DRY CLEANING – Interview

Foto-© Steve Gullick

Man muss als Musiker schon etwas Distinktives parat halten, wenn man herausstechen will. Nick Buxton, Lewis Maynard und Tom Dowse wissen das. Sie haben längere Zeit versucht, in der Londoner Szene Fuß zu fassen, ohne Erfolg. Dann probierten sie es zusammen mit der gemeinsamen Bekannten Florence Shaw. Sie ist keine Sängerin, mehr eine Spoken-Word-Künstlerin. Sie erzählt von Gefühlen, Ängsten, Beobachtungen, Nachrichtenmeldungen auf trocken-unterkühlte Art – so als sei sie eine Alexa oder Navi-Stimme, die den Autopilot abgestellt hat und redet, wie der Mund gewachsen ist. Angefangen hat es 2019 mit den EPs Sweet Princess und Boundary Road Snack And Drinks, jetzt steigert sich alles mit dem formidablen Debütalbum New Long Leg.

Das Grundprinzip ändert sich nicht fundamental. Die Jungs rochieren zwischen Post Punk, Noise Rock, Funk und Jazz und erschaffen eine Plattform, von der aus Flo sich abstossen kann. In Scratchcard Lanyard erzählt sie vom Besuch im Vergnügungspark. Da hopsen Flummis, wird getanzt und jubiliert oder im Schauspiel mit der Bazooka gefeuert. Hängen bleibt am Ende nichts. „Do everything and feel nothing“, resümiert Flo. So geht das bei Dry Cleaning, sie legen absolute Lächerlichkeit bloß. Im Interview erzählen Flo und Nick, wie alles angefangen hat, mit wem die Band verglichen wird, welche Rolle Funk und Fernsehen spielen, was zum Umgang mit Frauen zu sagen ist und wer der Band auf dem Weg entscheidend geholfen hat.

What was the first thought you had in your mind when you formed the band Dry Cleaning?
Nick: We started in 2017. Me, Tom and Lewis had written the basis of the music that would become the basis of the first EP, then Flo came in and did her thing on top. I‘ve been playing in so many bands in my twenties, sometimes four or five bands at one time. I‘ve reached a point, and Tom and Lewis reached a point too, where they‘ve been doing similar things. That‘s why it felt like a good opportunity to start together. Florence came in fairly soon after that, because we needed someone to sing.

Why did you think her vocal style was fitting?
Nick: It‘s got very little to do with her vocal style. We just thought we wanted someone interesting, she already had an interesting creative practice. We didn‘t know whether Flo was going to sing or speak or scream, we just wanted something different to what we‘ve done before. It‘s definitely good to look outside the box. It was an experiment first, it could have been a total distaster, but we didn‘t think about it too much. We knew she‘d be great.

Flo, your dad Phil played in a band called Swimming To France in the 80s.
Flo: (sounding excited) Yes, he did!
Nick: Oops, this is the first time this has come up….

Now‘s probably the right time to reform that band. It certainly would go down very well with many in your country given that particular sort of name.
Flo: I suppose so. (laughs) He‘s still playing, he‘s in a band with a few friends. He‘s the drummer and singer now, he‘s always making music.

Has he done something that has inspired you to start a similar thing on your own?
Flo: It‘s funny, I wasn‘t in bands before. I joined this one a few years ago. Something that he gave me was huge curiosity, to think that trying things is a valuable way to broaden your horizons. We used to mess around with instruments when we were kids with him, he would teach us different parts to play. I‘d be playing keyboards and my brother would do it on the guitar and we would swap around, just as a fun thing to do on a Sunday afternoon. Dad‘s a great guitar player and I feel very at home around that, it reminds me of him which is really nice. I guess he gave me a leaning to that kind of thing.

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Let‘s pretend it‘s Sunday evening, supper‘s done and we‘re in front of the telly. It‘s 8pm and we‘ve got the chance to watch the Antiques Roadshow on the Beeb. This show is mentioned in your song John Wick.
Flo: I often watched it with my mum. One day I had a horrible realization. They obviously had a meeting where they thought…okay people want a quick valuation like BAM-BAM-BAM!!! It was so disappointing, because they misunderstood the appeal of the show. You were always waiting for them to say how much a thing is worth. It would take a long time, they go around the house and talk about the history of the object. The suspense is that you don‘t know if it‘s going to be a million quid, or ten or two hundred or whatever. And all of a sudden they speeded it all up! They don‘t talk as much about the objects anymore, they just say how much it‘s worth really fast and it just wipes out all the jeopardy and the drama off the show. I don‘t know, it just bothered me…(laughs). I love the show, I‘m saying it as a fan. It‘s got one of the best theme tunes ever!

On the Antiques Roadshow you see a lot of things from times long gone. Today Brexit is showing that old Britain is still alive. Your track Strong Feelings is about Brexit too. What kind of of comment do you want to give on the matter?
Flo: It‘s a lament of the loss of the rest of Europe. It‘s such a horrid realization that we‘re past Brexit now and we didn‘t manage to overturn it. It‘s like a horror film. That‘s what I was channeling.
Nick: We were talking in the band the other day about New Beat, a Belgian genre of dance music from the late 80s. Music doesn‘t know any boundaries. Brexit has happened, but fortunately it doesn‘t have any knock-on effect for the culture that we consume. Hopefully it‘s the same for you guys in Europe as well. Hopefully the same boundaries are not presented in the way that they have now economically and in terms of freedom of movement.

Flo, when you speak to journalists these days, to which artists do you get compared to most as a vocalist?
Flo: I get lots of different ones. People have compared us to Life Without Buildings a lot, partly because of my vocal style, which is something I‘m flattered by. We get Suburban Lawns quite a lot as well, and that one seems to be about hair… (laughs) I have the same hair as the girl in that band…people are sometimes blinded by surface things a bit…but I like those bands.
Nick: The name The Fall also comes up a lot.

What do you think about the description that the sound of the band is based on post punk?
Nick: Hm, it‘s hard that, isn‘t it? That kind of rhetoric doesn‘t come up until other people start talking about your band. Maybe some people start music projects, and they‘re like: We‘re going to do a post punk band, we‘re going to an EDM project, whatever it is. Nothing like that was ever really discussed in this band. I think with the first EP it does fall into that category fairly comfortably, but it‘s not something we ever really aspire to. The second EP was a step away from that. The album doesn‘t fall into that category at all for me. There‘s a much wider range of influences that have gone into it.

What kind of influences are these?
Nick: There‘s American AM radio rock elements in it you find in some of R.E.M.s stuff, and on some tracks there‘s a Black Sabbath metal atmosphere…(laughs). Each individual member brings their own influences. There‘s a lot of music we‘re listening together if we are on a tour in a van. Everyone brings their own kind of approach to their instrument, and I think that has a much grander influence on how the overall sound occurs rather than anything that‘s discussed or decided together. It‘s kind of chaotic in a way I suppose, because it‘s not planned.

Let‘s take Every Day Carry as an example. It‘s an 8 minute long jam with an intense guitar break in the middle that gives Tom a chance to let it all go. Flo‘s talking about a „major massive arsehole, what cruel heartless bastard you are“. In the end you say: „I just want to put something positive into the world but it‘s hard because I‘m so full of poisonous rage“. Are you, with this line, giving a summary of what you‘re doing in the band?
Flo: That was something that occured to me when I was thinking about songwriting. I think I was feeling a bit down and I wanted to do something that contributes to people feeling happy. Maybe it‘s also a reflection on the last year. I think I was trying to think how I could help. The world is so troubled and there are many terrible things going on. I guess it‘s a dark conclusion I came to in a dark moment where I thought that there‘s too much anger in the way. I was musing about what it means to make something that goes out into the world and what kind of quality it should have, if any. It was a reflective moment.

It sounds very cathartic.
Flo: Yeah, I agree.

There‘s not only the Antiques Roadshow on British telly this Sunday. You can also switch to ITV to watch the first public broadcast of the interview by Oprah Winfrey with Harry and Meghan. This has to be of interest to you, since you‘ve spent some time thinking about the couple in The Magic Of Meghan, one of the most popular songs by Dry Cleaning. Give us some thoughts on what you think of the Duchess and what she had and has to endure as a member of the royal family.
Flo: I don‘t know her and I won‘t reveal whether I‘m a fan or not, but I recognize what an enormous amount of racism and misogyny she‘s up against. Even this morning Buckingham Palace has released a statement saying they‘re going to investigate allegations of bullying against her. But they didn‘t launch an investigation about Prince Andrew allegedly being a serial paedophile and sex offender. I think if that isn‘t to do with her race or her gender, then I‘m not sure what it is to do with. It‘s totally unsurprising in many ways, but just absolutely unbelievable that these things are happening in such plain sight. There seems to be not very much mainstream criticism of it.
Nick: I think the royal family essentially are going to have to have a huge reckoning with themselves over the next decade. All these cracks are appearing, but the Queen is such a popular character, she‘s the thing that holds it all together. Bless her, she‘s very old, when she goes and this new character of Charles steps in…oh my goodness, it‘s all going to change.
Flo: Meghan must be having now and must have been having for the last few years a horrible time. It‘s no two ways about it. If what they‘re doing is in aid of trying to protect her mental health, then they should do it.

There‘s still constant debate about the well-known interview Princess Diana has given to the BBC in the 90s. There are still open ends and dodgy angles left in the the investigation.
Flo: I think if they weren‘t worried about it then they‘d let them investigate it, wouldn‘t they? I mean women, and people as well, being manipulated, taken advantage of and lifted up one day and thrown away the next day in the media is nothing new. It might even seem to be getting worse…there‘s isn‘t much progress.

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Is the song Unsmart Lady a reflection of that? What kind of lady are you talking about?
Flo: I found the words, fat podgy non make-up unsmart lady‘ somewhere, they are not written by me. They sparked my interest just because I wanted to experiment with words or ways of describing women that are meant to be negative or meant to be an attack. I wanted to try to reclaim ownership over those qualities and try to use those words in my own way to bite off the negativity around them a little bit – the endless commentary on how women look and act. You know, I was feeling anxious about my weight at some point and I realized I wish I could take these ideas out of my brain, about it being bad to weigh more or about it being bad to be a certain shape. I wish I could delete them. Though that is impossible I wonder if there‘s some way to own those ideas and turn them into something to be proud of. It should really not even be a topic of discussion, should it? I think I wanted to point out the absurdity in some very small words.

Let‘s stick with women for a bit, what‘s your favourite PJ Harvey album?
Nick: I‘m actually not that familiar with much of her work. I‘m familiar with To Bring You My Love and the record I‘m most familiar with is Let England Shake. I haven‘t been back there for a while.
Flo: She‘s more someone where I would consume songs on their own rather than full albums. I remember the song This Is Love, it was a massive hit when I was a kid and remember seeing the video. She‘s so in control in that video, very copper-like, almost verging on a frightening figure, but in a great way that I really responded to as a kid.
Nick: I always feel very patient with these characters in music, the album‘s you‘re supposed to listen to because they‘re brilliant. I don‘t think you should be in a rush to get there because it does come eventually. I totally rejected The Rolling Stones as a kid because my mum liked them so much. I thought: Bah, what is this? I didn‘t start listening to The Stones until I was 28, something like that. I really got into Exile On Main St. and thought this really is fucking good. I had that with a number of artists over the years. I‘m very happy to wait until I have that moment with PJ Harvey‘s back catalogue.

She‘s worked with John Parish a lot, the man who‘s produced your album New Long Leg at Rockfield in Wales. What did he bring to the band in the recording process?
Nick: It‘s a really interesing question, because it‘s something I thought endlessly before we went. What is it that these producer characters do? I was surprised he brought so much in the way of organization and logistics and, I regret to use the word, management of personnel. It was quite remarkable, his focus, his drive, his organization to see something through from start to finish, to oversee every single element of what‘s happening from before we started until the delivery of the mixes and the mastering. It seemed he knew exactly how to get to that point and to take us all along with him.
Flo: He‘s a very steady hand in every way and a great set of ears. Often you‘ll do a take and think it sucks. Then he‘d come through the headphones saying, that was the best one. His confidence in his own judgement gives you confidence in your performance.
Nick: We brought in material that was mostly finished and then we had some fragments of other bits and pieces. Even with things that we thought were completed he would sometimes turn around and say: This isn‘t finished, I don‘t like it, you could change it. It was quite harsh at times without being unpleasant, but firm. We‘ve spent over two weeks at Rockfield and it‘s longer than any time I‘ve ever spent in a studio. But it‘s not that long to record an album plus extra tracks. You have to keep moving, there‘s no mucking about. There were a few occasions of doubt about the quality of the music on our side, but he was very decisive. That‘s a huge skill to able to do that and not completely lose people. Seriously impressive.

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