As a quartet from Leeds, The Dunwells are about to release Light up the Sky, their second album which could be described as their most intimate and epic yet.
(Article by Clive Morgan, republished from http://www.telegraph.co.uk/music/what-to-listen-to/the-dunwells-light-up-the-sky-exclusive-album-stream/)
The album is a blend of electro-infused, indie music – and you can listen to an exclusive stream of it below:
Fresh from a host of international tour dates, which included an appearance on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, the friends now have their sights are set closer to home.
“Hey now, it’s been a long time coming,” says frontman Joe Dunwell. “I’ve been ready for a while.”
There may only be two members with the same surname, but The Dunwells are very much a band of brothers with siblings Joe and David Dunwell, together with their two close school friends, Rob Clayton and Adam Taylor.
The band formed in 2009, drawn together by a mutual love of bands such as Bon Iver, Elbow, and Damien Rice.
Describing the album, Joe says: “This is an album full of heart felt lyrics and powerful melodies, it’s an album of hope, struggles with everyday life, sadness, happiness, honesty, the desire for more. It’s about being a human being with the same emotions as everyone else.”
Dave and Rob have played in bands since childhood, while Joe, who met Adam at college, was determined to follow in his brother’s footsteps. By 13, he proclaimed that he was ready to start a band.
“I remember it well,” says Dave, laughing. “I was 18 years old, and I’d just come back from doing some travelling. I thought I was all grown up and mature, but there I was wanting to join forces with my younger brother, and make music with him.”
For the next few years, this is what they did.
It was at one gig, at the Bedford Arms in London’s Balham, where the fledgling four-piece band were spotted by a promoter who saw something in them, something perhaps they hadn’t seen themselves.
“He invited us to play at a festival in Memphis,” says Dave. “It was called Folk Alliance.”
The Dunwells were not a folk act then, but they did have a song that featured banjo – and this, seemingly, was all it took.
“It was an opportunity,” says Joe, “and so of course we grabbed it.”
Before long they found themselves up in Elvis’ hometown, playing to a very different kind of audience.
“To be entirely honest, I don’t think we felt like we really fitted in,” says Rob, smiling, “but it was an amazing experience.”
In the crowd was their future manager who, shortly after they left the stage, offered them a deal.
A few months later, they were back in the US, recording their debut album at Willie Nelson’s studio in Austin, Texas.
“It was a crazy time, and very intense,” says Joe. “We had just three weeks to record the entire album.”
The result was Blind Sighted Faith, which was, according to the band themselves, a potentially confusing one for prospective fans.
“There were four of us, and three of us sang the songs,” says Dave. “We loved what we were doing, and the album was a success – especially in America – but it was like we hadn’t fully found out who we were yet, what our true sound was.”
In 2013, they returned to the UK, and rang in the changes. They changed drummers and they lost the banjo. And, to all intents and purposes, they got themselves a new singer too.
“Joe has always had the stronger voice,” says his Dave, magnanimously. “And it just made sense for one of us to sing, not three. We wanted a focal point, and Joe was always the focal point.”
This might have damaged egos in other bands, but not here, insists Dave.
“There has never been an ego in this band, and we’ve always realised we are stronger as a four-piece than we are alone. It was actually Joe who was the most resistant, initially because he didn’t want to upset me, but I think we all agreed that he was better as the frontman. He looks the part, too.”
They then brought in producer Steve Harris, who has worked with U2, Kaiser Chiefs and Kodaline, as well as Dan McDougall (Aurora) and Manny Marroquin (Haim, Taylor Swift).
For a band inspired by Damien Rice, Bon Iver and elbow, it should come as little surprise that their songs are similarly wrought. Light up the Sky is an album full of melancholy ache and the power of dreams.
“Writing songs that actually mean something,” says Dave, “was paramount.”
“It’s a very honest record. It talks about where we are in life, how frustrated we sometimes are, but also our happiness, some occasional sadness, and the good foundations of our home lives. It’s also about how much we want this, the sacrifices we’ve made, how ready we are.”
Creative frustration is a recurring theme here, and features in the songs Lucky Ones and Hey Now.
“Both of those songs stem back to 2013 in New York when we learned there would be no more singles to be released off our first album,” says Dave.
“So we went from heavy promotion to next to nothing, just twiddling our thumbs and feeling very exposed. But we decided to stop reflecting on the past and to focus on right now, to put a positive spin on things, and move forward.”
Joe adds that, “I think I write at my best when I’m unhappy or frustrated, or tapping into the love and passion I feel for what we are doing.”
Hurts is about a friend of theirs, someone whose big break lies just around a corner he never quite reaches.
“He loves his drink, but he can’t hold a girlfriend and has the worst luck,” Dave says.
“But you never see it in his face; he’s the life and soul. But one day he let his heart out to Joe, and said how unhappy he was in his life. It was painful to listen to, and really affecting.”
The result is one of the most emotional songs on the album.
Perhaps the most vivid, alongside the keening Communicate and the gospel-tinged Will You Wait for Me, is Animal, a song about our most basic needs.
“I don’t know if I’m allowed to love a song I co-wrote,” says Dave, laughing, “but I love that song.
“Sonically, it’s completely different than anything we’ve ever done before, and even though Joe sings it in a romantic way, there is nothing romantic about the subject.
“It’s about lust, about wanting to have sex with someone who isn’t quite ready to have sex yet. It’s about being prepared to wait, because she is worth it, but it’s also about how we are, when it comes down to it, animal in our instincts.”
And Joe, accordingly, infuses it with the passion of someone whose veins stand out on his neck as he sings. Taking sole control of the microphone has clearly been his true calling.
“I’m not the most confident of people off stage,” he admits, “but I really feel like I belong on stage. It’s where I am most comfortable, where everything feels natural.”
As the lyrics of the song The Best Is Yet to Come suggests, The Dunwells “are waiting for our real lives to begin”.
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