Ahead of their appearance at SXSW 2013, Cheryl sat down with brothers David and Joe Dunwell of the Leeds band The Dunwells before their show in DC in mid-February to talk about country music, alphabet soup radio stations and buskers with dogs.
Welcome, is this your first time in DC?
David: Second time in DC, we did a small show during the last tour, so that was in 2011. Hmmmm, oh yes, we were at the Birchmere [which is really outside of the city in Alexandria, Virginia]. Originally, we came to America and came to Memphis for the first time, that’s where we met our management and they brought us back out to record our album.
I am confused on the trajectory of your album, how many times has it been released?
Joe: It’s only been released twice. It was released under an independent label called Playing in Traffic and was released in February 2012. Then it was re-released when we got resigned, and the album got repackaged and we added a few new tracks, but the same title for the album and was out the 28th of August of last year. So it’s a year old in theory, but it feels like it’s just been released.
So did you get a chance to see anything of the city before load in?
Joe: We didn’t. Today has been a hectic day. We did radio all over the place. WRNR in Annapolis and Sirius FM and……
I don’t mean to put you on the spot
David: There are so many letters in your radio stations.
Yeah at home you just have numbers – 1, 2, 6. It’s a lot harder to do it over here. You basically have to get on Sirius or a tv show.
Joe: Sirius is playing us, so that’s good. The Pulse is the one playing us.
I saw that you put out the EP ‘Leaving the Rose’, what inspired doing that?
Joe: That’s kind of just to keep the buzz going in the UK because we are spending so much time in America. Just to have something in the UK to let them know we’re not ditching them. We love the UK and we are looking forward to being back in Yorkshire.
David: We had an amazing opportunity in Los Angeles to do an acoustic session at the Village Recorder, loads of people have recorded there like the Rolling Stones, and Biffy Clyro were in that studio. So we were really excited. It was this magical day where we set up in a circle and we started playing the acoustic versions of the songs.
How did you pick ‘Hide & Seek’ – which is my favourite Imogen Heap song ever?
David: We just love the song.
Joe: I played it one night, and Jonny was there and liked it and it’s been in our back catalogue and history quite a while.
I have to say, it’s is perfect. And while the EP is only available in the UK, so I can’t get it, I was thrilled to find that ‘Hide & Seek’ is available as a free download from your web site. (I later discovered they were selling the EP at the gig, so I did get to buy it!)
Have you been doing anything else, writing on the road while you are here?
David: We are always writing, we always have to be prepared. To be honest, writing is something that we do to wind down as a band. Just to sit and write music is a pleasure. So we’ve actually done loads this tour. It’s also useful to be able to keep changing the set around and play new songs while we’re playing.
So we will hear something that’s not on the album tonight?
Yeah you will. It’s fun for us.
I hear a lot of influences of American country music in your songs. Is that something that you grew up with?
Joe: That’s unintentional, I think it comes from the style of guitar playing, the five part harmonies adds a country twist to it.
David: We’re a fan of American music, I don’t think five lads from Leeds really knew that we were fans of country – that wasn’t really a goal, we were just fans of American music in general. But I take that as a complement that you hear that in our music.
It seems that you are riding the current wave of alt-folk/folk-rock thing here, is that something you set out for or was organically how the music came about?
Joe: We just play our music and see what happens. A lot of people have come up to us and said, “your time is now”, but how do you ever know when you time is? We’ve been slugging it out for 3 and a half years and we just love what we’re doing.
David: Folk rock did not just disappear and gone oh this is good and been brought out of the box again.
But it certainly is in a resurgence. I’m covering a lot of that right now.
David: But there have been folk-rock bands playing for ages and haven’t had the media attention and now all of a sudden they do.
Do you listen to that on your own? Because I am always surprised at how different the music is that artists listen to compared to what they produce.
David: I’m definitely a folk rock fan. I love singer-songwriter style.
Joe: The Frames, Damien Rice, Glen Hansard, English bands like Elbow and Radiohead, so mishmash all that together.
David: American influences come from Ryan Adams and singer/songwriters like that as well.
Mentioning Glen, did you guys used to do a lot of busking early on? Did you ever have a really funny stories like when the guy stole all his money in ‘Once’?
Joe: We did used to do a fair amount of busking because we used to play a lot of pubs and clubs. But no, nothing funny, there were a lot better buskers out there than us. There was a guy with three dogs. He took all the credit. They’d bark along to his songs, they were great .
The opening track on your album (‘I Could Be a King’) I hear of Of Monsters and Men in it, big time. I’m sure you get compared to a lot of different artists right now. Who do you think has been the most favourable comparison that you’ve gotten?
Joe: That’s the first comparison to Of Monsters and Men. We’ve been compared to Mumford and Sons a lot which isn’t a bad thing because 1) they’re a great band, and 2) they are doing amazing well, they’ve kind of opened the floodgates for this kind of music right now.
Have you heard of Milo Greene from LA? They have five members and four lead singers, so you are only one off! But they literally say they have no lead singer and rotate through everyone except the drummer. How do you decide who’s going to take lead on a song?
David: Whether it’s the person who wrote the song, or who had the idea for the song, normally they take the lead vocal. But normally you can feel it as well, Joe’s got a really big powerful voice that sits on top of the big loud parts so Joe would take the big choruses.
Being brothers and cousins and school chums, how does that work in with how you deal with your music? Does familiarity breed contempt or is the longevity what gets you through?
David: We’ve all known each other for such a long time, but we’ve got such different tastes in music it makes it quite interesting when we come together to rehearsal spaces and fight it out. That’s how we get the results that we are all happy with. We make sure that we try to listen to everybody and get everybody’s ideas on the table.
You said that with a huge grin, does that mean there is a lot of fighting?
(laughter) David: No, no fighting’s not the word!
Joe: We have five big personalities in the band and I think that’s what gets us through.
If you could duet with someone, who would you want it to be?
David: I would love to stand in on one of Coldplay’s tours, that would be wonderful to sing a song with Chris Martin.
Joe: Guy Garvey from Elbow. I’ve been listening to the back catalog of his stuff and he just a very clever man.
Well thank you so much for talking the time to talk to me, see you out there.