Ducking Punches: Half Dead From Exhaustion But Stronger Than Ever [Interview]

Dan Allen, frontman of Norwich’s premier folk/alt-rockers, discusses Alamort, mental health and creativity.

Interview by Sarah Williams.

If you’ve not heard Ducking Punches‘ new album Alamort yet, you’re missing out. It’s eleven songs that are reliably epic, anthemic and instantly appealing. It’s drawn comparisons with Frank Turner, Apologies, I Have None and more traditional folk/rock influences, but I believe that Ducking Punches have carved out a genuinely unique sound that only they could possibly achieve.

Ducking Punches started as Dan Allen’s solo project, after his old band parted ways. Nowadays they’re a powerful five-piece on their fourth studio album. Dan still plays solo shows under the same name and many of the lyrical themes rely on his open-hearted personal experiences, but the full-band performance is utterly magical. Hearing the group grow and flourish over the years has been impressive, never moreso than on Alamort.

We caught a few minutes to ask Dan some quite serious questions about the challenges presented by the new record, how he’s developed as a song writer and how his creativity helps to manage his anxiety.

You’ve recently released Alamort, your fourth studio album. Tell us a bit more about the meaning of the title, and how you got to that feeling!

It’s an old archaic word translating to being ‘half dead from exhaustion’. It kind of summed up a difficult year for all of us and we wanted to embrace the fact that we’d crawled over the line, still intact.

A lot of Alamort sound like your emotions are pouring out through your guitar and some of the songs are a lot more hardcore than your earlier output. How cathartic did you find the writing/recording process to be?

It’s the most cathartic and honest album to date, I feel like that was necessary. We are always trying to evolve our sound on every record and these are the kind of songs I’ve wanted to write since I started Ducking Punches.

Was the writing and recording process any different for you on this record to what you’ve experienced in the past?

A little, in the fact there is zero acoustic guitar on the new record. I really enjoyed writing with an electric guitar again and being able to explore that sonically. As a band it was a pretty collaborative effort too, which makes for a more exciting album in my opinion.

What was most challenging about creating the album?

The subject matter was pretty challenging, however the rest of it all came together so easily. It was a joy to work on.

How do you feel you have developed as an artist (and a person) since your earlier releases?

A lot, I’m tons more confident on stage and I think my songwriting has matured; there are no references to teenage rebellion and politics anymore as I had kind of grew out of putting those complex ideas into songs. I feel like the lyrics are a lot more measured these days. I’ve read a lot of books in the last ten years, I guess.

Any you would recommend for us?

Death at Intervals by Jose Saramego. A book about death receiving a conscience.

One of your most popular songs is Big Brown Pills from Lynn (presumably Kings Lynn) and you’re based in Norwich. What impact (if any) do you think your location has had on your songwriting?

Tons, we reference places all the time in our songs. I think it helps to build a real understanding of the struggles we write about if it’s all based in a space you can visit.

You are quite outspoken about mental health. Being creative and artistic can help if you’re living with anxiety or depression, but it’s often challenging to share your creative work if you’re low or full of self-doubt. Do you find that a problem and, if so, what advice would you have for getting around it?

I forever find that a problem. The biggest challenge I face, however, is getting motivated in the first place. I’ve managed to get to a point where I can kind of force myself to create because I know it’ll help eventually. Any advice I would have is that you don’t have to share your creative output if you don’t want to. It’s not a prerequisite of creating, it’s much more internal than that. However, if you do want to share, just release it and forget about it. Checking reviews, searching for validation will probably not feel great if like me, the tiniest criticism of your art feels a bit like a dagger. I just ignore it these days.

You’re creative outside of music, too. I’ve been seeing more and more of your artwork out there. How do you fit it all in?

Good question! With difficulty, but I work long days, am super committed and the main thing is I enjoy it. It rarely actually feels like work.

You’ve been touring a lot lately, including quite a lot of European mainland dates and a packed-out show at Fest. What’s been your most eye-opening tour experience recently?

I mean, that last show at FEST was unbelievable, also opening the main stage at 2000 Trees ruled. We were only expecting about 30 people to come and watch so that was a hell of a surprise.

You’re playing Manchester Punk Festival next month. What are you looking forward to most about it?

Yes! All of it, it’s genuinely the best organised festival we’ve ever played and the lineup is killer this year (as ever).

What other big plans do you have for Ducking Punches this year?

Tons of touring, a bunch of festivals and we’re going to start writing a very special EP too.

Where do you see yourself and the band in 5 years time?

Hopefully still doing exactly this, it’s tough to put a timeline on a band but I still want to be travelling the world with my best pals.

Finally, if you were on an aeroplane that was about to crash, what would you put on your iPod for the final moments?

I’m terrified of flying so I’ve genuinely done this and it’s Explosions In The Sky’s First Breath After Coma.

Ducking Punches’ new album Alamort was released on February 16th on Xtra Mile Recordings. You can get the vinyl or CD direct from the record label and you can stream or download the album from their Bandcamp page.

Ducking Punches are touring a hell of a lot, both in the UK and overseas. Check out their full list of shows over on their event page.

Interview by Sarah Williams.

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