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A Quietus Interview

Doves Interview: The Romance Of The Telescope
John Doran , April 2nd, 2009 07:54

Quietus Beard Lord John Doran heads to Stockport to meet Doves and talk radio telescopes and career best albums. Lovell Telescope photograph courtesy of S. Parish

I fucking hate Stockport. Although this Mancunian satellite town shouldn’t be blamed, I guess. It’s not Stockport’s fault really; it was just the circumstances I was living in at the time, fifteen years ago. There was a place that sold tequila and Stella Artois very cheaply in town and there was an industrial estate outside of Stockport and halfway between these two scenic locations was my flat in Longsight, seething in cockroaches. This was the extent of my universe. That and the dole office. The days were universally piss poor except for Tuesdays which were really fucking terrible. Because that day was Tequila Tuesday.

The Underground pub, which was a long subterranean bar under the steps at the bottom of the entrance to Oxford Road Train Station was the weekly scene of this traumatic event which was fuelled entirely by strong lager, cheap tequila and the occasional tube of primula, pilfered from Sainsbury’s. Every single week after this self-inflicted atrocity I would stumble over the road to get the Gangster Bus back to Longsight. And every single night I would pass out the second I sat down and get hoofed off by the driver in some industrial estate, just past Stockport on the way to Hazel Grove. Eventually I would wake up, always with the same thought - “Why am I in Berlin? - because of all the German businesses who operate from this zone of factories.

One particular night I was making my usual lengthy walk back from this dour place back to my entomologically replete flat at about 3am when I came across someone getting a severe kicking in a doorway. Two thugs were giving the guy on the floor a good leathering. They were getting properly stuck in, kicking him in the face and body. My cowardice temporarily evaporated, burned off by supercharged lager. I shouted: “Lads! Lads! What the fuck are you doing? Leave him alone. You should be out having a drink together. Not battering each other.” And the guy who was on the floor, with blood dripping out of one ear, said: “Fuck off you scouse cunt.”

I’m sure Stockport’s alright really but I am kind of relieved that when I get off the train and meet Doves’ PR chap, Matt and Rich, the editor of The Line Of Best Fit Blog and we get straight into a taxi to get to the large studio and rehearsal space, Moolah Rouge. The complex is the top floor of an old factory which looks out over the gentle slopes leading up to the Peak District, with the massive radio telescope at Jodrell Bank glittering in the distance like a discarded five pence piece in the sunshine.

Copyright S. Parish

The huge telescope built in 1945 seems to be a permanent fixture in the lives of Doves. The trio of Jimi Goodwin (vocals/bass), Andy Williams (drums) and Jez Williams (guitar) have known each other since 1985 and recording music together for most of that time. When they scored their first club hit in 1992 with ‘Space Face’ as Sub Sub, the Lovell telescope at the observatory was on the sleeve. The band went on to have a clutch of other hits including the house smash ‘Ain’t No Love’ and a future as one of the big names of UK stadium dance was beckoning but a fire on the twins, Jez and Andy’s birthday destroyed their studio, effectively ending their career. Perverting expectations they regrouped as an expansive indie rock outfit who eventually hit pay dirt in 2002 with their sophomore album The Last Broadcast and massive hit single ‘There Goes The Fear’. The consolidated their position with the powerful and heavily textured Some Cities albums but then seemed to disappear off the radar.

The break (which wasn’t a break at all, as will become apparent) wasn’t squandered however as their new album Kingdom Of Rust is their best to date. In the lovely studios (other inmates currently include The Happy Mondays, The Cribs and Johnny Marr and I Am Kloot) I grab a brew with Jimi and Andy while Jez potters about in the background, programming keyboards for an upcoming tour.

Well, we’ve just heard your new album Kingdom Of Rust and I don’t want to blow smoke up your arse but on first listen it sounds like easily your best one to date. I’d say that Doves really suit this eclectic approach because even if you’re tackling disco, or techno inspired rock it still sounds like Doves doesn’t it?

Andy: “Yeah hopefully it goes through our filter and that.”

Jimi: “You always blow hot and cold with what you’re doing but it was more so with this record I think. We were quite anxious at times.”

Did that have to do with the amount of time between now and the last one?

Jimi: “Undoubtedly. And outside life’s habit of getting in the way. But that’s also because if you count Sub Sub we’ve been together for 19 years. It was a bit harder to prize it out of each other this time. And we were working out if the chemistry was flowing. We had to get that chemistry flowing again. Because we just know each other so well. It was a case of how do we surprise ourselves again really.”

So what you’re saying is that you’re like an elderly gay couple who don’t have sex anymore and don’t have anything to say other than bickering?

Both laugh. Jimi: “We don’t hang out as much anymore. Andy’s famillied up now. I am. We just . . . you know . . . meet at work. That’s not a bad thing. It’s just the way it is.”

Talking of Sub Sub, the opening track on the album ‘Jetstream’ sounds like it was recorded by people who have been listening to dance music. And I don’t mean that in a really snide you sound like the Soup Dragons kind of way but that it sounds like you’ve been listening to a lot of minimal techno.

Andy: “‘Jetstream’ started life as a more rocky song and it was later on that we added those 16s on the hi-hats and it showed us a different pattern.”

Jimi: “Then we added a phase to it. Then we added the chugga chugga chugga bassline which was really staccato.”

Andy: “We’re massive fans of Kraftwerk but we’ve never really touched that sort of thing in Doves. We were like ‘Ah!’ because there were some really big possibilities to introduce a Kraftwerk vibe. A Teutonic vibe if you like. We’d never managed to do that before so we were pretty chuffed you know.”

In the short film about the making of the album you [Jimi] say that you really wanted to get back to the city to record the new album but you ended up recording it in a barn in the Cheshire countryside. What happened?

Jimi: “I got outvoted as usual. No, I think we all needed to be nearer to home this time for our sanity. And you know what it’s like these days: one eye on money. So it was actually more practical to build our own studio. We got a company to build one for us with racks of funky old valve amps and everything we needed to make an album ourselves. So we ended up in the countryside. I was initially more wary of it at first because I’d recently ended up back out in the sticks again after living in the ‘burbs of Manchester since I was 18. So I was constantly surrounded by trees and sometimes I felt like I could do with a city fix. I just thought it would be nice occasionally to get out and have a coffee. Meet some people. Not just hang out with dairy cows. I love nature. I go walking and that but sometimes you need a city fix.”

You have to be able to see one of those kebab vans or a yellow sign telling you someone’s been stabbed.

Jimi: “Yeah, some blue and white police, do not cross tape. We weren’t going to fucking get that where we were. You’d have a dead wood pigeon instead.”

So, Jodrell Bank – that’s fucking brilliant isn’t it? I used to love going there when I was a kid.

Jimi: “The first thing we ever did as Sub Sub, ‘Space Face’, had Jodrell Bank on the cover. It’s like our spiritual home. You can see it from here and from our studio. We were there for three months before I realised you could see it. I was out the back having a fag and I was like ‘It’s fucking Jodrell Bank, man.’”

Andy: “Every time I went out for a drive to get away from the studios I’d always end up there.”

Jodrell Bank tracked the Russian Luna 9 probe to the moon’s surface and received the first facsimile photo from the surface. They ended up doing it because the Russians were about to launch this thing but then realised that they could send something to the moon but they didn’t have a telescope strong enough to track it and receive messages from the surface. They couldn’t ask the Americans obviously . . .

Andy: “It’s amazing. It’s about 50 years old now but when it was first built it must have been like ‘What the fuck is that thing?’”

Jimi: “I like it as well because it represents that 1950s vision of the future, that shining steel and massive design from the golden age of flying and space travel. Future retro. It reminds you of a time when it was your ambition to fly. Now you daren’t mention that you flew to get to a concert.”

On the first listen, there were several songs that leapt out at me but one that I was completely not expecting was ‘Winter Hill’ with that kind of acid house played on rock guitars like an early Spiritualized track. You recorded this (and another track ’10.03’) with John Leckie. How did this association come about and why didn’t he do the whole album?

Andy: “One of the reasons that we got John in was because of the My Morning Jacket record (Z) that he worked on and . . . well, he’s got an amazing pedigree hasn’t he? But we said to him that we wanted to do a stripped down record and play everything live and fast. So he said: ‘I’m your man.’ We know what we’re like in the studio. We obsess over stuff.”

Jimi: “We wanted someone like him behind the glass again. We wanted someone to crack the whip so we’d just play. I mean, we do play but we also tend to like a bit of overdubbing as well. We just can’t help ourselves because we’re all producers.”

Talking about My Morning Jacket, there are a couple of songs that have that feel to it. ‘Winter Hill’ and ‘Kingdom Of Rust’ have the feel of one of those psychedelic Americana bands like Granddaddy. But it still feels English which I like. It’s more Mancana than Americana. Was it a troublesome process getting it down from the 50 songs down to the 11?

Andy: “Yes. Because we work like a democracy everyone has to be happy with the song. If someone doesn’t like the song then it doesn’t go in.”

Jimi: “There’s only ‘Winter Hill’ and ‘Kingdom Of Rust’ from the earlier sessions that made it through to the album. That was just part of the process. The more you work the more things become apparent. It took a while. Some people say to us ‘Where have you been since Some Cities?’ and we’re like ‘In the studio 11am until 10pm Monday to Saturday working. We’ve got a heavy work ethic about it and we have to otherwise it would never get done.”

I suppose ‘Compulsion’ is the trendiest song on the album – the hippest – because it’s got that punk funk, post punk disco feel to it. NYC, DFA, LCD, ESG – it’s a real three letter kind of track.

Andy: “Is that trendy? I can’t keep up.”

I’m glad it was taken from the more disco end of it and this track has a real disco vibe to it. Massive Arthur Russell style echo chambers and the like. A real aqueous bass which sounds like Was, Not Was or whatever. But that’s more of a statement than a question!

Andy: “That track was a late-comer.”

Jimi: “It almost didn’t make it on to the album. I was really pushing for it to be on there. Some people were asking ‘Does it stick out too much? Is it too sticky-outy?’ But we managed to find a place for it and I’m glad we did.”

Doves’ fourth album_ Kingdom Of Rust _is out now on Monday via Heavenly