Interview: Dry the River

Dry the River are at an interesting point in their musical trajectory. The five piece from London have quietly been honing their brand of ardent and emotionally wrought folk music and, while they have thus far evaded the glare of large-scale publicity, with a string of sold-out venues and a forthcoming UK headline tour in April this present state of humble obscurity is on the cusp of reversal. Nonetheless, this was evidently lost on the security guard who midway through my interview with Matthew Taylor (electric guitar) and Jon Warren (drums) curtly demanded they produce their tickets for the gig at Garage, Islington. ‘Erm, we’re actually playing…’ Jon replies, unabashed by their lack of celebrity.

Part of what has made Dry the River so distinctive in today’s increasingly popular neo-folk market is the intense poeticism in Peter Liddle’s songwriting and his hauntingly angelic falsetto. The majority of tracks on the group’s debut album, Shallow Bed, are also laden with religious symbolism, embodied by herds of oxen in ‘No Rest’ and a portentous angel of doubt in ‘New Ceremony’. These references are conscious as, Matthew explains, ‘religion and spirituality are really important to Pete… he’s always been surrounded by the Church and singing in the church choir from a young age.’

No doubt this spirituality has contributed to the fact that Dry the River are prone to wrestling with dark and introspective themes. The music is mired in human misery, whether that be the alcoholism in ‘Bible Belt’ (the track that has garnered almost half a million YouTube views) or the sickness and imminent death in ‘Shaker Hymns’.

I ask what provides the inspiration for this, and Matthew replies, ‘They’re pooled from experience, from everything we have experienced in life, our travels and touring and seeing other cultures.’ Jon and Matthew both add that they’re strongly influenced by Americana, particularly the South with its tradition for laid back melodies holding mournfully elegiac undertones. This American influence is not lost on the band’s critics, but for the Guardian (a tad unfairly, perhaps) it was ultimately ‘hollow when you know they come not from some remote Appalachian cabin but a shared house in Stratford, east London.’

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Being such a folk driven band, I ask whether they feel that with the huge popularity of Mumford and Sons et al, the neo-folk climate is over saturated at the moment. Jon is adamant, ‘If you speak to anyone from Mumford or whatever, they’ll tell you that there isn’t a new folk climate because folk has always been around. But I do think it’s a reaction against mainstream musical culture, against the X Factor’. Matthew adds, ‘We’re actually trying to move away from folk… we want a diverse musical sound.’

This grass roots approach to making music also explains the band’s love of touring. Fresh from playing SXSW in Texas, Jon enthuses that touring is ‘the perfect life. There’s no pressure and we have such communicative fans, we can just relax and have a beer with them after… Pete isn’t the kind of front man who likes to hide himself away, he’ll have a beer and chat after.’ In a music industry rife with feuds, its clear that goodwill and mutual affection solidify this band. Dry the River may be on the ascent, but as of yet their feet remain firmly on the ground.