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October 2019
Cover story

Dinosaur Pile-Up are back with what's set to be one of the albums of the summer

Imagine how fun you think it is, then times that by fourteen.
Published: 3:30 pm, June 07, 2019Words: Jake Hawkes. Photos: Patrick Gunning.
Dinosaur Pile-Up are back with what's set to be one of the albums of the summer

It's been a long old road for Dinosaur Pile-Up. Twelve years long, to be exact. In that time they've been through line-up changes, released three studio albums and toured America in the back of an RV for far longer than three grown men should spend living in what is essentially a big campervan. "We did about 140,000 miles in it in the end!" laughs lead singer and guitarist Matt Bigland.

After the release of last album ‘Eleven Eleven' in 2015, the band toured almost non-stop, taking in "the US, Japan, India, Europe and the UK, and some of those more than once." After a well-earned break and some time in the studio, we caught up with them in a South London pub that was blasting Little Mix on a Wednesday afternoon to discuss the new album, signing to a major label and which bottled water is best (Evian wins, "the champagne of bottled water brands", apparently).

"It's been over a year since we toured last, I think?" starts Mike Sheils, the drummer. "There was a tour in Germany, but I can't remember if that was this February or last. We've been all over the place, basically, but we did manage to squeeze in some time off."

"We had this staggered release for our last album, which absolutely wasn't intended, but it meant the touring schedule was so much longer than usual. By the end of it, we were giving literally the worst interviews." The band laugh as he mimics the format: "We'd get people saying ‘So tell me about the album'. And it was just all of us screaming ‘Oh my god, it's four years old!' So we're definitely stoked that this one's getting a worldwide release without a six-month delay."

Not only is the new album getting a better-timed release, but it's also the band's first on a major label, after signing with Parlophone. "Twelve years in and we're on a major, it feels awesome!" Matt enthuses. "We didn't write the album signed to one, and there was probably the least amount of certainty we've ever had while writing something. We had management and So Records, who are an absolutely incredible independent label, and we could bounce stuff off of them, but in terms of money and where we were gonna put the record, who was gonna release it – none of that existed at all.

"We toured ourselves into the ground in America and decided to go and make this record of songs we'd been fucking with for three years, but even management was just like..." He crosses his fingers and grins. "They just basically said ‘Don't know what's gonna happen here, have fun!' It was cool in one way to not have any expectations there, but it was also horrible because we genuinely thought it could be our last album."

Mike nods in agreement. "It was like floating in a rubber ring away from this tiny boat wondering what's going to happen to you and then hearing this massive horn, turning around and a major label just scoops you up on deck. I remember thinking, ‘Fuck, we might actually be alright!'"

"That's it exactly," says Matt. "But this period of floating lasted for quite a while, and we were making the album with Larry Hibbert in his studio, which is this dark room in Brixton. The whole scenario could seem really bleak; we were fucking scraping by.

"So to me the fact that we made the record and thought it was great and loved it was all that mattered, we were just glad we did it. But then the head of Parlophone turned up and said, ‘Hey, this is sick, want us to release it?' It's wild, really wild."

Dinosaur Pile-Up are back with what's set to be one of the albums of the summer
Dinosaur Pile-Up are back with what's set to be one of the albums of the summer
Dinosaur Pile-Up are back with what's set to be one of the albums of the summer
“The whole scenario could seem really bleak; we were fucking scraping by”
Matt Bigland

Not being signed until after the record had been made had an effect on the content, as well as the decision to go as hard as they could, just in case they didn't get another shot.

"The ‘we're never gonna make it' theme that runs through the album isn't ironic or anything," Matt explains. "We really did think this might be it, I've been in this band twelve years, Mike's been here for nine years, even Jim [Cratchley, the band's bassist] has been here for five years, it's a long time. We've done a lot with that time, had a lot of experiences and tours and songs, but at no point have we ever taken stock and thought ‘oh fuck yeah, we're alright, we've made it'.

"There was a definite feeling of excitement about the songs on the new album, but I feel like if we're honest, there was a feeling of it being a last hurrah too. You can't do it forever if you aren't making any money and the numbers aren't growing, you know? When you're eating shit and doing small venues for a long time, it can get quite daunting, and you do start to wonder if it's ever gonna happen."

He pauses, before adding with a laugh: "Not that I'm saying it's happened now just because we've signed to a major, absolutely not. None of us have our own houses yet..."

"...or Celebrity Mansions," jokes Mike, leaning into the mic and adding "That's the name of the record, that's the joke, it was a tie in. This major label media training is really paying off."

Dreams of mansion-ownership aside, it really has been an uphill struggle for Dinosaur Pile-Up to get to where they are today, not least because of numerous line-up changes in the first few years of the band. Matt recorded the first two albums on his own, with Mike and Jim only getting involved with the release of ‘Eleven Eleven'.

"When I was doing the records on my own, it was just through circumstances really," Matt reflects. "I just got on and did it because I knew what record I wanted to make. Through touring that first record I met Mike and then Jim, who was in Tribes at the time, but it didn't really come together until a few years after that.

"It's way easier recording with all of us," he adds. "It's way more fun, and just way less sad in general. We were a set band that had been touring together, and that meant I didn't need to make the record on my own – why would I not use the boys?"

He takes a sip of his beer before continuing: "Recording together is really turned on its head versus doing it on your own; I still write the songs in the same way, but then we can each just learn our own bits and fucking nail them in recording. It's a lot less stressful and a hell of a lot quicker, I love it."

Dinosaur Pile-Up are back with what's set to be one of the albums of the summer
Dinosaur Pile-Up are back with what's set to be one of the albums of the summer
Dinosaur Pile-Up are back with what's set to be one of the albums of the summer

Does that period before 'Eleven Eleven' feel like a different era for the band? Matt thinks for a while, before answering.

"I personally see it as this whole period of starting the band. So even though it was a long time before Mike and Jim were on board, it feels like that was the point where I was just working everything out."

"A lot of bands do that before they even release anything," Mike adds. "Unfortunately or fortunately, depending on how you look at it, it happened to coincide with Dinosaur Pile-Up getting a lot of attention and hype because Matt's early stuff was so good."

"It definitely feels like a long journey for me," Matt says. "I was just getting on with it, but there was a lot of change and solidification happening in the public eye – but now we've been the same band for years and that in itself has been a long journey, except this time it's long for three of us, not just me."

"There's a continuity about it, too," he continues. "Our influences – my influences at least – have stayed pretty constant. I feel without a doubt that this record is the best record we've written, but most of the influences on it are the same, I just feel like I've managed to translate it better. I think all of our influences are American too; all the bands at least."

"Matt always says that when he was growing up, he got hold of his brother's record collection, listened to Blur and Oasis and just didn't like it at all," Mike explains. "Then he listened to Foo fighters and Nirvana and loved it. I think that applies to us all, we all grew up with American influences in pop culture and TV, and all the rad bands were American: Deftones, Foo Fighters, Rage Against the Machine, all American.

"Smashing Pumpkins, too," Matt chips in. "All the movies you're watching as a kid as well... I dunno, I definitely felt hugely influenced by American pop culture, and I think that translates heavily into the music we make. At no point have I wanted to be really English on a record, because I don't give a fuck. I just relate to all that American stuff I grew up with."

Mike and Jim both nod along, and Jim adds.: "We also basically lived in America when we were touring our last album, so obviously that has an effect. We were there for two summers, living the American dream. Bought an RV, drove ourselves around, got hammered while wearing shorts and baseball caps – the whole lot. Although everyone in America thinks we're Australian," he laughs. "So it clearly isn't all American influences."

"The one thing I do think is different this time around," Matt says, steering back on topic. "Is that I started listening to old-school hip-hop again, which I hadn't done for a while. Stuff like Eminem and Run DMC. Not loads of it, just a couple of tracks – obviously the album we've written isn't a hip-hop album, but it has these fun moments which weren't in the other albums."

"You've just terrified half our audience!" Mike quickly jumps in. "They're all reading this going ‘What?! Hip-hop?!' Don't worry, those Weezer and Rage Against the Machine influences are still there, please don't run away. If anything, I'd say they're there more so than on the last album. ‘Eleven Eleven' was quite dark, and this one isn't so much, it's really upbeat in a way that Weezer is, quite sunny and happy. Rage Against The Machine obviously aren't always happy, but there's a positive feeling there."

Dinosaur Pile-Up are back with what's set to be one of the albums of the summer
Dinosaur Pile-Up are back with what's set to be one of the albums of the summer
Dinosaur Pile-Up are back with what's set to be one of the albums of the summer
“If you're always sad about not making it to the big time, you're not gonna have much fun”
Matt Bigland

Matt nods in agreement, adding: "I don't know how to put it, but the danger of all of those RV tours influenced the album too. The dirtiness of it, the no-fucks-given attitude, the late nights, the heat, just all of it. We dealt with these crazy scenarios all the time, and to me, that experience directly translates into songs like ‘Thrash Metal Cassette'.

"We were actually soundchecking in Orlando when I wrote the main riff to that song – someone had just seen a massive fucking alligator out the window in the hotel, and I went down to the soundcheck with that on my mind and just started noodling around. I did this riff, and this stagehand dude was just so into it, so that was a definite ‘better record this!' Moment. Maybe that's a bigger influence, the stuff we do or the things people say to us, because I really don't listen to a lot of new music, I just like what I like, you know?"

"One of the biggest influences for me, come to think of it, was a chat I had with Andy [Ghosh] from Turbowolf," he continues. "It was a year or so before we recorded the album and he asked how it was all going. I started talking about how I had no idea what to put on it, because all of the songs were so different – some of them were really fun and dorky, some were really sad, some were mad heavy... I loved them all individually, but I didn't think they'd gel on one record. Andy just looked at me and said ‘put whichever songs are the best ones on the record; it doesn't even matter'.

"We've followed that advice, and that's why I think this album is the best one we've ever done. I think we went wrong with ‘Eleven Eleven' because I felt it had to all be the same picture, and all that meant is we ended up with a bummer of a record. I love it, but it's all so moody! It's an unhappy record, whereas this one isn't, because I started to not care about the theme and just write whatever the fuck I wanted to write, it was great."

"People consume music differently now anyway," Jim adds. "It matters less these days if the record doesn't sound like it was thought out coherently and planned for years, we're not making ‘Dark Side of the Moon' here. It isn't a concept album; it's just a collection of killer songs tied together with some top-notch production."

"This is making us sound old; we aren't old!" Mike protests. "Can you open each sentence with ‘young and relevant band Dinosaur Pile-Up...' please?" he laughs. "Seriously though, we were leaning away from an album for a while. We thought we might just drop a few songs here and there, disregard an album entirely."

"Even now, we've frontloaded the album a lot more than usual, because you want the singles to be top of the streaming list," Matt explains. "Luckily all the songs are great, but the first few are the ones we want people to engage with instantly. I genuinely love every song, which is a great feeling – but it did make working out the order of the album quite tough.

"But then ‘Thrash Metal Cassette' wasn't really a single in the traditional sense, and the response has been absolutely incredible. It's great to still get a massive reaction when we're playing old stuff live, but also getting it from a brand new song? That's special. We've had people messaging us just to say how much they love the track and explaining exactly why, it's incredible.

"‘Back Foot' was the first proper single, and we picked it because it sums up that shift from ‘Eleven Eleven', which had an underlying feeling of ‘shit, we might not make it as a band, that's depressing'. ‘Celebrity Mansions' and ‘Back Foot' in particular still has that vibe, but it's more ‘we might not make it, but who cares?'"

Mike plays the role of re-assuring the fans again, clarifying: "But please buy the record, we do care, we love you all."

Matt laughs. "Obviously it matters to us, I'm just saying that if you're always sad about not making it to the big time, you're not gonna have much fun. We just wanted to enjoy ourselves a bit more, and I think that shows."

A final question, and clearly the most important one: Which dinosaur would be most likely to cause a pile-up? There's a pause as the band think (more deeply than expected). "Definitely a big one," Matt ventures. "Clumsy, quite a long neck, Brontosaurus maybe?"

"It's gotta be a vegetarian one," Jim adds, confidently. "All the meat eaters are pretty nimble; they aren't gonna be falling over. A Brontosaurus has small legs, so it'd be easy to topple."

Matt and Mike look at him, clearly impressed. "If that were an essay question, you would've won," Mike says, raising a glass in his honour.

Taken from the June issue of Upset. Dinosaur Pile-Up's album 'Celebrity Mansions' is out now.

June 2019 (Dinosaur Pile-Up cover)
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