Saturday, November 1, 2014

The Townhouse Interviews: Daniel (Sped) Spedding of Dutch Uncles

Cover art for Dutch Uncles' new single "In n Out"

Daniel Spedding (his nickname's Sped) is the guitarist for UK rockers Dutch Uncles.  I call them rockers only because I can't come up with a better label for them.  Such is the failure of words.  But they're much more than rockers, and exhibit a range of influences and styles to create one of the unique sounds out there.  I'm thrilled he was kind enough to stop by and answer some questions, including his thoughts on Bigfoot. So here you are, the Townhouse interview with Sped Spedding! Enjoy.

Evan Jones Is Sped Spedding your real name?  It's pretty rad.

Sped Spedding It is pretty rad, isn't it?  But it's definitely not my real name.  I have a secret first name to all who don't have access to Wikipedia!

EJ For the readers who don't have access to Wikipedia, here's a hint: it starts with D and ends with aniel. So is Dutch Uncles your day job?

SS It’s my night time job.  And sometimes my day job.  But I also run my own music school.

EJ What are your thoughts on bigfoot?  Do they have Bigfoots in the UK?

SS My thoughts on Bigfoot are pretty mixed, always have been.  I feel sorry for him/her to be honest, pending actual confirmation of their existence of course.  I remember particularly enjoying a certain X-Files episode starring a Bigfoot-like character.  There aren’t any in the UK that I am aware of, however, let’s just say I am a fan/would like to meet one.

EJ You and me both.  Now that that's settled, let's get to it.  I watched a short interview of you guys from the Home House (that can be found on Youtube) where you talked a little bit about your influences as a band.  I didn't hear you guys mention any late 70's to early 80's American rock or early synth pop, but I sort of hear a good bit of that in you guys.  Mainly in the guitar and some synth sounds.  But in a way, I see you guys existing outside of time. Am I correct in assuming that  (about the influences, not existing outside of time...that's impossible)?

SS Ha, well, to be honest I am the only one who listens to 70’s/80’s American rock on a regular basis; maybe Pete as well here and there.  But yeah, it’s what taught me how to play growing up. While my taste in music has matured with age, and I've learned to appreciate the subtle/and not so subtle complexities of say an XTC, King Crimson or a Japan album, initially as a young guitarist I just wanted to play the biggest, coolest, most well known HARD guitar lines.  I had my head in magazine after magazine.  You know the kind.  They’d have the odd Jeff Buckley or Fripp line in there as “Riff of the week” to learn, but generally was consumed by Rock and fucking Roll!

As far as Dutch Uncles being heavily influenced by American rock?  We aren't.  As a whole we are massively influenced by King Crimson, Japan, Kate Bush, Talking Heads, XTC.  ESPECIALLY on this new record.

By the way, if you’re calling our band timeless, then that’s probably in my top 5 list of compliments ever received while playing in this band.  It’s nice to not have the pressure of sounding like everyone else at a certain time.  We do and write what comes naturally depending on our current influences. 

EJ I certainly meant that as a compliment, and a well deserved one.  Can you talk a little bit about your journey as a guitar player?  Maybe some of your personal influences?


SS My personal influences are a right old mash of people.  I love Angus Young, Jimmy Page, Ed King, Slash, Eddie Van Halen, Jimi Hendrix, Robert Fripp, Adrian Belew, Johnny Marr, Mark Knopfler, Les Paul.  The list goes on but I’m going to have to stop at some point.

My journey takes me back to a classroom about 18 years ago, when a teacher came in and said a space had opened up in the lunchtime guitar classes, which were in the library.  He said, “Does anybody want to fill it?" I put my hand up. I was the only one, haha.  My life could have been a lot different from that day forward had I just kept quiet.  Anyway, I started having lessons, overtook the class pretty quickly and kind of realized I was meant to be doing this.  Since then it’s been my thing. Everyone has known me first as a guitar player and then as a person.  I play every day now, along with all the teaching that I do and I love it.  My guitar and me, it’s literally my life, always has been. I was average at school, well, we’ll say slightly above average, but it was just annoying for me.  My friends were there and everything, but I knew what I wanted to do with my life, and double chemistry on a Monady morning wasn’t it!

EJ Double chemistry on a Monday morning sounds like tons of fun.  Not.  So what inspires you as a guitarist?

SS Everything pretty much inspires me as a player.  I like to go back and listen to old albums and imagine the struggle they had trying to achieve such glorious sounds and try to emulate them myself, whether it be playing techniques or simply just effects, amp types, etc.

People also inspire me of course, and places I visit.  I recently read Slash’s Autobiography on holiday in Kefalonia.  That certainly is inspiring.  There used to be an ongoing joke in the band when we first got together that I was Stockport’s answer to Slash.  They used to photoshop pictures of him over me on press shots and stuff.  Haha!

Not so much in recent times. *sigh*

One more thing, when I am just playing at home alone, looping and jamming with myself, I notice similarities in my playings if I’ve had a bad day or a good day.  The vibes have started to sound similar.  I hope that’s a good thing.

EJ What about the sound of Dutch Uncles?  What has that development been like?  Where did your sound start, and where do you think it's going?

SS It started, as I assume most bands' first albums start, with the best ten songs we had at the time, and finding someone to put them out.  The first album is pretty raucous.  It was all live with a few overdubs.  We had very little involvement in the mixing and song order/spacing. So much has changed since then.  We are so much more involved in every process of making an album.

In between albums it’s pretty clear that people's tastes have changed massively.  The introduction of synths, strings, and tuned percussion, all of which have found a way into our current live set which sometimes can prove tricky to pull off as a five piece.  We want to keep the show as organic as possible so backing tracks are out of the question.  Whether that changes in the future remains to be seen, however, as it stands we are always a truly live band, and always have been.

The new album is totally different again.  It gets boring playing the same things.  I don’t understand how the bands that bring out album after album that sound the same cope in the studio.  It’s much easier to change it up, and work on something new.

EJ If I had to describe your sound, a word that comes to mind is carefree.  It looks like you guys have a lot of fun doing what you do.  Yeah?

SS We definitely don’t take ourselves seriously at all.  We’re probably the most normal people in a band you will meet.  There’s no egos or anything; slight musical snobbery at times, but that’s about it.  Generally we are having a good time.  We love what we do.

EJ It shows.  You guys use a lot of odd time signatures which, if implemented incorrectly, can be a roadblock to the groove.  You guys, however, are groove masters.  Odd time signatures just become another strength in Dutch Uncles songs.  Where's the emphasis in your song writing process?

SS Ahhh, the time signatures question.  There's always one.  It’s just nice to be different. Sometimes you need to put things in irregular time signatures to get the desired mood or vibe for a song.  To be honest, we started out very young and in the mindset of "every song has to be wonky".  There’s only one song on the first album in 4/4 throughout.  We prided ourselves on that a bit too much, it became a thing people would say to us, and that threw us in the “math rock” pool.  But, as we grew we basically began to just think about the song and not the mathematical side to it.  If it worked in 4/4, fine.  Nothing is written on purpose to be irregular anymore.

EJ I tend to hear a lot of bands strongly avoiding the math rock stigma these days.  Kinda funny.  So you guys are seriously one of the most underrated bands I've ever heard.  What's your take on the state of music these days?  As I see it, there's more freedom than ever before for a band like Dutch Uncles to explore their sound without mainstream pressures, but the price I would imagine might be a struggle to even exist?

SS Yeah, a lot of people say that.  It is a struggle, but we make it work because A) we believe in what we do and B) we love it.  No matter how many serious conversations we've had about the band on this topic we always find ourselves coming back together to make a new record.

The music scene today?  It’s tough really.  It’s just SO different to the way it used to be. I think most labels are still trying to find out what works best for such a wide variety of artists.  The internet is great, but it’s such a vast place, you could spend £100,000* on advertising and you’d barely scratch the surface.  Independent labels just don’t have that kind of budget, so we have to get creative.

Back in the 70’s, 80’s, and 90’s you could find those “right people”, I guess, who could make you huge and successful in a moment.  There’s still opportunities for bands like us, and people still want to find new music and go to shows.  You just have to work hard.

EJ Nothing wrong with hard work.  I've noticed balloons in a couple of your music videos. What's the significance of balloons?

SS We hate those fucking balloons.  Let’s just say that each balloon contains a swear word which we have used to describe what we think of each balloon in that video.

EJ Haha, love it.  What's in the works for Dutch Uncles?

SS Well, we have just announced the 4th album O Shudder, due for release in February.  That dropped with our new single “In n Out” (sexy little front cover as well I might add).

I think it’s a great song.  It’s a whole new vibe again for us, and a step in the right direction.  Fretless bass, people are already talking about Japan - the band, not the place.

Two big shows in the diary as well.  Manchester Ritz and London KOKO.  Our two biggest headline shows to date.

EJ New album woooo!!!  Will you be playing in the greater Atlanta area any time soon?  If not, may I suggest you do?

SS It’s not in the diary but we would love to.  We’ve never done a string of dates in the US.  It’s on our list of things to do.  For a band of our size though, it’s about finding the best and most suitable opportunity. I think ideally we need to land some kind of support over there!

EJ Well you certainly have my support.  And I try to turn everybody on to you guys I can. Thanks for stopping by the Townhouse, it's been great!

SS My pleasure.  Next time you buy the beers!

*editor's note: pretty sure that's like $5,000,000

Dutch Uncles can be found, as usual, wherever you can find music on the interwebs.  If you haven't spent any time with their music, you should.  It's a pure joy.  And be on the lookout for their new album!  It's sure to amaze.

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Evan Jones is a painter, drummer, and avid music lover.