Ducking Punches premiere ‘Fizzy Brain’ LP: “We really tried to push the boat out.”

Ducking Punches premiere ‘Fizzy Brain’ LP: “We really tried to push the boat out.”

By Ben Tipple

Feb 29, 2016 10:00

Norwich outfit Ducking Punches finished recording ‘Fizzy Brain’ back in August 2015 having shaken up their writing and recording process to produce something a little different. On the verge of unleashing the LP into the world they began negotiations with their dream label Xtra Mile Recordings, who they now call home alongside Germany’s No Panic. “Xtra Mile are a label we’ve admired for a long time,” vocalist and guitarist Dan Allen enthuses. “I really like their ethos and the bands they put out. For them to want to put out our record was great.” Celebrating the collaboration, ‘Fizzy Brain’ is available to stream below, and we caught up with Dan about all things Ducking Punches.

Borne out of the demise of his previous outfit, Ducking Punches’ humble beginnings were sparked by Dan’s unwillingness to stop. The quickest and easiest way to carry on playing, he explains, was alone. It led to the release of a number of early EPs and debut album proper, before his occasional bandmates were inducted into the full band resulting in 2014’s ‘Dance Before You Sleep’.

“It got to the point where I was fed up of playing solo shows all the time,” Dan explains, “they are just not as fun as full band. You don’t quite get the same connection with the audience.” With that dynamic in mind, Ducking Punches is built around relatability. ‘Fizzy Brain’, the second LP as a fully-fledged band, speaks of loss, death and struggles with mental health. It’s a theme that reverberates across many and one of the key reasons for the record’s impact.

Despite track titles like ‘Drinking Outside Funerals’ and ‘Hurts Like Hell’, there’s an ironic optimism running throughout the record. “It’s a lot more positive, there’s a lot more hope and love,” Dan adds. On ‘Fun Fun Fun’ he implores, “we’ve got to try and have some fun and stop taking our lives for granted.”

Among the occasional ballads that hark back to Dan’s solo days, the record presents itself as a heavier beast. The fundamental storytelling drives the record, with the likes of ‘God Damn Coward’ and the title-track no longer ducking those punches. ‘Fizzy Brain’ isn’t subtle in its subject matter, not least on album mid-point ‘JFH’.

“It’s about a friend who we lost to suicide,” Dan opens up. “Finishing that song and hearing that recorded was almost therapeutic. That was a really important part of the record to get down.” It’s an honesty mirrored throughout the record’s eleven tracks. “As I get older and older, death becomes less of a fear, it’s become too familiar,” he sings on the title-track.

‘Fizzy Brain’ isn’t a one-man show, finding its style through band collaboration. As well as seeing bandmate Sophie Porter step to the forefront on ‘Taking Back The Living Room’, the album owes its confidence to a multitude of influences, having whittled the final release down from thirty possible tracks. “I think that’s how you write the best songs,” Dan looks back at the joint creative process, “because you come at it from so many different angles. The whole album flows better because of it. We found it a lot easier to do it like that, because everyone’s more invested in it. We all really cared how the songs were written, rather than it just being me with my ideas.”

“It’s not as obvious,” he continues, referring to the record’s sound. “It’s still peppered with hooks and choruses, but it’s not just your standard format. The structure is different on the songs. We’ve delved a lot more into unusual chords and tunings. We played around with it a lot more, rather than writing a straight up punk records. It’s been a massive learning curve,” he admits, “but super fun. We really tried to push the boat out.”

That they have done. Although demonstrating all the values of folk and punk, ‘Fizzy Brain’ steers clear of twee folk-punk traditions. Ducking Punches wear their influences well rather than imitating their contemporaries. In their song-writing they modernise the classic style, switching from folklore to contemporary issues and presenting the morbid with an unquestioned conviction. Where others have fallen, Ducking Punches grasp on to the heavier roots of their sound and balance it with candid honesty.

“I remember getting the whole album back and we had to play with the track order for ages,” Dan reminisces. “To hear it back in that order, the whole album clicked. It’s a year and a half’s work, and then finally we get to listen to it all and it sounded as good as we’d hoped.”

With the album out there, Ducking Punches are gearing up to get back on the road. Surprisingly, the band have only a couple of UK tours to their name. “We’ve put a lot of time into Europe,” Dan explains, “we’ve been lucky to do some cool tours. We’ve got a strong following over there. When Ducking Punches started out touring, especially on my own, I had zero money. I had to make every bit count. Europe is such an easier market to tour. There’s a lot of government funding for venues, so you get treated a little bit better – higher fees and stuff. Now people in the UK are starting to know who we are, so we’re going to be touring the UK a lot more.”

Despite minimal touring Dan is a well-known figure across the DIY scene, not least for his work at Norwich’s recently challenged Owl Sanctuary venue. Battling with eviction, a crowd funding campaign allowed the small venue to move to a new location, following fears that it would mean the end for another independent music hub. It’s an issue Dan feels passionately about, and one that threatens a scene he loves.

“The DIY scene in the UK is the best and strongest one in the world,” he adamantly states. “The big corporations and property developers are the problem. The government doesn’t support little live venues and art. Sometimes being DIY is the way you can tour and put records out. For these big businesses to be destroying these hubs of live music is horrific. You’ll never have a big band that wasn’t a small band first.”

With the band firmly rooted in the UK DIY scene, and label mate and album collaborator Frank Turner a staunch supporter, Ducking Punches are heading in the right direction in their own terms. ‘Fizzy Brain’ has all the feeling of a fresh and invigorated start. On the back of it, it won’t be long until Ducking Punches are coming back to support the venues that propelled them forward.

Ducking Punches will be playing at London’s Monarch on Thursday 3rd March 2016 in support of the record’s release.