Getting the call to be a part of a festival line-up isn’t an unusual occurrence in the life of a band, especially one as beloved as 2021’s breakthrough post-punk quartet Dry Cleaning. But getting the call to join a festival line-up curated by a legend – like the one they received when Grace Jones selected Dry Cleaning for her curation of Meltdown Festival 2022 – is an entirely different beast.
“We were at a festival when we got told,” bassist Lewis Maynard recalls to NME. “Our booking agent was like, ‘Right, you want to sit down for this one’ and told us all together. Some of us felt sick because of it.”
To be personally chosen by Jones means a lot to the band, who talk about her with reverence and respect. “She’s such a hero,” drummer Nick Buxton says. “We love all of those Compass Point records, and especially with Trevor Horn. She’s had such an amazing career.”
“I think the control she has over her own image generally is very inspiring,” adds singer Florence Shaw. “She’s really the queen of wrestling the narrative about herself, and the choices she makes, back from the press or from other people. She’s amazing at that.”
Shortly after we speak, Dry Cleaning headline the Southbank Centre’s Queen Elizabeth Hall as part of Meltdown, airing new single ‘Don’t Press Me’ as part of their set. It’s a short, sharp slice of their upcoming second album ‘Stumpwork’, which will arrive on October 21 and follow their 2021 debut album ‘New Long Leg’. That latter record was remarkably successful upon its release, entering the UK charts at Number Four and landing on many album of the year lists.
That triumph, though, didn’t faze the four-piece when they began work on new material. “We managed to write it in a period of time when we just released the first [album] and we couldn’t tour cos of COVID,” explains guitarist Tom Dowse. “It was a good opportunity to write a lot of things that we couldn’t write for the first one, so it’s more like a release than pressure [from the first record].”
Work on ‘Stumpwork’ began before ‘New Long Leg’ had even been released, and gave the band a chance to dig into a certain type of writing without outside voices muddying things. “For instance, ‘Don’t Press Me’ we wrote in December-January , while ‘New Long Leg’ came out in the April,” Dowse notes. “So we’d already started writing some of the things we thought might be singles, which is sometimes one of the hardest things to write. The rest was just kind of fun.”
New single ‘Don’t Press Me’ finds a band brilliantly confident and in resilient form, with Shaw warning over bright, wiry guitars: “You are always fighting me / You are always stressing me out / Don’t press me.” The lyrics don’t refer to another person in her life, as you might assume, but are a message to herself.
“I was trying to write a little song to sing to my own brain [in the chorus],” she explains. “I was feeling a little frustrated with the way my mind works at the time and I just felt pressured from within, I suppose.” After hearing her bandmates play the melody in their rehearsal room one day, she decided to “set myself a little task to try to write a song directed at myself”.
“It’s quite defiant in tone at times, and then it’s written from the perspective of someone who just doesn’t take any crap,” she adds.
Dry Cleaning reunited with acclaimed producer John Parish (PJ Harvey, Aldous Harding, Eels) for ‘Stumpwork’, finding a sense of freedom in both their growing creative relationship with Parish and the longer period of time they had to work in the studio compared to the two weeks that were allotted to record their debut.
“I think there’s more space in it,” Dowse says of ‘Stumpwork’ and how that time to experiment has affected the results of their labour. “When you do the first one, every take you do you’re anxious, like, ‘This has to be the one’. When you do the second [album], you realise it doesn’t have to be the one – you just do your thing and then try something.
“Sometimes it gets on [the album], sometimes it doesn’t. I guess you just put yourself under a bit less pressure, and that made a big difference.”
Dry Cleaning’s new album ‘Stumpwork’ is out on October 21