Interview: David Cronenberg’s Wife

David Cronenberg’s Wife recently released a superb new album called The Ship (Necrologies). It’s one of their finest efforts to date. The record marks something of a change in direction towards something starker and more impassive. There are droney folk numbers, Spaghetti Western guitars, minimalist rock arrangements, angular rhythms, and all sorts of pure and righteous truths.

They kindly took time out to answer a few of my questions. We talked about venue closure, Curb Your Enthusiasm, creepy uncles, and Kazakhstan. Some questions and answers have been edited lightly for clarity. 

THE INDIEPENDENT: The narrators in your songs remind me of the tone of various British comedy programs like Humans Remains, Peep Show, Jam etc. What sort of non-musical influences are there on David Cronenberg’s Wife?

I think my music tastes developed at the same time as I was getting into films — so I was listening to Dylan and Patti Smith while I was getting into Kubrick, Lynch and Cronenberg. Stu, our drummer, suggests Curb Your Enthusiasm. But Peep Show is not a bad shout — some DCW songs definitely try to capture that awkward slice of life that type of show deals with. Though I think the David Cronenberg’s Wife (DCW) song most like that — ‘You Should See’ off The Octoberman Sequence EP — was probably written before Peep Show even aired.

THE INDIEPENDENT: I see the similarities to Peep Show in ‘You Should See’ but I think I see that slightly paranoid, internal POV style more on ‘The Dude Of Love’. Do you try to write funny lyrics or do they just materialise like that? Did you ever have aspirations to be a novel/short story writer or was it always music?

I think the worst review we ever got said that Hypnagogues was a “comedy album”. Firstly, it’s not – I guess the reviewer only listened to ‘Sweden’? Secondly, some of my key musical influences use comedy such as Jonathan Richman and Nick Cave in The Birthday Party. Even Dylan drops a joke or two (‘Motorpsycho Nightmare’).. I don’t try to be funny, just if the lines fit… I never had serious thoughts of being a short story writer, but actually I did do stand-up comedy a few times before the start of DCW.

THE INDIEPENDENT: What comes first, the music or the lyrics? Furthermore, what comes easier/what do you spend more time on?

There’s no one way. Often I’ll have a lyrical idea for a song and it’ll take years for the right music to come along. For example, the idea for ‘Nazarbayev Applause Laughing’ sat in a drawer for years before we got a riff I thought we could use. Sometimes the music comes first and I work out the lyrics based on what I hear; ‘No Way Out’ from the new album was like that. Adam came up with the riff and I wrote the lyrics to fit. Some lyrics are ten minute jobs, other times it can take months. The music evolves as we work through a song in the rehearsal studio.

THE INDIEPENDENT: The music feels more uncompromising on this album than on previous ones. I’m thinking of the 5/4 rhythm on ‘Nazarbayev Applause Laughing’ and the propulsive driving feel of ‘Hannity Comes Home’. Was this a conscious decision, borne of listening to different stuff or working with Adam more? Or just a natural progression? 

‘Hannity’ was one of my riffs, but it’s hard to play! ‘Nazarbayev’ was all Adam. He sent me a five minute audio file of the Nazarbayev riff. In the first five seconds you can hear him say “Too ‘Take 5’?” (the Dave Brubeck song), then he abandons the 5/4 time and develops it into something else. Of course, I discarded the rest and used those first five seconds…

THE INDIEPENDENT: David Sedaris talks about how he’ll only begin to put a story down on paper once he’s told it to audiences fifty or sixty times, tweaking it to maximise the laughs. How much do your songs/lyrics change between their inception and their recording?

There’s definitely a long-ish period of time where I am changing words or whole lines. Sometimes the song comes nearly complete, but you still have to go through revisions. You just keep going until you’re satisfied with it. 

THE INDIEPENDENT: Across David Cronenberg’s Wife lyrics there seems to be a focus on places, such as Sweden, Ukraine, Liverpool (‘home of the Beatles’: one of my favourite lines you’ve written), Maidenhead, Kazakhstan, etc. Is it a conscious decision to uproot characters? Or does it just happen?

I think it’s important to put a character in a real place. And sometimes the place names just sound interesting, they have a kind of poetry in their names. Some of the place names relate to things that happened to me. I’ve been to Kazakhstan a few times. And I actually did have a date in Liverpool once (and wrote ‘You Should See’ before that date in anticipation of what was going to happen). And I was once in Sweden in rather stressful circumstances. I remember feeling very low, even though I was walking around this idyllic place during the autumn – there was mist encircling the tops of these picturesque houses. Back in London sometime later I woke up at 3am from a strange dream with a riff in mind. I grabbed my guitar and worked out the chords. The memory of the time in Sweden fit the chords so that became the first verse of the song.

THE INDIEPENDENT: Do you see yourselves as godparents of the current indie ‘scene’, along with groups like Fat White Family and Meatraffle? Your blend of dynamic, political, funny lyrics coupled with chugging post-punk/country arrangements I see reflected in some new groups.

I think The Country Teasers would be the parents, and we’d be more like the creepy uncle. Perhaps as much as the sound of the bands, it’s also the DIY element that links us – just finding any place that would have us and playing with like-minded bands, without looking at how many people they could bring. In fact, Fat Whites and Meatraffle both played the Antifolk Fest that I put on with Filthy Pedro at the 12 Bar, and we played Saul Adamczewski’s ‘Slide In’ night at The Queen’s Head in Brixton. 

THE INDIEPENDENT: This question seems to get asked of bands operating in London quite a bit so I apologise if you’ve talked about this before, but both The Queen’s Head and 12 Bar have now shut down, are David Cronenberg’s Wife feeling the squeeze in regards to venues closing? How has being a group changed since the heady days of ‘04?

The Windmill is still the same, thank god, though maybe just a little more popular now, which is great, as it means it’s more likely to stay open. I just hope this kind of place can overcome the Corona closure. In London, more and more venues in Zones 1-2 have closed. Maybe it just means that people will have to go to Zones 3-6 for their music. There’s fewer places but it feels the same playing as it did in ‘04. We’re hopefully a little tighter now!

THE INDIEPENDENT: This is a question similar to one you were asked in a blog in 2018 but I wondered if you still feel the same way. To me, the separation of art from artist is pretty obvious. However, in the current climate do you ever worry about how David Cronenberg’s Wife might be construed as offensive or, to use the current nomenclature, be  ‘cancelled’? Have you ever felt the need to edit your words in light of this?

I think it’s always good to assess why you’re using certain words, and there are definitely some words I would find too uncomfortable using. But sometimes the connotations of a word or subject matter evolve after the song is written, and that’s fine.

 I’ve always been interested in songs and films that tackle uncomfortable or difficult issues, and I wouldn’t want to lose that element from our music. Some of the early Cronenberg films have some really disturbing images and some writers I’ve been influenced by, like William Burroughs, make my lyrics seem tame.

THE INDIEPENDENT: What’s different about The Ship (Necrologies) from other David Cronenberg’s Wife releases? And what’s the same?

All of this album was recorded by Jon Clayon in the same place – at OneCat Studio in Brixton. That’s unlike the first three, and I think it gives the album a much more unified sound. Plus this album features the first batch of songs co-written with other members of the band (in this case, guitarist Adam Croucher), something I hope to do more of in the future. It’s definitely widening our horizons. Adam can actually play guitar for one, unlike me, so that’s a big bonus! What hasn’t changed is the mixing process, where Jon sits down with me as I try out different things. It’s a rather laborious process, and Jon has the patience of a saint! 

THE INDIEPENDENT: What are some musical influences we might be surprised by?

Philip Glass maybe, 60s girl-fronted pop, and Frankie Valli. 

THE INDIEPENDENT: Do you see David Cronenberg’s Wife as a vehicle for the band’s songs or a separate entity? So, is there a specific style that you see as definitely DCW, or could you guys as easily make a jazz record? 

Mark E. Smith once said  “If it’s me and yer granny on bongos, it’s the Fall.” I probably feel the same way about DCW. I’d love to do a jazz record, so stay tuned!

Words by Will Ainsley

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