just goes out and plays to a backing track and performs the record - that’s fucking really boring”
Image Credit: Guy Bolongar
Having released one of the best albums of of the year with their second full-length Stumpwork, British indie-post-punk-four-piece Dry Cleaning have not only managed to avoid the sophomore slump, but instead managed to build on what made their debut New Long Leg so special - and capture a whole slew of new fans in the process
Maintaining the momentum built from New Long Leg, Dry Cleaning began working on what would become Stumpwork before their first album was even released, once again teaming up with veteran producer John Parrish, whose production credits include the likes of PJ Harvey, Eels, Aldous Harding, Parquet Courts and many (many!) more.
Released to critical acclaim and almost universal praise, Stumpwork builds on what we came to know and love on New Long Leg and expands on it in just about every way, without being overblown or losing direction. Bolder and more expansive, Stumpwork sees the quartet experimenting with new sounds and instruments resulting in a dense, layered mix with new sonic elements revealing themselves on each subsequent listen across its eleven cuts of alternative post punk.
Ahead of their highly anticipated (and sold out!) debut Australian tour, we were lucky enough to catch up with the full band, with vocalist Florence Welsh, guitarist Tom Dowse, bassist Lewis Maynard and drummer Nick Buxton all jumping on a video call. After some catch-ups (I had previously interviewed Nick and Lewis about New Long Leg), and some pet chat, we pick up the conversation after Tom revealing that his dog was featured on the new album to kick off a very fun, very laugh-filled interview...
So Tom, how did your dog end up on Stumpwork?
Tom: Actually, we were quite a lot longer at the studio this time, so there was one week where Lewis brought his dog, then the second week I brought my dog and they got on really well with with John the producer, John really likes Barkley a lot.
Florence: John does like baby voices with the dogs and that is very unlike the rest of his personality, like “He-loooooo!”
Tom: He kept calling him my old friend, like “hello my old friend”. There was on bit where I was in another room doing a bit of Ebow at the end of Driver’s Story, I was doing in that in the other room and he gets a bit nervous when I’m not in the room, so he started barking and John just recorded it and kept it on there.
Amazing, and like Florence said, it’s amazing the things animals bring out of people. Lewis, your pup didn’t make the cut?
Lewis: No she wasn’t there that week, and she doesn’t bark too much, and it’s a bit too hight pitched. Barkley’s got a nice, low growl.
Blends nicely in the mix! Tom you mentioned about being in the studio a bit longer for this second album, which was a conscious decision - what led to that?
Tom: With the first one we were quite strict, like quite clean as we basically had to do a song like every half day. So two songs a day for fourteen days, and it doesn’t really give you a huge amount of time to explore sounds and stuff. There was quite a lot of times I’d say something like “oh, can I just try that on their?” and John would be like “no”.
Tom: You got to get on, you haven’t got time, really, but the second time I say “can I try that?” and Jon would go “yesss”.
Lewis: It never felt like John was looking at his watch on the first record, but he structured it really well so we could kind of just go “track, track, track, track, track”. This one we kind of set it up where we’d like dip in and out of tracks, we could spend like a day or so on a track, move on to another one and then come back to that track like a week or two weeks later which was really nice. We could kind of experiment on stuff and this lots of new instruments on new instruments on the record.
And it must have been cool to not only have longer in the studio, but to have already worked with John, you know, I’m guessing there was a bit of existing chemistry as soon as you got into the studio, so did you kind of hit the ground running?
Florence: Yeah, definitely, I think we recorded Gary Ashby first or something, a shorter one. Yeah it felt good, but I don’t know, recording is funny because it’s not necessarily always enjoyable. It can be really rough, and you can be dealing with a lot of weird demons when you’re recording because there’s something so permanent about it. It’s so much about performance that you can really get in your head about stuff, and also your confidence can sort of falter sometimes - at least mine definitely can. So it’s funny, it’s almost like it was fun but at the same time, it was hard - moments of it are really fun, and then moments you’re having like, a real rough evening where you’re just like “I’m crap, I don’t know what I’m doing”. It’s a real rollercoaster, for me at least, always. Very emotional.
Nick: Genuinely, yeah. John had a point where just a couple of songs in a row, he was really tearing into everything I was doing, and you’re just like “fuck, how do I keep this guy happy!”. And then you know, like a few seconds later you’re doing the performance of your life and absolutely loving it. But yeah, I do remember being on the phone to my girlfriend just being like “fffuucckk!”
I’m just picturing like that scene from Whiplash or something…
Nick: Nothing like that, he’s never in your face or anything, it’s all very calm, he’s just so certain about what he wants from something. It’s very hard, we’ve all had moments where it’s very hard to convince him that what you want to do is the right thing sometimes, and it’s really interesting that, because someone has to be in charge, so often John’s word is final, but he’s not immune to some pushback on things. You just have to sort of like, build a bit of confidence to sort of be able to understand how you can push back on that, and when sometimes it’s best to just go like “oh, you know what, he’s right”, and I’m not going to take it to heart. I just have to kind of toughen up a little bit and figure out something new.
And speaking of something new, Lewis, you mentioned using new instruments and I read another interview where you talked about having a bit more confidence to do that this time around. Do you want to tell us a bit about that new confidence and what new sounds we should listen out for on the new record?
Florence: I guess the horns are probably like the newest element.
Lewis: We’ve always had a bit of keys, even since the first EP.
Nick: There’s lots of sprinklings of little things. I think mainly because we tend to just track with like drums, guitar, bass and vocals pretty much, and then we played with the drum machine, and I played the keys and it kind of built up over time. There’s always this period after you’ve done the tracking where you kind of fill out the arrangement slightly and do lots of different things. So yeah, there was some horns and clarinet, there’s some recorder that Florence played, there’s some unusual percussion and things, John played some trombone, there was some vibraphone at one of the studios that just has a beautiful sound. I think it’s just nice to be able to have a little bit of space to be… orchestral is probably the wrong word, but just a little space to widen the flavour of the record.
Florence: And also to play things yourself. If you’ve got no time, you basically need to get a professional in who knows how to play the instrument. If you’ve got more time, you can kind of pick it up and mess about with it until you can kind of get a tune on it yourself, even if you’re a total amateur at the instrument, which actually I think John generally favours having a go yourself. Having said that, we did have someone come in and play amazing horns on a few tracks.
Florence: Which yeah, I’m kind of glad that we did play our rusty bits before that happened because it was really impressive, hee was just so fluid on so many different instruments that it was kind of like “woowww, okaaau!”
Nick: There’s like right and wrong moments to do those things. I’m a big fan of having a go yourself and encouraging everyone to do that, same as John, and there’s definitely the right moment to be like “okay, we need a specialist to do this”, and when you can get that sort of balance, it can be really fulfilling.
Lewis: The approach between the first album and the second album we kind of went in on the first album while we’d been performing the songs live, so we did the songs up to a point where the four of us could perform all the songs. With Stumpwork, we kind of went in where some of the songs were not finished, we knew we were going to finish them in the studio, or talking about already like “this parts going to be on top of this song”, and we hadn’t played the new songs live by the time we recorded.
Interesting, because I was wondering if you’d gotten to kind of test any of the new songs live before recording, because you did start working on Stumpwork before your first album had even come out?
Florence: There was like a bit of overlap, yeah. There were a few sort of embryonic ideas that we had before we recorded New Long Leg that we sort of pulled over onto this record and developed them more. But yeah, we didn't play anything live from it, which is really unusual for us, I think, we like to just try things out, we’re not super precious about sharing new things, especially live. So I think it was sort of weird for us not to have done that, but I think it did sort of affect the sound. Some of the song structures are more sort of delicate, or there’s just more layers going on which I don’t think you necessarily get if you’d been playing them live, because live is just more immediate. So I think yeah, it’s kind of affected the sound in an interesting way.
Nick: We’ve done a couple of gigs, maybe like four or five shows now playing the new material, and the new songs that are in the set from Stumpwork are already changing, like radically, you know, like the way you feel when you’re playing and the way they subtly shift in sounds, just because of the confidence you have, the feeling of how it’s going in front of an audience, it changes it. I think that it’s quite a weird thing, I haven’t really listened to New Long Leg since it came out, but when you hear it in passing or you catch a bit of it, it sounds really weird. We’re playing the songs in a new context now, but that has to be the case, they have to evolve, they have to grow. We’re not one of those bands that just goes out and plays to a backing track and performs the record - that’s fucking, really boring. We want to keep our music alive, and that’s the way you do it.
And you’re on your way down here to Australia and now I’m wondering the songs from Stumpwork will indeed be sounding live when you play down here, which I want to ask more about you coming to Australia in a second… But first I’ve got to ask about the artwork for Stumpwork, which personally I love, and I can’t believe you actually had a bit of a negative response from some people to it?!
Florence: Oh yeah, like “I’m not gonna buy it”, “I hate it”, like literally people are like “I really liked the album but there’s now way I’m but it” and it’s just really, really, funny. We find it funny.
And I guess that’s my ignorance, cos I’d assume kind of broadly speaking people who would be into your music would be into kind of the more absurd, and have a sense of humour?!
Florence: It’s weird, it’s really weird. You can’t imagine the kind of person who likes our band, I just didn’t expect there to be this weird area in the middle of people who like Dry Cleaning, but are disgusted by the artwork.
Nick: We didn’t think of it as remotely provocative. I don’t think when we were working on it, you know, when we were seeing the drafts and what it was gonna look like, I just thought it was really beautiful. I didn’t think of it as provocative.
Florence: Yeah we definitely thought it was funny, we definitely sort of laughed but you know, not like cracking up, it was more just like - Rottingdean Bazaar who did it, they can be so confident in what they do that when they presented it, because we first saw it on a zoom call, it just sort of popped up on screen and I think it was just something really funny about them being like “yeah, this is it”
Nick: Humour is a really big part of what we do, and they get that. I think where it has the effect, you know, that something humorous could force people to kind of reveal something about themselves is really powerful, and I think it seems to have had that effect.
Lewis: It turned into a practical chat very quickly with them about like “where’d youtube the pubes from?” in a very straight faced way.
Florence: It’s worth mentioning that it’s a real photograph, it’s basically just a still life. They didn’t do it on MS Paint or whatever, it’s a real photograph taken by a really amazing photographer. So it’s quite an amazing thing really that they actually coaxed all these pubes into a legible word - it’s very readable, which is impressive.
Is the original bar of soap being preserved, you know, put in resin epoxy or something?
Florence: I assume they’ve got it, yeah.
Next minute it’s worth something on the internet… So what are you all looking forward to the most about coming to Australia?
Florence: Oh, meeting the people that have been listening to our music for the last like for years… without getting sunburned? Yeah.
Lewis: A lot of the first people who listened to our music were Australian, we had quite a quick following in Australia before anywhere else.
Florence: The first interview we ever did as a band, me and Tom, was with someone in Australia - I can’t remember who, I’ll have to check through my emails - but yeah we got an email, before we had a manager, before anything, we got an email asking to interview us and we’ree like “what? An interview with a guy in Australia?” So wwe’ve always had such a keen interest from people in Australia wondering what we do. It’s just crazy, so far away. Yeah, it means a lot to finally be able to come.
Nick: I think it seems definitely a bit cliche, but like the juxtaposition between Brits and Aussies, like we work with a couple of guys who are Australians living in the UK, and they just have such a great demeanour, they’re just so positive and happy and just sort of full of energy in such a nice way that it’s such a pleasure to be on tour with those guys. We’re only coming with Grant who’s Australian, but I think he’s really excited for us to be there, which really fills me with an enormous amount of pleasure, I really can’t wait.
Lewis: Will, the last interviewer didn’t know about chicken salt - do you know about chicken salt?
…yes, very much so!?
Lewis: Is it green?
No, no, it’s more, it’s almost like sulphur, like a yellow colour. Interesting, interesting, chicken salt - having said that, it does seem to be a bit of a relic of yesteryear, it’s not as prominent. Or maybe I’m just not around it these days, I could be desensitised… is that what you’re looking forward to, Lewis, chicken salt?
Lewis: It’s definitely the food, everywhere we go it’s the food. But I was chatting to an Australian guy last night and we were talking about chicken salt, he was like “Yeah, fuckin’ chicken salt!”
Lewis: I’m just confused why it’s called Chicken salt when there’s no chicken in it, it’s almost like chicken stock with salt?
Yeah, exactly, I don’t know, like is it a salt you but on chicken but everyone puts it on hot chips? I don’t know, you don’t question it, you’re just born and it's here… for me in the 90s anyways.
Lewis: I think we need to start asking people to bring sealed food to gigs, like local food.
Amazing idea, do it. So we have to wrap up there, but that was great, thanks so much guys!
Appreciated. Our pleasure, thanks!
Dry Cleaning's new album Stumpwork is out now via 4AD / Remote Control
Dry Cleaning New Zealand/Australia Tour 2022 [Sold Out!]
December 6 - The Tuning Fork, Auckland
December 7 - San Fan, Wellington
December 9 - The Brightside, Brisbane
December 12 - Corner Hotel, Melbourne
December 13 - Corner Hotel, Melbourne
December 14 - Manning Bar, Sydney
December 16 - Rosemount Hotel, Perth