Meet The Leeds-Based Band Doing Well: The Dunwells
While nothing beats a truly live gig, the digital world has helped musicians continue to make music in lockdown
Brothers Dave and Joe Dunwell, who together make up the Indie Folk Americana band The Dunwells, wanted to make a difference this last year, so they’ve played more than 200 free live shows, getting over one million views since the start of lockdown – so we’d say they’re doing pretty well.
The brothers, who hail from Leeds, are known for their strong vocals, powerful melodies and heartfelt lyrics. Their debut album, Blind Sighted Faith, was released in 2012 but, six albums and EPs later, they’ve now found success across the USA and Europe, as well as here at home in the UK. ‘Our dad was our biggest influence in music,’ Dave tells us over a Zoom call. ‘He never actually taught us how to play, and it was never something he bombarded us with, but we had a guitar in every corner of every room and instead of reading us stories as kids he used to sing to us and play his classical guitar instead.’ That’s when we clock the numerous guitars hanging on the walls behind Dave and Joe as we speak.
‘Our dad was very influenced by folk sounds (Art Garfunkel and Bob Dylan) so there was always an indie vibe going on,’ Dave continues. ‘As we both became teenagers, we gradually started picking up the guitars and playing them. I was a big Oasis fan at the time and what I loved about Oasis is the same reason I fall in love with bands today: the simplicity of the songwriting. I was drawn to the fact that you didn’t have to have a strict education in music to play the songs and be able to express yourself. That’s still a big part of how I approach making music today.’
Throughout lockdown, their live online gigs have been providing a dose of positivity for fans as they’ve tuned in to hear favourites such as All Time High and Communicate, as well as the chance to hear new songs.
‘It’s incredible to think about how many people we’ve reached online,’ Joe tells us. ‘What we’ve got from this is an amazing community across the world – Florida, Chicago, Alaska, Germany and up and down the UK. We would always, at some point, go to these places and tour them where there might be 10, 30 or 100 people, but it’s the fact that they’re all coming together and can enjoy music for free while checking in on each other that’s really great. The friendships that have been made through these shows have been amazing to see.’
It wasn’t always easy for the brothers though. Working out the digital aspects while they were living apart brought plenty of challenges. ‘We struggled at first with the technology,’ Dave laughs. ‘I would do 20 minutes on my phone and then I would hang up and hand to Joe. But, as we’ve developed we’ve reached a stage where even the Grammys website has featured us talking about the technology that we use. We’ve really got to grips with it now.’
While going digital has meant new possibilities have arisen, nothing beats the interaction from a real live crowd. ‘For the first couple of online streams it was exciting and new and different, but the deeper we got into the pandemic, I was really missing that connection with the audience,’ Joe says. ‘You can feel the energy in the room, you see a smile in the audience, and as an artist you get so much from that.’ Just before lockdown began, The Dunwells toured a run of O2 Academies, after a tour with Tom Jones, and they had just finished their show in Leeds when lockdown hit. ‘All of a sudden, we weren’t even able to be in the same room together,’ David recalls. ‘Joe was with his family and I was with mine, so the thing that we’ve missed the most is definitely our connection.’
Having supported artists including Mumford and Sons and Elbow on UK tours, they’re also keen songwriters, writing material for joint collaborations as well as other high profile and up-and-coming artists, and now more than ever, their songwriting has continued to thrive.
‘Never in our musical career have we sat down for an hour, or half an hour a day and practiced our craft religiously like that,’ Joe says. ‘Especially early on, we did the first 100 shows every single day (that’s an hour’s guitar practice that’s made us better musicians, better songwriters). Thanks to lockdown, we’ve actually written 27 songs that are ready to go for this year. When lockdown lifts, it’s not like we’ve wasted any time. We’re so ready.’
One of the new songs, Army of Friends, celebrates both their fans and everyone who has helped do their bit this year (from neighbours to NHS workers) with streaming proceeds going to charity. ‘We’re really proud to be independent,’ Dave tells us. ‘Army of Friends was written and released completely independently and completely remotely too. We did it over Zoom. Joe built a small studio space in his house and my kitchen table was turned into a studio. We produced the record by sending files to each other and we asked our fans (who were watching us in the shows) to send in video clips of themselves to get involved too.’
Feeling inspired by our key workers, and in a move to further inspire, The Dunwells are introducing the The Dunwells Music Masterclass – working with local school children who are passionate about music too.
‘When we felt isolated ourselves, we started to learn things (or relearn things) that we had forgotten,’ Dave says. ‘We’ve been so lucky to see and learn so much throughout our time as artists, so we want to share that knowledge now by doing whatever we can to connect with as many people as possible.’ Joe is sure that by going to schools and sharing their knowledge, they will be able to inspire others. ‘If, when I was at school, my favourite artist (or an artist that I didn’t even know about) had walked into school and picked up a guitar and played to us, I know I would have been blown away. That might have fast-forwarded a career by helping me decide then and there that that’s what I want to do,’ he says. ‘We could inspire one, two or hundreds of children – that’s the bit that excites me.’
Dave and Joe brought our Zoom call to an end perfectly by grabbing their guitars and giving us a private rendition of a new song set to be released this year. Keep up to date with all The Dunwells’ new music at thedunwells.com
How has being from Leeds influenced your music?
Dave: We’ve spent a lot of time travelling, and we’ve been to loads of cities, but my favourite city in the world is still my hometown, Leeds. We’ve managed to play with artists like Scars on 45 from Bradford. We’ve actually played five-a-side football with them. We’ve also stood in Red Rocks Amphitheatre and played music with them; they’re another Yorkshire band with the same vibe.
Joe: It’s just a beautiful place. If you really sit back and look around it’s just stunning. From where I live in Leeds, you’re no more than a 30-minute drive to the countryside – and for good mental health and mental clarity, this is the place to be.
A lot of Yorkshire’s venues are struggling at the moment. Could you highlight any of your favourites in Leeds?
Joe: The Brudenell Social Club is probably one of our favourite venues. The Wardrobe is another fantastic one that we’ve sold out a couple of times too.
Dave: We’ve waited so long for this city to have an arena and it’s such a shame it’s been closed for so long. We had tickets for Bon Iver but luckily those have been rearranged.
Joe: It’s not just the city centre venues though, there’s plenty on the outskirts of Leeds too. We’re playing Yeadon Town Hall in October and the owner is saying that this whole pandemic is like treading water. We have a lot of sympathy and empathy for that.
Dave: As an artist we’ve been able to continue in front of a screen and our fans have been so loyal, but these venues have just had their doors shut and they can’t do anything. My heart goes out to every single one of them. As the world is starting to open up again, we’re so excited to be able to see and do live shows again.
Hopes for the future?
Joe: Since the day that Boris Johnson announced these provisional dates, our email and phone have been going non-stop which is really exciting. We are putting everything into place, and we have a lot to look forward to: new music, hopefully an album at the back end of the year, and festivals are coming in thick and fast.