Interview: Duncan Wallis of Dutch Uncles (Part 2)

By on Monday, 13th September 2010 at 12:00 pm

In part 2 of my interview with Duncan Wallis, singer and piano player for Marple indie band Dutch Uncles, we chat about their mate Barry Hyde, the potentially salacious subject matter of upcoming single ‘Fragrant’ and Duncan’s lyric writing process. He makes me laugh, he makes me blush. Read on.

To read part 1 of this interview, click here. Thanks very much to Duncan for his time and Dan for setting this interview up!

Last week I read on your Twitter feed that you had a very special guest in town, Barry Hyde of the Futureheads. So what can you tell us about this collaboration?
Well unfortunately, there’s not enough evidence to kind of really show you what we did. We felt that would have been quite wrong, kind of breaching his friendship since we were in the studio. But we have a couple of tracks where we’re not sure how they’re going to be perceived, and there are a couple of songs that need some work on them. He always wanted to come into a practise room and see how we do it. And we said (to him), “there’s a good couple of days, you can come round if you want. And we’ll show you Marple, where we’re from, and we’ll freak out the locals”. You know, with the Sunderland pop king.
Yeah, I saw on his Facebook that he lists his employers as ‘Futureheads’ and his title as ‘King’. [laughs] So how do you guys know him and Futureheads? You guys toured with them, yes?
Yeah, we toured with them. And we toured with a band called Dananananakroyd, do you know them?
We toured with them last year, in early 09, I’d say about April 2009. When we played with them, their bassist then, Laura, who’s not in the band now…she’s married to Barry. He knew we were playing Newcastle and we were quite excited by it because we hadn’t really met anyone that we’d seen on tv loads, in the industry at that point who was famous that we looked up to. Yeah, we met him and kind of managed to impress him enough within two gigs for him to invite us on tour. And then on the tour we became good mates and friends. All the Futureheads are really nice guys, there was no competition there whatsoever. Obviously there can’t between us and them, they’re far too established. When Frankie and the Heartstrings came on tour as well, do you know them?
Us and Frankie were at similar levels. They were really nice. And everyone just got on so well, there was never any bitchiness at any point. And like I said, Barry listened in every night and started to feel like a Dutch Uncle, I guess! He still gives a lot of advice about all sorts, about being in a band. The Futureheads are a band with a lot of experience of going from high to low to bringing yourself back up. Starting your own label (Nul Records), what is really a punk ethic as it were, the whole DIY thing. He’s got so many stories about that kind of stuff, it’s great to hear about them really. We’ve listened to them for a long time.

So the next single is going to be ‘Fragrant’. It’s going to be released on the 11th of October on Memphis Industries.
Yeah, on the internet. First of November for physical release. Yeah, I dunno why that got changed around. But it’s still 11th of October for the internet. That’s what I know.
So Memphis Industries…is a congratulations in order?
I believe so, yeah.
Am I allowed to talk about this?
Yeah, I think so! I mean, we haven’t signed anything yet. We haven’t put pen to paper, but obviously it’s not going to be just a single. [turns slightly] Hi Sped.
[guitarist Daniel ‘Sped’ Spedding pops his head into the frame, says hello, fills us in on his recording for the day, then disappears for a smoke]

So ‘Fragrant’. What can you tell me about the song? I read the press release and if I’m being perfectly honest, it made me blush, what you allowed to be put into the press release.
That press release thing was what I had originally written for the artist…
…who was doing the cover art?
Yeah, to design the cover. And he wanted to know about the song, he wanted the lyrics. And I gave him those. I was very blunt, I was just trying to get to the point. If I had known it was going into the press release, I would have put a bit more shine to it. Give a bit more mystery. But sadly, yes, it is a song about incest. Obviously no personal experience. I do not have a sister! [laughs]
Basically, I do like to write character songs. ‘Face In’ is a character song, which is why I ended up in a wedding dress. And ‘Doppelganger’ as well off the first album, that’s still a live favourite. They’re not personal, but they’re kind of…it’s like writing theatre or something. It’s writing an act, it’s its own thing. So basically I was watching a film about incest and I had already written a couple sex songs already and I was trying to find a way to spice things up. You can only write love songs and sex songs and death songs, you can only write so many. And when you get to your fifth sex song…there’s only a couple on the album that are ‘carnal desire’ sort of songs, but yeah,I had to make it interesting for myself. And for the song, the concept. Not all the songs have to be heartbreakingly honest. It sounds good. It’s odd, now that it’s out in the press release, I got told off in a radio plug-in for it.
How so?
They said it was too rude! [chuckles]


I guess I need to read the lyrics…when you and Robin were on (an East Village Radio programme) with Mike Joyce the other day, you mentioned you’re going to include a lyrics sheet with the new album.
That’s good, because I’m one of those people who pores over the lyrics and tries to figure out what’s going on inside the writer’s head. As a writer, are you one of those people who has a notebook with you at all times, so you scribble down whatever comes into your head? [Duncan reaches into his back pocket and pulls out a small green notebook] Aha! Me too.
Of course! There used to be a time in the band back in college, if we hadn’t written a song in a month, then I would starting writing on my own. “Oooh! Ideas!” But at the moment, we’ve been so busy with each other and we’ve had so many things going on with the band and with personal lives that it’s been the case where I write when I have to. It was also hard to carry a style for so long. The first album, it was the first 10 songs we had written. This time we’ve written 18, just so many more. It does get a bit tiresome and it does feel a bit more like a job. But I’m still very proud of what I’ve done on this album. A lot of people complained about not having a lyric sheet the first time round, they wanted to know what I was saying. I don’t know why they want to, to me I’m very passe about it all? [looks bashful] To me it’s just words. I’m not Sinatra! Yeah, I’m a crooner, but…yeah, I just hope people don’t think I’m alarmingly boring. It’s about word choice.
Are there certain lyricists you’ve looked to for inspiration or you consider idols? Any songs you’d want to emulate and/surpass?
Back in the day, when we started Dutch Uncles and had our ‘new sound’ as it was back then, it was a simply a case of, I would listen to Morrissey for a week. Then everything I would write would sound like Morrissey, so that didn’t really work. Then I found a good thing, listening to David Byrne of Talking Heads. I found that I wasn’t trying to write music like he did, I realised that when I listened to the way he wrote lyrics, his concept, it made my head go blank. And that was a really good thing, it just went right [makes a whooshing sound]. There were no formulas now. You just write what you dig. I never really followed anyone. I haven’t tried to emulate or copy anyone. I’ve analysed a lot of singers. I realised with a lot of singers, there’s rhythms to their word choice. But I haven’t tried to make a homage to anyone. Like Ian Curtis of Joy Division for example. The way he constantly…his lyrics are just constantly couplets, all the time. And it never really changed in that band. And it’s interesting to see one guy do the same rhythm all the time. But how does he make it interesting or intriguing? How does he keep you interested? Stuff like that. When you figure out how he does that, then you know what to do.

You mentioned the ‘Face In’ video and the wedding dress. So are there plans to have a video for ‘Fragrant’?
Yeah, there are. If we’ve got time to do one, we have some ideas. No cross-dressing but maybe some nudity.
You know, regarding the cross-dressing, you can always say the Cribs copied you. Have you seen the cover of their new single? They’ve become cross-dressers.
Are they? There’s cross-dressing and there’s a cross-dressing in a wedding. Those are two very different things.
So I was thinking, if they did that for ‘Face In’, what are they going to do for ‘Fragrant’?
I don’t want to give it away but we’ve got some very radical different ideas. Could be anything from poker games to oil spills. That’s all I can really say about it. There may not be a video for it anyway. But if there isn’t, we’ll be annoyed about it and sad about it. If there isn’t a video, we’ll definitely make sure there is one for the next one.

Final question: so when can we expect the second album? And I guess the other question is, do you have an album title yet?
We have a couple of ideas, a couple strong ideas. But I can’t say.
When do you think the album will be out? Where are you in the recording process? I think on the radio session the other day you said you had four songs done…? Is that about right?
Four songs finished. Everything we’ve released so far, so that’ll be two singles and two b-sides. We’re finishing the other 14 or so now. When I say “we’re finishing them off’, we’re recording, nearly all of them are in the top 90% of finished. I would say an album in the first half of next year, definitely. We’re not far off at all. But I don’t know, I’ve yet to see any ‘plan’, I don’t know what the plan is yet. But we’ll find out soon.
A lot of people are excited to get their hands on the new material, judging from people I’ve talked to on the internet. ‘The Ink’ was great, I thought it was excellent. Good luck with everything, I hope recording goes really well. And you guys don’t kill each other in the process.
We’re out of the darkness on this, we can see the light at the end of the tunnel.
That’s good.
One thing that I didn’t get to say about the lyrics…whatever I write, I have to make sure, whatever I write, I can dance around!

Dutch Uncles are touring the UK as support for Sky Larkin this month starting on the 14th – for more details, click here.

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