maxwell barna chats with British alt-rockers The Dunwells, who visit The Saint in Asbury Park, N.J. this week …
This interview is about a band that many of you have most likely never heard of. But that part isn’t important. What’s important is that you will. They’re a jolly band of gents from across the pond, and they’ve been shaking things up here in the U.S. since their first trip out last year. They are The Dunwells. And as I said before, nevermind that you don’t know them, because you will — probably sooner than later. They play a very, very tight mix of electric and acoustic folk, coupled with complex five-part harmonies and catchy chord progressions that have been captivating audiences both at home and abroad.
While many of the more popular folk rock bands out today try to sound like the inside of their favorite hometown dive bar — dingy, sticky, broken down, but unexplainably intimate and familiarly comforting — The Dunwells are turning the scene on its head. They’re tight, crisp and polished, and from where we’re sitting, they deliver one hell of a live show.
In reviews, many critics tend to place them in the same boat as Mumford & Sons, and I’m not necessarily sure why. Don’t get me wrong, Mumford & Sons are a great band, and the two would probably do very well on a bill together (cough cough, promoters), but The Dunwells are in a class of their own. Their sound is impeccable, and their music is catchy — perhaps even a bit poppy.
The band’s guitarist and singer, Joe Dunwell, was kind enough to give me a few minutes of his time last week, after the band had just arrived in the U.S. to begin their month-long tour of the States. As we spoke, they were in Memphis, Tenn., enjoying some home-style BBQ at the very popular Charles Vergos’ Rendezvous. We spoke about their experiences here, how their recently released record Blind Sighted Faith is doing, and what it was like to record in Willie Nelson’s studio with John Porter, the former Roxy Music bassist and Smiths producer, manning the sound board.
And don’t forget to check these boys out tomorrow night, March 6 at The Saint, in Asbury Park, N.J. One of the openers is Pop-Break’s own Brent Johnson and his band, The Clydes. This show will be one for the history books, folks.
Pop-Break: So you guys just got here Wednesday, yes? How was the flight?
Joe Dunwell: It was a long flight. The TVs on the back of the chair were broken, so …
PB: You guys played Memphis last night. Tell me about it.
JD: We did! We played a TV show at 7 o’clock in the morning, and then we played about eight shows after that throughout the day. And then we had one official showcase at 10 o’clock that night.
PB: Holy hell. Eight shows in one day? How are you holdin’ up?
JD: Yeah, I was completely burnt out by the end of yesterday. [laugh] Yeah, it’s good fun though. It’s been amazing.
PB: From what I’ve read, this isn’t your first time in America, yes? Where in America have you been? What did you like the best about the experience?
JD: We’ve been up twice. The first time we came out for the Folk Alliance [Conference], and the second time we came out to Austin, Texas, to record the album. The fact that it [playing the Folk Alliance Conference] was our first time in America, we soaked all of it up. The official showcase, we actually paid a lot of money to play that showcase. And when we walked off there were people just throwing themselves at us. That was just unbelievable. And we didn’t do anything different than we normally do. It just happened, and it was just a surreal movement. After that one show, our lives completely turned around.
PB: Now, from what I understand, you gents are going to be here until mid-March, and will conclude the tour at South By Southwest.
JD: Yes, and then we go to Colorado after South By Southwest.
PB: Where are you most excited to play, and what are you looking forward to doing and seeing while here?
JD: Personally, I can’t wait to go see New York. In England, all the TV shows that we watch, they’re all filmed in New York. Just to go visit that place would be amazing.
PB: How different is it from home?
JD: America’s so much bigger. In America, there seems to be more opportunities — especially musically and with meeting people. And everybody loves music out here. In England, not everyone likes all types of music, and they’re less open to different things. I like that the Americans have accepted us as English people.
PB: Blind Sighted Faith just came out a couple weeks ago, right? How’s it doing so far?
JD: It came out Tuesday [Feb. 14], Valentine’s Day. Ehm, we don’t have any exact figures in. We’ve been with Kevin for the past couple of days, and he says it’s doing very well.
PB: How long did the album take to record?
JD: It took three weeks, exactly. We were in the studio for three weeks solid. What an amazing experience.
PB: What was it like to record with someone like John Porter? That’s big time stuff, man … In Willie Nelson’s studio, no less!
JD: Like I said, after that showcase that we did out there, our lives completely turned around. And then we’ve been doing all this stuff, and … We’re really just soaking it in. We’re so grateful, but yet, we’re just trying to make the best record that we can. We’re just happy to have the opportunities we’ve been given, really.
PB: It’s always easy to ask this question to a band’s fans, but I’ve noticed that when put on the spot about it, musicians tend to clam up. So, I’m curious –- out of the 11 tracks on the album, which one is your personal favorite? Why?
JD: When I listen to the album … I’ve listened to it a couple times, and then I’ll put it down for a couple of months, and then I’ll listen to it again. So at the moment, my favorite track would have to be “In The Moment.” Just for the fact that we wrote it out in Texas and it was almost like a full stop for the album. We wrote that, and it went straight on the album. That was kind of like the finished product, the full stop to the album.
PB: I saw the video montage for “I Could Be A King” and read the description. I think your views about the need to respect working class people are very noble. Could you elaborate on these views for me? Why do they resonate so well with you? Why was “I Could Be A King” used as the music for the montage?
JD: What we did with that montage video is we took footage that has been important throughout history. I’m not up to date with all the history that’s on the montage video, but I just think “I Could Be A King” just fits all the images throughout that video. Some of the stuff that went on there are the views of the other band members. I chose the World Cup ’66 because that was a thing that I was proud of. The rest of the guys chose other images. And then we put it together and I could be a king just seemed to stay together perfectly.
PB: What, in your mind, was the point of the montage?
JD: Just to say these people have done these things, which have affected history. And I’m not saying you have to go out there and respect this shit, but you can just do something that makes a difference in your life. You can do anything you want.
PB: Aside from the tour, what should the world expect from The Dunwells in 2012?
JD: We’ve got the tour booked in, and then after that we go back to England, where we’re constantly writing. So, I think just writing, and plenty and plenty of gigs. We come back out to America in August, and we do radio stations and TV then.
PB: Now, you’re an English guy, so I expect this answer to be good. It’s a question I ask everyone I interview, so you absolutely must answer it. If you were stuck on a desert island, and could drink only one beer for the rest of your life — one single beer — what would it be?
JD: My beer of choice would be Guinness. Guinness has got all the vitamins and protein in it. You can drink a few pints of Guinness a day and still be able to live. [laughs]
PB: And finally, since I know you’re in Memphis pigging out on some good home-cooked BBQ, I got to ask: Where are you guys at right now? What are you eating?
JD: We are at the Rendezvous Bar and Grill [Charles Vergos’ Rendezvous]. I actually don’t know what street we’re on. [laughs] We’re eatin some BBQ. It’s gorgeous!