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Dry the River Are Obsessed With VHS Tapes

Photo by Jon Warren

A lot of folks are pegging up-and-coming English folk-rockers Dry the River as being the next Mumford & Sons, but when the band isn’t making their raucous, heartfelt racket, its drummer, Jon Warren, is looking to the past, not the future. And he’s it doing it in a very specific way. “I collect VHS tapes,” says Warren, 29, speaking from a car on the way to a London listening party for the quintet’s debut, Shallow Bed, due April 17 on RCA. “I’ve got about 500, I believe. I got into collecting them when I was a child growing up in a little leafy London suburb called Blackwater. I was too young to see action films in the cinema, but I could get them on VHS.”

Though Warren has a sizable part of his collection currently in storage, he is able to quickly name off some favorites. “Judge Dredd, Demolition Man, but Under Siege is probably the one I’ve watched the most,” he says. “Basically ’90s action movies are my favorite.”

Unlike other collector’s items, the tapes haven’t put much of a dent in Warren’s wallet. “I get them trolling charity shops and things like that,” he explains. “You can usually get them dirt cheap. Three for a pound or something like that. The problem is usually quality. Because they’ve been sitting around for years in garages and things like that, there’s often a lot of deterioration.”

Which is part of the appeal. “Because I used to watch action films in that format,” says Warren, “I have a total nostalgic attachment to the low quality. The compressed picture and fuzziness is how I remember the movies I love. I don’t want to see Arnold Schwarzenegger punch a camel in Conan the Barbarian in DVD quality. I want it on scratchy VHS.”

There’s also another, less, uh, wholesome sense-memory attachment to the tapes for Warren. “The older kids used to tell us things like, ‘You gotta see Total Recall because there’s a three-breasted woman in it.’ You really had to earn seeing a naked woman in those days. There were no DVD chapters. You had to fast-forward to the 58th minute. And even if you paused it, there were still lines across the screen!” Ah, it was a simpler time.

The drummer has even used his position in a buzzy band to help fatten his collection. “We’ve got it in our rider now that we want a ’90s action film on VHS,” says Warren, laughing. “The other day someone actually gave us Robocop 2.”

But one tape remains Warren’s white whale. “Street Fighter with Jean-Claude Van Damme: I’ve never found it,” he says ruefully. “It’s a massive hole in my collection. If anyone out there has it, let me know. I’ll pay good money.”