Drenge – Eoin and Rory Loveless – are the UK’s most explosive live act. And they’re playing a free show for ShortList in Liverpool. Kevin EG Perry meets the men behind the noise
A live show by grunge siblings Drenge is an all-out assault on the senses, but don’t just take our word for it. “We met Kanye West when we did Later… With Jools Holland and he told us he liked the aggression in our music,” says drummer and younger brother Rory Loveless. “He was talking about wanting to put more aggression into his own music. Yeezus was out by then, but I’d be interested to hear what his next album sounds like. Maybe there’s a sprinkling of Drenge inspiration in there. Drengespiration.”
Strangely, presidential hopeful Kanye isn’t their only fan with political ambitions. The band became the talk of Westminster in July 2013 when Tom Watson MP, now Labour’s deputy leader, quit Ed Miliband’s Shadow Cabinet. In his resignation letter, he urged his doomed boss to: “be that great Labour leader that you can be, but try to have a real life, too. And if you want to see an awesome band, I recommend Drenge.”
“It wasn’t a bad thing,” says singer and guitarist Eoin of this unexpected endorsement, “but it’s still something that people who don’t care about music are happy to stamp us with, which is cute. We put out a new album and some people just said, ‘Oh, that band Tom Watson likes are back.’ That was our break into the public consciousness, but we’re still here, still making music.”
That new record – Undertow, the band’s second – hit No. 14 when it was released in April. Led by pulverising lead single We Can Do What We Want, it’s a visceral step up from the nihilistic garage punk of their self-titled 2013 debut and a thousand times heavier than the music being made by most of their indie rock peers.
“A lot of our contemporaries are lighter sounding than us,” says Eoin. “We’re not covered in tattoos. We don’t really live out the music that we play. We go home and things are incredibly boring, safe and nice. Then there’s this ferocious music that we put out. We’re the same sort of people who are in the bands we’ve toured with like Maccabees, Peace and Wolf Alice, it’s just that I don’t know what I’d do without a fuzz pedal…”
From JG Ballard to Nick Cave, there’s a rich tradition of artists who’ve followed Flaubert’s Law: orderly and regular in their lives, savage and original in their art. After growing up in the sleepy Derbyshire village of Castleton, this is a lifestyle the Loveless brothers adhere to. “That’s definitely what I believe,” says Eoin. “At the moment I’m writing our next record, at home, and I’m doing it on a nine-to-five, Monday-to-Friday basis. There’s a super-boring quality to my daily existence outside of touring.”
So where does the aggression stem from? Eoin thinks it might be something to do with being cooped up with someone who shares almost all of your genes. “I was talking to Ryan [Jarman] from The Cribs the other day about the aggression that stems from being creative with your brother,” he says. “It can be a difficult circumstance, especially if you’re at a point in your lives when most people don’t live with their brothers or really see them, apart from at Christmas.”
For Rory, it’s also to do with reacting against the monotony of their village upbringing. “It’s the frustration of being a teenager where you’ve got nothing to do,” he says. “It’s a release. I would describe myself as quite a chilled-out guy, but that’s because I’m going at it every night and putting everything I have into the 40 minutes I get on-stage. It’s like the complete opposite of Saturday Night And Sunday Morning.”
The brothers have been finding their escape in music since they were “stupidly young”, as Eoin puts it. The appeal of the piano lessons their parents encouraged waned at pretty much the same moment they first heard Kurt Cobain.
“I started playing guitar when I was 11,” remembers Eoin. “I’d just got a radio, and I had it by my bed on volume one or two. I’d wake up at six and listen for two or three hours before school. There was a much wider variety that would be played then. I remember hearing Nirvana and the White Stripes. I thought: ‘These bands play guitar. Maybe I can play as well.’ I had no foresight beyond that.”
Credit for Drenge’s success must also go to Mum and Dad Loveless for buying a drum kit for a 12-year-old Rory to crash around on. “I was a bit surprised really,” he says. “There might’ve been two girls in my year whose parents bought them horses. I didn’t think my parents would buy me something like that, but music was really important to them. They’re not wacky, ‘do what you like, try weed if you want to’ parents, yet they bought me one of the loudest instruments you can get.”
Being a rare teenage drummer in Castleton meant the teenage Rory played in everything from Irish folk groups to his dad’s jazz band. As a 15-year-old he was introduced to tour life on a school Big Band trip that included concerts in Prague, Copenhagen and Disneyland Paris. “We’d go out and get p*ssed underage,” he says. “That was probably the most rock’n’roll tour I’ve ever been on.”
Meanwhile, Eoin kept himself to himself, writing much of Drenge’s early material in his bedroom until it was good enough to play to his brother. “In the early days we weren’t particularly tight because every time we tried to practise our elderly next door neighbour would try to break into the house,” he says. “For the first year and a half of our band we never had a rehearsal. We’d play a show every two weeks, and each one was a chance for us to try to work out what the songs were, if we remembered them.”
Eventually the band became their lives, and Eoin dropped out of university. They toured non-stop from November 2012 until the end of 2014, and by January this year they found themselves in New York playing the Late Show With David Letterman. “I don’t remember it being filmed,” says Eoin. “All I have to remember it by is watching it online. It’s just some hobby that we started and then we’re playing on the all-time greatest chat show.”
Those years of touring have sculpted Drenge into one of the UK’s most exciting live bands. They’ve now added a bassist to their live line-up – Rob Graham, formerly of Sheffield blues-rock duo Wet Nuns – but that’s not the only reason they’re sounding more muscular. “All this touring has made Rory a muscle man,” says Eoin. “He’s terrifying, whereas I’m just a chubby guitarist.”
You now have the chance to enjoy the fruits of their labour as Drenge are the latest band to sign up for our 48 Hours To… gigs – they’re playing a free show at Liverpool venue The Magnet. “Liverpool is one of the all-time great musical cities of the world,” says Eoin. “We haven’t played The Magnet before, but it looks like a Twenties burlesque underground bar, so it should be cool.”
Drenge are proof that there’s no substitute for a band putting in the hours on the road. Never mind the political endorsements; Rory puts their rise down to “just playing loads and loads of gigs, and finding out who you are onstage through that. It takes ages. You have to suck for ages, and then eventually you start not sucking.”
That’s the secret of their continued success: 99 per cent perspiration, one per cent Drengespiration.
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(PHOTOGRAPHY: DERRICK SANTINI)