Dutch Uncles

Manchester’s Dutch Uncles are a young group looking likely to leave their mark on 2013 with their third (and arguably best) album Out of the Wild. We quizzed frontman Duncan Wallis on why songwriting needs to be dangerous and what it’s like being the third best band in Marple…

Jim Ottewill
  • By Jim Ottewill
  • 18 Jul 2013
  • min read
Marple’s Dutch Uncles are a much championed indie four piece who stand out like a sore thumb in the constant glut of young, skinny guitar toting acts doing the rounds.

And there are a variety of reasons why. The odd name, frontman Duncan’s impressive stage moves, a dangerously unhealthy love of Prince and their ambitious pop songs all add up to a group far more intriguing and exciting than your average.

Dutch Uncles originally set up camp to the left side of mainstream pop back in 2009 with their self-titled debut album before hooking up with Memphis Industries to release Cadenza back in 2011.

Out of the Wild is their third full length record and sees the band paying homage to their myriad influences (everything from Kate Bush through to Neu!) across the 11 tracks. It’s the sound of an innovative band using strings, analogue synths and an innate pop sense to spread their creative wings and take flight. Although with the Dutch Uncles, it’s in perhaps the least obvious and sometimes weirdest ways possible.

M quizzed frontman Duncan ahead of their performance at this weekend’s Tramlines festival, on songwriting, having a burger named after them and why new guitar bands should lighten up…

Can you recall the first songs which inspired you?

The first song which got me into guitar bands was a remix of Christina Aguilera and The Strokes - A Stroke of Genie-us. It’s a mash up of Hard to Explain and Genie In A Bottle. I saw it on a music TV channel. That turned me onto the Strokes and it started from there.

The first song before that was White Town’s Your Woman. My uncle recorded the video because he had cable. He posted it to me and both the song and the video have always stuck with me.

How did you get into music making?

I started out as a drummer. I remember hearing that Strokes song and thinking ‘I want to make a song like that’. I bought a third hand drum kit from my friends from the skate park and just taught myself the drum beats. I met the other four in the band after that. They’d been playing together for a while and I wasn’t as good a drummer as Andy so decided to go on vocals.

How has the songwriting developed over the records?

You would logically think you get better at songwriting as you go along. But it can be harder in the sense that once you’ve done a song in a certain way, you’re always pressuring yourself to find something different to either write about or make a sound.

At the same time, we’re more confident with our influences and our more garish moments of writing. Our latest single Flexxin has been our most successful single to date. But we were quite scared of it when we first came up with it.

The more you get used to writing, the more you get used to crossing the line. And you kind of realise that you have to. It gets more dangerous.

How do you go about writing your songs?

Back during our first and second albums, Robin [Richards, bassist] wrote all the original music. His ideas were finished when he presented them.

On these more recent albums, with our producer Brendan Williams, he’s become a silent sixth member of the band. We work very closely with him. And we’re coming to a point where Robin is only bringing in a riff for us to work with.

We’re also presenting our ideas to each other much sooner than we used to. I recently read about David Byrne and the Speaking in Tongues album. He was literally just making mouth noises and putting words to those mouth noises and presenting the idea from the very start. I like that approach.

Do you think your environment have had much of an impact on the music? 

Marple hasn’t really. It’s a weird place which we only go back to for Sunday lunch. At the same time as we were coming through, the likes of Egyptian Hip Hop and Delphic were coming out too. We regarded ourselves as the third best band from Marple.

I guess that friendly competition has been an inspiration. But we don’t have a lot of great memories of growing up there.

I've read that Flexxin was inspired by sharing a bill with Prince - could you explain more?

Prince was announced as the third headliner at the Hop Farm Festival. I jumped on the phone to our manager Dan saying ‘you’ve got to get us on this’. It was all very short notice. Our team pulled through and we were something like third or fourth on a different stage. But it was basically a free ticket to go and see Prince. And we agreed at the time that it was and probably still is the best show any of us have ever seen.

There were four encores alongside an hour and a half set with only ten songs. Purple Rain last for 20 minutes. The stamina was amazing. Purple pants, purple piano, purple high heels. He had everything.

A few days after that Rob came to me with a song he was code naming Pronce. Before we started doing the song seriously, he just showed me the music and I went ‘I thought you were out going to outprince me.’ And I tried to ‘outprince’ him lyrically.

I was coming up with these ridiculous lyrics. ‘I was waiting on your muscle to make a stand and if that makes you the man, I'll say you the man’ - all these daft couplets. We changed it just enough for their not to be any more plagiarism problems. It’s just turned out to be a nice homage to the ‘Purple One’.

What’s the song you’ve written which you’re most pleased with?

There’s a song on the new album called Phaedra. I’ve always been quite proud of it as I didn’t show it to the rest of the band until it came to recording the vocal. When they heard it, they said ‘that’s the first kind of complete song you’ve ever written’. It’s got a beginning, middle and end. And was written in about five minutes. When you have those moments, you kind of feel that you should be doing what you’re doing. It’s encouraging and makes you excited to write songs again.

You had the Godboy Burger named after you earlier in the year - does the burger still exist?

It was a limited edition burger and this was back in January so if they were still hanging around now, they’d be a bit rank. But unfortunately, the pop up burger joint burnt down last week. So for now there is no Almost Famous burger joint at the moment.

There are plans for it to rise again. It was a damn good burger.

Have you any advice for aspiring songwriters?

Always have an element of hurmour to your songwriting. There’s a very serious kind of presentation of guitar bands in the UK which is uber cool. We always remember the Smiths and everyone thought Morrissey was being miserable but he was just being incredibly sarcastic most of the time. That was his humour. I’m not saying we have to write joke songs. But it needs to be funny for yourself. It must be incredibly exhausting to be so serious all the time.