We can do what we want: Drenge on another breakthrough year
Drenge

Eoin Loveless reflects on a year that has seen Drenge perform one of David Letterman’s final Late Shows, expand into a trio and be mercilessly abused on Twitter – by their own fans. Interview by Nick Mitchell

When WOW247 first featured Drenge in 2013 they hadn’t even released their debut album, and the youthful excitement of the Loveless brothers was plain to see: the younger of the two, drummer Rory, told us then that being in a band with his brother was “like a never ending half-term”.

Picking up the conversation with the elder Eoin (guitars / vocals) two and a half years later, I ask him if they still feel that way?

“No, it’s like we’ve both been suspended from school and our parents can’t stay at home to look after us.”

Joking aside, the Sheffield-based band have matured musically – even in the past two years – producing one of the best albums of 2015 in Undertow, which weaves the anger and vitality of their self-titled debut into a more musically ambitious canvas. This progression had a lot to do with the track ‘Running Wild’, the first proper song on the record following the sludgy feedback of ‘Intro’.

“We wrote this song ‘Running Wild’ as soon as we finished the first record, and it just became part of our set,” Eoin recalls. “And then it kind of permeated the rest of the songs in the set, and the new songs we were writing. And it just kind of took over everything we were doing, so it became really pivotal to what the next record would sound like.”

The other big change for Drenge was the addition of Rob Graham on bass. But far from being some anonymous guy answering an advert on Gumtree, he and the Loveless brothers go way back, as Eoin explains:

“We’ve known Rob since we were really tiny at school and he was the guy who introduced us to punk bands and took us to gigs, and suggesting bands to check out or books to read, so he was really important in us forming our knowledge of musical history.”

Like the first record, Undertow‘s artwork – a seemingly abandoned car in a forest at night – is an intriguing image which leaves the viewer to imagine their own scenario, like a glimpse of a scene in a movie trailer. It’s the work of designer Matthew Cooper, but Drenge were closely involved in the concept.

undertow

“I didn’t want to do like an obvious movie poster, or to suggest it was the soundtrack to a film or something,” Eoin says. “But I wanted it to be a real hook… if you pick up the record it’s like the start point for the songs, it ties in with the music on the record.

“I didn’t want a cover that was just a photo of the band, or some geometric shapes. We come from a really strong visual background so we like images that make you think or make you want to get involved with what you’re looking at.”

If you’re wondering about the name Drenge, it’s Danish for ‘boys’, and the band have enjoyed an unusual reception in the Scandinavian country when they’ve played shows over there: “One [gig] in particular, there were people just screaming, it was like being in The Beatles. Very strange.”

And one of the first times the name Drenge was dropped in a very public way was via an unexpected source: the Labour MP Tom Watson, who in 2013 signed off his resignation letter from the Shadow Cabinet in random fashion: “And if you want to see an awesome band, I recommend Drenge”.

When politicians name-check any musician or band it’s usually just cringe-worthy for all concerned, but Drenge acknowledge that Watson just seems like a genuine fan (even if they still haven’t spotted him at a gig yet).

Watson is of course now Jeremy Corbyn’s deputy leader in the Labour Party, following a year of unprecedented political upheaval. But when it comes to politics, Eoin believes that the real issues aren’t being scrutinised because the media is too obsessed with the personalities.

“This fracking bill went through without any kind of coverage, it got voted through and I had no idea it was coming up,” he says. “I’m more concerned with the issues rather than the people. I think there’s been a lot recently, with air strikes and stuff, where the government isn’t working in our best interests.”

But Drenge are more engaged than your average indie band. Recently they posted a Facebook video of one of them (it isn’t clear who) throwing a stack of copies of the infamous Sun edition featuring the headline “1 in 5 Brit Muslims’ sympathy for jihadis” in a bin.

“Yeah, it was more a publicity stunt than a protest,” Eoin says. “I just think it’s unacceptable to publish hate speech on the front page of the biggest newspaper in the UK, and for it to go without an apology the same size, in the same place, the next day.”

The direct connection with their fans that’s now possible through social media is something Drenge clearly value.

drenge

But it can work both ways. Recently they retweeted a fan who praised their “amazing music” but said the thing he liked best about them was how “charmingly and unapologetically ugly” they are.

“I think there are people out there who genuinely don’t think we look at it or use it,” Eoin says. “Then when you get something painfully personal like that, it’s horrible to read, it gives you nightmares.” (Eoin is laughing at this point, we should make clear.)

But they’re not tempted to blank it all and sign out?

“It’s funnier to make a joke about it, to have an online comedy strop. Me and Rory, even though we’re still in our early twenties, I think we’re still quite capable of having a strop, online, in front of people who like our music.”

So they’re not going to do a Morrissey any time soon and just retreat somewhere away from social media and just issue press statements about anything that annoys you?

“I think Morrissey would be great on Twitter. But obviously not. He’s restricted by a character count, so it’s not for him.”

While the internet has made it much easier for bands to get their music heard, no matter where they live, Eoin still believes the UK music industry is too centred on London.

“I think if there was anything I could possibly change [about the industry] it would be to stop it from being so London-centric,” he says. “A lot of the time the [it] feels like the London music industry, and it feels like it could be spread out more. I feel like music would be richer for having more regional coverage or investment, instead of all the majors and huge indie labels being based in London. It’s not helpful.”

drenge

Having said that, Eoin doesn’t feel there’s been any disadvantage in forming a band in Sheffield, and it hasn’t stopped them from reaching a level of exposure other bands would dream of, which has included appearances on Later… with Jools Holland and The Late Show in the US. The latter performance came in the twilight phase of its former host David Letterman, and it wasn’t exactly as exciting as you might expect.

“It was very cold, and there was the possibility that it would just be to an empty audience, because it had been snowing quite a lot and they weren’t sure if it would be safe to have an audience in the Ed Sullivan theatre, because they might not be able to get home,” Eoin says. “So it was a bit hectic, but a very quick, clean procedure. A bit like having a blood test! We went down to the stage, set up, played our song, shook hands with Letterman, and left really. It was pretty clean.”

While they have “nothing sketched out” for 2016 yet, the exception is the NME Awards Tour in late January and early February, a whirl around the UK with Bloc Party, Ratboy and Bugzy Malone. If the gig venues are getting bigger now, does that make it less interesting in some way, I ask, citing the story that at one of their early gigs the crowd consisted of one guy dressed as a wizard?

“It was a real wizard,” Eoin corrects me. “Yeah, I dunno, it’s different. This NME Tour will be the third time we’ll be playing some of these venues within four or five months, because we played them with Wolf Alice and The Maccabees. So it’s like deja vu, getting used to seeing the same backstages, the same stages. The crowds are different, but it’s very different to playing small gigs.”

A bit like a rock version of Groundhog Day?

“Yeah I guess so. I don’t get too disillusioned by that. I try to go out in the city and find somewhere new, and make the experience a new one.”

The end of the year is the traditional season of stock-taking, so what were Drenge’s best and worst experiences of 2015?

“We had our first trip to Japan which was really incredible,” Eoin says. “We had a really fun show, and we played in Korea.

“The worst experience was that we had festivals the weekend before, then Japan and Korea, then I had to go to a wedding in Turkey in between. Due to jet lag and having to catch certain planes, I think I went for two 36-hour days in the same week, which was tough going. But I pulled through, I didn’t complain. Apart from right now.”

So this is his diva moment…

“Yeah!” Eoin laughs.

You won’t get much more diva-style behaviour from Drenge (aside from the occasional social media strop), but it’s clear that they’re now on a higher footing than the “never ending half-term” of the early days.

Undertow is out now via Infectious Records. More info at www.drenge.co.uk

Drenge play the following tour dates:

January 29: Great Hall, Cardiff
January 30: O2 Guildhall, Southampton
February 1: O2 Academy, Bristol
February 2: Rock City, Nottingham
February 4: O2 Academy, Newcastle
February 5: Barrowlands, Glasgow
February 6: Academy, Manchester
February 8: O2 Academy, Leeds
February 9: Corn Exchange, Cambridge
February 11: Brixton Academy, London
February 12: O2 Academy, Birmingham