It might seem like Dry the River bandleader Peter Liddle has a vivid imagination when he croons the rollicking folk-rocker “Med School,” with the lyrics: “They’re cutting up the bodies in the med school basement/ Tonight I’m only watching on an academic placement/ I regulate my breathing but I can’t escape the feeling/ That I should not be watching today.”
But the song is true. “It’s about my experience dissecting human cadavers in medical school. And I was really quite shaken by the prospect at first,” says Liddle, who brings Dry the River to The City this week, playing from the new album “Alarms in the Heart.”
Tune-wise, “Med School” wasn’t the first forensic foray for Liddle. The group’s 2012 debut “Shallow Bed” included “Chambers & Valves,” penned while he was taking a cardiac anatomy course. Although other new “Alarms” songs, including “Gethsemane,” “Roman Candle” and “Hidden Hand” cover more universal topics and have chiming guitars, Liddle’s restrained singing style is rooted in college, too. When the group first began practicing in his dormitory, the members had to stay quiet so they wouldn’t disturb other students.
“That’s how we ended up unwittingly making a folk band, which I never really intended to do it all,” says Liddle, who was two years away from graduation when his quartet took off, thanks to Britain’s bustling neo-folk revival.
“We were quite surprised when people started saying. ‘There’s this new folk band in London called Dry the River,’ because none of us really listened to folk music at the time, and we didn’t realize that that’s what we were doing. It’s all been quite surprising.”
Liddle – a former punk rocker – studied archaeology, Egyptology, human evolution, morphology, genetics, then finally medicine. Next thing he knew, he was preparing to dissect his first human body. “Some medical schools have clever prosthetic models, but we had cadavers – people donate them, amazingly,” he says.
Spiritual and ethical concerns were addressed by a priest, then a preparatory medical unit, then a legal team, says Liddle, adding, “People who thought dissection would be a breeze came out a bit daunted. But people like me, who were terrified about it for months in advance, came out the other side not too shaken. But it certainly was odd – no getting around that.”
When Dry the River first began touring, Liddle’s bandmates would regularly seek his opinion about various ailments. No longer: “I think they very quickly realized that I was a quack, a complete fraud, and that my advice was more harmful than good. So now they do what everyone else does – they diagnose themselves on Google,” he says.
IF YOU GO
Dry the River
Where: Brick and Mortar Music Hall, 1710 Mission St., S.F.
When: 9 p.m. Oct. 22
Tickets: $13 to $15
Contact: (415) 800-8782, www.brickandmortarmusic.com