Middle Class Rut * Dinosaur Pile Up * Brick + Mortar
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Dinosaur Pile-Up’s Matt Bigland knew exactly where he was heading when he started the Britrock outfit’s second album. “I wanted this album to make you feel something,” he says, “good, bad, whatever. I wanted it to drag whatever was inside of me kicking and screaming and dump it on the tape, so that whoever’s listening to it can feel the same. I wanted this album to kick you in the face.”
Impressive talk. But as is suggested in the record’s title, ‘Nature Nurture’, sometimes the forces around you can have ideas of their own, and the journey will take you to places you had barely imagined. To recap, Dinosaur Pile-Up broke out of the fervent Leeds rock scene at the end of last decade, their debut album ‘Growing Pains’ inviting favourable comparisons to the cream of 90s US college rock, and touring with likes of Pixies, Feeder, Cage The Elephant and Twin Atlantic. They quickly became one of the hottest-tipped of a new generation of UK rock acts, and the latest incumbent of the ‘grunge revival’ at the hands of a media hungry for one. Bigland had written and recorded ‘Growing Pains’ himself, but touring had turned the outfit into a ‘proper’ band, albeit one with something of a revolving door policy.
And after two years in the road in support of ‘Growing Pains’ that door spun faster on Matt than ever before, with drummer Mike Sheils and bassist Johnny Seymour deciding to leave the band within days of each other, mere days before sessions were due to start.
“It did feel like a weird break-up,” he remembers, “because with Mike especially, it wasn’t like he did anything wrong. Being in band is hard, I understood that. For a while after I was so down, but it was either I did the record on my own or I didn’t do the record. And I had to do the record. So I just went and did it.”
After an intense six-weeks relearning all the other instruments, the now reluctant polymath went into Rockfield Studio in Monmouth and the Courtyard in Oxford with producer Ian Davenport (Band Of Skulls, The Duke Spirit) to do something he had already done in an entirely new way. Matt learned that “Ian likes to feel the music, which is quite an interesting point of view. I always just think, ‘well how does it sound’ whereas he’s like ‘how does that make you feel when you’re playing it, and if it doesn’t make you feel something then you should probably change it’.”
An intense period, of both creativity and self-discovery led eventually to ‘Nature Nurture’, a record that builds on the crisp, euphoric power-pop of ‘Growing Pains’, but paints it in broader colours and a wider emotional range, from the brazen Main Stage pop bluster of lead single ‘Arizona Waiting’, through the Kinks-infused psyche of ‘Summer Girl’, to the robotic crunch of ‘White T-Shirt And Jeans’. While retaining what made the rock world fall for them in the first place, it revels in the rich history of British pop from the sixties and seventies.
As proud as he was of ‘Growing Pains’, the clue was maybe in the title, and this is the realisation of a grander vision. “This time, I saw everything on a bigger scale. I wanted people to connect with these songs. I didn’t see crowds of kids in shitty basement clubs listening to this album. I saw thousands of kids all losing their shit at the main stage of some festival or something, all feeling the same thing at once.”
And that title? “It felt like a nice place to take it from ‘Growing Pains’ and I like the fact that it’s a question of, ‘is this how it’s meant to be? Or do you try and change it because that’s how you think it should be?’ For some reason it seemed to fit my situation where I always end up doing stuff on my own. Should I be trying to change something, or is that just what I’m meant to be?”
Getting the record made certainly forced Matt to confront a couple of demons. The title track, he says, was in a roundabout way inspired by Marlon Brando’s character in Apocalypse Now. As he explains: “He’s gone from the height of this controlled, tamed way of being, to the most far-out, bare human instinct he can find. He’s gotten to grips with weird character that was under everything else, and he was that person all along – it was just hidden under all these layers. That’s feels relevant to what this album is about for me.”
“I suppose that’s what the album’s about, being that person that’s under all that other crap. I feel like people are always living in these boxes that they think they should be, when they’re not really like that at all.”
So this record’s unlikely gestation just goes to underline the lessons in that journey, and in the contradiction of its title. At the end, there is the revelation that what you find within yourself is probably going to be okay.
Dinosaur Pile-Up now emerge with one of the brightest, most bruising rock records of 2013. To give the story an extra sweet twist in the tail, actually hearing the record made Mike rethink things once again and is now back, fully paid-up and more committed than ever. After a period of adversity, Dinosaur Pile-Up are a team once again facing a brighter tomorrow. “Making the album, things felt very on the edge,” nods Matt, “but that only had the effect of making the songs come out more real, and alive. It’s a REAL guitar record, I couldn’t be more proud of it.”
Get ready to be kicked in the face all over again.