Dinosaur Pile-Up’s Matt Bigland, Mike Sheils and Jim Cratchley have all just removed their blindfolds and strolled over to a table I’m stationed at in the Platinum Lounge behind the Budweiser Stage in Toronto. They had been filming a video clip where they’d been randomly handed objects, food, and drinks and then had to guess what each item was without being able to view it.
A steady hum of industrial sump-pumps drone away in the background as the high-powered machinery works tirelessly trying to keep the raised Lake Ontario water level from over-flowing the ground level/load-in area of the massive stage as a result of a torrential rainfall that had befallen the city earlier in the day. Off in the distance, Shinedown is sound-checking on the adjacent Echo Beach stage, where they will join Badfinger, Broken Hands and Dinosaur Pile-Up for a summer evening of hard rock.
A few months ago we saw the release of Celebrity Mansions (purchase/streaming options available here), Dinosaur Pile-Up’s fourth studio album, and their very first on Parlophone Records. Celebrity Mansions was recorded entirely free of the restraints of any label or executive’s interference as DPU’s contractual agreements with SO Records expired with Eleven Eleven, their 2015 release. Bigland, Sheils, and Cratchley laid down the ten tracks on the new album not knowing if the material would be released through a record label. They kept the writing and recordings the way they wanted them, and after completion of the entirety of the album, got picked up by Parlophone on the strength of the songs alone.
Simply put, Celebrity Mansions is the album of the summer of 2019. It’s a melange of material that comes off like equal parts Weezer, Foo Fighters and Smashing Pumpkins, and contains some of the most upbeat and playful tracks the band has ever committed to creating. You should really stop reading this and put the album on right now. Ok, read this first, then put the album on… Dinosaur Pile-Up took the time to chat with us for a few hours backstage before their incendiary performance warming up for Shinedown on July 9th. The SoundCloud audio is included for anyone interested in listening to Matt, Mike, and Jim’s answers real-time.
Crank up Dinosaur Pile-Up’s latest beast of a single, Back “Foot!” Turn it to eleven here:
(while setting up) So, what is the K West?
Matt Bigland: It’s a hotel. It’s in Shepherd’s Bush. It’s like a fancy celebrity hotel, I guess. I think it used to be more fashionable than it is now, I don’t know. You just used to hear about it a lot.
Mike Sheils: Loads of bands used to stop through there. Lots of big artists.
I wasn’t sure if it was a reference to a tourist resort or something in Vegas.
Sheils: Or Kanye West. We’ve had that recently as well. Someone said it was really obviously a reference to Kanye West.
Bigland: Yeah. So it’s just a fancy hotel.
Can you talk a little bit about where you were all at around the end of 2017 when the touring for Eleven Eleven was winding down?
Bigland: Yeah. I mean so we’d been touring for something like three years straight. And at that point… do you mean where we were at mentally?
Yeah. Ready to write? Ready to just NOT see each other again?
Bigland: Oh no, no. We were tight. I do think we were ready. We had ideas for songs. And we had some demos knocking around which was kind of exciting for us. We were pumped about that. I guess we were in a weird place because we’d been touring so much and maybe we felt like the band wasn’t connecting as much as we wanted it to.
Jim Cratchley: Yeah, that’s fair.
Bigland: So it was a weird place for us because we were really excited about what we were going to do next. But we didn’t know…
Dinosaur Pile-Up’s Matt Bigland, Mike Sheils, and Jim Cratchley backstage at RBC Echo Beach (Toronto, ON) on July 9, 2019:
Cratchley: If there was even going to be an outlet for it.
Bigland: Right. Or how much of a difference that would make. Or if people really cared about about the band, and hearing new stuff. So it was quite a strange place because we didn’t have a label to go to. We didn’t really have a plan. We didn’t have any more tours. It was just like we’re just gonna make this new record and see what happens. Which is kind of crazy because obviously, we made that record then without anyone watching or asking for anything.
Sheils: Our management were just super cool about it. They believed in all of the demos that that had heard already. So they were like completely saying, “you’re going to be fine, you’re going to be fine.” And we were like: “Are we???” Because it doesn’t feel like that.”
That’s kind of perfect though. Nobody is trodding on your feet.
Bigland: Yeah, it was perfect. You’re right, and I think that’s why it’s turned out with a really fun, exciting record. I think it’s really cohesive as a record. But it’s also creatively not that. It’s just whatever we want to put on it is what we put on it. Which is cool. So yeah, I think that lack of pressure has created the opportunity for a really great record. But being in that scenario at the time of making the record felt really scary. It was weird, but it turned out great.
It has kind of a big North American sound. To me, anyway.
Cratchley: Yeah I totally think we wear our influences on our sleeves.
Bigland: I just think the bands that we’re into are mostly American. So I think that translates into our sound. We write music that fits in with what we are into. It would be weird if you listened to a bunch of American bands and then deliberately made some non-American sounding music. So I think that is a weird one, isn’t it? I just think our all our influences in the ‘90s rock stuff and the heavy metal stuff, all of it is American. So I just think we kind of completely just create that vibe.
Dinosaur Pile-Up’s latest album, Celebrity Mansions, was released on June 7th, 2019 via Parlophone Records:
How much writing do you do while you’re on tour? Do you just noodle around on a guitar? Or are you writing full songs?
Sheils: A lot of ideas we’ve got come from the soundcheck.
Bigland: Yeah. Usually, just ideas. Like Mike says, at soundcheck often I’ll noodle about what’s something and if I think that it’s cool we’ll just quickly record it on my phone. And then I kind of think about that, and I’ll listen to little bits and I sort of…
Sheils: “Thrash Metal” came about when you were just playing that riff on stage, and you noticed a guy was nodding his head to it and we all thought “Oh. We should record this.”
Bigland: Yeah, because if he’s into it, others may be as well. So you know yeah it’s loads of that. It’s really interesting sometimes there’s an energy like when I think in a certain scenario or situation, you pick up a guitar and stand out on a big stage, and you’re waiting to do something so you just play whatever comes into your head. I think that often those scenarios, being in those sort of physical arenas, it changes your vibe. And I think that’s quite important. So I think they’re quite valuable. So like Mike says, I’ll always record them on my phone and then take them home where I’ve got more time and space to think about them. It’s weird as well. Particularly with this record.
In writing this latest record, I sort of discovered the value in kind of absent-minded writing. So when I’d be at home in my little flat, I’d be midway through writing a song and I would really often just put it on loop, what I’d recorded. I’d just put it on a loop and then just go and do the washing up for half an hour, or like make lunch or whatever, with this half-written track blaring out of my speakers. And I’d just see what came. I’d like deliberately be not thinking about it and then be making lunch, and I’d be like just humming something, and I was like “Oh that’s actually really cool.” I’d go on record that little melody or whatever. So “Back Foot” for instance. That’s exactly how I wrote “Back Foot.” Just playing with that melody and timing and stuff just while I was doing the washing up. It’s interesting.
This is the only “Thrash Metal Cassette” you’ll ever need:
Now you started off Dinosaur Pile-Up creating and performing the music yourself. Could we talk a little bit about writing with your bandmates now as compared to writing solo?
Bigland: Totally. Well I mean it’s weird with Dinosaur, because obviously like you said I started it on my own and wrote on my own and recorded on my own. And that’s quite a unique way to work, I guess. And I think what’s unique about the situation now is Jim and Mike kind of came into that situation knowing how that worked. And what’s cool about this is we haven’t changed what didn’t need to be changed. Like if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. So how I write is very similar to how I always wrote. I’ll usually find an idea and then just sort of take it away into my weird little flat and just be there alone for a couple of weeks or whatever.
But how we record obviously is completely different because once I have that song, I’ll send it to the boys, and then we listen to it as a three. And if there’s something that we want to make more interesting or we feel could go somewhere else we’ll maybe mess without a bit. Or if it’s like adding some real energy, because we’re recording as a three and we know how we’d play these songs as a three. So we’ll sort rehearse it, and we’ll find moments where you sort of want to go somewhere else that maybe I haven’t discovered on my own. Like slowing a song down. We love messing with timings or just kind of throwing a curveball out or whatever and that’s definitely something that I couldn’t, and I didn’t do as much on my own. So the writing process is pretty much the same. But it’s sort of everything else that happens after that is going on now, which is killer.
Who are Jessica and Megan. And how did they wind up on one and two tracks on Celebrity Mansions?
Bigland: (laughs) Jess and Meg! Jess is a friend of mine who was a friend of Larry, the producer of the record. So Larry Hibbitt is a good friend of ours and obviously wound up producing this record, and Jess is a friend of his. They were writing together. So I met Jess in the studio one day when Larry was taking a day off Dinosaur and working with Jess. So I met Jess through that. She’s a really charismatic songwriter and person in general, and she can sing obviously.
And Meg is a girl I met through friends of friends going to shows. And it’s funny, Jess can sing, but she’s English. And Meg (bless her) can’t really sing, but she’s Canadian actually so she had an accent. So I thought if I got them both in the room together to be the cheerleaders, I was hoping Meg’s accent would rub off on Jess, and Jess’ on Meg, so they could kind of help each other out basically to make the cheerleaders work. Which worked pretty well, I guess. We just recorded them about a hundred times. There are only two people in the room doing it.
Andrew Hartl’s live photos of Dinosaur Pile-Up (plus Shinedown, Badflower, and Broken Hands) at Toronto’s RBC Echo Beach:
So when you went to recording Celebrity Mansions did you talk about a particular sound or vibe that you wanted on these ten songs in advance?
Sheils: I think we just sort of worked out what the best songs were from the group of demos that Matt had shown us.
Cratchley: I think we wanted it to sound as fun as the content of the songs are. Previously, I think especially on Eleven Eleven, it was kind of all dark and gloomy and the music kind of reflected that. When we got all of these demos, and it was just like we’re listening to party music basically. So we tried to make it sound as fun and bright and positive as possible.
Bigland: Yeah and I think we were thinking (like Jim says) we love all our records, but we like looking back on Eleven, it was quite a dark, moody record. And I think we were all thinking, “Well, I don’t really want to make another record like that.” You know, it’s a great album, but I guess sometimes when we’re happier now, listening to that is like a bit of a bummer, I guess. And listening to bands like Weezer, the Blue Album… You know, that’s one of all of our favourite records. And it’s like you pop that on at a party and it’s just a great fun record.
Sheils: From start to finish.
Bigland: Yeah and I guess we were looking at this (Celebrity Mansions) like that. We were all wanting to make one of those records. Like just fun and killer and uplifting. And I think we might have succeeded, really.
Sheils: It sounds like we were having a party while we were making it.
Bigland: I mean, it was funny wasn’t it? Like how we recorded it was, we were kind of light-hearted about it. Like we were always having beers in red cups whilst we were recording it. We were always trying to have fun. We were always trying not to stress about it too much. If something was getting a bit like “what should we do here?” It was like let’s not just stress about it. That’s why Larry actually as a producer was brilliant because he is super! He’s just really down-the-line. He doesn’t like when you start to overthink stuff. He’s like “Is it rad? Is it loud? Record it!” As soon as I start overthinking stuff, as I do often, he’s just like “Shut up. Have a beer. Let’s record that guitar. It sounds great.” That whole mentality of just keeping it moving all the time. Having fun with it and not taking it too seriously, it’s a rock album. I think that really helped.
Let’s take you back a decade with the music video for “Mona Lisa;” as good today as it was back then:
And that cover photo!
Cratchley: Encapsulates that entire ethos.
It’s like a party photo.
Bigland: Totally. Yeah. Ok, so that was during the Eleven Eleven touring cycle we were just pulling out of St. Petersburg in Florida. It’s super hot. It had been torrential rain all day. We just played a show with Chevelle at Jannus Live. It was literally like tropical rain. We’d just played the show, and it is super hot. We run into the RV because that’s at the point where we were touring in an RV that we’d bought. Me and Jim ran out to that pizza store, it was a little crappy pizza store. Got a slice just before we drove out. I can remember begging Ollie (DPU’s tour manager) to let us get it. Because he needed to get driving.
(At this point two guards wearing body armour with a drug dog walk past our table) I’m sorry. That’s a drug dog. Hah. My weakness.
That’s an out of work drug dog. ‘Cause that action is legal here now.
Bigland: Yeah. Hah. So true. So yeah, we got the pizza. We ran back in, soaking wet from the rain and pouring with sweat because we’d just played a show. And that photo was taken on on little 35 millimeter Nikon point and shoot. Jim grabbed it and just took that selfie. There were two photographs one after another. That’s the first one, and I love that, there was just that moment. And when we were trying to pick a front cover. We couldn’t find the right vibe at all.
Sheils: It was like people getting involved with you know designing something. It didn’t feel right.
Bigland: Yeah, we had to find the proper vibe to consider.
Sheils: We were shown ideas that just were not right and didn’t fit the music.
Bigland: And we just wanted it to feel like the music does and that photo for me just kind of feels like the album.
“11:11” was, sort of the title track to Dinosaur Pile-Up’s third studio album Eleven Eleven:
How supportive were your parents when you told them you were pursuing a life of rock n’ roll? Was that an easy conversation?
Sheils: I don’t know that I have ever actually had that conversation. (laughs)
Bigland: I don’t know. Talking from my perspective, my mom was always very supportive. Even though, you know, she’s always been supportive, but she’s worried a lot. For years and years, she’s worried a lot about what I’m doing and what we’re doing. Are you making any money and how are you going to pay your rent, and all of that. But she’s never said you can’t do it. She’s always said that you’ve got do what you want to do. However, before I started, I remember when I was meant to go to university, which I ended up doing twice and flunking out because I was gone on tour.
But before I went to uni the first year I was meant to do this course to to get into the uni and a week before it started (when I was 17 at that point), the week before that course started I just rang up and cancelled the course and hung up the phone and told my mom “mom, I just cancelled that course. I’m moving to Leeds anyway, and I’m gonna go and join a band.” And I mean that was the one time she like freaked out and was like “What the fuck are you doing?” But it kind of worked out, I guess.
Cratchley: You know my dad was actually in promotion in Birmingham in the ‘60s and ‘70s. So he loves it. Yeah, he’s living vicariously through me. He loves it, and he’s always trying to come to shows which is great obviously. He’ll look at our routing and say, “I’ll come to that, that, that, that, and that.” I don’t know… I think they were pretty pumped actually.
The popular album Eleven Eleven dropped on October 16th, 2015 (UK), via SO Recordings and A-Sketch:
And you just did it.
Sheils: Yeah. No my mom, to be fair, over the years has been super supportive of it. But I never said I’m going to do this now. I did kind of move up to Leeds to join the band.
Bigland: But I mean maybe none of us actually had that conversation where I’m gonna be in a band remember because none of us knew if it’s gonna work. We still don’t know if it’s gonna work. (laughs) I mean there must be a point where you know that you’ve made it, but I guess we’re not there yet.
Sheils: We’ve been teetering on that line for ten odd years now.
Bigland: So we’re just doing it. But I think when you (to Mike) moved to Leeds that was definitely a decision. Where you were like “I don’t know where this is gonna go.” But I’m doing it.
Sheils: Yeah. Roll the dice.
Bigland: I mean, I remember picking up Mike from Norwich. I haven’t thought about this in ages.
Sheils: It’s something like four hours away.
Bigland: It’s such a nice memory, man. So me and Harry (who’s a friend of ours, and used to play bass in the band at that point) rented a van. I talked to Mike about joining the band twice? Or something. Not a lot.
Sheils: On e-mail and then a couple of phone calls.
Bigland: And then he was like “Alright, let’s do it.” So we literally rented a van and drove four hours down to Mike’s. We threw in four bin liners. They are like black bin bags of clothes. And a mattress into the back of this shitty van. It was like “We are doing this!” (laughs)
Sheils: This is my life now.
Bigland: Where did I pick you up from? Was that your mom’s? I can’t remember at the time.
Sheils: No. It was Steve’s.
Bigland: Anyway, so we drove Mike up back up to Leeds not really knowing what was gonna happen there. Got McDonald’s on the drive home. At the time I was living in a flat with two rooms and I was in one of them and then the other room was where I had been writing the first record, so it was just full of trash. Literally full of trash.
Sheils: And he hadn’t cleaned it up for me to move in.
Bigland: And there was a couch there. I mean he had a mattress, obviously, but there was no room for the mattress I think?
Sheils: No. So I slept on that couch for like a month.
Bigland: Yeah I think so. And it was like (sheepishly) “Here’s your room, buddy.”
From their 2013 record record Nature, Nurture, here’s the the music video for “Derail:”
Now for fans that read liner notes, you thank Keanu Reeves on your new album.
For being a cool dude and a good kung-Fu man.
Have you actually met him?
Bigland: Nope. We just threw it in there. He’s a cool dude.
Sheils: Have you seen John Wick? He seems like the best dude ever!
Bigland: Yeah but we got that in there before the Keanu craze had sort of re-established him.
Have you seen Toy Story 4 yet?
Cratchley: I can’t wait to see that character. He’s a Canadian action hero, isn’t he?
A motorcycle stunt man. Like Evil Kenevil.
Cratchley: Yeah Duke Caboom. (laughs)
Bigland: I love that guy, man. It would be cool to meet him. Obviously, we just threw it in there as a joke. If it ever wound up us meeting him, I’d be blown away.
Sheils: Our tour manager does look uncannily like him (motions to Ollie).
Bigland: He does. Yeah. Ollie, our tour manager, is a bit of a smoothy.
The “Nature Nurture” video is all about getting back to nature and nurturing yourself. It’s not? Oh…:
Can you talk about opening for Muse a little bit? What that was like for you?
Sheils: Yeah, it was cool.
Cratchley: It was nuts.
Sheils: Another cool three-piece that we used to listen to a lot.
Cratchley: It was weird. It didn’t really sink in for a while.
Sheils: Another cool three-piece that we used to listen to a lot. Well, I used to listen to Origin of Symmetry and Absolution and all of those so much when I was a teenager. When I was learning how to play guitar and stuff, I learned how to play Muse things all the time. And then when we got the news, I was like “That’s cool.” And then when we were there, it was like “Holy shit. We’re playing with Muse! In a stadium.” It was crazy.
Bigland: Yeah. That was kind of cool. It was one of those life-affirming moments. It’s like well I don’t know what’s going to happen, but the fact that we got here is quite cool.
Sheils: And you know what their crew were lovely, and we didn’t meet them at all. (laughs)
Bigland: Yeah, we didn’t meet them.
Sheils: They were at the venue for a total of fifteen minutes before and after the show. It was one of those where they just sort of turn up and play and leave.
Cratchley: We watched the set on the first shows. Epic. Crazy. The production value in it is next level. Never seen anything like that before.
That could be you in 20 years with an opener. You’ll be just like fifteen minutes before and fifteen minutes after and then, “Cheerios, boys!!”
Bigland: Yeah, I hope so. (laughs) Fingers crossed!
Peep the “Friend of Mine” official session video here:
And let’s wrap up with your signing to Parlophone, which is Warner. I’m not sure about Europe, but over here it is anyway.
Bigland: Well that came about kind of luckily. Our management in the U.S. has a relationship with Mitch Mitchell, who is now the head of Parlophone. They’ve worked with him for many years, and when we recorded a demo of I think it was “Thrash Metal.” We had a demo done of “Thrash Metal.”
Sheils: That was around February of last year, and they sent it over.
Bigland: Yeah and they sent it over and he…
Sheils: He was moving from Atlantic, wasn’t it? Over to Parlophone. And he was like I can’t do anything.
Bigland: I can’t do anything with this for at least eight months because I’m heading up Parlophone.
Sheils: But he thought it was cool and then he was like, well, it’s probably not going to happen.
Bigland: It was a polite kind of shrug off, like this is cool, but I’m not going to do it. And so, thus, again we went in to make the whole record feeling like… We obviously weren’t thinking about that as a shun. We weren’t making the record thinking that we’d been shunned or anything. But we were making the record thinking like “Oh ok, no one’s interested.” You know, it was kind of like “What happened to that thing? Nothing.”
Sheils: And we weren’t really getting any other bites, I think.
Bigland: So we were just really feeling like “Oh well, let’s go and make it.”
Cratchley: Last chance. So we organized a tour. Because we were like “well we’ve got it. It’s just sat here. Let’s get it out.”
Bigland: As in the record. We finished the record.
Sheils: Yeah. We’ve finished the record. We might as well tour it. Maybe put something out from it. See if that would get any interest.
Bigland: And we were gonna put out “Back Foot.” Because that was the most exciting song. And then we played Leeds and Redding. And I screwed up my back really badly. Yeah. Yeah. I’ve got like two vertebrae that are sort of funny. So I screwed up my back real bad. And I was like kind of like just hurting and immobile and stuff. So we were thinking we should probably pull that tour because I’m just not gonna be able to do it. So we did. Which meant we didn’t release “Back Foot.” And that was a real bummer for us because we’d never really cancelled a tour. We had no one interested in the record. We were kind of floating and now we’ve just canceled a tour. We’re literally not doing anything.
And at that point, we obviously had the finished record. Nothing happening with it. So we sent Mitch “Back Foot.” It was like, “by the way, we’ve finished the record.” I mean we didn’t send it to him. Our managers did. “By the way, finished the record. Here’s a song off of it.” And he called them straight back, and we signed with them two weeks later. He was like “We’re doing this.” Which is pretty awesome. Yeah, it was cool. I mean for us you know it’s this hard to explain how much of a mind-blower that is. I mean it’s mind-blowing that Parlophone is signing a rock band now in the first place. It’s even more mind-blowing that the rock band that they’ve signed is as heavy as we are.
Sheils: As far into our career as we are.
Bigland: This far into our career. Our fourth record. You know we’ve been going a long time. We’ve been grinding. But the fact that a major would get involved. And then the even more mind-blowing thing is that the heavy rock band that they’ve decided to sign on their fourth record is us. Because I’m sure there are a thousand other guys in our position that maybe could have been that band. It just feels kind of unreal.
But they didn’t have a song like “Back Foot.”
Sheils: I guess.
Bigland: Yeah. I guess that’s it. It’s crazy.