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Living North’s Christmas Fairs
The Dunwells
People
June 2021
Reading time 10 minutes

While nothing beats a truly live gig, the digital world has helped musicians continue to make music in lockdown

We speak to Leeds-based band The Dunwells, a leading example of online touring success.

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.’

‘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'

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.

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