The time is nigh for a comeback. The air is ripe with anticipation, the clouds are brimming with the nectar of new sounds to come and other such metaphors that describe something big and grand. Or to quote my favourite musical (don’t roll your eyes, Cowbellites can like musicals too), “Something’s coming/Something good”. Prepare yourselves for the return of one of Cowbell’s original favourites, Dog Is Dead- or D.I.D as they are now known. This group of Nottingham lads have been away for a while, cooking up something sweet for your musical taste buds. Their new album, “The State We’re In”, was picked up by Huw Stephens on Radio 1 before its release in December last year.
The album feels like an ode to 20-somethings and the struggles of post adolescence. It builds on the strong basis they laid down in their first album and develops into something sultry but with the same boyish flair. It’s everything we have come to expect from these guys and more, with elements of different genres highlighted in each song. Their harmonies are as strong as ever and the songwriting is authentic to the letter.
With the release of their new album, D.I.D played shows in Nottingham and London, the latter of which I was lucky enough to attend. The atmosphere of the show was electric, with half the crowd viewing the gig from the lofty shoulders of their well-dressed peers. Energy exploded from the stage to the audience, who screamed the lyrics back as if the songs were their own. We were all dancing, head-banging and relishing the sheer enjoyment of the musicians on the stage. It was the perfect gig, as testified by my fellow concert goers, half of which had never heard of the band before.
A kickass album and sold out gigs – D.I.D are rocking hard. So I thought it was time for an exclusive interview. It was time to unlock the deepest darkest secrets of life as an eminent musician, a modern indie icon and a Nottingham hero. Ergo, I picked up the phone and rang Rob Milton, lead singer and primary songwriter of D.I.D.
I started by asking how the Nottingham show compared to the London one (vaguely searching for confirmation that any crowd I’m in is ‘the best crowd we’ve ever performed for’). But alas, “Hometown shows are always nice. It’s a different kind of pressure though.” The kind of pressure that comes from a packed out venue eagerly awaiting a return they’ve been desperate for- as well as the familiar faces of family and friends lurking in the background. “There’s this weird thing that happens in Nottingham gigs that I’ve never really seen with Indie bands. They open a circle in the middle of the crowd, like at a Slayer concert or something. You don’t really know what to do when it’s going on. For some reason that’s just what the Nottingham crowd do.” And thus ended my hope that the London crowd would top it.
My impression of success of the new album was not misguided. “People have been really forgiving and have really warmed towards the album,” Rob explains. “There are so many bands nowadays and people have such short attention spans, so to go away for three or four years and have people still care about you is really special I think.” It is special indeed and speaks volumes about the loyalty of their fan base who seem to have grown up with the band. “Lots of fans that we have now have been fans for a really long time.” So goodbye screaming teens and hello hipster young professionals?
D.I.D have never been a commercial band. Their success has stemmed mainly from the grassroots, with minimal campaigning and a pointed absence of mass-marketing. Instead of ramming music down our throats, they’ve floated the idea and allowed us to decide ourselves. “I think that’s the difference with doing things independently and running your own label. You don’t end up pulling in loads of superficial audiences that you might get when you have a huge marketing campaign,” says Rob wisely. “Running things yourself, making only the records you wanna make, it means that if people are into it then they’ll follow you and buy into the whole journey of the band.” And follow them they have, from gigs at Rock City in Nottingham to big ass festivals (Glastonbury and Reading and Leeds to name but a few) to Radio 1 and all around Europe.
Speaking on to the new album, which was released in increments throughout last year and officially in December: “Releasing a record now is so different from back when we released the first one. I think it’s quite beneficial for independent artists. When we released this one, we wanted to do it quite quickly and not have this big whole campaign. It’s pretty cool because if you keep releasing then there’s no reason why people won’t keep streaming you.” Rob is cautiously optimistic about the future of the industry, which is a refreshing change from much of the moaning that we’re used to from musical commentators. “If people aren’t buying music conventionally then why should you release music conventionally. I think it’s another way you can express yourself, so why not?”
The hiatus, much begrudged by their fan base, remains somewhat of a musical mystery. But the time away seems to have allowed D.I.D the space to do what they do, their way. “We wanted to capture a period of time, which ended up being longer than we thought,” Rob admits. “It’s different but I like the fact that you’re growing up at the same time as the record is growing.”
And it seems that no matter what stage of your career you’re at, your always susceptible to the heebie geebies before a big show. “I was really apprehensive because we hadn’t played live for so long. There’s always that natural anxiety thinking: Is anyone gonna turn up to the show? Are we gonna suck? But as soon as I got on stage in London I thought oh wow, this is something I’ve missed a lot.”
So have D.I.D changed as a live band? “We play for a long time now. I think we’re kind of not afraid to go on forever. That comes with going away as well, because you think if we’re only gonna play a couple shows then we should give people their money’s worth.”
I can testify that I certainly got my money’s worth- their rock-y moments rocked more than Rocky Balboa. “I’ve tried not to play as much guitar, I like to perform the song a bit more and sing without it. I just find that a lot more free. There’s a lot of lyrics as well so I’m kind of rapping half the time.” (Think Red Hot Chilli Peppers not Eminem.)
“It’s different this time, it’s a different discipline. It’s tough to make things sound good live, it takes a lot of work. When we rehearse it’s almost in two parts. The songs are quite complicated in themselves and they take a while. And then the harmonies are just ridiculous.” See Killer Whale, which is in 5 part harmony throughout.
Speaking of Killer Whale, I wanted to talk about that music video. What a complete hoot. “We made that for like 100 pounds. We went back to our old school and they let us use it. Then we cast the kids from Trev’s old drama group. It’s a ridiculous video but I wanna make more of them now. There’s no place for sort of posing and standing and looking miserable while moody lights change around you. I wanna make fun videos.”
We have a lot to learn from bands like D.I.D, who have been active in the industry for almost a decade. Their authenticity throughout their career has garnered people that follow not just their musical journey, but their personal journey as well. Their social media feed isn’t full of melancholy black and white shots but actual pictures of them goofing off. Their gigs aren’t superfluous or gaudy but down-to-earth. But most important is their humbleness at every turn. I’ve leave you with a crucial quote from Rob himself: “The path to success is pretty fragmented. But there’s always space for someone to come and change something so why not get excited about it?”