2015 Artist Survey: Dutch Uncles
Duncan Wallis on Music Streaming, Taylor Swift, Trump, Early Musical Memories, Disastrous Dates, and Haunting Moments
For Under the Radar's 13th annual Artist Survey we emailed some of our favorite artists a few questions relating to 2015. We asked them about their favorite albums of the year and their thoughts on various notable 2015 news stories involving either the music industry or world events, as well as some quirkier personal questions.
Check out our Best of 2015 print and digital issues for answers from Arcade Fire's Will Butler, Julien Baker, Blanck Mass, CHVRCHES, Dan Deacon, The Dears, EL VY, Everything Everything, Father John Misty, Field Music, The Flaming Lips, How to Dress Well, Sondre Lerche, Low, Luna, Mew, NZCA Lines, Cullen Omori, Natalie Prass, Small Black, Surfer Blood, Tamaryn, Telekinesis, Vampire Weekend's Chris Baio, The Walkmen, Youth Lagoon, and others.
A shorter version of this interview ran in the Best of 2015 print issue, which is still on newsstands now. This is the full unedited version of the interview.
Top 10 Albums of 2015
1. Kendrick Lamar: To Pimp a Butterfly
2. Stealing Sheep: Not Real
3. La Priest: Inji
4. Outfit: Slowness
5. Arthur Russell: Corn
6. Romare: Projections
7. Everything Everything: Get to Heaven
8. Sherwood at the Controls: Volume 1: 1979-1984
9. Tame Impala: Currents
10. D'Angelo: Black Messiah
What was the highlight of 2015, for either you personally or for the band? What was the low point?
Low points are always easier to pick, so I'll start with that. I'd say our low point this year was when our guitarist Sped left the band. It's not because of the timing of it (a week before the album release), and it was probably the most mutual thing to have ever happened to us, ever. But announcing it on stage for the first time (before it was public knowledge) was a very exposing moment. It felt like we had both failed at a friendship and that we weren't allowed to hide it, which didn't feel fair because we're not bad people and these things just happen. A high point would have to be the support tour we just finished with Garbage celebrating the 20th anniversary of their debut album. It was very nostalgic, not that they wanted it to be so-they referred to it as a retrospective, which is certainly a more honest way to describe it, but it couldn't be helped when you get to hear songs you remember seeing on The Box as a child. They were one of my first impressions as a band on music television so it was a real trip to get to see Shirley Manson giving it the same conviction. Also Butch Vig is a complete fucking dude who's always ready with the wine just before you go onstage for a pep talk.
What are your hopes and plans for 2016?
We simply don't want to take a break. We're writing and road testing which is the opposite of how we approached O Shudder, and we just always want to have a gig ahead of us to work towards. A new album is in the cards, of course, and we just don't want to speculate on its success commercially. If we can finish the album without doing that, then it should be our most honest and best work.
With the launch of TIDAL and Apple Music in 2015, there are more streaming music options, but the same issues of adequate artist compensation persist. What are your current thoughts on streaming and which service would you most like to have your music on?
We're all Spotify premium members and we use it daily, so I can see all the benefits of it. In terms of fair pay to artists, I don't think you can change it back. If you could, then why not turn the clock back on the Internet or back to the fucking '80s, for that matter. My only complaint about streaming is how much it puts me off from buying a vinyl that I like but don't love. It's turned my record shopping into a collector's frenzy, or I'll only buy vinyl that reminds me of a time and place. I'll never buy an album anymore just because I like a few tracks off it at that moment. It has to be special, and that's the shame of it, really. Also, it's a myth that the Internet is fair game for all the musical talent out there, and more streaming sites are just going to make that situation worse, now you've got x number of sites promoting the same artist/album instead of one, and consumers will have even less time to find the music they'll actually like.
What are your thoughts on Friday being the new global release day for albums? Is it helping or hurting album sales?
From our perspective, I think it helps. Any band who wants a whiff of a chance of a Top 100 record knows that they need to be doing in-store shows every day on the week of release, and with it moving to Friday, it means that Sunday is now as important as Saturday, where before you couldn't really get the sales through in time from independent stores to help make an impact on the charts. I also like the idea of the singles chart being on a Friday. It's like a party, but a shit one.
Mainstream pop music is increasingly embraced by indie rock musicians and listeners, as well as serious music critics. At this point, do you draw any distinctions between Top 40 pop and indie rock/pop? Are you comfortable with this shift?
The irony has gone full circle for a lot of this. Taylor Swift, for example, I don't get why the indie crowds have latched themselves onto her. I get "Shake It Off" as a song, but no amount of cheap and hurtful booze would ever make me lose my shit to it in a club. Ryan Adams' efforts to raise awareness of its integrity are just bizarre and kind of feel like he's playing the game somewhat, and I think that's the problem indie music has. It has everything to lose from the Top 40, whereas pop stars answer to no one and seem to have collectively set the bar to an extremely comfortable low for themselves, which in turn magnifies the problem.
What are your thoughts on how the 2016 U.S. Presidential election is shaping up?
It's truly horrifying. When Trump turned up on the scene it was fascinating, but I'm increasingly feeling that the Jon Stewart-shaped hole in the narrative is going to be a devastating one. Of course, you can say that he was only ever preaching to the converted, but the emphasis on his retirement from The Daily Show spoke volumes about the incompetency of U.S. TV news networks and their partiality. We need him back, no offence to Trevor Noah. It's scary in Europe because the ISIS threat has escalated massively, but we're learning very quickly that compassion is our remedy, and the Republican commentary couldn't be further from that. Trump not ruling out the closing of mosques and having Muslim IDs is all reminiscent of the end of days, and seriously damaging to U.S./E.U. relations. And imagine if Bernie Sanders had said that about Mexicans? He wouldn't be in office anymore. The double standard is horrendous and worrying.
Ryan Adams covered Taylor Swift's 1989 (and then Father John Misty covered Adams covering Swift). If you were to cover another artist's album in its entirety, which would you pick and why?
We'd never attempt that sort of thing, because if you're going to dedicate that much time to a project, it might as well be original material. But for the sake of this question, I'd attempt to cover a Hot Chip album, if only to prove that there is a difference, no matter how slight, between my voice and the voice of Alexis Taylor.
Have you ever been fired from a job (be it a day job or musical one)? Why were you fired?
I failed an audition for a pantomime once. The amount of character depth expected of a 12-year-old is astonishing. It was only Hickory Dickory and the Millennium Bug.
What's your earliest music-related childhood memory?
Listening to Queen's Greatest Hits Vol. 1 cassette tape in my bunk bed when I was seven. I think it was my brother's, and I think I nicked it from his room, along with a cassette that had the rap song which sampled the Super Mario theme tune and the Tetris theme tune, boss.
What outrageous request would you most like to put in your tour rider as a joke?
Sarcasm is hard to detect through text, so I would never risk having a promoter's first impression of us being that of a rabble of frivolous and distasteful wankers. It's bad enough how much we laugh at our own farts backstage as it is.
What's the most disastrous date you've ever been on?
Any in which I end up talking about the roller coasters of the world that I've been on. Which was every date I went on until I started drinking.
Which Star Wars character are you most like?
Salacious B. Crumb (why does he have an initial?).
Where do you see yourself in five beers?
Having a wee.
What's the lamest breakup excuse you've ever given or been given?
I once broke up with someone because it took two buses to get to her house.
FFS (Franz Ferdinand + Sparks) proved that collaborations can work. What other two bands would you like to see unite as one new entity?
Whenever Robin (bassist) presents a new song to the band, he always uses two artists to describe its sound. One pairing he recently said was Kendrick Lamar meets Gentle Giant. That would be an outrageous combo.
Which moment from your past most haunts you?
When I was 12, I caught my dad wanking. He knew I was on my way over to his house so he must really be into danger-wanks. I ran into the house to grab the guitar in the living room and there he was sat on the floor with one hand on the lid of his laptop that was placed on the coffee table that he was trying to conceal himself under. I didn't see his shame, just the fear in his eyes. I reached over him to grab the guitar I'd rushed in to play, and none of what was going on clicked until I'd left the room. Once it had, I sat out in the garden in silence until his girlfriend and her kids arrived. He thinks he got away with it, but that was 16 years ago, and even though I have a key to his house, I still knock on or ring ahead to this day, even if he's expecting me.
Taylor Swift has been celebrated by indie rock fans and mainstream pop fans alike. Is she truly this generation's pop genius or is she a talented, if overrated, songwriter?
She can rock it in a jump suit, but her songs don't reach out to a male audience like her other contemporaries do, so she falls undoubtedly into the latter category.
Which actor or actress would you most love to have in one of your music videos?
What song will most unite or amp up the tour bus or van (à la "Tiny Dancer" in Almost Famous)? Which song do you love that the rest of the band or crew refuse to let you put on?
Seal: "Kiss From a Rose" is a tonic to our ears before getting on the stage. We only play ironic choices in the van so anything with any artistic merit isn't allowed.
With Twin Peaks, The X-Files, Gilmore Girls, Full House, and other classic shows returning, what other TV show would you like to see come back with its original cast?
In which way would you least like to die?
If I answer this, then it'll come true.
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