There may be talk of an existential crisis in rock but Drenge, like Royal Blood, are exciting audiences and critics. The band’s story begins in Castleton, a village in England’s gloomily romantic Peak District. The Loveless brothers, Eoin (lead vocals, guitar) and Rory (drums), conceived Drenge, their handle a corruption of the Danish word for ‘boys’.
The two-piece teamed with producer Ross Orton (Arctic Monkeys) for 2013’s eponymous debut – a mosh-up of punk, garage and grunge. Their thrashy single Bloodsports revealed a disturbing fixation on gore. But, mostly, Drenge was nihilistic.
Now, having reunited with Orton, they’re dropping Undertow, led by the anthemic We Can Do What We Want (which they performed on the Late Show With David Letterman!).
Drenge, newly based in Sheffield, have become a trio, recruiting bassist Rob Graham (ex-Wet Nuns). They’ve also developed their repertoire. Undertow has songs that are a bit Coil, while, intriguingly, The Woods is Drenge’s idea of a Fleetwood Mac rip. Undertow is controlled, less angry, yet more menacing. Nonetheless, today the younger Rory, he of the long locks, is all humility and dry humour.
Watch: Drenge – We Can Do What We Want (Live on Letterman)
Music Feeds: You came to Australia for Laneway in 2014. How did you enjoy that tour?
Rory Loveless: Oh, it was an amazing tour, yeah! I mean, we’d never been to Australia before, so there was, like, seeing all the scenery and enjoying all the food, meeting all the people – and then the incredible line-up of the Laneway Festival.
We were really nervous sitting backstage with all these magnificent people walking around. We didn’t really wanna talk to anyone, ’cause we thought they were all amazing people. We were starstruck everywhere we went (laughs).
MF: It’s incredible that you’ve got your second album out already. People are saying that Undertow is darker and more intense. How do you see it in relation to your debut?
RL: Erm, it’s definitely a lot more different than I’d say other bands’ second albums are different to their first albums. It’s a step in a different direction than everyone might have expected it to be, because we’ve expanded from being a two-piece.
We got interested in a load of different styles of music as we were touring the first album and what we were listening to really went into what we wanted to do. We hunkered down in a studio and started experimenting, basically. There’s a lot of different styles we’ve tried out and lots of things we’ve experimented with. So it was quite exciting for us to play around with all these different things we’d never done before.
MF: What prompted the expansion of the band – and how has that changed the dynamics of Drenge?
RL: We were kind of getting a bit tired of the limitations of just guitar and drums. We wanted to expand and experiment and see what was possible, because we felt we weren’t really getting ourselves across through what we were doing.
So experimenting with different instruments led to writing extra basslines to songs we already had and then we started writing basslines with new songs. We asked our friend Rob, who we’ve known for a while, to come and play bass with us. It’s really worked out well because the vibe in terms of live shows, we can kind of relax a little bit more. It’s slightly less intense on stage.
It means we can have a lot more fun and just jam around [with] the tunes a little bit more because the pressure’s been spread out to another person. So there’s less responsibility on my or Eoin’s shoulders. We can blame Rob, if we want to, basically!
Listen: Drenge – Favourite Son
MF: What is Rob’s creative input in Drenge, though? Does he defer to you guys?
RL: There were a couple of songs he helped write and he wrote his own bass parts, too, which was really cool. He’s kind of like a musical hero of mine and Eoin’s, really, ’cause we’ve known him since we were all at school.
He was walking up and down the corridors in this amazing green army jacket and everyone was talking about how cool he was. He introduced me to a load of cool punk bands when I was young. He’s written some great songs and [he’s] been in some great bands in his own right so, yeah, we love listening to his input. It’s great having a third mind, like an outside perspective on what can be quite an intense creative procedure between me and Eoin, ’cause we’ve been brought up pretty much identically. We’re sort of aware of all these cultural references that Rob doesn’t have, so it’s interesting to see what he brings to the table.
MF: Is there a track that you’re particularly enjoying or looking forward to playing live?
RL: I guess my favourite from the record is either a song called Side By Side or the title-track, Undertow, because they’re the last two things that we wrote and recorded. I guess whatever the last thing [is] that we’ve written and recorded is the most interesting to me, because it’s fresh in the mind, rather than something we’ve gone over and played a thousand times before. It sort of inspires or influences what form the next song you write might take.
MF: There’s been much discussion about the demise, or marginalisation, of rock, especially in the UK press. But people seem to just listen to everything. Do you get caught up in that? Is there a crisis?
RL: I don’t know. I don’t really know and I don’t really care, to be honest, because there’s a lot of huge, bold statements being made in headlines across particularly the British music press about all sorts of things.
I guess I don’t really pay much attention to those because they just seem irrelevant. I’m more interested in going out and seeing music for myself, rather than understanding what appears to be current or trendy at the moment because I don’t know frankly who decides what’s in and what’s out, who the tastemakers are. I don’t know who they are, and I don’t really care.
Watch: Drenge – Fuckabout
MF: Speaking of the press, you’ve had amazing early reviews of Undertow. How important is it to get that kind of support?
RL: It’s lovely to have, but it’s not why we make songs – for other people’s approval. It’s quite a selfish sort of hobby, really. We’re not bothered about reviews or scores or awards or anything like that because we’re happy with what we put out, mostly, and that’s what’s important to us. The fans’ response is really great and that’s all the reassurance we need, really.
MF: You met Kanye West when performing on Later… With Jools Holland. What was he like?
RL: He was really, really, lovely, actually. It was odd because I’ve listened to his music since his first album came out and it was weird to see him there just sort of – I didn’t really know what to expect, like, what would he come out as?
He’s so unpredictable and artistic. But he came out and did his thing. He came over [to us] and he was really nice, talking to us about aggression in music and how he liked our performance ’cause it was so direct and aggressive – which was a massive compliment to us. Yeah, then we definitely swapped numbers and hung out later and we did loads of cool stuff and we’re best friends now…
Watch: Drenge on Later… With Jools Holland
MF: What are your tour plans behind this album? Is there any chance of you coming back to Australia?
RL: There’s nothing set in stone yet. I wish I could tell you, but there’s nothing set in stone to come to Australia. But we’d love to come back. I’m sure we’ll be back before the end of the year. But we’re doing a load of stuff in Europe and Australia [sounds flustered] – yeah, in Europe and… Oh, I can’t say anything! We’re doing stuff in Europe. We might come to Australia, but there’s nothing set in stone!
Undertow is out now via Infectious Music and you can read our review here.
Watch: Drenge – We Can Do What We Want