DEAD CITIES mix a blend of Americana, folk and a hint of country to create sparse, well-paced acoustic songs in keeping with the image evoked by their chosen moniker.
Veterans of the Liverpool music scene, Oli, Martin and Ryan are seasoned musicians able to switch instruments as they see fit and in doing so create a presence greater than the sum of its parts. The ability to swap between ukelele, mandolin and glockenspiel as well as more traditional instruments gives their live performances another dimension and helps spread the focus, allowing the audience to absorb all the sounds on offer.
Not eager to unnaturally force new material, Dead Cities have taken three years to get a collection of songs together and record their debut album, This Killer Wave. Taking in the styles of Led Zeppelin, The Modern Lovers, Neil Young and Violent Femmes, their music offers a subtle touch of eclecticism that is often difficult to portray through such bare arrangements. Add to the mix Ryan’s “serious blues collection on vinyl” and the latest PJ Harvey and Wild Beasts records and you have a melting pot of history going into their music, leaving a semi-conscious diversity in their sound. Whereas some bands may be steadfast in the purity of their vision, Dead Cities take a more organic approach to writing. Multi-instrumentalist Martin states, “There was no big plan; we just recorded when we had a batch of songs together.” This open-door policy to song-writing over a number of years has enabled the band to gradually evaluate their sound step-by-step. This led to an appreciation for sonic minimalism and contemplative, downbeat lyrics: “We just wanted to keep it very simple and stripped back. I tend to be drawn to music that’s quite melancholy.” With song titles like Saddest Star, Dead Cities aren’t afraid of bringing heavy-hearted lyrics and funereal moods to the fore while offering occasional glimmers of hope, all hanging on the simplest of melodies.
The name Dead Cities has become more loaded with character over the years. Originally the title of a break-up song, it has taken on extra meaning with the hotchpotch urban decay and gradual renovation of the city. This in turn resonates with residents of Liverpool, and its relevance is not lost on the band; “I used to drive past Edge Hill everyday on my way to practice – rubble everywhere.” This sense of acquired depth is bolstered further by asking artist Amée Christian to provide the album art. Her detailed line drawing of an old man complete with resplendent facial hair offers ambiguity and intrigue. Is this rugged man a long-lost sailor of the old city or a rough sleeper ravished by the harsh winters? The sparsity of detail is a welcome bedfellow to the softness of the music. Dead Cities confess to having a mixed relationship with the city. Martin believes the city’s close-knit music community is a double-edged sword: “It’s small enough for everyone to know everyone, so you can draw on a lot of friends to bounce ideas off, but on the other hand you could argue that people are in each other’s pockets a bit which could maybe lead to some conformity.” Whilst they appreciate that Liverpool is “a great place to make music and be creative,” an awareness of the risk of regional introversion or worse, insularity, is perhaps key to their individualism. Dead Cities take nuggets of influence from local musicians but importantly they also take a step back every once in a while to avoid derivation. This along with their technical proficiency with their motley collection of instruments has enabled the band to craft a sound that is not intrinsically aligned to Liverpool yet borrows selectively from its heritage. They have developed a mutual understanding of what works for them.
In carving out their own niche, Dead Cities are utilising the contradiction of sadness and joy, despondency and hope. The juxtaposition of sweet Americana and the darkness of negative space proves to be a tantalising mixture allowing for simple songcraft and spatial texture to rest side by side. As the cold nights draw in, Dead Cities have timed the release of their album perfectly to coincide with the crisp darkness of winter. The LP promises to be a fitting soundtrack to use for looking to the stars whilst the ice cracks underfoot.
Dead Cities launch This Killer Wave on 26th November at St. Bride’s Church