With their brittle, jittery time signatures, subtle strings and melancholy melodies, Manchester’s Dutch Uncles rekindle the understated possibilities of 1980s pop wallflowers like Talk Talk and Japan. They may have be around for a few years, but the intellipop quintet’s third album, Out Of Touch, In The Wild, released on diehard indie label, Memphis Industries, is about to see them pinball straight up the charts thanks to serious radio play for the singles “Fester” and “Flexxin.”
Duncan Wallis, Dutch Uncles’ singer/pianist, has a rep for being both brainy and “sexually interesting,” if a little tetchy on hearing his band being compared to Hot Chip. Andrew Perry tracked him down to see if any of these theories really hold water.
Dutch Uncles hail from Manchester. But rather like New Order, you don’t sound like the classic post-punk “miserable Manc” band…
We’re all originally from Marple [suburb, near Stockport], but I live in Chorlton [trendier hood] now, and will do for the foreseeable future. It’s good here. There are a lot of musicians around — you see Damon Gough [aka Badly Drawn Boy] every now and then. There’s a record shop at the end of my street, which is great because I DJ a lot, and I always do it off vinyl. I spend most of my time in the ’80s section. You can’t beat a bit of Wang Chung — “Dance Hall Days,” what a single!
You can certainly hear such preferences in Dutch Uncles’ sound.
Sure! I love a lot of stuff that came out in the ’80s. We’re definitely influenced by the xylophone sounds of Japan’s Tin Drum, and the string presence on Kate Bush’s Hounds of Love. One track on the album, “Flexxin,” sounds like Prince. We wrote it after we played on the same day as him at a festival. I don’t mind people saying we sound like him, ’cause he’s a genius. It’s not so good when people say we sound like Hot Chip. I actually really like Hot Chip, but it’s gone way too far now, it’s just become what everybody says. It’s made me scared to look on Twitter.
In the past, you’ve said Talking Heads are your favorite band. Why them?
The first five albums just show the most brilliant progression, especially through their relationship with Eno. Then Eno left the mix, and they did Speaking In Tongues and, that could be their best album actually, with the complete pop sensibility they brought to it — the whole “Stop Making Sense” aesthetic. After that it kind of veers off, but Talking Heads were always the band to look back on for us, because they had five completely different albums there, each one flawless in its own respect. Such an artistic variety coming out of one band. Ridiculous!
Have you tried to replicate that restless spirit in Dutch Uncles, to keep moving from album to album?
Yes, and they’re definitely all different. The first one, self-titled, was literally a live album slated up in two weeks in Germany, completely minimal. The second, Cadenza was us first beginning to realize the idea of instrumentation. It was the first time we had a producer, who unfortunately stepped in too late in the mix, because all the tracks had been pretty much road-tested by that point.
This time round we had our producer, Brendan, with us from the very first notes. We always knew that we wanted the album to be a complete surprise to people who already knew us — a surprise to them and us, really. You increasingly realise with pop music that everything’s been done, so you have to just have fun with it. So this album feels like less of a statement than the last two did, for me. It feels like, Look, this is something we’ve done in a year. Give us another year, we’ll do something else. These are all just parts of the story now. It’s not trying to make a full stop on anything.
You’ve said that the lyrics on Out Of Touch, In The Wild are loosely themed around addiction and friendship…
I’m not sure that’s quite right, on reflection. An album of bad habits — that would be a more accurate generalisation. “Nometo” is about an old guy who regrets the habits he had earlier in his life. But it’s not a drugs album — it’s a third of a drugs album, perhaps. It gets a bit psychedelic in the production side, and lyrically it gets more abstract the more psychedelic it gets.
It’s focused more on negative ways of thinking, but there are some upsides. The last song, ‘Brio’ is all about the naughty excitement of getting caught with pornography, and building a habit round that. But that’s not based on personal experience! It’s been said that a lot of our older material was about porn. I wanted to make a nod to the older songs — to the history of Dutch Uncles.
Do you crave chart success?
All bands do. It’s not like you’re gonna put a gun to anyone’s head for it. It’s just, “We want it, now how are we gonna get it?” “I don’t know, I guess we’ll have to be really lucky.” It’s hopeless to focus on it, so we just keep going, and try to get better. Every time, we want to make the listener’s first listen with us better.