INTERVIEW: Dinosaur Pile-Up on their newest album and avoiding extinction

dinosaur pile-up
Shuya Nakano

Formed in Leeds towards the end of 2007, Dinosaur Pile-Up now have three full-length albums under their belt—2010’s Growing Pains, 2013’s Nature Nurture, and their most recent effort, Eleven Eleven. While those first two records were entirely written and recorded alone by singer/guitarist Matt Bigland, this third record—which was originally released in the U.K. last year but is only now seeing the light of day here in the U.S.—was written with his two bandmates, drummer Mike Sheils and bassist Jim Cratchley. Building on their alternative/grunge sound, it’s a confident collection of songs full of musical nuances and flourishes that should see their profile continue to rise as it has been doing, slowly but surely, since their inception.

We caught up with the trio in New York as they were about to start a small U.S. tour to talk about tenacity, the creative process, and what a band needs to do to these days to avoid extinction.

Does it seem weird to you that you’re promoting Eleven Eleven again, given that it came out in the U.K. last year?
Matt Bigland: “Not really, because I think we’re in the game of doing the record justice and giving it the biggest opportunity that we can. Therefore we’re really aware that the release was late in the U.S. and Europe, so if anything, we’re more stoked that it’s actually happened this time.”

Mike Sheils: “And our answers are better this time around! We’ve had time to think about them!” [Laughs.]

Bigland: “It’s cool that it’s just out for us and that it’s our first global release so we’re really fucking pumped.”

Which is amazing, given that it’s almost been 10 years since you formed.
Sheils: “Thanks for the reminder!” [Laughs.]

Bigland: “But that’s an achievement for us, you know? It’s tough to get a band to where you want it to go.”

Jim Cratchley: “And think of all the bands that aren’t still going.”

Bigland: “Right. We’ve toured with a lot of bands and we’ve seen a lot of bands begin after us and end before us, and we’re still doing it. And that means a lot to us, because our opportunities are bigger now, our albums are reaching more people than they ever have before, and we’re playing bigger shows than we ever have and going more places. It’s a slow burn, but it’s definitely a burn.”

Do you think it’s tenacity or talent that’s the reason you’re still around—or a combination of the two?
Bigland: “Tenacity is a good word for it! Sheer perseverance.”

Sheils: “We’re a musical cockroach!”

But it is hard being in a band. And I guess you guys hit just at the wrong time, when the internet was making it a lot harder to make money from music.
Cratchley: “We talk about that sometimes, like if we’d been around even 15 years ago…”

Bigland: “We were getting out there right on the cusp of everything changing.”

Sheils: “Our first demos went out on MySpace.”

Bigland: “Yeah. I mean, think about the transitions that we’ve gone through within such a short space of time. iTunes happened, socials changing the game for everybody, streaming services changing the game for everybody.”

Sheils: “All the stuff we could have pioneered but just missed out on!”

Bigland: “It’s been a really interesting, completely unpredictable landscape. That’s not a bad thing or a good thing, it’s just a kind of crazy journey.”

Right. But that unpredictability makes it harder to be a band, right?
Cratchley: “Right. It’s a lot of sacrifice. And probably more now than when people were selling CDs, and I don’t think people often fully get that. Which, to back up the earlier point, is probably why a lot of bands do fall by the wayside, because they’re like, ‘If we’re not going to make money off being a mid-level band, we’re not going to bother.’”

Bigland: “And it also goes back to perseverance and being tenacious. That is 70 percent of this. Obviously, we think we’re a good band and we do what we love and we’re good at it, but if we didn’t just sort of paddle through and deal with everything, we wouldn’t be here either.”

Sheils: “Also, it’s to do with the opportunities that have come our way. If we were still playing at home in a small venue in Leeds, we wouldn’t have bothered, but every year it seems to grow and grow.”

Bigland: “That’s true. Even this year, we’ve had the biggest opportunities happen to us, getting U.S. and global management and all of that, and like you said, we’ve been going 10 years, so imagine if we’d have been like, ‘Let’s bounce!’ three years in. It’s taken us 10 years to get to here…”

Sheils: “There’s always a carrot.”

Bigland: “There’s always a carrot.”

Sheils: “Until there isn’t. And that’s when we stop.”

Joking aside, you’re obviously very passionate about what you do. Is it that which keeps you going?
Sheils: “That, and Matt has two failed degrees to pay for. That’s what keeps him going!”

Cratchley: “Pure fear and terror! No. All three of us love doing this, and all three of us always wanted to do this. We just don’t want to do anything else.”

Bigland: “Also that we’re close as friends. We really are close—these are my best buds. I think it’d be a different story if we hated being around each other, because then it would be like ‘This is a struggle and I don’t like you!’ But the fact we’re just having a good time and we’re in this together is awesome.”

Although you’re English, your music is very American. So what’s it like playing to an American crowd?
Bigland: “I feel like, maybe because the music is more American, crowds over here—even though, in many ways, we’re a fledgling band in the U.S.—have more understanding and more of a connection. I’m obviously not talking about our fan base in England, but people who don’t know us. I did always think the band should find a home in the States in many ways, because all of our influences are American.”

Obviously the three of you are very tight as a unit, but what was it like writing together for the first time for Eleven Eleven? How much of a fascist boss was Matt?
Sheils: “The process is still similar, where Matt is always going to be leading it, and there was probably only a couple of songs on the record where the idea may have started in the room together.”

Bigland: “Yeah, the process is the same, but more than ever, for the first time, once I had written a song, when we would take it into the studio for pre-production, we threw it about to see if we were completely happy with it and whether we should change things. We’d learned from the previous year and a half of touring together how we feel about songs and where we thought they should change.”

Was there less pressure for you, Matt?

Bigland: “In the studio, recording-wise, definitely. 100 percent. My workload was cut so much, by 50 percent. This was unbelievably easy compared to the other ones. And in many ways, even from a pre-production point of view, it was more chill for me. I love making records—it’s my favourite thing—but doing it alone is lonely, and doing it with the boys was a lot more fun, and therefore the pressure was off. If there was something I was torn about, there were always the dudes to help me make the decision.”

What does this record mean to each of you individually?
Cratchley: “It’s like a summary of our two years spent touring, summed up in 40 minutes. It’s everything we went through in that period.”

Bigland: “Like Jim says, a lot of the ideas for the record were written on the road when we were touring for those two years. It’s the first record that we’ve made together, and at the beginning of that period, Jim had just joined the band, so for me it’s laden with memories of us touring and being together and that’s really cool, because it was our first step out creatively together.”

Sheils: “I can’t really add more to that.”

I thought you were meant to have better answers this time around!
Sheils: “I’ve never been asked what it means to me! Nothing! It was just a record we made!”

With that in mind, where do you go from here? Have you started writing a new record yet or are you sticking with this for a while?
Bigland: “I’m always writing songs; I’ve written a lot and I will while we’re touring this record for the next year or however long it is. Like we said before, we’re going to give this album a real chance, but that’s not to say new stuff might not pop out. A lot of the joy of doing this for me is writing. I basically want to write as many new songs as I can before I die. As morbid as that is, it’s generally the truth!”

Sheils: “It’s all about quantity over quality for us!” [Laughs.]