A picturesque English village is not the sort of place you’d expect to come across a pair of grunge savants with a band name that recalls The Toxic Avenger. While gritty cities may have been the locus of agressive rock sounds in decades past, that’s no longer the case and brothers Eoin and Rory Loveless of the band Drenge prove why. In the absence of a local music scene, or a bevy of rock enthusiasts for that matter, the brothers discovered new music on the Web, thanks to the sort of online sharing we’ve come to consider common. With an emphasis on their live shows, Eoin developed a penchant for punchy, distorted guitar riffs anchored by Rory’s sharp ear-splitting rhythms on the drums. Drenge released their debut self-titled album in 2013 on Infectious Records. They’ll be the first to tell you their music is heavy, but it’s not at the expense of technical skill. I caught up with the Loveless brothers as they embarked on their summer tour, investigating how Drenge really came to be.
Can you tell me more about Castleton?
Eoin: Our house is the nearest house possible to the devil’s arse.
Rory: It’s a big cave where you can walk around. I guess you could say we live on the devil’s teat maybe. It’s basically in the middle of the countryside. There is nothing going on, super touristy. The nearest city is Sheffield where we go and play shows. We go out there to escape that absolute void of activity.
Eoin: You sound like you’re selling a comic book to someone.
Rory: That’s exactly what I’m trying to do.
Eoin: Post-apocalyptic, science fiction—let’s move on.
What type of shows did you go to in Sheffield?
Eoin: It’s where I first saw Reel Big Fish.
Rory: I was young. I saw some bad bands. I saw Reel Big Fish in Manchester. I don’t think I was old enough to get into really good stuff. Just anything I could convince my friends to go to or that I could afford.
Eoin: Up until you’re eighteen in the UK school is such an important part of your life in a lot of ways—it was for us. You’re kind of dictated by what to listen to in school.
You mean like being exposed to pop tunes?
Eoin: I remember when that first Darwin Deez record came out and people going, “Do you like that? Do you like that?” And us going, “Yeah, it’s really great.” That record is not good. I don’t like Darwin Deez.
Rory: I went to Redding and Leeds festival. I saw some really cool bands there like Arcade Fire. I think I saw a show by Girls, a bit of LCD Soundsystem. That Arcade Fire show is probably one of the best shows I’ve ever seen, just amazing on stage. It was more like us finding our influences through the Internet and people recommending us bands and lending us records rather than seeing things live. Which is kind of weird because we take our influence from those bands that are well known for their live shows as well.
Eoin: A massive band for me when I was growing up was The White Stripes, who have obviously influenced what we do. I’d spend hours watching the same song by The White Stripes at different gigs, recorded on camera phones or professional footage, just to hear what different solos Jack [White] would do. At the time I would just sit there for hours. There in Europe, there in America, there in the UK, there in Japan—just to see all these different versions of the same song. It’s stuff like that that made me think more about live performance.
Rory: Thank god for YouTube—let’s just put it that way.
What bands influenced your sound?
Eoin: A band from Leeds called Pulled Apart by Horses. I went to see them and a band called The Eighties Matchbox B-Line Disaster. At the time I wasn’t listening to heavy music. My friend was like, you got to come to see these bands, you’ll really like them. I went along and saw these bands and they made heavy guitar music accessible. I think I have said the word pop in reference to them. They’re not pop acts, just the riffs and stuff. Innately we write pop songs because that’s what you grow up listening to, but I couldn’t deliver them to you the way that Justin Bieber delivers a pop song to you. The way we do it is just with a drum kit and a load of fuzz pedals.
What are the origins of the name Drenge? I know it means boys in Danish.
Rory: Our band started almost a little bit reactionary I guess and just to piss people off, whatever band we played in front of. We came up with this really disgusting name and the Danish language is disgusting anyways. When you hear someone say a couple sentences there’s not enough hard consonants in it—you just think it’s someone speaking gobbledygook. It’s really crass. And when someone’s shouting it as well, it’s horrible. We thought that was kind of funny. Instead of choosing a band name like The Benches or The Tables, we thought we’d go with something that’s a bit more memorable in a way. It sounds funny when it rolls off your tongue. I still find it funny when our tour manager goes, “Yeah we’re Drenge—is that really the band name? Am I working with these guys?” There’s a couple of really odd Danish films that we were into as well around the time we started, like by Lars von Trier, the whole Dogme 95 thing. It’s really raw, no effects, all natural lighting, all natural sound, which is kind of a bit like our band in a way.
Eoin: When we started out, we’re going to have to work with what we got so we can’t record anything so we’ll just do live shows. It was like Dogme 95 in the way of I haven’t got an amp that I can use so if I turn up at the venue and they got an amp I’ll use that amp. If a band’s got an effects pedal I can borrow then I can use that. It’s like we weren’t bringing our own props to a lot of stuff. You just take the basics and then play a gig and then pack up and leave.
Is there something distinctive about creating music as a duo or more intuitive since you are brothers?
Rory: It was more of a necessity, really, just because we were the only guys we knew in our town to play with. I think we connect musically as well because we listen to the same sort of stuff. We are not too far apart in age so we kind of get where the other one’s coming from.
Eoin: With a solo act you get the purest set of ideas from that person, but a solo act is often a guy with an acoustic guitar and most of the time that sucks. With two people you can have someone on the drum kit making loads of noise and someone that’s trying to make just as much noise on the guitar. That’s where you can start being heavy or loud or raw. Whereas, it’s harder with just one person. You can’t be a band if you’re just one guy.
You have a show coming up at Mercury Lounge and you’ve played there before, but you’ve also played Glastonbury. How do those sorts of shows compare?
Rory: It’s nice to have a mix between the two. It’s way more intense in a smaller venue. The more shows we play it seems like it’s more and more intense that way. And sometimes it’s nice just to be on a big stage and have a massive crowd that’s maybe five meters away and you can’t really see anyone. Other times you just want to look the person in the eye and smash the drums up and see what they do.
Eoin: When we did Glastonbury this year we took our parents along, which was a really nice thing to do. I loved doing something for the parents—like, hey, come to work week. But even out of 10,000 people I could still see my parents.
Are there challenges scaling a two-person act for a big festival stage?
Rory: Yeah, definitely. You can watch bands, even four-piece bands on a big stage like that and they’ll just be completely underwhelming. You just got to give it your all. A lot of people take lights on stage and we have started thinking about that for the bigger venues we start playing. It’s a practical thing, but you got to really understand where you’re playing.
Eoin: When we tour, when we do our own shows, I won’t talk. We’ll just do the music. Afterwards if we’re at the merch desk, we’ll be like, thanks for coming out to the show, we really appreciate it. When you do a festival, there’s going to be a load of people that probably haven’t heard your band. If you’re there not talking because that’s what you normally do, a lot of people of are going to be like, you’re fucking rude—please acknowledge that we’re here. For me it’s always forced, this showmanship bit where you go up to the front and are like, clap along. If you want to get people on your side, if you want to get people to like your music, they’re not going to like it if you’re just going to be rude to them on your first date.
Is there something special about playing in New York considering the history of the downtown music scene?
Eoin: If a place like CBGB was still open and you could still go and play there, it would mean more. Even the Mercury Lounge is a bit legendary. Who’s played there?
Rory: It’s definitely the place where a lot of British bands play their first show in America.
Aside from touring now, are you working on new material?
Rory: We have a couple of tunes recorded already. We’re playing a few new songs in the set. We are spending the whole of September in the studio to just see what happens, get as much done as we can. I’m really looking forward to it. I reckon we’ve hit some gold sonically. It’s all hits.
Describe Drenge in three words, rapid-fire.
Eoin: Buy our album.
Rory: Drums and guitar.
Drenge will play Mercury Lounge on Friday followed by a show at Rough Trade in Brooklyn on Saturday. See the full list of tour dates, here.