Riveting post-punk pop, fuelled by art, anxiety and “cheap chocolate mousse”. Sharon O’Connell talks to DRY CLEANING about their newest album New Long Leg, previously in our JANUARY 2022 issue of Uncut, available to buy here.
“Now that we have records out and are signed to a label, it’s hard to communicate just how casual the whole thing was,” says Florence Shaw, still with a faint note of wonder in her voice, four years on. The singer is considering the early days of London four-piece Dry Cleaning, whose deadpan name belies the driving post-punk tension in their music and the intimate nature of Shaw’s lyrics, as exemplified by their 2021 debut, New Long Leg.
Shaw was – and still is – a visual artist with no prior band experience when she was invited by friend Tom Dowse (guitar) to join the kickabout weekend project he had with Lewis Maynard (bass) and Nick Buxton (drums). Buxton texted her links to tracks – including Grace Jones’ “Private Life” and “Guys Are Not Proud” by Alaskan punks The Anemic Boyfriends – which were “more an invitation to be creative in my approach to being a frontperson than references as to what I should do in the band, reminding me that I didn’t necessarily have to belt it out”. Their first group rehearsal in October of 2017 was “an instantaneous thing where we were excited by the sound all four of us made together”.
The 2019 EPs Sweet Princess and Boundary Road Snacks And Drinks found them exploring a range of moody sounds – Joy Division, Sonic Youth, MBV – with Shaw’s disaffected vocals a defining feature, along with a lyrical obsession with food. New Long Leg’s smörgåsbord includes an old sandwich, a Twix and oven chips (in “Scratchcard Lanyard”), sausages, “cheap chocolate mousse” and “crappy, crazy pizzas”. “A lot of my writing comes from daydreaming,” Shaw admits, “just letting my mind wander. Or it can be much more direct, whereby I just transcribe thoughts and feelings as they come and then edit. That’s a huge part of what I do – it’s mainly editing, actually. My writing is supposed to be accessible; I don’t want it to be mysterious, so it’s possible the food is there to say something direct.”
As she has it, the name Dry Cleaning speaks to “the general theme within the band of something extraordinary and ordinary at the same time”. All admit to a certain level of peculiarly understated theatricality, too: “Lewis in particular often talks about the band not just being something where you have your own little moment of self-expression but where you communicate with people, as an outward-facing thing. That’s an important thing we talk about a lot.”
Their second album, again with John Parish in the producer’s chair, is already well underway. Shaw reveals that “the sound has certainly evolved, so there are more shorter and perhaps more joyful songs. We’ve had quite a difficult year in terms of our personal lives – we’ve suffered a few losses – and I think in a strange way it’s galvanised us. We learned a lot about the things we hold close, I guess.” Of Dry Cleaning’s studio process, Shaw cheerfully admits that “it’s hard work on all fronts. We’re all individuals and we try to act as a democracy, generally speaking, so that means there’s a hell of a lot of discussion and a hell of a lot of push and pull. It’s not a beautiful, symbiotic process all of the time but I think we all thrive on that. It’s where the enjoyment is, as well.”
New Long Leg is out now on 4AD.