by Josh Spilker
The Dead Letters is a young and gritty band out of Kendal, Lake District in the northern part of the United Kingdom. Their EP, Sampler, is soaked with shoegaze over-loaded pop songs. Here are a handful of questions for the band.
The current lineup is Trevor Shepherd – vocals/guitar, Rich Wilson – guitar, Paul Mann – keyboards, Guy Humphreys – drums, and Rich Dickens – bass.
Sampler seems longer than its running time. I guess it’s denser than its three-song format might indicate.
Trevor: As far as the running time goes, we maybe got a little lucky! We’d wanted to record those songs (in particular) for a while and only realized that the last song was seven minutes plus after mixing it all down – kind of cool when we give it out to people because we know they’re getting more than they might think.
Do you consider things like layers of sound and motion when writing and composing songs?
Trevor: When writing a song, I record it roughly adding backing vocals, one guitar, normally acoustic, and both myself and Rich get together to add keyboards later on. I’d like to think that I have the placement of the bass, drums and keys in my head. Rich then adds a second guitar and we burn a demo CD for the rest of the guys to learn from. You could say that because we do things in a structured way, the layers of sound take care of themselves. When we record, some things really hit you in the face too – like suddenly realizing that a third guitar at a certain point would sound cool.
Rich: I think having keyboards definitely adds an extra layer to the round, but we’re careful to have sections where the music can breathe too. Otherwise I think it could become a bit overbearing.
One element of that I noticed was the keyboard. I often feel like it’s maligned. Is there a “right” way and “wrong” way to incorporate that into the rock band set up?
Trevor: I wouldn’t really know the answer to that as none of us can technically play the keyboards! What we do is work out what sounds good and then me and Rich do one hand each – Paul films us on his camera playing it and then learns it from playing along to the footage and/or CD. Paul is somewhat of a hero for being able to do this as we have no idea, theory wise, what we play. So he trusts that we’ve got it right.
We try and keep trying to pick influences from keyboard players of bands or artists that we admire – mainly Rob Collins of The Charlatans, Ken Stringfellow and Elliott Smith, all of whom are far better than us. I think if keys are added just for the sake of it, the song can suffer, so we try to think it through a lot and normally keep it simple.
Rich: Yeah, we’re not too technically minded but hopefully what we do fits and adds to the song. In particular we like organs in rock music and the extra power and variety they can bring to a song.
Localizing to your area in Kendal, what’s the music scene like? Are there bands helping one another?
Trevor: Where we live, there are basically two bars that put on half decent music. It’s a small town really, so you find yourself traveling to Manchester, London, Liverpool, etc. to see ‘good’ bands. There are a few local bands that we’re friends with which makes it easier to get gigs but there’s no real ‘scene’ as we all sound different and have a differing outlook on music generally.
Most of the bands we are into are American and I don’t have a problem with that – live music and ‘rock’ music in general, seems to get a better reception in the US. In the UK the ‘pop chart’ runs the show, so if you’re in a band that dares to use a distortion pedal your pretty much on your own.
Rich: There are bands like British Sea Power, and Wild Beasts, that are originally from Kendal who seem to be doing pretty good at the minute, but I think they have both had to move to bigger cities to get attention, so I do think it’s hard for bands round here to get noticed… and we don’t want to have to move to London.
For enterprising Americans, what are good websites to check out to find out what’s really going on in the UK music scene?
Trevor: For bands, I’d recommend checking out The Charlatans and Gravenhurst – both easily Googled! Rich’ll have a better answer to this one.
Rich: To be honest, it is hard to get away from the New Musical Express culture where they get into a particular band or scene and then all you can read about for months are bands who are supposedly the ‘new’ Artic Monkeys or the ‘new’ Libertines. So it can be difficult. We’re not interested in turning new rave or whatever is supposed to be cool right now. Maybe we are old fashioned like that. I think Myspace is still a great way to discover new bands.
What do you want people to take away from a Dead Letters show or music?
Trevor: It’d be nice if people thought the songs were good and listened properly, but it’s not an ideal world! The main thing for me is for people to enjoy it or find they can relate to it and take something positive from it. I don’t think we are particularly depressing but, when listening to various artists, I always find it comforting that ‘someone else’ has experienced maybe similar difficulties in life such as your own. The flip side being positive things too, of course. It all comes down to how you interpret the music you listen to, I suppose.
Also is the band working on any new projects right now?
We’re busy demo-ing new songs at the minute, and we’re in talks with a couple of local indie labels about releasing an EP in the new year, so things are looking pretty good.