‘Still Waters Run Deep’ – Dry The River @ SXSW 2015

Dry The River @ SXSW 2015 (Photo: Paul Bachmann for Live4ever)

Dry The River @ SXSW 2015 (Photo: Paul Bachmann for Live4ever)

Beauty can be found in the strangest of places.

Think about the South By Southwest Festival, for instance, and beauty might not be the first word that springs to mind. Think about the stifling heat, the sweaty bars, the copious volume of alcohol and the thousands of music lovers crammed in to half a dozen Austin blocks every March and the first answer in a game of word association mightn’t be all that glamorous. Fortunately though, South By is merciful in its size.

From Japanese all-girl punk bands to home-grown New York grime, a motley cast of every size, shape and description are arriving in Texas in ever more increasing numbers each year, slowly transforming a traditional new music showcase into the most eclectic US event on the calendar, finding plenty of room too for those bands who choose to attack the world of rock from a far more elegant angle.

Step forward Dry The River.

Last year’s ‘Alarms In The Heart‘ album, the follow-up to 2012’s debut ‘Shallow Bed‘, is indeed a graceful affair. Initially it seems to stand proud like a glinting ice sculpture, delicate yet intensely robust, but soon reveals an atmosphere and vibrancy more akin to gently lapping river water caught in the glow of an orange sunset. An album which perfectly reflects its surroundings; recorded in Iceland, the twelve tracks breathe in crisp northern Atlantic air, but stand firm on a rugged volcanic base.

“We’re into the idea of having some physical separation from our daily commitments and hubbub of living in east London,” the band told Live4ever during an exclusive chat at SXSW 2015. “For us it’s important to separate ourselves in some way and keep away from any distractions, remove yourself far from the rest of the world.”

“Plus, it’s a cool excuse to get to visit some fun places. For album one we were in Connecticut so we were just outside New York and got a lot of trips over and we enjoyed that a lot, and then this time it was like, ‘What other cool places would we want to visit?’, and Iceland was pretty much top of the list. On top of the fact that there was a pretty cool studio we could use up there it allowed us to have some time to go exploring and see some of the touristy style stuff.”

Ask the band about touring the US on their third visit to the festival and it becomes clear fans Stateside get the underlying power of their music. Dry The River are regular visitors to American shores, where the soaring majesty woven into the fabric of tracks such as ‘Gethsemane‘ and ‘The Chambers & The Valves‘ takes hold of an audience like nowhere else.

“When you come to the US they all seem quite rowdy,” they say. “We have people getting into it, dancing around, jumping around the room. We don’t see that very often at Dry The River shows, we always feel like we’re the ones doing the dancing. Not to put any other areas down but sometimes you can get very static audiences, especially to our music – it doesn’t exactly lend itself to rocking out – but we did have some fun audiences on the last tour especially.”

“American audiences might be more open to our sound. If you play a big festival in the UK where no-ones heard of you they just kind of go, ‘Oh acoustic guitars, violins over there, right we’re not going to bother watching them’. Whereas they’re (US fans) more open minded, perhaps because in the UK we get so inundated with so many bands all the time.”

Those tours were made possible partly by the help of government funding and schemes – something under close scrutiny in the current British financial climate. Further cuts to arts culture looks inevitable in the UK regardless of the outcome of next month’s General Election, a sad reality given the help such projects clearly give to artists like Dry The River. “We’re fairly lucky in the UK that there’s a load of good, government support for artists,” they reflect.

“PRS does a lot of amazing stuff, there’s the Momentum fund and musical growth scheme. A lot of bands at South By will be here with the help of PRS. Probably more could be done in that respect; Canada, Denmark, France and a few other places have more enduring schemes, musicians really trying to get from that ‘hobby’ to the first steps of full-time musicianship, or even part-time musicianship.”

By the same token, rather like their records, it’s a discreet, understated eye that the group keeps on the world of politics. Support for charities such as the Yellow Bird project reveals a social conscience, the kind which ‘you’d expect from civilised humans’, but one which they prefer to keep separate from the music.

“Obviously if you’re U2 and you have a huge global reach and you can actually influence people in a way then maybe that’s a different kettle of fish, but for us music is much more of a creative endeavour,” they continue. “Someone like Billy Bragg who’s making a statement with protest songs, that’s different, but for us it’s not necessarily the right vehicle to be too tied down in any political messages, we try to stick more to the music and enjoyment side of it.”

“The Yellow Bird project and having opportunities like that to help out charities that are doing such good things, we jump at the chance when it’s our music being able to help somebody in some way. But when it comes to any particular ideologies or anything like that, we wouldn’t want to align ourselves with anything, partly because we all disagree just amongst the four of us, let alone anyone else.”

“With our band, we’re just disparate in terms of everything. Personalities are very different and we’re very much four individuals. Being in a band playing music together doesn’t necessarily result in us all having shared political opinions or any other viewpoints. It’s not really something on a daily basis we discuss. Politics and those sorts of things are private, people can form their own opinions on things.”

This calm, considered response informs the interview. The bandmates are thoughtful and take their time – equally, Dry The River is a group which demands your time. They feel ‘Alarms In The Heart’ needs it. Needs the attention of repeated listens before its greatest qualities become apparent. Beauty is only skin deep after all, and while it’s the beauty of the music which first draws you in, it’s the personality beneath the surface which leaves the lasting impression. Our engaging chat high up at the Ei8htball Media Lounge pays testament to such principles.

And let’s face it, if the thousands of festival-goers crammed in at South By Southwest can find the time, then so can everyone else.

(Dave Smith)

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