Dry Cleaning on “New Long Leg” | Under the Radar Magazine Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
Tuesday, November 28th, 2023  

Dry Cleaning on “New Long Leg”

Speaking My Language

Nov 22, 2021 Photography by Steve Gullick Issue #68 - Japanese Breakfast and HAIM (The Protest Issue)
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The foundations for North London post-punk band Dry Cleaning were laid when friends Lewis Maynard (bass), Nick Buxton (drums), and guitarist Tom Dowse (guitars) decided to have some fun and began jamming together. As the music took shape they discussed introducing vocals into the mix. They tried doing it themselves before discussing approaching other singers. Then the name of a mutual friend, Florence Shaw—a graphics and illustration lecturer—was mooted.

“I wasn’t even someone who sang in the shower,” laughs Shaw. “I think originally the lads simply wanted to enjoy the music they were making and work with someone they could have fun with.”

Nonetheless, Shaw was initially a reluctant recruit. “Being in a band had never been on my radar, I wasn’t sure I could sing with musicians in a room, let alone at a gig,” she explains. However, it was Shaw’s reluctance to sing that serendipitously led to Dry Cleaning’s distinctive style, with Shaw proving to be an inspired “word curator.”

“The guys suggested I could maybe talk over the music, and they’d send me examples such as Grace Jones’ ‘Private Life’ and The Orb’s ‘Little Fluffy Clouds.’ It made me think, ‘Oh, okay, so maybe this is doable. That’s how it began, essentially the spoken word element began as a stepping stone to confidence,” Shaw says.

However, when it came to performing live Shaw admits she was initially “bricking it” and had a strange pre-gig ritual. “Before gigs I used to burst into tears and ask why I was putting myself through this,” she laughs.

The band’s debut album, New Long Leg, released by 4AD, perfectly demonstrates the visual aspect of Shaw’s “word collages,” her deadpan delivery in sharp contrast to the whirling vortex of sound whipped up by the rest of the band. “I’ve always enjoyed playing with words and sounds,” Shaw explains, “like finding something that’s tender juxtaposed next to something that’s crude. That’s what interested me, making the listener feel relaxed, or sad, and then taking them somewhere completely different in the next line.”

The album’s title reflects Shaw’s love of idiosyncratic wordplay. “It’s the ambiguity I like,” she laughs. “It could be a prosthetic leg, the fact that it’s new could mean it’s a gift or maybe it’s suddenly grown, like an extra body part? It’s nonsensical and non-specific and yet very specific.”

They recorded New Long Leg with John Parish at Rockfield Studios in Wales, an experience Shaw likens to “being hit by a train, but not in a bad way.” The band were required to isolate due to the pandemic before travelling to their COVID-secure environment. “It felt too much of a head-fuck to record in London,” says Shaw, “with all the restrictions and the daily commute to a studio. It seemed too risky.” Going away appeared to be the only option and rural Wales proved to be the ideal location. “We were very lucky to get to go to such an idyllic place,” she reflects, “it felt like the pandemic didn’t exist while we were there.”

Shaw points out it was hard albeit enjoyable work and Parish made sure their time there was well spent. “John’s approach was inspiring and intense,” she enthuses. “It was full-on and meticulously structured. It was such a great experience, we’re incredibly proud of what we’ve created. I really miss it now looking back.”

[Note: This article originally appeared in Issue 68 of Under the Radar’s print magazine, which is out now. This is its debut online.]


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