Dry Cleaning: “Maybe We Can Be Friends”

Photo Credit: Guy Bolongaro

UK post-punk outfit Dry Cleaning will have their first Turkey outing on June 2, at Salon in Istanbul. In celebration, we reached out to vocalist Florence Shaw and drummer Nick Buxton on Zoom for a truly lovely chat.

How are you guys? How is the tour going?

Florence Shaw: Good! We just had a great time in South America. We came back from Brazil two days ago. The tour was amazing. Too brief, really. We were there for nine days, and we went to three countries. Played only four shows. It was quite sad to leave, as it often feels when it is time to leave places. So it was an emotional rollercoaster.

Nick Buxton: I think we felt particularly gutted for that one. I don’t know why. It just felt really special. First time in South America. Quite a bit of a whirlwind, wasn’t it?

First times do tend to feel special. It will also be your first time in Istanbul on July 2nd.

Florence: Yeah. I don’t think any of us have been to Turkey before.

Nick: Lewis has, I think, years ago.

Florence: Oh, right. But the rest of us haven’t, I guess. I don’t want to speak for Tom. But yeah, our first time. Very exciting. 

Nick: This micro tour is special because it includes concerts in Romania, Greece, and Turkey. Countries we haven’t been to at all. We haven’t even been anywhere near those countries. Nowhere near Southeastern Europe.

You have played lots of big festivals by now. Can you name a specific concert memory where you really felt you were doing something special, and you felt especially loved by fans?

Florence: There are a lot of memories like that. Let me think.

Nick: The most recent one for me is Buenos Aires. The South American shows were all great, but there was something electric going on in that one. We had a pretty similar response in Santiago the following day. There was this momentum the crowd gave to us. It just happened like that, without me even realizing it.

Florence: The first one that comes to my mind is our concert in Katowice, Poland at Off Festival. We were on stage quite late, and it was the first time we played in Poland. It’s one of those situations where you don’t know how many people will show up and what the reaction will be. It absolutely rocked. It was in a tent, but the people were stretching far outside. As far as you can see, really. There were people who made their own merch, their own t-shirts. Lots of people in the front row knew every word of our songs. That hadn’t happened before, not to that extent. They knew literally every word! And they were doing dance moves choreographed to our lyrics. That was very overwhelming, we don’t get crowds like that every day. That was astonishing. It was such an easy gig because there was so much good feeling. Total pleasure, even though there were some huge bugs diving at me. (laughs) I still didn’t mind, because the folks were nice.

Your latest body of work is Swampy EP, which includes awesome remixes by Nourished by Time, as well as Bolis Pupul and Charlotte Adigery. How does it feel to see your work breathing new life under another artist?

Florence: Extremely exciting, you know. When we asked them, we didn’t know if they would say yes, because they were our absolute first choice. We didn’t ask anybody else, they are just our favorite artists. Amazingly, they both wanted to do it. That was already thrilling. It feels really healthy, if that’s the right word, to hear your things reworked. It’s a totally different perspective on what you do, and both tracks bring new emotional qualities to the songs that we didn’t know existed. It is very inspiring and it actually makes you want to write more songs. (laughs)

Nick: Quite a weird idea to be inspired by something half-made already, but I totally agree. It really does bring new life to something you thought was already finished. Makes you see things slightly differently. It is also interesting to see the differences between the two remixes and how they worked them. We attempted this before, we tried to get remixes done for the first album, but there was just not enough enthusiasm for it. It feels good to finally do this and put out the unreleased tracks and demos from the album sessions as well. It feels like a fulfilling, complete little package. We are very proud of the Swampy EP.

Let’s also talk about your latest studio album, Stumpwork: To you, what were the two easiest and hardest songs to create for that project?

Florence: I feel like we wrote “Gary Ashby” very quickly. I may be wrong, but I don’t think we even edited it or anything. It was always the length that it was. One of the first songs we wrote for the album as well.

Nick: And “Don’t Press Me”. Those two were written at the same time. 

Florence: Yeah. They just came out pretty easily. And “Stumpwork” took us the longest. I wouldn’t call it ‘hard’, but it went through a lot of different iterations. 

Nick: I think that for us, if we run into difficulties during the writing process, we push things back for a little bit. We don’t abandon it, but we pause thinking about it. That proves really helpful sometimes, we don’t tend to stress about finishing songs. Our mindset is “If it is good, it will happen at some point.” However, when working with John (Parish) in the studio, as we did in Stumpwork, he would dig up some old thing we did and say “Oh, you should work on this!” That was when we were to forced to rework difficulties. But also, he would sometimes forcefully change things we were happy with, and that was when it all got quite stressful. (laughs) I think with Stumpwork, he wanted to chop things up quite a bit. We grew quite used to him taking huge chunks out of our songs, or adding to them. Going into the studio after we wrote songs, we had some ideas on how to take on small songs, and he would say, “Oh yeah, let’s make it longer!” 

Florence: He did that twice, and I was like, “Oh, there aren’t any words,” and he would go “Write some words!”, and I would go “Sh.t!” (laughs) 

Nick: We weren’t ready for all that. He likes to surprise us. But “Stumpwork” sure took a lot of time. Another one was “Conservative Hell.”

Florence: Oh, yeah!

Nick: Which completely changed in the studio. It became a brand new thing.

Time for a sort of intellectual question. Your fanbase seems to be a devoted one especially when it comes to dissecting your songs, as well as your lyrics, Florence, where they occasionally find how you utilize this cut-up montage technique of using quotes and giving them new life combined with your lines. I know this technique was more heavily used by you in New Long Leg rather than Stumpwork, but still, it brings to mind one of my favorite quotes about art: “Art is never finished. Art is abandoned.” It is a quote open to interpretation, but I read it as art is first created, and then left for the audiences to further seek meaning. How do you feel about that quote, and do you think it resonates with Dry Cleaning’s music?

Florence: I think so. It’s always what I hoped for. It’s generally what I seek when I create anything, whether in drawing or writing. What I need is a partner to finish it, you know? I was never keen on making things that were definitive statements. That just never really appealed to me. The reason to make something is to find a connection with another person, at least for me. It’s almost like setting a riddle for someone. Not even a riddle, because that implies there is a correct answer. It’s more like “If you understand my writing, then maybe we can be friends.” (laughs) Maybe that thought lives in the back of my mind. It’s almost like the way you dress to attract somebody. To find someone who appreciates your mind or gets who you are. You sort of decorate yourself, you know? At least that is one reason to do it. So I think a big part of my motivation to make things is to try to communicate and reach other people. The idea of people listening and completing the writing themselves is absolutely what I want.

In your opinion, what is the best thing about being past your teenage years when starting a successful band?

Florence: It makes it easier to be more grounded, maybe? I think sometimes we feel guilty to be too grounded. We can be a bit modest sometimes. (laughs) But that should be mostly a good thing, not to attribute too much of your success to your own personal genius. I believe I am more capable of doing that now than I was at 21. From the outside, it just seems nice to get a lot of praise, but it can be quite a headf.ck for lots of people to say that something you made is fantastic. As a younger person, I think I may have taken that too seriously and disappeared up my own asshole quite more than I have. (laughs) 

Nick: For sure. And I think it is really easy to fall into. You see artists falling into those types of trappings all the time. It’s not some made-up, presumptuous thought, there are actually a lot of difficult things to deal with when you have your work out in the public eye and people engage with it on a large scale. It comes with a lot of baggage. For me, I’m just happy to get all the stakes out of the way out in the public eye in unsuccessful bands or projects nobody engaged with. I made a lot of mistakes, loads of things that if happened publicly, I would be really embarrassed about. (laughs) It is good to feel mature and be surrounded by a group of people that feel the same way. That is just a personal view, you know. We know a lot of people who are in their early twenties just as mature as we are. Way more mature than we were around that age.

Florence: Yeah, exactly. Was about to say just that. I was absolutely the most ill-suited person to be in a band when I was younger. (laughs)

What I need is a partner to finish it, you know? I was never keen on making things that were definitive statements. That just never really appealed to me. The reason to make something is to find a connection with another person.

Florence Shaw

Time for a little game, because I want to know what you have been listening to: When you check out your streaming platform’s search history, what are the last three things that come up?

Nick: Oh, I remember the last thing I listened to! (nervous laugh)

Florence: Yeah, hold on a minute. I should check.

Nick: Mine is… Oh my God.

Florence: Mine are great! (both laugh)

Nick: I will go from least recent to the most. The first one is “A Day in the Park” by Ryuichi Sakamoto. And then I looked up a song “If You’d Be Mine” by Shuggie Otis. Finally, there is a song called “Macarena” by Los Del Rio. (laughs) I was listening to it and realized it is really f.cking good!

It is a good song, that is true.

Florence: It is! My least recent search is Kurt Vile. Not a single, but his catalog. I heard that he did a Charli XCX cover, and I really wanted to hear it, but I found out it was only on Amazon streaming, which is a shame. Still would love to hear it, because apparently, he is a big fan. Then comes the song “I Will Dare” by The Replacements. It reminds me of my partner, so I was listening to that on the plane. Then I looked up Altın Gün. Do you know them?

Yeah, sure! They have grown huge, which is a nice thing.

Florence: They are just the loveliest people. We met them at a festival a few years ago in Slovakia and became good friends. They were really nice. Great band too, obviously.

This is a common closing question I ask in most of my interviews: Imagine you are in a musicians’ theme park 100 years from now. Each name has a memorial stone with one of their lyrics engraved on it. Which lyric would be engraved on Dry Cleaning’s stone?

Florence: I know what it would be. It should be a paving slab and say “I’m smiling constantly and people constantly step on me.” (all laugh)

Nick: Great. I am not going to top that. It is Dry Cleaning, so there has to be an element of humor.

Florence: Yeah. It’s a shame though, because I would love to have a big stone statue of us similar to Mount Rushmore. (all laugh) So one option from those two: Either an example of massive ego, or something small on the ground where people stand on.

Here is an idea: Maybe you should run some kind of a physical model of this theme park. Because if you collected all these answers from your interviews, I would actually want to see the park!

Dry Cleaning plays at Salon on June 2. You can check out their official website here and Bandcamp profile here.