On Returning: Doves Interviewed

On Returning: Doves Interviewed

Jez Williams on their wonderful new album...

The idea of being a family isn’t far removed from Doves. There are times when members of a family need a break from it all. That’s fine, that’s just part of life. The idea of not making a return until it feels right to do so isn’t new.

And when Jimi Goodwin, Jez Williams and Andy Williams returned to a major stage for the first time in ten years, the venue just happened to be the Royal Albert Hall for Teenage Cancer Trust. It was joyous to see how much people still cared.

Worth much more than the long wait, the iconic group’s astonishing new album project ‘The Universal Want’ does more than make up for the break, it almost justifies it. Sublime, experimental and utterly fresh-sounding, it depicts the essence of the Manchester trio, but it also seeks to explore novel sounds, ideas and ambitions.

Clash spoke to guitarist and songwriter Jez Williams to uncover how one of the band had to disappear in order to come back stronger and better.

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Eleven years have gone.. what’s it like to release during abnormal times?

It’s a bloody long time. It went quickly, we were busy in-between. Life gets in the way, we’re proud of this album. Just trying to get our heads around not touring. It’s a huge change, we’ve always been on the road. We’ve gone through the album, we’ve finished it and then we can’t tour it. We finished it back in March, we’ve been doing all the promo, we’re doing a few online sessions. We’re sort of in limbo, it’s weird, we’re in no man’s land waiting at a traffic light.

Is there a collective ambition behind the record?

We had started writing and recording. We didn’t know if we had a label. It was liberating, there was no pressure. We decided not to think about the perception outside the band. We felt like an unknown band, just recording away and writing. That helped us enjoy the process. There’s a lightness, we went into it thinking, we can do exactly what we wanted, no one knows.

It was an easy album to make, albums start to get more difficult, take longer to make. You come off weeks of touring, get back in. It got tougher and tougher. We couldn’t have made this album without the break. There’s no way we could have psychologically gone into another album straight album after 2010. But this has been a joy.

Did your approach writing in the same way?

We kept it pretty much the same. We were listening to different stuff, playing not new stuff, but old stuff. Everything shifts, it’s been a decade. We made sure we felt it was a relevant album. It felt like new avenues to go down, that was an important one to keep it fresh, we felt like we had moved on, and the album sounds like we have. There was no preconceptions.

Doves are known for being adventurous musically, what inspired this one?

Anything from folk to old-school club music. We were reconnecting. We got asked to do a few DJ gigs. We started rediscovering some of our 12-inch, white labels, a massive collection of music.

Jimi and Andy would take different stuff to me, discover new and old stuff, it was pretty varied. We got into compilations. We were getting to discover the joy of music again after a long break. I don’t see why, when you play the guitar, a sampler or a laptop, you should say, now it’s all good. It’s not any different getting a track out of a sampler from coming up with some chords or a lyric.

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How does this view transfer in practice?

Jimi might bring in a song, constructs on a laptop using various samples. We’ll strip it back, play it as a band. Some things started on a laptop but ended up being played in a room, bits might have gone back to the laptop.

‘Universal Want’ starts on a laptop, a piano as an ‘apocalyptic’ ballad. I had this idea, Andy came with the bare bones and tune. It took a different turn and became a construct in the laptop. I turned it into an electronic workout fusing the two together.

‘Carousels’ we had for a long time before the beat came. It was faster, it wasn’t quite right. I stumbled upon Tony Allen’s album, just him on drums. We slowed the song down and made it groove-based. That’s the good thing about democratisation, everything is democratised. Everyone can be producers.

You recorded with Dan Austin again. Did it feel different this time around?

He’s our guy. We always coproduce with him. We decided that because we had been away for a long time. We wanted familiarity and feel secure about being together after being away. He’s perfect for us.

We wanted that familiarity around us, which helps, because he gets where we’re coming from. We’ll have the song done, as in, demoed. He’s good at capturing the band’s sound and recording bands live in a room. He knows how to use a laptop for music, we mixed the two up sometimes. He’s intuitive and knows what we want.

We’ve worked with each other for so long, he’s the fourth member.  

You were without a recording deal, how did you reengage labels?

We started recording, we did everything ourselves. It had been ten years. We were finishing the album, but Dave phoned them - Virgin Records. It was amazing because they loved it and wanted to be involved. We did have a Plan B, that’s great too because we would have gone straight to Bandcamp.

One of the good things these days is that you can be liberated, go direct to the fans. Heavenly are still involved, Jeff Barrett is a mentor, they very much are in our lives.

Talk us through your favourite tracks on this album?

What started to emerge for me was the yearning and layering. I wanted to tap into that feeling. We started going down these roads and emotion, it’s a very specific feeling. Songs like ‘Forest House’, ‘For Tomorrow’ had this. The big one was ‘Mother Silverlake’, it was hitting all the right spots. We wanted it to be a specific soul record. It was a sound starting to take shape.

An organic record of raw, more constituent parts. We weren’t overdoing it, tried to capture some of the live sound. ‘For Tomorrow’ and ‘Mother Silverlake’ were live in the studio. We were capturing something you can’t put a finger on to do with us as people, and as a band. There’s self-help lyrics on ‘Cycle of Hurt’.

A lot of our songs can be ambiguous, which we like. Our listeners can make up their own meanings, it’s just as valid as ours, what our intention was.

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Can you pinpoint what prompted Doves’ comeback?

Going back to 2014-2015, no one made that call to say we’re going back in, because we knew it was gonna be some time. We thought maybe five or six years but not ten.

Jimi did his record, me and my brother did Black Rivers. That was cool going back to loading in, loading out, we went back to playing small clubs. Muso friends kept nagging us about Doves. I’m not knocking it, but I didn’t know. A campaign started online, Encourage Doves to reform.

The first day together was like ‘shall I meet you? I’ll meet you, we’ll have some lunch with Jimi’. We had a curry. We were chatting about old times, it got onto the subject of Doves. I can’t put my finger on it, I felt like the time might be right. With this whole process nothing has been forced, it worked in our favour. We naturally let it flow. It felt good.

What’s it like to have a past of shared experiences?

It’s an advantage. But it’s a double-edged-sword because it’s a dysfunctional one, sometimes. It’s everything from ‘I love you’ to ‘If you eat that packet of Walkers Crisps then I’ll strangle you’. It’s family, with Jimi as well. We’ve been through so much together. It’s thicker than water.

Does the excitement Doves create between melancholy and dance represent a unique point of attraction?

It inherently is melancholy. We were always into being uplifting using things from our dance past, bands like Sub Sub. We like this feeling of club music. We started to understand how to do that with a guitar, a lot of the album has this feeling. We got into using that on the albums to lift them up, get some euphoria into them. We’re not happy to go in all melancholy, but a lot of music I like always has that side, it comes out. That’s the way.

What are Doves’ greatest moments? And did you enjoy having two Number One albums?

There has been many. When we were kids we all loved The Who, getting to play with Roger Daltrey was a huge highlight. Shitting ourselves because we had been up for 48 hours and having to face a crowd. We were broken as people, we were on a tour bus, our tour manager was trying to get us on stage. That’s the memory of us against the world, it was hedonistic. That was amazing.

Missing out on our first number one by four copies to Lady Gaga, that was annoying! Having your first number one we did not expect that, it’s a unique feeling. It’s interesting the mainstream can come to you rather than you going to it. I’m proud of the albums we’ve made. They stand up. 

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Does Royal Albert Hall represent a career milestone?

It was very special. We were recording in Gloucestershire, the tickets had gone on sale and this was a realisation because none of us knew, we had been in the wilderness for over ten years. But it sold out in a minute. Dave Rofe our manager was texting us about it. We were like ‘Bollocks, you’re winding us up’. That was a special moment to know people were still interested in us, a lovely surprise. It was special.

It was a loud gig, it was emotional. When you walk onto the stage at RAH, the balconies are stacked in front of you. You can see the whole audience, it’s quite bright. It was intense, the emotion and the amount of people that were packed to the rafters. You sound like an aircraft taking off, the noise, the sound of an engine for most of the gig.

It was amazing, we were taken back, in shock. We stepped from nothing onto that stage.

Do Doves have more albums to give?

I think so. I’m thinking about it seriously.

I don’t know about timings, we’ve only just finished this one in March. I don’t think we’ll be rushing to get on with the next one, but if next year is cancelled as in - can’t do anything - there‘s a good chance that we could start writing again. But we’ll see what happens.

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'The Universal Want' is out now.

Words: Susan Hansen
Photo Credit: Jon Shard

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