Words: Jamie MacMillan. Photo: Steve Gullick.
“OH MY GOD! No, I can’t tell you who pissed on my leg in the supermarket!” roars Flo Shaw. “Access denied. ACCESS DENIED!” As the rest of the band fall about in hysterics, the truth behind one of 2021’s most intriguing lyrics evades Dork once more. Welcome to the weird and wonderful world of Dry Cleaning, a group that is just as happy talking about Absolute Nonsense as they are the music. Our kind of band, then.
It’s been a while. The last time we caught up with the London band at the tail-end of 2019, we were huddled in the dressing room at The Lexington just before they took to the stage for a show that confirmed their impending Greatness. With a setlist taken from just two EPs, there was a real electricity in the air that you find at those gigs where you just know that this is the last chance to see someone play the smaller venues for the last time. The world was theirs for the taking, and as they signed to 4AD a short while later, it seemed that it was coming calling for them.
And then, 2020 happened. Though it didn’t disrupt the band too much (with the exception of tour cancellation), life away from the road meant that they could, however, concentrate on what came next instead. And what comes next, as it turns out, is one exceptional debut record.
‘New Long Leg’ delivers on all the early hype and then some. Its first single, ‘Scratchcard Lanyard’ was the first clue that the band have levelled up, Florence’s trademark witty, monotone vocals and some seriously dazzling guitar work from Tom Dowse seeing the band reaching favourite status with his Royal Indie Holiness Steve Lamacq amongst others. Quietly confident in what they’ve got in the bag, the band are in a good mood today.
“The recording plan didn’t change really,” Florence begins, as Tom instantly and expertly drops out of the Zoom chat. “It’s because I’ve had the vaccine; they’re watching me,” he explains on his return, as the band take me through their journey of the last year or so.
“There was loads of confidence from the success of the first two EPs,” offers bassist Lewis Maynard. “And also having a label behind you makes you feel differently too.” With the only instruction from 4AD being to “just do what you’ve been doing”, the band leapt at the chance to build their world on an even wider platform than before with their distinctive style untouched.
“I’m a sausage roll”Flo Shaw
Music with a spoken-word ‘slant’ might have been around as long as, well, music, but Dry Cleaning have managed to transform it into something completely their own. With each member bringing their own specific set of influences to the mix, what follows on the record is a thrilling ride through the genres. From the proto-metal of ‘Unsmart Lady’ to the early-era REM vibes of the title-track, familiarity with avant-garde rubs shoulders with classic post-punk and dance vibes. Running through it all, Florence Shaw and her dry observations on the world feel like you’ve somehow nicked her stream of consciousness as she thinks about eating a hot dog for hours. There’s so much going on on each track; this upgrade on what was already good feels almost dizzying at points.
“I think there are lots of different reasons for that,” explains Tom. “We’ve been a band for a lot longer, and the range of influences we’re sharing is a bit different now. You start to realise how you can chuck in some influences that weren’t obvious to begin with and look for ways that you can weave it into Dry Cleaning without making it ‘not’ Dry Cleaning any more. You put on Curtis Mayfield, then you chuck on Converge. And then Flo puts stuff on, and it all just starts meshing in your head. As soon as you get into a practice space, your head is already in this really fertile cloud of sounds.”
“Also, someone bought him a guitar tuner for Christmas,” interrupts Lewis, always happy to undercut any deep talk with some nonsense – which makes him a Friend Of Dork, tbh.
“Because I’ve been influenced by Nick’s taste in music, for example,” Tom finishes. “On tracks like ‘Leafy’, my guitar is really repetitive because I was listening to all his dance music.” That sense of playful exploration runs through all of ‘New Long Leg’, one of those rarest of albums where no two tracks sound the same yet all undeniably Dry Cleaning-y.
Ever since their earliest days, they have always been a band that concentrates on creating and finalising their music in the studio, rather than letting their tracks evolve their on the road first. After all, their debut EP ‘Sweet Princess’ was recorded before their first gig, while the follow up ‘Boundary Road Snacks And Drinks’ followed after only a handful of performances. Recording the album was no different, with the band jamming until they spotted snippets they could build on. “Many of our best moments come from us jamming, just before we have an idea. So maybe we’re rubbish at what we do?” laughs Lewis. “Out of a ten-minute jam, we might find a really nice moment to build on.”
“I think between us, we’re quite good at trusting one another,” explains Florence. “There might be something that no-one’s crazy about, but one of us will be like ‘this is really fucking good.” This approach is already paving the way for album two. “We’ve always got too many songs; we’ve already got another 30 or 40 ideas for the next album.”
For drummer Nick Buxton, this was a completely new experience for him. “Every band I’ve ever been in, you hone the songs by going out and playing them live. And they do change a lot, sometimes in really interesting ways,” he says. “But working with John [producer John Parish, best known for his work with PJ Harvey] gave me the confidence that you don’t necessarily need to do that. He gives you the swag and confidence that you might be able to do something from scratch in the studio. It’s quite eye-opening.”
“I don’t try to make songs apolitical, because I feel like everything’s political”Flo Shaw
Florence admits to feeling the pressure though. “There was one night where I was up really late,” she remembers. “Being like, fuck, everyone’s really excited about this song, but I don’t have any fucking words for it. And John is friendly and relaxed, but he’s the kind of guy where there’s no way where you can be like, I haven’t really got anything. But it’s in a good way; it makes you pull your finger out.”
Diving into topics ranging from personal day-to-day observations to geopolitical issues like Brexit, her lyrics end up as varied and fluid as the music around her. “It’s just impossible to keep that sort of thing out of songs for me, and I don’t try to,” she admits. “I don’t try to make them apolitical because I feel like everything’s political. And it’s a fool’s errand for people to try and opt-out of it. But I think it’s better to present facts and let other people think about it.”
By the final track on the record, the superb ‘Every Day Carry’, her words spill out at a ridiculous rate as her notebooks are emptied of favourite lines and unused gems in a full stream of consciousness. The constant tinkering with tracks in the studio did catch some of the band out, as Lewis and Nick found to their surprise when their “long crazy outro” to ‘Her Hippo’ was cut from the final track whilst they popped to the supermarket for lunch. A valuable reminder, if needed, to always bring your lunch to the studio, guys.
Talk of going for lunch soon turns to what seems to be a favourite pastime of Dry Cleaning. Food. “Was I hungry in the studio? Someone else asked me that. HA!” wails Florence, no surprise when nearly every track references food and eating. Oven chips, cream buns, hot dogs, sushi counters. Food everywhere.
It’s enough to make anyone ravenous, and sure enough, halfway through our chat, Nick produces a doughnut from nowhere, saying he can’t wait. We never miss a chance to get right to the heart of the matter, and today’s no different as we ask the band what baked good do you think they are? And YES, we know a doughnut isn’t a baked good. The answers were enlightening. “I’m a sausage roll,” shouts Florence immediately, showing typical singer behaviour in taking the most popular position before anyone else can get there. “I ate one a few minutes ago, still got greasy hands,” she explains with more honesty than was necessary. “I love baked goods,” sighs Nick, raving about the selection in Tesco’s before staking his claim to be a cheese straw. It’s when the spotlight moves to Lewis that things really start to get confusing. “A bau bun, I’m also fluffy to poke,” is his worrying response, before the band reveal that they had to invent him an imaginary girlfriend over lockdown called ‘Jackie Potato’. “Hang on, that really sums up my love life, and it’s really sad,” he implores while the band all make Dork promise to put this in the actual feature. Tom soon rescues him from the conversation by not knowing the difference between a pain au chocolat and a chocolate croissant, and honestly, by now, Dork is ready to devour an entire supermarket aisle. “We really enjoy food,” adds Nick needlessly, approximately 23 minutes later. The doughnut remained uneaten.
Things unravel further the longer we chat, from Lewis’ secret past in a Black Sabbath tribute band called Rat Salad and whether the band feel that John Wick could host the Antiques Roadshow or Fiona Bruce could become a hitwoman (verdict – they could). It’s blindingly obvious that this is a band that just enjoy being together (virtually or otherwise) and talking nonsense, the laughs flowing loudly and often. But there is a darker side, of course – that of Florence’s ability to spot a misplaced comment a mile away and immortalise it in a song. “Are people wary of what they say to me? I don’t think so?” she replies, at the exact same time that the band say otherwise, Tom and Lewis both pointing out those times when they know that they’ve said something stupid as they see her quietly reaching for her phone or notebook mid-conversation. “Well… there’s nothing they can do about it by then,” she grins. “NOTHING YOU CAN DO!” while poor Lewis tries to respond.
As a magazine that says stupid things on an alarmingly regular basis, we are nervous, but only time (and album two) will tell us whether we got away with it. As for right now, we’re off to the supermarket. Who’s hungry?
LISTEN WHEN YOU’RE SPOKEN TO..
Here’s some more talky music to check out. Technical term.
Being labelled a ‘post-punk poet’ might seem reductive, but they’ve got a point here. One of the most interesting, enigmatic and hypnotic live artists around, it’s no surprise IDLES have snapped her up as one of their many, many tour supports next year.
PLAY A Thing You Call Joy
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It’s hard to overstate the impact that ‘Original Pirate Material’ landed back in 2002, its tales of working-class life to a soundtrack clash of UK garage and not-quite-but-nearly hip hop making Mike Skinner one of the Unlikeliest Pop Stars ever. Still sounds timeless; we’ve eaten many of our favourite late-night kebabs to this. Still miss that dog from ‘Dry Your Eyes’ too.
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Responsible for precisely 98.3% of post-punk indie bands around today, Mark E. Smith’s distinctive rambling vocals have *obviously* spawned an entire genre of imitators. He’s got a lot to answer for, but don’t blame him just yet. There is some serious gold in most of The Fall’s 3849 albums, though, so good luck.
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Look, you can’t expect us to talk about spoken word legends without mentioning Phil Daniels. Truly a god amongst mortals, he gets up when he wants except on Wednesdays etc. etc. You know the rest. Responsible for what is still one of the all-time bangers, we are very sorry for everyone else on this list, but it’s got nothing to do with your Vorsprung dutch Technik, you know?
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Taken from the April 2021 edition of Dork, out now. Dry Cleaning’s album ‘New Long Leg’ is out 2nd April.