Simply brilliant. Those are really the best words to describe The Doves. By now, most of you should know their story intimately. From their beginnings as electronic act Sub Sub, through the devastating fire that levelled their new studio and destroyed a new album's worth of master tapes, only to see the band's Phoenix-like rise from the ashes to be re-invented as The Doves. "Lost Souls," the band's timeless debut album, hit shops unassumingly last year, and ended up making nearly every critic's year-end list (including reaching #5 on Excellent's own 2000 Reader's Poll.) The record takes snippets from a lifetime's worth of British (and especially Mancunian) influences, and layers them meticulously into an album that's wonderfully diverse in tunes, yet astoundingly cohesive in overall tone. Thoughtful, dark, moody, and powerful, The Doves defy description. They're simply brilliant.
The band made their very first Stateside trek in February and early March and we spent an early Chicago evening in the back of the Doves tour bus, casually hashing out the inner workings of the band with Doves frontman/bassist Jimi Goodwin. Here's a complete transcript of our VERY casual exclusive interview.
Interview by Shane Brown and Stuart Reid
STU: So how's it been going?
Jimi: Very, very well. We're really chuffed. The crowds have been fantastic to us. Really good.
SHANE: So what was it like coming of age in Manchester? Is the town really as much of a musical mecca as it's often made out to be? I mean, were you constantly bombarbed with influences and such?
Jimi: Yeah, yeah. I mean, in the early nineties, in England, basically, the acid house thing was a... well, it was the biggest thing to happen culturally since punk. You felt there was something in the air. It was fucking overnight, it was, 'Whoa!' I went to the Hacienda one week, Thursday night, and it was the usual - it had been like that for years, it was an indie thing, really. Usually about 25 people in there, all wearing black. So I didn't bother going for years. Next time I went, it was about three years later, I went on a Wednesday night, their 'hop night,' and there's a swimming pool in there, and everyone's just fucking going ballistic to fucking Detroit techno.
STU: When was this?
Jimi: 1988. You know, it opened in 1984 or something like that, I think. Struggled for years. Put some great bands on there, y'know. Wrestled with the sound - it wasn't particularly brilliant sounding in there. They struggled for years. And then Mike Pickering and Graham Park and Dave Haslam - some DJ's who mixed then, and New Order -- getting off in America and loving, like, Hispanic and black hip-hop and electro, y'know. Mike Pickering coming back from New York with loads of different records... It was a very inspiring time, it was unbelievable. So, yeah, we kind of take it for granted, really. Y'know, I mean, it's not like on every street corner you might bump into fucking Johnny Marr, or 'Oh, look over there, it's so-and-so.' But, I mean, they're around and they still live there and they hang out. It's a good place, it's a small town, everyone knows everyone.
SHANE: Was Sub Sub the first proper band you'd all been in?
Jimi: I'd been in a band when I was about fifteen called The Risk. We did a lot of pub gigs, y'know, it was like, school nights we were happy doing three gigs a week in a pub, just stuff around the Northwest, really. But Sub Sub was the first proper band that we all went, y'know, 'Fuck, we really mean this.' Jez and Andy had been in bands before - Jez had been in a sort of serious band before, it was called Metro Trinity [?].
SHANE: So what led you guys from the onset of Sub Sub to explore electronic and dance music?
Jimi: Because that's what we were hearing when we were going out, and it was fascinating. We'd all done the indie thing before that - jamming in our mum's living room. Nothing came too much, y'know, it was just for fun. And then I met them a few years later after school - I hadn't seen them since I was 16, then I met them up when I was 18. It was like, 'Fuck, what are YOU doing here? All right! You're loving the same stuff! Well, I'll come by next Tuesday. If you've got a keyboard, I can blag a sampler, let's see what we can do.'
SHANE: And then you had a hit. "Ain't No Love (Ain't No Use)" went massive, but it wasn't particularly indicative of the Sub Sub sound, right?
Jimi: No, but we're very proud of it. It's never been like, 'Ooh, don't mention that!' It was a weird one. It was a big hit, and it freaked us out a bit, but it was a great record. We were a little bit more eclectic than that, y'know. That week we wanted to write a fucking big Loreatta Holloway style disco track, the week before it was something different. That was the first vocal thing we did. They were all instrumental before that. A friend of mine, Melanie, who I'd done sessions with, she sang it, she was just a friend. But Sub Sub was a lot more filmic, more atmospheric, sort of like electronica, really, on the whole. That's how you can sum Sub Sub up.
STU: Did you feel like that music had eventually run its course? Of course, we'd heard about the fire and such, but was it a planned move away from that music that brought about The Doves?
Jimi: Yeah, we maybe got a little bit disillusioned with going out. The clubs started going a bit sour. But maybe all these factors... This is all hindsight, remember. We were bored and we weren't sure which way we were gonna go next. The first Sub Sub album had been a bit of a disappointment - and your first album's meant to be the most fantastic thing you do, y'know what I mean? You know how you break open a record sleeve and write down on a label in the corner the cuts that you just fucking love on a record? That's the way it was with that album. We're proud of half the tracks on it, but as a whole, it didn't quite work. We were just finding our feet. We'd done some great EP's. We meant it to be special, but it didn't end up being like that, and we were being pigeonholed with the "Ain't No Love" thing. So we were just restless, we just felt it was time to move on. Now this was before the fire, as well. It's not like we just overnight romantically went, 'Well, that's it.' About 1994, the year before the fire, we'd started really picking up instruments again.
SHANE: When the fire broke out, was the studio in one of your homes?
Jimi: No. As usual with these places, they're always in the roughest part of town, with dodgy landlords, rats, and bad electricity.
STU: But it was yours, right?
Jimi: Aye, right. We'd made a bit of money with "Ain't No Love." We were lucky. We'd got some gear together to kick back and experiment until we were happy to come out again.
STU: Did you lose a great deal of tapes and equipment?
Jimi: Yeah, we lost tapes, we lost equipment. But we were insured. If we weren't insured, we might not be here now. When forty grand goes up, where would we be to get that back at 22 years old? So, yeah, we were lucky. It was a blessing in a way. I was laughing. After the initial shock, I started giggling, y'know? It was like [looking to the sky], 'What else you gonna throw at me, man? C'mon then, fucking bring it on! Me bird just left me, what else you got?'
SHANE: Did you have a steady fanbase that made the transition with you from Sub Sub to the Doves?
Jimi: In Manchester, yeah. There's people who always had respect for us, and knew there was more to us than that one hit. DJ's and kids... eclectic people. And they dig it, yeah, they come along with it. We don't get any, 'Oh, we preferred you when you were disco.' Instead, we've had kids come up to us and say, 'Fucking hell, I didn't think you had it in you. We liked you, but this is the real league here. We're havin' it, it's not a big transition.'
SHANE: There seems to be a critical trend in at least America, where electronic artists get critically trashed for breaking into guitar music, and vice-versa. For instance, whenever someone like Moby keeps jumping from guitar tracks to dance tracks, the critics aren't having it. Did you guys get any immediate critical backlash?
Jimi: Oh, we were worried about it. I wanted to keep the name Sub Sub, but Andy and Jez didn't. And it's a democracy, so it's like okay. Of course you can change. You're meant to change. Even I saw the wisdom of it. It was like, look, we're not hiding it. It's gonna come out anyway. We've got nothing to be ashamed of, other than a couple of turkey, trying-too-hard pop tracks. The legacy's good. So let them fucking bring it up and say what they want. 'What, you dare to pick up guitars?' Well I was playing guitar from fucking '88, mate, y'know what I mean, and so was Jez. We'd known we wanted to be in a band since we were seven years old. We thought we might get a bit of a backlash. I mean, we did a track with Bernard Sumner. The last two Sub Sub releases were headed in that direction. We had a track with Tricky called "Smoking Beagles." It's crazy - straight from the pink room of David Lynch and "Fire Walk With Me." [ed. note: kick-ass reference #1.] You know that sleazy groove from that movie? It's dead like that. Kind of black, really, but you know, with our kind of little spin on it.
SHANE: What was it like working with Tricky? Is he as much of a lunatic as he's made out to be?
Jimi: He's quite, he's very eccentric. He's... what are they doing?
[At this point, we're cut off when the tour bus begins to sickeningly lurch back and forth as it tries to navigate into a cramped parking spot. This kept up for what seemed to be roughly the next seven and a half hours, as we tried to carry on the interview as best we could - over the next couple of questions, thoughts are abrupt and cut off, as retaining our meager lunches took priority over completed sentences.]
STU: I think we're being towed. [laughter all around.] And you don't want to be towed in Chicago.
Jimi: Bloody hell...
STU: Didn't the last couple of Sub Sub songs end up coming out as Doves b-sides?
Jimi: We were working with Jeff Barrett, our label boss in England at Heavenly Records. We pulled out all the stuff that got burned. We had DAT's of the demos. All the masters were burned, but we still had the demos. We put an album out called "The Delta Tapes," which is just basically saying goodbye to all that stuff. And it came out in Australia and fucking Portugal, d'you know what I mean? We didn't want it out in England because we were already preparing the way for Doves, d'you know what I mean? We didn't even know the name probably then, but we knew something was afoot. So we put The Delta Tapes out, and Jeff just suggested why not just put two of them Delta Tapes tracks out for Doves fans, just to go, 'Look.' I think on the EP, it even says, 'Work it our for yourselves.' 'Cause these ain't no great shakes.
STU: And those ended up on the "Catch the Sun" single?
Jimi: Yeah, the second CD. Just for something a little different, really. They're from very late into Sub Sub, so they won't really tell you what Sub Sub were like when we first started... fucking hell! [At this point, we're holding onto our drinks, and our stomachs, for dear life.]
SHANE: This is easily the first interview where I've been inspired to vomit. [laughter all around.]
Jimi: This is a bit much, eh?
SHANE: Now was there any concern while you guys were working on "Lost Souls" that the musical direction of the album was a bit unfashionable at the time? This was at the ebb of Britpop, when music as lush and layered as "Lost Souls" was less than trendy.
Jimi: It wasn't ready, anyways. It would be hindsight to wonder what the reaction would have been if we'd have released "Lost Souls" in 1996. I'm glad it wasn't ready. I wasn't even singing in 1996. I was conveying ideas, but it wasn't a unified decision, like, "Jimi, you should do it, because we're getting nowhere auditioning singers." That was a bit later, that was around 1997, maybe even 1998. We were frustrated, though, we wanted it out. I was just like fucking climbing the walls, going, 'We're doing great stuff here, but we havent got a frontman.' It's good that it didn't come out then. But, I mean, what's the point in going, 'Would it have got received?' I think they're all great fucking songs, so there's no reason why it wouldn't have been. And it's totally different to your Blur and your Oasis, y'know what I mean? I don't know. But it's come out now in England, and it seems to have been the right time for it.
SHANE: Are you guys really meticulous in the studio? Is creation a time-consuming process for you guys?
Jimi: Some of the tracks on the album took two weeks to mix, some of them one week... "Cedar Room" took a long time - we just kept coming in and tweaking it, muting this bit, expanding that bit. See, after the fire, we got another studio together in New Order's old rehearsal room. Rob Gretton, their manager, was our label boss at the time. And Rob died, sadly, in May 1999. He was fucking really good to us. Amazing bloke. He bankrolled us for fucking ten years. He was like, 'Y'know, just do what you do, and maybe it'll become good.' A lovely man.
SHANE: Do you think your background in electronic music helped out when it came down to layering sounds in the studio?
Jimi: Yeah, definitely. I can hear it in arrangements, I can hear it in mood. There's definitely some sensibilities that we picked up just by going out and listening to American dance music. So, yeah. We just wanted to maybe take that approach and just use it... I don't see us as an avertly guitar band. Live we are, maybe, because Jez is a brilliant guitarist, but he's dead clever with it, he ain't just playing bar chords. It's whatever the song calls for, there's no fucking rules.
[Like a blessing from heaven above, the bus comes to a halt.]
SHANE: So who do you actually consider to be your influences? Because you can listen to "Lost Souls" and hear bits of everything from New Order to Nick Drake to Swervedriver...
Jimi: We've never heard Swervedriver mentioned before. It's come up a few times in the States, but we never get that in England. We've been fucking compared to Simple Minds in England, and it was like, 'Oh, fuck OFF!' [laughter] Maybe their first album, when they were good, when Steve Hillage produced it. Actually they used to drop those tracks in the Hacienda. Y'know, on their first album, "Themes From Great Cities," that one track, is actually brilliant. We've been compared to Echo and the Bunnymen as well.
STU: I can hear bits of Chapterhouse...
Jimi: Really? I don't know any of them shoegaze bands. I've seen pictures of them, but I don't remember ever listening to any of that stuff. That was what, around '87, right?
SHANE: The big media blitz wasn't till '90-'91...
Jimi: I've never heard fucking any of them bands. Never. Personal influences? New Order... Smiths... yeah, Nick Drake to an extent... Scott Walker... Talk Talk were a big unifying influence for all of us [ed. note: kick-ass reference #2.] Hendrix, Ramones, The Clash... even if you can't hear it in the music, it's there.
STU: So what have you been listening to on the bus?
Jimi: We've not listening to much on this bus, to be honest. We've got a whole heap of CD's to get through that we've been blagging and stealing... What have I been listening to at the moment? The D'Angelo album... Mos Def... Talib Kweli... tons of hip-hop. What else? God, I always get put on the spot with this one and can never think... it's a twat, innit?
SHANE: When you play live, do you find the layered sound difficult to pull off? You guys are augmented by extra musicians when you tour, right?
Jimi: Just a keyboard player. Martin. He's pretty much in the band now, y'know. He's not wrote with us yet, but he's certainly in the live band. He's a brilliant player. We don't at all regret the album, and how it's so 'detail, detail'... That's the album. We've done that, hopefully. Live is fucking live, it's a bit more... We don't want a 20 piece band, cabaret-ing it up, that's what cabaret shows are for. Let's just make it as fucking loud - and not just loud for loud's sake - but let's just make it as intense and passionate as we can with the people we got. We're the band, we're not augmented. Martin's in the band, he's a mate, so it's not just like some random person. He's become a friend. He wasn't before, but he's become a super tight mate of ours.
SHANE: Do you prefer playing live or tinkering in a studio?
Jimi: There's a time and a place for both. As of right now, I gotta be honest, we're loving this tour. We thought we might be halfway through going, 'Oh, God, this is a bit of a chore, innit?' Because we're dying to stop. We're writing again. And we've started recording. It's not over yet, and we really need to get focused on that and stop touring, cause then it'll really start to happen.
STU: Are you getting close to the end?
Jimi: Kinda close, but I mean, the way it's been going out here, it looks like we're probably coming back in a few months. If they'd have told us that before we knew what to expect over here, we'd have moaned our heads off, saying 'Let's wait until the second album.'
STU: So you kind of got dragged to the States?
Jimi: Sort of, yeah. It sounded a bit of, 'C'mon, these people over here bought your album, don't forget that.' And we're like, 'Oh, alright then, let's give it a shot.' And I had to think, 'C'mon, you've wanted to tour the States since you were a kid, you miserable prick! Cheer up!'
STU: We hear so many stories of bands coming over here and having a terrible time, breaking up, getting deathly ill...
Jimi: Yeah. God forbid any of that happen to us.
STU: But you're having a good one thus far?
Jimi: Yeah, the crowds have been amazing. Pretty much all selling out, which we couldn't believe.
SHANE: Do you prefer playing small clubs like this, or are you more for giant festival-type shows?
Jimi: Depends on the gig. I like a small place like this, where it's all pretty raw and all meshed together. I don't want to sound cheezy, but it does suit us. We have done stadium stuff, though, like supporting Oasis.
STU: I was at the Wembley show, yeah.
Jimi: Right. Did it come across well?
STU: That was the first time I'd ever heard the band -
Jimi: Okay, so it's kinda hard to know songs and stuff the first time...
STU: You came across well then, but I can tell just by listening to the soundcheck that I'll like this venue a lot better.
STU: The sound is a lot deeper. In a stadium, it's just basically a big broadcast...
Jimi: Yeah, sure. I don't want to slight Wembley, I mean, that was quite an experience. It was fantastic. We ain't never gonna play nothing like that again, at least I very much doubt it.
STU: How did that Oasis gig even come about?
Jimi: They were fans of the band. They said they liked our music, and asked us if we wanted to do it.
STU: Were you witness to any of the Oasis chaos at the second show?
Jimi: Oh, yeah, I watched it. Mmm, yeah. Liam's fucking nuts, innit he? God bless 'im. He's a nice guy when me met him, though. Our guitar tech's been his best friend since he was that big. When I met him, I was expecting to be like, 'Whoa, you're a bit odd, you,' you know, very unpredictable. But he just comes straight into our room and goes, 'I wanna come hang out in your room, our lot are all a bit fucking boring, you're having a good time. I wish we were doing that right now.' And he just came and sat down, had a glass of wine with us and a bit of a chat. Seemed really mellow to me.
SHANE: There seems to be this post-Oasis trend going with British bands in America, where the melodic bands like Travis and Coldplay and Badly Drawn Boy and Doves are starting to get noticed.
Jimi: We've heard that over here. Do you think that's true, yeah? Like it's a reaction to the pop scene or something?
STU: Yeah, it seems true, but we just don't quite know why it's happening. We've been looking at develop for a while now. Our site has been promoting British music all along -- historically, we've been known as being a home for American fans of British music. But lately, we've been trying to broaden it a little bit, partially I would say because we were starting to give up. British music had been going nowhere in the United States since Britpop...
SHANE: There were core pockets of fans for the longest time, but lately the British music fanbase is broadening, and it's coming from bands like Travis and Coldplay and Badly Drawn Boy and you guys.
Jimi: Would you lump us together in some sort of scene?
SHANE & STU [resoundingly]: NO!
[SHANE's note: We're not stupid. Usually when you mention the word 'scene' to a band, they recoil in disgust. This time, we're still not so sure what we should've said.]
Jimi: You think we're all very different, then?
SHANE: Well, personally, I think so. But to Joe American, I'm not so sure.
Jimi: Would you need to lump us together in some sort of scene for America to get it, or what?
STU: I don't know. To me, I like Coldplay, but in terms of quality, I don't quite get the popularity. I think Travis is a different story - I think they're much more about the charisma of the band, a different case completely. But I was really surprised this show was sold out tonight.
SHANE: Yeah, a lot of our friends missed the boat - everyone I knew was just planning on coming by tonight and picking up a ticket, but they were too late.
Jimi: We've heard radio calls. We're quite chuffed by the people who've called up and just heard about it word-of-mouth-wise. Y'know, that's good. And hopefully maybe we can pick up a bit more fans. I think releasing "Catch the Sun" helped us - y'know, it's the most obvious one on the album for America, even we know that. Even in England, it was the second single. But that's cool, y'know, it's our most plug-in- and-play track.
SHANE: Last night, I stopped by your official website, and I was reading the message board. I heard at least three Americans comment, "I think 'Catch the Sun' sounds like the Foo Fighters.' Really.
Jimi: That's been the reaction on the site? I don't really see that, but alright. Has the reaction been okay on the web? I don't ever get a chance to read our site. It's just basically one page, really. We've really got to work on that site, but it's just getting the time to do it. We really want, like, nine great pages, downloadable demos, photos, art... But it's just getting the time to do it. We're making time soon, it's important to us, y'know. I'm not a big Net fucking browser or anything, but y'know, I know it needs to be done.
SHANE: You've got quite a fanbase around our site. We do a poll every year of our hundreds of members, who're all British music junkies, and "Lost Souls" ended up on the Top Five Albums of the Year.
Jimi: Yeah? What was #1?
SHANE: "Kid A".
Jimi: Fair enough, alright.
SHANE: It just seems fairly impressive that, more so than any of the other bands oft mentioned on our site, that you guys have established yourselves without a media machine constantly throwing your name around.
Jimi: Yeah, it's really nice. Astralwerks do seem pretty sussed, and they're just letting us be us. They're just as sniffy as us, going, 'Let's just check it out,' and not trying to convince people that you're the best thing since sliced bread, y'know. Let's just try sneaking in the back door a little. I don't know how American numbers work. I don't know how America works. This is our first time here as a band. We've travelled it, but not musically. We've done a few of them sit-down, meet-and-greets with radio, we've gotten some acoustic work out. We don't know what the fuck this or that station is, or how popular or important it is, but when Jenny says it's really worth doing, we have to believe you, Jenny, even though we just met yer. But, yeah, we're really impressed by people loving the shows and everything. And we're playing better than ever, I think. In England, we've been getting a bit paranoid - we can't play this set anymore, we need some new tunes in there. It's getting a bit old. Time to say, 'Come on lads, the band's playing the same set, time to throw in some new shit.' And we're dying to.
SHANE: So what's the itinerary looking like for a new record?
Jimi: Sooner hopefully than later, but whenever it's ready. By the end of the year, it should be pretty much fucking there, nailed. We'll be arguing about tracklistings, and what to put on it and what not to.
STU: So are you guys homesick or no?
Jimi: Nah, I don't get homesick. I'm having a ball at the moment, y'know. I love travelling anyways. For my break at Christmas, I went to fucking Argentina on a 13 hour flight, as if we hadn't done enough of them this year, y'know what I mean?