The Dunwells are: Joe Dunwell (vocals, guitar); Dave Dunwell (vocals, guitar); Rob Clayton (bass); Adam Taylor (drums)
There may only be two members with the same surname, but The Dunwells are very much a band of brothers, bonded together in their desire to play music. Consisting of two brothers and two close school friends, the hard working quartet from Leeds is preparing to release their latest EP Lucky Ones. “None of us are virtuoso musicians,” explains front man Joe. “But when you put us together, I think our music becomes bigger than the four of us are as individuals.”
The UK–based band members have been honing their talents over the past several years: Joe and his elder brother Dave grew up listening to their dad’s Bob Dylan and Beatles records while their mum was always singing along to Motown. “Dad is the best bedroom guitarist in the world,” recalls Dave. “There was a guitar in every room at home, so it felt the most natural thing in the world to start playing myself.” Meanwhile, kid brother Joe would “listen to everything Dave did” and perfect his singing by trying to harmonize on Dave’s first songwriting attempts. “We drove our parents mad, because before we had to leave the house we’d always spend 10 minutes coming up with song ideas together,” says Joe.
Completing the band are bassist Rob Clayton and drummer Adam Taylor. Rob has been Dave’s best friend since they went CD shopping together as kids; it was the brothers’ dad who taught Rob how to play bass. “When Joe and I present a song to Rob, sometimes he loves it, sometimes he hates it,” smiles Dave. “Rob’s great at getting us to think how to make a song more accessible.” Adam was friends with Joe at college. “Adam is the most enthusiastic guy you’ll ever meet,” says the singer. “You can hear his energy and enthusiasm in how he plays. Adam plays on the beat and makes us sound bigger.”’
The Dunwells’ songwriting scope was broadened after touring the US in support of their debut album, 2013’s harmony-driven gem Blind Sighted Faith. “We’re really proud of those songs,” says Joe. “We gave the record our all, and it led to some amazing experiences on tour.” Those experiences included an appearance on Late Night With Jay Leno and performances at Lollapalooza, Austin City Limits Fest, Bonnaroo, and Bunbury, as well as the legendary Red Rocks Amphitheatre in Colorado.
“There were so many euphoric moments playing in America, and we’ve tried to capture those feelings in the new songs,” says Dave. “Joe and I would pick up a guitar and think ‘Isn’t this amazing!’ We picked up some fresh influences too – we actually enjoyed the 16-hour drives between venues, because it gave us chance to listen to so much new music.” Those extensive American tours also made The Dunwells feel more British. “Being away from home re-affirmed our identity,” says Dave. “As brilliant as the tours were, we missed home and ended up comparing every city to Leeds. You realise how small the world is, but that made the experiences feel more homely.”
That sense of community shines through in anthems like “Lucky Ones”, an epic track whose sentiment is universal but which is underpinned by a very English strutting sound. “It’s about saying ‘Yeah, we are the lucky ones, come over here and look at us,’” explains Dave. “It’s not arrogance, but a reminder of how lucky we all are to be alive and how great life can be. Hopefully it’ll soundtrack people’s days, and make everyone feel uplifted when they hear it.”
Helping The Dunwells capture their best ideas on the new songs is producer Stephen Harris, who has helmed albums for U2, Kaiser Chiefs and Santana. Excited by the lush sound Harris brought to Kodaline’s debut album In A Perfect World, the brothers sought Harris out. They initially set up a meeting in Seattle at the end of a tour. That had to be scrapped when Harris’ other producing commitments over-ran – only for the band to discover that Harris lives in a Yorkshire village an hour away from their home in Leeds.
“Stephen lives in a village which has a post office, two churches, a corner shop and two pubs,” smiles Dave. “You wouldn’t expect to find a world-renowned producer living there, and his studio is in a barn at the bottom of his garden. But it was a dream – he’s got all the gear you could want.” The laid-back atmosphere helped permeate the band’s songs. “We went running every morning in the freezing cold,” recalls Joe. “We felt at home, and that feel was important.”
The gorgeous, shimmering “Communicate” was also enhanced by Harris’ production. “We knew as soon as we wrote it that it was good enough to go in our live show,” says Joe. “We wrote it on acoustic guitars in Ohio and then demoed it in Dave Grohl’s studio. It’s changed style so many times, that song, but eventually Stephen brought it back to the intimacy of when we first wrote it.”
As well as working with Harris, The Dunwells have been writing with varied talents such as Blair McKickhan (Sia) and James Flanagan (Kodaline). Lead single, “Lucky Ones”, was mixed by Manny Marroquin (Kanye West, Rihanna, Pink). “It’s brilliant to be working with people who’ve worked with some of the best artists in the world,” beams Dave. “We learned so much writing with those guys. I hadn’t really appreciated before what an art form songwriting is.”
The raw and powerful “Animal” was written with Tom Odell’s drummer Dan McDougall at his Hertfordshire studio. “Dan was great at getting us to try unusual ways of getting a gospel-style passion into ‘Animal’ – all standing around the microphone, hollering away. It must have looked mad, but it’s definitely worked.”
“I think we’ve learned how to make it easier to capture the best moments when we’re writing,” reasons Dave. “Writing songs will always be elusive, because you’re trying to catch ideas out of thin air. But when something great happens, like Rob coming up with the bassline in ‘She Whispers’, we’re more experienced at being able to spot it and saying ‘Let’s keep that!’ When we wrote with Blair McKickhan, he started by saying ‘How are we going to move the air today?’ He’s right – songwriting is ultimately about trying to move the air around you in new and different ways. When we make music, we get a sudden feeling that something magical is happening around us – hopefully the listener will get that from our songs too.”