Dry The River
Another exceptional group signed to Transgressive Publishing in 2010- and now Records - Dry The River are a band we've been waiting for for some time. Inclusive, inspirational and utterly thrilling.
Dry the River’s origins lie with frontman, Peter Liddle. Born in Norway to British parents, his early life was a shifting one thanks to his father’s work as an engineer in the oil industry. Ever-changing homes and schools gave Liddle a peculiar set of reference points: "I think I have a fixation with community and belonging, because that wasn't something I had as a child." And though his parents are only “quietly religious,” Liddle became fascinated by the iconography and language of the Roman Catholic Church at one of his many primary schools, where his voice was honed in the school choir.
Though he’s not overtly religious, religious symbolism creeps into Dry the River’s lyrics, whether on first album ballad's Bible Belt and Shaker Hymns or the more anthemic Gethsemane or Hidden Hand on the more recent Alarms in the Heart.
“I think if you play with King James' vocabulary it accesses a solemnity; something deep within people,” says the Leonard Cohen inspired singer. “It sets a tone that says this is some serious shit.”
By the time Liddle returned to Newbury as a teenager, he and the various members of Dry the River – guitarist Matthew Taylor, Scott Miller (bass) and Jon Warren (drums) – were crossing paths in various bands on the DIY scene centred around Southampton, Reading and Newbury’s Waterside Youth Centre. “It was this cool, grimy little venue,” says the singer. “You could rehearse there, and they always put on local bands alongside touring artists, which really helped cultivate the scene. It meant you could sell out a decent venue with your 16 year old punk band.”
University took Liddle first to Bristol, where he studied anthropology, and then to London’s Kings College, where he enrolled in medical school. “I don’t know if I wanted to save lives in a hands-on way,” he muses. “I saw myself more as a lab doctor than a people doctor. You know, spending a lot of time in a white coat looking down a microscope. I think in some ways I also wanted to look illness and mortality in the eye, to see how things like human dissection would affect me.”
At medical school, with ten years of band experience behind him, he resolved to put music on the back burner and focus on his studies. But in spite of his best efforts, the acoustic guitar in the corner was calling. Liddle started writing folky material in his hall of residence room and, on summer break, called on those old friends from the Reading scene – by now all living in London – to record them.
“Initially the emphasis was on it being something distinct from our old bands - really gentle and lo-fi,” says Liddle. “Every time Jon tried to rock out I’d say, No, no, keep it stripped back.”
On signing to Transgressive publishing, the band were able to quit their jobs and studies. “We went on tour straight after and went absolutely wild for six months,” says Taylor. “We just partied the whole fucking time.” They clocked up some miles too, playing across Europe, the UK and even the Outer Hebrides.
When not on tour, the five were living together in a house in Stratford, East London, in what can be described as near-medieval living conditions. “Pete sleeps on a mattress on the dining room floor,” says Taylor. “You have to climb over his head to get to the toilet in the night.” For at least one band member, it’s an improvement on what came before: “When Jonny was in hardcore bands he couch surfed for three years,” says Taylor. “It’s pretty normal behaviour on that scene.” The close living conditions and hard touring have fostered an impossibly tight bond between the band. “We know each other well enough to tell when people are actually pissed off,” says Taylor. “I guess in that respect it's like living with four brothers - we rip it out of each other relentlessly, but we know when to leave each other alone.”
In March 2011, the band traveled to Bridgeport, Connecticut to record their debut album with producer Peter Katis (The National, Interpol), a man whose professional ethos was a perfect match. “We were looking for someone who could strike a balance between lo-fi and hi-fi,” says Liddle. “We wanted to record the bulk of it to tape, to use analogue stuff in favour of computer wizardry where possible, but without it sounding like an old folk record. I think we tried to preserve the fragility and honesty of the more stripped down tracks, but still get the intensity of the live show across too - to marry those two aspects of our music without it sounding incongruous.” In downtime, they played shows in New York, growing a grassroots following there with each passing week.
Back in Britain, the band’s progress remained rapid – videos of off-the-cuff acoustic performances became internet smashes, EPs sold out and festival bookings began to come in. In March 2011, they stormed South By South West, despite performing
without a drummer for five of the six gigs due to visa troubles. "We decided we'd still use our amps and still be loud - we just played as if Jonny was there. For a couple of shows we put some drums on stage and kind of hit them when we could."
Having started the year as one of the 15 artists on the prestigious BBC Sound of 2012 shortlist, Dry the River released their debut album Shallow Bed in March 2012 to critical acclaim and promptly embarked on another gruelling bought of touring, storming practically every major festival in the UK and Europe in the process.
The band returned in 2014 with the second record, 'Alarms in the Heart', a record we loved so much we signed the band to our Records arm and released it ourselves. The release was supported by a huge UK, European and American touring, including an incredible homecoming show at London's The Forum in October, and helping us celebrating our 10th anniversary at the Barbican. Produced by Charlie Hugall (Florence and The Machine, Ed Sheeran), Paul Savage (Mogwai, Franz Ferdinand) and Peter Miles (We Are The Ocean, Futures, The King Blues) and with arrangements and strings from Valgeir Sigurðsson (Sigur Rós, Björk), the resulting 10-track album is bold, expansive, confident and cohesive. 2015 will see the band touring even more extensively and a huge summer of festivals.