With their fourth and most ambitious album yet out now – click HERE for the Clash review of ‘Kingdom Of Rust’ – Doves are riding a high that can only come with constant challenging of their own creative processes, and reaching out to new goals.
The Manchester three-piece’s already rich palette of indie-rock colours and contours has been expanded by the incorporation of more electronic elements than ever before, showcased well on the pre-album download ‘Jetstream’. The band – Jimi Goodwin (bass, vocals), Jez Williams (guitar, vocals) and Andy Williams (drums) – now find themselves in the enviable position of being one of the UK’s biggest bands of their field, but also one able to experiment ‘til their hearts are content, knowing that a loyal fanbase will welcome divergences from any perceived norm.
After all, it’s not like Doves are your typical indie band anyway, coming together after their previous musical venture as Sub Sub hit the skids after a studio fire destroyed a raft of material in 1996. But the trio regrouped, and reinvented themselves as Doves in 1998, releasing the acclaimed ‘Cedar’ EP in November of the same year. And they’ve not looked back since.
Clash catches up with the Williams brothers before a sold-out show at London’s Forum. Later that night we will be amazed by the band’s awesome stage presence and accomplished translation of recorded material to a large live space – given their many festival slots, this comes as no surprise – but right now we’re chatting away in the dressing room of their chosen support band, The Invisible.
I guess a lot has changed since you guys started out, back in ’98. I don’t suppose you had your own online PR back then…
J: Yeah, it is. We didn’t really have one for the last album, even. But I guess then broadband wasn’t quite so widely available. Now it’s really taken off, and is a lot more affordable.
I think the industry has finally realised that having a presence online is as important, if not more so, than being in magazines and on the radio.
J: I think that’s the case.
With download culture the way it is, how does a band like Doves approach the consumer habit of taking tracks from an album, rather than purchasing the whole thing? Is it something you thought about when making ‘Kingdom Of Rust’?
J: I’m not a big fan of that aspect of download culture, but it’s not something you can control, so you just have to accept it. We still write from the perspective of creating a record… Well, I do CDs and he does records.
A: I still think about albums as having two sides. In a way we’re old fashioned like that, though, as we were obsessed with this album having a distinct start, middle and end.
J: It would be nice to think that the person listening to this album will do so from its start to its end, but obviously that won’t be the case with all people.
A: But the pick a few songs idea is encouraged by the magazines, sometimes, when they list which ones readers should download.
Clash does that as well.
J: What, the best tracks to download?
A: BitTorrent… go here!
But you have, in a way, embraced this culture by giving away a free track before the album’s release, ‘Jetstream’…
J: We were quite taken aback by that idea. When we were told the label was going to give it away for free we didn’t know what to think, but in hindsight it’s worked brilliantly as a (adopts peculiar voice and raises fingers to make inverted commas) ‘marketing tool’. Yeah, but I suppose it’s a bit like putting an advert in a ‘paper; it is just a digital advertisement, really. It’s strange to get your head around it, but once you do it’s okay.
A: It’s a great way of introducing people back to the band.
And it went through your official site, too…
A: Yeah, it did.
So it’s almost like a reward for the loyal fanbase who’ve been waiting for this new album?
A: In a way, I guess you could see it like that. That’s how we should probably think about it!
How does the band see itself now, on album four? I mean, you’ve sold out a load of shows, had two number one albums… you’re not exactly a small band, but you don’t seem to have the profile that some in your position would look to enjoy.
J: It’s because you choose whether or not to put yourself in the limelight, ultimately. Whatever the press attitude, it’s the artist who has the decision to put themselves out there, and if that’s what they do they really can’t complain. But if you choose not to do that, then you won’t get as much coverage… But it’s…
A: It’s a lot more comfortable being in this position. I suppose we are well known for our songs, but not as people, as celebrities. And we like that.
It’s doing things the right way, of course. People hear the songs and then investigate the band, rather than having said band forced at them through the press and then hearing their stuff.
J: Saying that, but when I was buying records and getting into music, before I was in a band, I liked the mystery of a band. Now, all the mystery’s been stripped away to such a ridiculous degree that it’s almost standard now to have a little DVD of the making of a video, or an album. I know we’ve done things like that, but it does take something away from a band. You’re taking all the mystery away. I liked getting a New Order album with no information on it – you begin creating your own images of what New Order is, and what those people are like. Seeing how an artist leads their daily life, it takes all that away. So maybe we’re quite into maintaining that mystery – if we’re not getting this or that cover, we’re comfortable with that.
It’s not like you’ve put the band on one of your album covers, either.
A: Well, you can’t ever predict what people will get from the covers, just like you’re never sure what they’ll make of the music, but we always have set ideas about how we want them to look.
The last couple have quite a hard, industrial look to them.
J: I’ve never really thought about them like that, but I suppose they do.
A: Well, ‘Lost Souls’ (debut album, 2000) was quite human, with the boxer on the cover.
J: But then it’s quite dark, and still quite brutal. Basically, our friend Rick does all the covers, and what we all get from that album we try to put into a visual representation. It just seems that process works – it’s very natural.
There’s something about this new album that suggests a different density, like you’ve broadened the sonic palette somewhat…
J: You’re absolutely right, I think we have. The palette has been broadened. I just think we’ve tried to see how far we can take things, down roads we’ve never been down before as Doves. And yeah, we just keep pushing and pushing, and if I’m honest this was a very difficult album to make.
I was wondering if the four years between records was indicative of you facing your share of challenges.
J: Yeah, absolutely. Because we work as a democracy, everything takes that bit longer to progress. Everyone has to agree to things, we all have to be totally into a track. We’ve actually got some great material from these sessions that we didn’t get finished, which bodes well for the next one. On this one, we had to pick the right songs, and I feel we’ve definitely gone down avenues that we’ve never been down before. I think for album four, we had to push ourselves.
A: The track you mentioned before, ‘Jetstream’, that felt very new for us. It touches upon sounds that we’ve not explored too much before. We love Kraftwerk, and we’re all fans, but it’s not like we’ve looked to… (laughs) ‘rip off’ before.
Well, I think the progress from album to album is traceable – there are strides forward but nothing that’s not been hinted at before, and I think there are still those necessary radio hits on the album.
J: I think since album one we’ve set the template that we can go wherever we want to go, and the other albums have moments where we’re chopping and changing, on the same record. So in that respect we’ve always wanted our fans to not be expecting a particular sound. We set our stall out pretty early to say that if they were expecting this, they might actually get this.
A:I think you’ll always get these other dimensions from us.
J: It’s weird, because whatever we put out ends up sounding like us anyway.
Well, it is all made by the same three people.
J: Yeah, our personalities can be heard whatever the style of a record. So ‘Jetstream’, having that right next to the title track on ‘Kingdom Of Rust’ – you couldn’t get two more polar opposite tracks, but somehow it works. So we can get away with a lot really.
And it sounds to me that you still find these radio singles quite naturally…
J: Really? That’s interesting. We… well, in my mind I think this is an ‘album’ album, and there really aren’t any singles from it. So it’s amazing what people get out of it, and how different perceptions can be. All opinions are equally valid… In fact, some are probably more valid than others, because we’ve been so wrapped up in this bloody album that sometimes it’s hard to have the necessary perspective.
Do you feel a release, a relieving of weight from the shoulders, now this record is completed?
J: Oh yeah. When we finished our last mix, that was the end of the process for me.
A: And me. I’ve not listened to it since. We never revisit our work, really, and doing this one was intense. Even the sequencing took a long time, going out for long car rides listening to the album in fifteen different orders, to work out which one worked best.
Sounds like a lot of bands just chuck their shit at a wall and see what order it sticks in, but you clearly take sequencing pretty seriously.
A: It’s massively important. You might have the best songs on your record – just the best songs – but if you put them in the wrong order their impact can be totally lost. If an album doesn’t have a natural flow, then it’s onto a loser.
And, of course, a lot of bands front-load their records. Probably something to do with dwindling attention spans…
J: Yeah, sure.
Of course, new bands are under great pressures to succeed. Do you think things have changed in this area since your first album?
J: I think it’s very tough for young, new bands nowadays. There are no development deals available. You can put a first album out and if it doesn’t do well you’re dropped, seemingly no questions asked. At the other side of the spectrum, there’s what happens if your debut does really well: this thing called the second album. It depends what kind of band you are, but I get the impression there are more bands today who will look to do their first album again – the public knows their sound, and they get it, so the band responds and makes more of the same. I’ve seen that happen enough times. But then again a band might not develop their sound ‘til the third album, and if the second one doesn’t work out they never get the chance to get that far. It’s just tough, y’know.
And the idea that a band can get by on live revenue seems to be something of a myth, too, based on the bands I tend to see, picking up £50 for driving half the length of the country
J: Well, that’s another thing. Record companies don’t tend to offer tour support anymore, so just how does a band get out there and build a fanbase? How do they promote their album when there’s so little money available.
A: And this is all despite the fact that music is so important to British culture. But the government doesn’t quite seem to realise this. The notion that any music can be disposable is terrible, like it’s something you steal from a hotel room and stick in your bag. When you speak to people who are visiting England, a lot of them know the music from here, and they might have even come because of it. One of the few great things about this country is its music and arts – they attract people to the country, and I’m not sure that’s properly recognised.
J: Something needs to be done, or put in place, because the limited opportunities for new bands smacks of the wrong attitude on the part of the industry to me.
A: We’ve seen our share of great bands fall by the wayside, because they’ve not been able to pay their bills and stuff, and that’s tragic.
The internet’s a blessing and a curse, really, for beginner-level bands: the accessibility is there, so everyone can hear their music, but at the same time people can steal it, taking from whatever little money that act might stand to make on a first album.
J: Well, one way around that is selling directly to fans at shows. But of course you need to be able to play those shows, first.
Just going back to how Doves began, from the almost literal ashes of Sub Sub… I guess if that studio fire had never happened, perhaps we wouldn’t be sat here talking about this record, as your fourth…?
A: It’s so hard when you think about ‘what if’, but there’s no doubt that the fire was a major turning point for us. A lot’s been written about it, but we had begun to change our approach in Sub Sub to incorporating more live instruments, so perhaps something like this could have happened. The fire happened at something of a transitional stage for us, I think.
J: We were faced with a really black and white decision: throw the towel in or carry on. And if you’re going to carry on, you’ve got to put everything into it to justify it, because before that you’ve lost everything. That was quite a liberating feeling, actually. It really was such a simple decision, which with hindsight I kind of enjoyed. It’s nice to have not quit, and everyone goes through ups and downs… It comes down to what kind of character you are, really.