An Interview with Eoin Loveless of Drenge
Macthehack finds Eoin Loveless of Drenge in a relaxed mood and happy to shoot the breeze on anything from their extraordinary second album, Undertow, to the creative aspects of working in a box factory and having the new Deputy Leader of the Labour party as a fan.
Louder Than War: Let’s go back to the beginning. What were you listening to when you first picked up a guitar?
It’s clear that you’re first and foremost a music fan, but you’re also very self critical.
What I was writing at first was a bit tepid and then I realised the importance of a riff and the fact that the guitar is the most aggressive instrument. Just take a listen to Running Wild, the opening track on Undertow, and you’ll see how well that lesson’s been learned!
My interest in Drenge stemmed not just from liking your music, but from wondering how youcould make such a leap from 2013’s debut Drenge which was the unchanneled fury of youth, to Undertow’s almost heavy metal impact. In fact that first album – you’ve said it feels like it was never written?
Your first record is always just the songs that you played in pubs & bars. The first album wasn’t written as an album, (other than) a couple of songs that were written for the album. With Undertow, when we went in I had a really clear idea of what I wanted it to sound like when we’d finished it. That stuff always changes but I feel like, unlike most stuff that I do, the finished thing came out much like I intended it to. I had a talk with Rory about it “what d’you want this new album to be like? We’ve got to plan it, we’ve got to think about it. What sort of sounds are we going to go for, do we want it to edgy or soft? Do we wanna have long songs, slow songs, no choruses – do we want tuneless noise all the way through the record? So I was really thinking about it and Rory was just like “let’s just go in and record some songs!”
But I just couldn’t shake the thought that we would will only get the chance to make so many records in our lifetime – so you should just go in with the purest mentality to try to work towards something. The first record I feel was much heavier, but we weren’t as hot on out instruments as we are after two years of touring. After it’s released your relationship with a record distances, as people start giving their opinions of it. There was a breakthrough moment when me and Rory were just sat in our mum’s car listening to it and it just allowed us to think about what that record was, what we wanted to keep, and where we wanted to go after that.
So what comes first?
Lyrics are always months after – but I am trying to change my attitude to that. But the tune always come first because I believe the tune should be just as visual as the lyric, so I take a physical location and write music to match that location and then add lyrics, not to describe that location, but to add a sense of place.
It’s true that in places Undertow appears softer – less in your face but does it have a dark mood?
Being on the road is a very peculiar thing and to then come back and (have to) work out where everyone else is in relation to you. We’ve had some close bereavements to deal with too. There was like a week when we were recording the album where our producer had to go to three different funerals in one week. It had started two weeks before; there’d been a phone call while we were in the studio, and the next day and then two days later, so it was just an incredibly emotional time to be in the studio. Trying to make music, when you’ve a lot of other stuff going on in your head. It was a peculiar, emotional time.’
Being a relatively young band, who’ve grown up with digital music, what’s our take on selling records or streaming your music for free?
I think it’s a bizarre conversation from the industry perspective, because everyone is a music consumer, so at the end of the day even the CEO of Sony Records has the need to go and listen to music – at least you’d hope so. So once I had a mobile phone which I could download with a Spotify subscription – I’m using i) on tour, so I still feel like an active consumer of a streaming service and I’ve been trying out iTunes, to see if it has more stuff that’s relevant to me.
I always listen to music, if I’m on a bus, or going for a walk, or if I’m moving. If I’m on my own – I’m usually making, or listening to music. Do I buy records? Yes, but only if I really like them and can afford them. Do I buy CD’s? No, I usually just buy the vinyl record and stick them in a box and every couple of Sunday’s I’ll sit down and make some coffee, put on some records and just chill out for an entire morning or afternoon. That’s my way of consuming music. But I also go and see a lot of live bands when we’re not on tour.
What do Drenge have to do to survive in the music business long term?
Our band, we had a really heathy advance from Infectious records that’s definitely helped us, but (can we) sell the records to make back that advance? No one’s buying records, so there’s more focus on synching your music up to TV shows, films, adverts or video games – stuff like that. We’re still super careful about what our music gets aligned with – there was a UFC TV in the US, who wanted to use our music to what was like, two guys beating the shit out of each other in a cage and we were not comfortable with that! But there was a racing game and they asked to use our music and that was like “OK cool”. I feel you can’t have that conversation anymore that selling your music is like selling out because if you wanna make a living out of music – which is what we want to do – I really like the idea of being a musician full time.
You’re obviously a realist who understands what it takes to play the game – without letting Drenge get attached to anything you’re not happy with, which might just mean you come out the other side intact. But enough of the business side of things, what is influencing Drenge now and what will be in the future?
We meet a lot of people through music and sometimes I’m not sure if it’s them or the music I like. Sometimes it can just become too much, trying to stay on the pulse of what’s relevant and what people are talking about and rather than going out searching for it, just let the music come to you. Sometimes guitar music can feel like a dead end, there’s only so may songs that we can write or only so many guitar sounds that you can make. Then I’ll just go out an listen to a bunch of classical music.
Or what I’ve found really interesting lately is listening to musicians interviewing musicians in podcasts online. You just hear two people talk in a very pure musician to musician way, when there’s no journalistic stuff going on, about stuff that doesn’t even relate to music half the time. It’s very interesting to hear how people talk about being creative, being on the road, how they got into music in a way that’s really candid – musicians just open up to other musicians, regardless of genre or whatever. I’d really like to start up musician to musician interviews. I just think it’s really good to talk to other musicians. There’s already a really good one called No Effects https://noeffectsshow.com/ which we featured on and I discovered them that way, by a guy called Jesse Cohen, from the band Tanlines, which is like New York electro-dance pop, and it’s super interesting.
Are there any other major sources of inspiration for you?
I had a job in a box factory, where you made cardboard boxes – it was one of the dullest jobs on paper. But what it allowed you to do was switch your mind off from the task that was in front of you and that meant you had an entire 8 hour window to really just think about the most out there stuff, listen to as much music as you wanted to listen to and think about your creative position in the world and what you want to do next. So I can get inspired by manual labour. Or nature. Just being out in nature.
You’re just about to set out on your sixth trip to the USA. Do you like it over there?
It does feel different, because we do a lot of plus 21 shows over there – our music isn’t just for over 21s so it’s weird how heavily live music’s controlled by the alcohol industry. It’s just frustrating when we have a really fervent young fanbase in the UK and you’ll never see that in the States, it just doesn’t work like that. But it is a great place to play shows, so much of the music that’s influenced our band and so many British bands, comes from the States.
It’s such an inspirational place to be. There are so many different environments you cann drive through, the forests in Oregon, the deserts in California, or just the crazy metropolis of New York, or all the greenery, the trees and lakes as you drive up to Boston. For me I feel like my brain’s on overtime over there – it feels very rewarding to travel around the States.
Now of course touring means Drenge as a three piece band, with the addition of live bassist Rob Graham since 2014. What difference is Rob making to gigs?
The gigs are heavier, I guess and since Rob’s joined us it allows us to take more risks, we’re tighter now.
And finally, we come to the inevitable Tom Watson question. Well we are just down the road from his constituency, after all. It’s become almost a matter of urban myth that Watson namechecked Drenge in his 2013 resignation letter from Labour’s front bench. It’s something Drenge were not totally overjoyed about at the time, but now?
Out of all the MPs there are, he’s always believed in what he believes in and stayed true to that – and I think that’s really important. At least it’s not like a fucking Conservative minister trying to be trendy! And he genuinely likes live music, if you follow him on Twitter he’s always going “I’m liking this new band at the moment – check them out” he’s just a super interesting guy, he went against Murdoch when no one else would. He has the guts to go for stuff that other MPs won’t because they worry about what it would do to their careers.’
I hadn’t heard of him before he talked about our band, but now I couldn’t name a politician who I’d like to be into our band more than him.
Which is as good a place as any to leave it. Eoin Loveless is a man who knows where he’s going and will be making sure that Drenge keep picking up the right sort of supporters. So don’t expect to hear Drenge on any American wrestling shows any time soon, or at a Tory party conference for that matter.
All of which confirms Drenge as a band with great taste as well as great songs.
Drenge will be touring the UK with The Maccabees in November
All words by macthehack, part time punk (retired), sometime freelance scribbler on music, sport and television, when not trying to hold down a day job. Jaundiced views and biased rants available on an irregular basis at teatoastrockroll.blogspot