Music Interviews
12:56 pm
Tue March 27, 2012

Dry The River: Songs Of Cardiac Anatomy

Originally published on Tue October 23, 2012 1:43 pm

Dry the River is a band of five 20-somethings who started in the hard-core punk scene of southeast England. At the time of singer and founder Peter Liddle's interview, he and his band were in the midst of a U.S. tour: 9,000 miles in an RV through 28 states. Dry the River got its big break with a simple video that went viral — a stripped-down version of the song "Bible Belt." Liddle says the video was a happy accident.

"I think a whole bunch of things kind of coalesced to make that happen," Liddle says in an interview with All Things Considered host Melissa Block. "[Guitarist] Matt [Taylor] had fallen off his bicycle a few days before and broken his arm, so his arm was in a sling during the video, so he couldn't play guitar. So he just kind of stamped on a guitar case to kind of do something and sing along.

"It was all just a bit haphazard, and I seemed to remember the guy that signed us from Sony, he first showed that video to his bosses and said, 'I want to sign this band.' And they said, 'Who are these weird guys? There's a guy with his arm in a sling, and a guy with a really overgrown beard, and it's all a bit weird. We don't really understand it.' And then it got all these hits on YouTube, and then this kind of thing started to build up, and people started to talk about the band. I guess that was kind of the first stepping stone."

Liddle was a medical student while playing in Dry the River at same time.

"After I finished anthropology, I realized I'd kind of come to be very interested in medicine," Liddle says. "And so I started a graduate medical degree in London. And in some ways, as well, being in halls of residence again and being forced to be a little bit quieter and not to be shouting and playing electric guitar all hours of the day probably was another reason why I started to move to more acoustic music. And it's probably to some degree responsible for the band."

"Chambers and Valves" was actually written while Liddle was studying cardiac anatomy — "not so subtle inspiration on that one," he says.

The End Before The End

"New Ceremony" features a "spidery guitar line" written by Matt Taylor, and from there, Liddle says the song "kind of came alive," which it certainly does when Liddle lets out a shout: "It's to wake Johnny [Warren] up, the drummer who sits in the back on his phone or having a swig of beer or whatever: 'Hey John! Play some drums!' "

The song is about a "fairly run-of-the-mill failing relationship" and "the kind of inevitability of a disintegrating relationship and how, ultimately, you can see the end before you arrive at the end." At the very least, Liddle had a scenic locale in which to write it.

"Will [Harvey], the violinist, his parents have a cottage in a very beautiful area of Wales, a national park. So I could just walk the coast path for miles and look at the sea and sit on a bench with a notepad and do a very kind of cliched singer-songwriter kind of experience, which is not normally how I write. But this song, I actually sat down with a notepad on a bench. I'm a songwriter now, so I can do pretentious things like sit on a bench and look at boats and write lyrics," Liddle says, laughing.

"The lyric that people seem to pick up a lot in this song is about dancing to the shipping forecast, and the shipping forecast in the U.K. is kind of a cultural institution that we have, that they read out the shipping forecast — which to anybody else sounds utterly alien. They say the names of various shipping lanes and areas in a very monotone kind of posh English accent, and it goes on for about 20 minutes. So the idea of dancing to the shipping forecast is a ridiculous thing that popped into my head."

Can you dance to the shipping forecast?

"I don't think you could. It would be very interpretive dance," Liddle says. "I think it'd be very bizarre. I can't dance anyway. Like many English men, I was born without that capacity. I cannot dance at all."

Sing High, Tour Hard

Three members of Dry the River sing in a very high falsetto, and with such a rigorous touring schedule, it can be difficult to maintain their voices. As Liddle says, "Sometimes you lose it if you have a lot of shows."

"I have quite a husky voice anyway — that's the way my voice is," Liddle says. "Sometimes you have to be more careful. Yeah, that's just how my voice has always been since adolescence, I think."

But the band plays on. Its members say they're grateful for the opportunities they have now.

"I almost feel like it would be ungrateful to be like, 'Well, we want to be playing arenas, we want to sell a million records,' because it doesn't help with the state of the industry at the moment. It's impossible to know," Liddle says. "In six months' time or a year's time, we could be back in our day jobs. So I think that's kind of our attitude at the moment — we enjoy things how they are, and that's kind of all that matters at the present."

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

And I'm Melissa Block.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BIBLE BELT")

DRY THE RIVER: (Singing) And, darling, when the ice caps melt, when the devil's in the Bible Belt, don't cower in your bed.

BLOCK: We're listening to the debut album from Dry the River, a band of five 20-somethings. They started in the hard-core punk scene of southeast England. They got their big break with a simple video that went viral, this stripped down version of that song we just heard, "Bible Belt."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BIBLE BELT")

RIVER: (Singing) I'll be on the 5-4-5. You can meet me at the railway line, don't look so sad.

BLOCK: Dry the River's front man and founder Peter Liddle stopped by our studios in the midst of their U.S. tour: 9,000 miles in an RV through 28 states. That video, he says, was a happy accident.

PETER LIDDLE: I think a whole bunch of things kind of coalesced to make that happen. Matt had fallen off his bicycle a few days before and broken his arm, so his arm was in a sling during - in the video, so he couldn't play guitar. So he just kind of stamped on a guitar case to kind of do something and sing along. And we were kind of - I don't know - it was all just a bit haphazard. And I seemed to remember the guy who signed us from Sony, he first showed that video to his bosses and said, you know, I want to sign this band.

And they said, you know, who are these weird guys? There's a guy with his arm in a sling and a guy with a really overgrown beard, and it's all a bit weird. We don't really understand it. And then it got all these hits on YouTube, and then this kind of thing started to build up, and people started to talk about the band. And, you know, I guess that was kind of the first stepping stone.

BLOCK: You were a medical student. As you started the band, I think you were doing the two at the same time, right?

LIDDLE: That's right. Yeah. After I finished anthropology, I realized I'd kind of come to be very interested in medicine. So I started a graduate medical degree in London. And in some ways as well, being in halls of residence again and being forced to be a little bit quieter and not to be shouting and playing electric guitar all hours of the day probably was, you know, another reason why I started to move toward more acoustic music. And it's probably to some degree responsible for the band.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THE CHAMBERS & THE VALVES")

RIVER: (Singing) Two young hearts will meet in the middle, and a light will flicker on where there once was none. Where does love come from?

BLOCK: You have a song called "The Chambers & The Valves." And when I thought about that and thought about you being a medical student, I'm assuming that some part of that comes into...

LIDDLE: Yeah. That...

BLOCK: ...how you're thinking about the heart.

LIDDLE: I think that was, yes, while I was studying cardiac anatomy or something. I think, you know, not so subtle inspiration on that one, yeah.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THE CHAMBERS & THE VALVES")

RIVER: (Singing) And I pray for your health, and I tell myself it's the chambers and the valves that pump the sentiment around. But I swallow the words, and I close my mouth.

BLOCK: I'm talking with Peter Liddle of the band Dry the River. Their debut album is "Shallow Bed." Let's listen to the song "New Ceremony," which starts small and ends up very big.

LIDDLE: This is me on the acoustic.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "NEW CEREMONY")

LIDDLE: Matt, the guitarist, came up with this kind of disjointed sort of electric guitar. And as soon as he started to play it, this song really kind of came alive. I thought people will always, when they think of "New Ceremony," think of this kind of spidery guitar line.

BLOCK: Ha. But then there's that moment.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "NEW CEREMONY")

BLOCK: You have a little shout there.

LIDDLE: I had a little yelp there, yeah.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "NEW CEREMONY")

LIDDLE: It's to wake Johnny up, the drummer who sits at the back on his phone or having a swig of beer or whatever.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

LIDDLE: Hey, John, play some drums.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "NEW CEREMONY")

RIVER: (Singing) Now, the stairs forget your shoes and the gate don't creak for want of you. But the jury is out on me. We're wise beyond our years, but we're good at bad ideas, my love. Or so it seems to be.

LIDDLE: That one actually - "New Ceremony" is an example of one of the songs that is kind of about a situation, just a kind of fairly run-of-the-mill failing relationship kind of a song...

BLOCK: Oh, that.

LIDDLE: Yeah, that. "New Ceremony" was about the kind of inevitability of a disintegrating relationship and how, ultimately, you can kind of see the end before you arrive at the end.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "NEW CEREMONY")

RIVER: (Singing) Shine a little light, don't wrestle with the night, don't think about the future now. I know it's got to stop love, but I don't know how.

BLOCK: What can you tell us, Peter, about how this song came about?

LIDDLE: Will, the violinist, his parents have a cottage in a very beautiful area of Wales, a national park. So I could just walk the coast path for miles and look at the sea and sit on a bench with a notepad and do a very kind of cliched singer-songwriter kind of experience, which is not normally how I write. But this song, I actually sat down with a notepad on a bench.

BLOCK: And what, you knew you were thinking at the time, I'm a songwriter now. I'm...

LIDDLE: I'm a songwriter now.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

LIDDLE: And so I can do pretentious things like sit on a bench and look at boats and write lyrics.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "NEW CEREMONY")

RIVER: (Singing) But after we danced to the shipping forecast, the words escaped your mouth.

LIDDLE: One, the kind of lyric that people seem to pick up a lot in this song is about dancing to the shipping forecast, and the shipping forecast in the U.K. is a kind of a cultural institution that we have. They read out the shipping forecast, which to anybody else sounds utterly alien. It's just - they say the names of various shipping lanes and areas and - in a very monotone kind of posh English accent, where it goes on for about 20 minutes. So the idea of kind of dancing to the shipping forecast is a ridiculous kind of thing that, you know, popped into my head and...

BLOCK: Have you actually done that?

LIDDLE: No. I don't think you could.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

LIDDLE: But it would be very interpretive dance. I think it'd be very bizarre. I can't dance, anyway. Like many English men, I was born without that capacity. You know, I cannot dance at all.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "NEW CEREMONY")

RIVER: (Singing) I know it's got to stop love, but I don't know how.

BLOCK: Peter, how's your voice holding up on the tour?

LIDDLE: It's fine, actually, at the moment. It goes through, I think, for all of us. The three of us, we all sing very high, and we sing a lot of falsetto. And, you know, sometimes, you lose it if you have a lot of shows. Particularly, you know, I have quite a husky voice, anyway. So my voice is - sometimes, you have to be more careful.

BLOCK: So the huskiness that I'm hearing in your voice now is what you would typically sound like, or is that, do you think...

LIDDLE: Yeah, yeah. That's just how my voice has always been ever since adolescence, I think.

BLOCK: But such a different singing voice, which is so interesting.

LIDDLE: Yeah. I don't know - one of those mysterious things.

BLOCK: Peter, I wonder what the future looks like for you from where you are now. You're - you have your debut album. You're starting this big tour. What does it look like when you think forward?

LIDDLE: I think we just feel so lucky, grateful to have got where we have got. And I almost feel like it would be ungrateful to be like, well, we want to be playing arenas, we want to sell a million records, because it doesn't help with the state of the industry at the moment. You know, it's impossible to know whether, you know, in six months' time or a year's time, we could be back in our day jobs. So I think that's kind of our attitude at the moment: enjoy things how they are. And that's kind of all that matters at the present.

BLOCK: Well, Peter Liddle, thanks a lot for coming in. It's great to talk to you.

LIDDLE: Thank you for having me.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG)

BLOCK: That's Peter Liddle of Dry the River. Their debut album is "Shallow Bed." You can see an exclusive video of Dry the River performing at nprmusic.org.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG)

BLOCK: You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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