Just months after releasing “No Rest,” the first single off their debut album, the song title is becoming more and more apropos for East London's Dry the River. The band are booked solid until the holidays, bouncing between the U.S. and their home country. With no shortage of English indie folk acts planting themselves in America for tour season, finding success as a band is sweeter when they can avoid being lumped into the genre.
“I think we change people's opinions as a matter of course, if they come to shows,” says guitarist Matthew Taylor. “Especially if they're expecting a Mumford and Sons concert.”
It usually doesn't take long for their emotional tornado of dynamic guitar and soaring choirboy vocals to obliterate comparisons to their contemporaries. Building a reputation since 2009, the band made their anticipated full-length debut this past spring with Shallow Bed. The blend of Antony and the Johnsons and Sigur Ros borders on angelic—built on the slow, stirring foundation of Taylor, bassist Scott Miller, drummer Jon Warren, multi-instrumentalist Will Harvey and vocalist /guitarist Peter Liddle. On singles such as “New Ceremony” and “The Chambers and the Valves,” they capture the pomp of prime ELO, but with their own particular sparkling arrangements in need of very little, if any, recording-studio magic.
“From a song-shaping perspective, most of what we actually play and what forms the basis of a song comes from playing live. Parts written in the studio are normally just embellishments of what we have there already,” Taylor says. “We play live so much it was easy to get our individual parts to a place we were relatively happy with before entering the studio. Whether it will be the same for our next record, I'm unsure.”
Taylor himself acknowledges a wide range of sources the band mates draw on for their particular fusion. “If you were to ask our rhythm section, you'd have some '70s progressive genius. For me, from a guitar standpoint, I would say Neil Young has had a big influence. That emphasis on just feeling one note for a whole minute blows me away.”
When it comes to creating music-video magic, however, these guys are freaking wizards—at least in the art of choosing concepts. During the heart-wrenching chorus of “No Rest,” few images could've possibly illustrated the stripped-down, emotional poetry of the chorus (“I loved you in the bed/I loved in the best way possible”) better than the sight of each band member lying on a pyre of stones, doused with water and surrounded by fire. With more than a million hits on YouTube, it's clear the passion of the band is resonating with people.
Taylor speaks with pride about what's been their busiest year yet. “There have been a couple of moments at festivals this summer that were incredibly gratifying because they were so unexpected. If you're jumping up and down at a Dry the River show, to me, you're really giving it all you've got. That's not an easy thing to do with our song tempos—and pull it off!” As for the future, he's curious where one of his band mates may yet end up.
“We don't have lofty goals. The music industry is difficult to survive in. All we want to do is keep going and be able to play to people all over the world. I think Scott wants his own TV show; I'd say we're on our way to that. I can't think of any other indie-rock bass players becoming TV presenters. If there are, I want to hear about them!”
This article appeared in print as “Testing the Waters: Dry the River cross the pond and prove that not all English folk acts sound the same.”