Musiciens Je Veux Frencher | Dry the River
@ La Sala Rossa, POP Montreal 9/23/12
Back stage the Dry the River tour manager gives me a strange look. The band files in behind me. I turn to the mustachio’d guy in the trench coat, “Ok, so you must be Pete?” They all exchange glances. He cracks a big grin. “We’re not Dry the River,” he laughs.
Clearly I’m the worst journalist ever. They were a group of long-haired guys in Levis smoking in the alley…I just assumed… I apologize to the terribly accommodating members of Houndmouth (the opening band—who, btw, recently kicked ass at Texas’s Utopiafest) and cursed myself for not doing enough research. In all fairness, in every photo I found of Dry the River their faces were obscured by hair. This is a terrible excuse.
Tour manager Simon plucks me from my backstage bumbling and takes me to the tour bus. (The tour bus!)
Climbing up the steps, I tell myself to remain calm. You do interviews in tour buses alllllll the time. The door swings open. Soda cans and amp cables clutter all surfaces. Bassist Scott Miller just got out of the shower. Peter Little, the lead singer, sits in the corner of a bench seat, his knees pulled into his chest. Scott scrambles to put a shirt on. I arrange myself nervously on a foamy RV couch cushion across from them. They have those emasculate rock star bodies with skinny thighs and hallow chests. The narrow space is humid from bathroom steam and smells like man soap. Pete hasn’t showered. His hair is blond and tangled; he wipes it out of his face occasionally, lifting his flat billed hat and re-perching it on his head.
“I don’t think I’ve ever met a real journalist before,” Pete tells me. “Apart from college newspaper kids. Normally the real journalists just stand at the back and then write really skeptical things without ever coming and talking to us.” This is a delightful backhanded compliment. I relish the phrase “real journalist” and try to deflect the criticism. I ask about their folk roots. Another area I should have done my research. They don’t have folk roots. “We were really surprised when people started calling us a folk band,” Pete says. Which is probably why he gets so aggravated when articles label them “British boys” singing “Americana folk.”
“The fucking Rolling Stones were an Americana band. I mean, who gives a shit. We live in a world where we have this little thing called the internet. You can listen to bands from all over the world, and be inspired by bands from all over the world.”
Scott says, “We grew up with American music, it has just as much influence on us too.”
Pete continues, “It’s so weird now that everyone is so obsessed with authenticity. No one plays fucking Old English music. I don’t hear anyone playing a fucking lute and singing Greensleeves. So why is it is such an issue? I don’t understand. You draw your inspirations from everywhere.”
It seems like you take the criticisms pretty hard?
Pete admits, “I try not to read the stuff. I’m really rubbish at not taking it personally. Whereas you love it,” he nods at Scott.
“I do, I love it. It’s good for the ego,” he says. I think he’s kidding. He’s not.
“I mean, people are allowed to not like what we do. I don’t give a fuck. I get to drive around America in this brilliant bus, having a brilliant time and you’re probably sitting at your mum’s house, and you’re probably 8 years old. You can’t take it to heart.” He combs his fingers through his wet curls.
“Yeah meanwhile I’d want to find that little kid and hang out with him to show him that I’m actually really cool…” Pete says.
Scott laughs loudly, “You’re so desperate for approval!”
“No…yeah…” Pete takes off his hat and scrubs his hair. “…yeah.”
On stage Pete is fragile and small. It’s almost frightening to witness the strength of his voice compared to the fragility of his body. He’s wearing a t-shirt with a kitten on it. He hunches over his guitar, straining to sing into the low microphone. His voice is boy choir angelic. His peeks out almost fearfully from behind his straggled blond hair. I’m shocked by how little I recognize him. He squeezes his eyelids shut as he rakes his pick across the guitar strings. It’s beautiful – and painful. While Pete bleeds over his Stratocaster, Scott compensates with an overacted punk bravado. He thrusts and head bangs, wearing the guitar slung low over his hips. He raises the bass up to his ear, throwing it down against his thighs, thumping its body as he stands in a runner’s lunge, furiously pinwheeling his long black curls.
Pete’s insufferable critics have called Dry the River a “folk band that thinks they’re a punk band.” The dynamic between the two genres is represented in a brilliantly accidental mise-en-scène. Pete stands at the center, his shoulders rounded meakly: to one side, tattooed Jon sits at the drums in a torn muscle T, flanked by Scott with his glinting belt buckle and black denim. On the other side, baby-faced violinist Will wears a collared shirt and thick rimmed glasses. The guitarist Matt wears sensible sneakers and a pearl buttoned flannel. Did he buy that at an Austin vintage shop? Is this caricature intentional?
Leaving the tour bus, on the way to the staged make out, we lose Pete. This is probably intentional on his part. That leaves me and Scott, and our photographer: stage tech Roger. In the low lit corridors of La Sala Rossa we find that the best lighting is in the bathroom hallway. I’m not disappointed that I get to french Scott. He reminds me a lot of Austin’s Jason Ludwig (who I regretfully never frenched. I think all the Vesper ladies can sympathize here?). With the camera lens on us, we chat awkwardly while Roger adjusts the aperture. I like how uncomfortable Scott seems. It’s nice to see him stripped of his tour bus swagger. Our kiss is delightfully clunky. I lose my balance and fall into him. Not in a hot-and-heavy-pin-you-against-the-wall kind of way, more like Molly-Shannon-falls-into-a-bunch-of-folding-chairs-way. I’m pretty sure he knocked his head pretty hard. But hey, the pictures are cute.
Although Scott restored his rockstar ego during the stage show, there was a moment when I glimpsed his hallway awkwardness return. For the encore, the band pulled the cables from their instruments and descended into the crowd for an incredible acoustic performance of Lion’s Den. The stillness in the room was unnerving. Stripped of his mic stand and low slung bass, Scott seemed too tall inside the silent circle of fans. I found him unspeakably sexy in that moment. I worked hard to meet his eye, but couldn’t. It was nice to see that no matter how big the tour bus or how expensive the record deal, when the artist comes off the stage, they are often as unsure as I am.
Watch Dry the River’s video Weights and Measures.
Don’t miss them perform in Austin at ACL on October 13!
Kiss photos by Roger Brown
Concert photos by David MacLeod