Dry the River Softens Up

Published January 31, 2012

The members of Dry the River have combined their punk-rock and prog-rock backgroundsto make beautiful acoustic music. The band includes Peter Liddle, Jon Warren, Matt Taylor, Scott Miller and Will Harvey, who formed out of a series of musical projects ranging in genre from various punk rock, hardcore and metal bands. The band’s origins are unusually diverse: Harvey is a classically trained violinist and Warren was once homeless and a part of the DIY punk scene. Their individual musical talents and backgrounds have brought this project to life. Dry the River brings together the lyrical genius of Mumford & Sons and Fleet Foxes with the tender melodies of James Vincent McMorrow. They have been making passionate songs together since 2009, and were finally able to give up their day jobs to make the music they love.

The band has supported Two Door Cinema Club, The Antlers, and The Magic Numbers and will be playing shows with Bowerbirds. In 2011, Dry the River played at SXSW. They recorded their album, due out this spring, in Connecticut with Peter Katis (The National, Interpol).

We chatted with singer/songwriter Peter Liddle about his desire to play with At the Drive-In, going from hardcore to folk, and being really lucky.

ILANA KAPLAN: How did Dry the River form?

PETER LIDDLE: We had all been in punk bands and metal bands in the southeast of England for a bunch of years. I was tired of writing metal. I had started to write some quieter, folky music. I didn’t want to be shouting and screaming all the time. I had started making softer, folkier stuff. I kind of recruited the guys I used to know in other bands, and we started Dry the River.

KAPLAN: What kind of comparisons do you guys get? Who are your influences?

LIDDLE: My influences… I really don’t know. We all come from completely different musical backgrounds. The drummer and the bassist are into Rush and early Genesis, that really kind of prog stuff. Our guitarist Matt is really into post-rock bands like Godspeed You! Black Emperor and Sigur Rós. I’m into post-hardcore bands. It’s really come to be a jumbled musical background.

KAPLAN: So, Shallow Bed is your debut album, correct? What was your inspiration behind it?

LIDDLE: This is the first record we’ve ever done, so some of the songs are like four years old.  Some of them we wrote during being in the studio. So being in the studio, it’s kind of a haphazard collection of our songs. I guess it’s tied together production-wise, kind of in the way that Peter Gabriel made a record sound. That’s kind of how our record sounds. The record is a lot about us growing up and trying to overcome the difficulties and relationships. I don’t know. I guess it’s a coming-of-age record.

KAPLAN: Who primarily does the songwriting? Is it a collective effort?

LIDDLE: We write songs with the guitar, which is kind of cool. We put together the vocals with a basic arrangement. We come up with something folky and delicate. We take a couple of months, record it and let it settle in.

KAPLAN: There are a lot of beautiful tracks on your EPs, and your album is due out this spring. What’s the most meaningful song on your forthcoming record, Shallow Bed?

LIDDLE: That’s a tough one. “Lion’s Den,” the last song on the record, is a track we’d finished at six and a half minutes long. It started as a real folky, very stripped-down, acoustic song with lots of vocal harmonies and a finger-picked guitar. It was really kind of delicate when we got into the band. While we were jamming it once, we kind of played through it, and towards the end we brought it to a massive crescendo. It was kind of this loud noise. It allows us to be a little bit more strange than we were in our hardcore bands. On the record, there are lots of strings and lots of crazy stuff going on quite a bit. We had a different approach on harmonies and heavier things.

KAPLAN: Whom have you been able to tour with? Whom would you want to tour with?

LIDDLE: We’ve actually been very lucky to tour with quite a few bands that we really admire. We toured with The Antlers in Europe. We really love their music. We’re about to tour with Bowerbirds. We’ve toured with them before. We’re going to be touring with them again in March. They’re really good friends of ours. We toured with Bombay Bicycle Club as well, which was really good fun. I guess we’d like to tour with every band. We often end up playing with very folky bands, because that’s kind of what we sound like. Because we come from a heavier background, we would love to tour maybe with a band like At the Drive-In, now that they’re touring again. I listen to their record every day.

KAPLAN: You guys should get on that. What do you guys hope for your fans to get out of your music?

LIDDLE: A lot of times, lyrically, they’re not too cryptic and not too hard to figure out. Some songwriters make “hard-to-read” lyrics. We do prefer to leave something new for people to decide and interpret it in their own way and relate it to their own experiences. We want them to take what they will from it. I guess a lot of the time that’s where the songs come from.

KAPLAN: Why did you guys choose Dry the River as your band name?

LIDDLE: It kind of just came to us. We were kicking a lot of stuff around, a bunch of names around. It’s a Midwestern kind of a phrase: “drying the river,” like going out drinking heavily. That was kind of part of it. We didn’t want to make it too folky. We didn’t want to make it completely obscure so that people wouldn’t understand. Dry the River seemed to be a good fit. That’s where it came from.

KAPLAN: Where do you hope you guys will be in five years?

LIDDLE: I guess we just feel like we’re very aware that it’s really difficult to get into a position where you can play live music full-time and you can do it for a living. We always had day jobs. We played in the band on the weekends. We always tried to make ends meet. We just feel really grateful to have a job every day. We never really take anything for granted. We are always grateful to get up on stages and to play in places all around the world. We always enjoy it. For us, on the one hand, if we’re still doing this in one year’s time, two years’ time, five years’ time, I’ll be grateful. We could be back in our day jobs in a year. We love playing live music and playing live shows. We’d like to build our reputation, and if things get better, then that would be great too. If we get more successful, that would be great, but we never really set out to be a huge, massive kind of a band. As long as we still get to do shows every day, we’ll be happy.

DRY THE RIVER WILL BE PLAYING AT MERCURY LOUNGE TONIGHT WITH THE LOOM. THEIR DEBUT LP, SHALLOW BED, WILL BE OUT IN THE US THIS SPRING.