“My cat died three months ago at 17-years-old,” intones Florence Shaw in a deadpan monotone. “When this song plays I can remember the good old days when I was a kid, how we played together with my cat at home alone with my brother and all the good days I had with her… Goodnight sweet princess.” She pauses, motorik guitars weaving around her. “She said have you ever spat cum onto the carpet of a Travelodge?”
And thus began Dry Cleaning’s debut statement to the world.
You wouldn’t imagine, on listening to the hyper-specific, often-hilarious tales that litter debut EP ‘Sweet Princess’ and its recently-released follow-up ‘Boundary Road Snacks & Drinks’, that their narrator would be a slightly reluctant one. And yet the band - completed by guitarist Tom Dowse, bassist Lewis Maynard and drummer Nick Buxton - had to dangle all sorts of carrots to coerce their artist friend to join their new musical venture.
“There was quite a lot of reluctance, for a few reasons,” she begins, “because I’d been quite settled doing what I was doing creatively for a long time.” “She quit the band maybe three times before coming to our first rehearsal,” chips in Lewis. “Tom called me and was like, ‘Look, you can… wear cool clothes?!’” she laughs. “He was scraping the barrel for these reasons why I should do it - although that’s kind of legit, because I do like dressing up. He was like, ‘It could be an outlet for all of your different creative things!’ And he basically convinced me over quite a long phone call. And then Nick text me with some references, a Grace Jones track and some spoken word stuff, which was quite encouraging because I was worried they’d want me to belt something out like Mariah Carey.” “When Flo joined we all knew within seconds that her approach would work with the music,” assures Tom.
Having clocked up a solid decade in the friend game, though the four pals had never attempted to make music together before, they had built a solid foundation of trust and creative freedom as people. All now in their thirties, each member had been flexing their artistic muscles in various forms for a long time – in different bands (Lewis, Tom and Nick), drawing and making visual art (Florence and Tom) and lecturing an arts course at university (Florence). Combining all these aspects, meanwhile, Tom still makes music under a solo project called Mr. Blunt Trauma. “He has costumes and he’s got a big trench coat. Lots of spikes and studs,” nods Florence. “He sent me a picture the other day where he’d made a mask out of bouncy balls,” informs Lewis.
It meant that, when they began writing for Dry Cleaning, the quartet approached the project with this same uncommercial, art-for-art’s-sake mindset. In order to create an un-intimidating safe space, they rehearsed in a tiny room at Lewis’ mum’s old house (the same Boundary Road early base that would later become eulogised on record). “You couldn’t really see each other because we were so close. It was a glorified cupboard and that made it way less scary,” says the singer. “In quite a crowded space, you almost feel less self-conscious.” “It made everything a lot more minimal,” continues Lewis. “We didn’t have any distortion, because we physically couldn’t. We’re gonna start rehearsing in a smaller room again to revisit that kind of writing. I called up a studio the other day and asked to downgrade our room, and they’re like, ‘OK…’”
As featured in the December 2019 / January 2020 issue of DIY, out now.