Drenge, the Sheffield punk-grunge brother act that’s been burning through England’s club scene and festival circuit for two years, might have hoped for a warmer stateside return after the band’s fine 2014 South by Southwest convention showcase in Austin, Texas.
Arriving in New York in January for their American TV debut—just as blizzard warnings had all but shut down a winter-sick city—the raucous boys couldn't help but notice a pervasive numbness during a gig at the Lower East Side’s Mercury Lounge.
“I felt sorry for everyone who had to wait outside before they got in,” says Eoin (pronounced Owen) Loveless, the guitar-thrashing half of the sibling duo (brother Rory plays drums).
The Mercury Lounge gig and a date in Brooklyn the night before were a sideshow, though, to the boys’ here-we-are powerhouse performance on The Late Show with David Letterman, where they charged through the anthemic “We Can Do What We Want” from their new, second album Undertow (Infectious Records).
“We're like Bonnie & Clyde but without any pride,” sang Eoin, in a voice that can suggest Joy Division’s Ian Curtis by way of Nirvana’s Bleach.
“I was just playing it too hard,” says Eoin about the hammering he gave his Gretsch Duo Jet, explaining a post-Letterman tweet (“Did we really fly 3,500 miles across the world to play a new song with an out of tune guitar on American TV?”).
But enthusiasm suits live performances of the Undertow tracks, with their fuzz-covered hooks and hardcore surf vibes. The title song—the sole instrumental—opens with some low, menacing reverb-and-tremolo single notes before launching into the power-chord crunch that gives the album its punch.
Eoin, the band's lyricist, says the new album might seem less angry than the group’s 2013 self-titled debut, but notes the name Undertow wasn’t just plucked from the ether. “I still see the same things going through the minds of my friends who've come out of university, and I see the same things in my parents who both have public sector jobs. The way that everyone’s life is just simultaneously planned out and constantly in the balance, and the way that everyone’s job could just disappear the next day. The undertow is just underneath the calm.”
Photo: Jason Goodrich