It was a year ago, almost to the day, that Drenge had their U.S. network television debut on The Late Show. David Letterman circulated handshakes throughout the trio, interjecting an exclamation of their home district, “Derbyshire!” One could almost detect an upward inflection, as though in disbelief. Because the words often used to describe Derbyshire, and the village of Castleton (where Drenge’s founding brothers, Eoin and Rory Loveless hail from,) often include “quaint, quiet, picturesque, charming…” Drenge, meanwhile, are very much a rock ‘n’ roll band, and thus, embody the inversion of most of those evocations.
That being said, I think back in 2013 we could have considered them “…very much a rock ‘n’ roll band…” but with last April’s Undertow, they’ve experimented, they’ve actualized, they’ve explored … and they’ve since morphed into a more nuanced blend. Undertow finds the trio (with bassist Rob Graham) combining a post-grunge/pop-punk urgency and an intrepid shoegaze/melodic-metal tantrum with both grime and grace.
With Undertow (via Infectious Records), Drenge cast a headier, slightly ominous atmospheric drift with some of the new post-punk nocturnes, while also continuing their signature keyed-up, wild-pop whirlers (exemplified in their single, “We Can Do What We Want.”)
But, anyway, back to Castleton. To “…Derbyshire!”
“We’re quite talented at painting our youth in the dreariest colors,” said guitarist/singer Eoin Loveless. “The Peaks are beautiful, but the history of the place is shrouded in fear and darkness. I can’t think of a single local story that ends happily. It’s all murder and disease.”
The Loveless brothers imbued their early caustic catharsis-rock tunes with lots of punk-ified poetry evoking the quietly unsettling gloom of their home. Indeed, their self-titled 2013 debut pictured a Sheffield cemetery adjacent an automobile scrap yard. “We see the place festering with people in Gortex and North Face Fleeces. I like the contrast between local horror stories and over-prepared hikers.”
So if the Goths were afflicted by heartache and the Grungies by all bothered with their scattershot outrage, Drenge seem to tending the scabs and bruises of a Gen Y-specific feeling of disenchantment amidst a slowly-onsetting apocalypse. The band is making rock that sounds angry but is much more mindful, fitting for a generation of reformed indie-pop lovers who just realized that they’re like the vase of flowers left wobbling precariously after life’s table cloth has been wrenched from under them. Or something like that. Drenge are making the surer-footed punk, a clearer-eyed headbang, a focused metal mosh, a compelling post-punk drone-scope.
But maybe it’s deeper than that. “We don’t want to reflect one emotion or one sound,” Eoin said. “We like a wide amount of music, and we experience a wide range of emotions, so it’s important to reflect both those things when it comes our music. Countryside and wildlife are constant sources of inspiration. Films such as Penda’s Fen and Le Quattro Volte are really great at capturing the declining relationship between humans and the land. We all live in cities now.”
Drenge live in a city now too, not a village. Sheffield is about a 40 minute drive away from Castleton, so they made sure to get there as soon as they started and start mingling into the scene. The duo started gaining attention from local media in late 2012. Notably, in 2013, an outgoing Member of Parliament (clearly an early fan,) name-dropped Drenge in his letter of resignation. The band continued to gain steam throughout 2013-2014, touring with Peace, scoring spots at substantial festivals such as Glastonbury/Reading and Leeds and eventually getting out of England and around Europe.
The duo added Graham halfway through Undertow. For several years it was just the brothers Loveless. Back then they were much more “jaded,” in Eoin’s words. But although that’s passed, their sense of humor has only sharpened. Eoin considers the question of what their biggest motivator was, what kept them going in their earliest days of uncertainty, of small pubs and no guarantees of fame nor rock stardom: “…probably the knowledge that there were only going to be a few more shows left before we packed it in,” said Eoin.
We’re not sure how close they actually got to breaking-up, but certainly they were a lot more laissez-faire about their future. “We’d never had any foresight to ever think about playing a festival or even a venue that held more than 50 people. Those bigger shows mean everything to us, now. It’s a little band that shouldn’t really be there.”
With a song like “Fuckabout” closing their debut album, coupled with that unique post-millennial chip they seemed to subtly carry on their shoulder, one wonders if there was an overt intention of satire to some of their songs. “If there’s something that I’m uncomfortable with,” Eoin said, “then I’ll often try to hollow it from meaning and pump it full of sarcasm or cynicism. ‘Fuckabout’ is a song I really didn’t know how to write and that’s why it’s so weird in comparison to the rest of (Drenge). I was much more jaded back then. I took everything as a joke. The music began to take more of a backseat because of that. But now, (the music) is the only thing that matters to me.”
Undertow is a much more layered album. The instrumentation sounds fuller; there’s meticulous massaging of atmospherics and a more intricate percussive arrangement. Notably, there are calmer moments that create more space, more breathing room, and thus more chances for their own meditations upon an urban sprawls spill over the smog-veiled vibrancy of nature and the occasional feeling of futility over finding love amid such a bustling milieu.
“I just wanted to make a strong storytelling record,” Eoin said. “And, I wanted there to be loads of guitars and noises and effects. I didn’t really worry about the drums because I knew (producer) Ross (Orton) would make them sound huge and I know Rory (Loveless) is a really inventive drummer. Both of them exceeded my already high expectations.”
Eoin has worked with his brother Rory for several years, now. That’s a feat for some families, considering the inherently intensive confines of a creative collaboration such as a music group. “I think at the best of times we just stop acknowledging one another as brothers. It’s just a fact. It can get in the way if you allow it to meddle with something so creatively driven. A lot of people lose touch with their brothers in their mid-20s, so it’s strange to spend so much time with one another. We hang out with each other and let friendship play the more predominant catalyst when it comes to art and touring.”
Graham, meanwhile, is Eoin’s roommate in Sheffield. “He’d been really influential to us as kids,” Eoin said of Graham. “He made us punk compilations and took us to gigs and basically taught us there was a side of music that existed outside of (BBC’s) Radio 1.”
They’ve since adapted to being a three-piece. “I’m impressed,” Eoin dryly quips. “We’re slowly becoming a band that I would consider going to watch; just a bit more work and then I’ll start buying tickets to our own shows. If I can’t get hold of one, then we must be doing something pretty good.”