Interview: Jez Williams, Doves.
(Photo taken at Sheffield Academy, Tuesday April 28, by phoenixlily)
It’s been four years between the last album and the new one [Kingdom Of Rust], so what have you been up to? Was there a chance to take a sabbatical break?
There was, yes. We took about four or five months off. We didn’t have a break for [second album] The Last Broadcast, and we had about a month off for [third album] Some Cities. Then with this one we said: look, let’s try and actually live like normal people – not in this weird travelling bubble, or studio bubble. It was a nice time to find ourselves again. When you’re in a band, it’s like this weird family you’re connected to – so we wanted to spend time with our other families! (Laughs) It was much needed.
Then from there it was like: right, fourth album, blank canvas. OK, we didn’t know quite where to start, or what the fuck to do. But a year later, we had all these songs. And we kind of stepped back from it, and we were saying: yeah, it’s good, but it’s a bit comfort zone for us.
Then we started upon our quest, if you like, to search for what we could do that’s different. We needed to push ourselves and go down different avenues for Doves. To almost justify coming back with a fourth album, it’s got to be different for us. So that became the long road to doing this album: what we could try and what we couldn’t try, what we could get away with and what we couldn’t get away with.
So there was a process of experimentation, where you were trying to push at boundaries and see where they’d take you?
It was almost on a song by song basis. It was like, where haven’t we been before? Right, let’s go down that road. Then when we came out of the recording sessions with all these songs, we wanted to pick almost polar opposites. On the album you get “Jetstream” followed by “Kingdom Of Rust”: totally opposing songs. And everyone was like: you can’t do that!
But in a weird way, it works. It’s a strange Doves DNA stamp that we’ve got: we seem to get away with what other bands might not be able to get away with. (Laughs)
There are a few changes that I’ve picked up on. The album has a big, majestic, quite grand sort of sound, which can get very intense.
I’d agree with that. It’s possibly our most intense album, because it takes you through some dark passages. Thinking about it, maybe it was a reflection of some of the struggles we were going through with this album: personally and with the band. You can’t help but for it to come out, so it’s always a good stamp of where you were at the time.
But there’s a lot of optimism on that album as well. And there are also snapshots, which is what I call it when you take a picture with words. Lyrically, we enjoyed going into things that we haven’t really done so much.
The lyrics are quite impressionistic, aren’t they?
We’ve always liked songs that are ambiguous. In fact, we hate pinpointing what they’re about. Some are obvious, like “10:03” and “Jetstream”. But there are others where we wanna keep it ambiguous, so the listener can put their own version of the story on them.
Anyone’s point of view is just as valid as ours. We might be coming at it from a different angle than what the listener might interpret it as, but that’s cool. That’s what good songs do.
What about “Kingdom Of Rust” itself? What’s the significance of that title?
It’s got quite a strange resonance, that song. We went away for four years, and literally the whole music industry imploded. We wanted to write a song with a bit of optimism, so the lyrics “It takes an ocean of trust in the kingdom of rust” hit a nice resonance with what’s going on today.
You’ve got a couple of your own lead vocals on the album, and it was interesting to note that they’re two of the more electronic influenced tracks.
In Doves camp, we always pass the mike. Jimi’s the main singer, but we always get tracks where we’ll go: you try it Andy, or you try it Jez. We’ll literally get the mike and try it. And if someone’s personality works best in the song, then that gets the vote. Jimi’s one of the first people to encourage other people to take the mike, so it was very natural. In fact, it wasn’t even an issue. The song’s got the ego, and not the individual.
You pride yourselves on this democratic approach – so egos get checked at the door, do they?
You know what? The democratic approach is fine, but it’s a pain in the arse. Everything takes twice as long. (Laughs) With quite a lot of bands, it all comes from one person: here are the songs, this is how they are, you can just play them. That’s never what Doves have been about. It’s always been about a sort of painful democracy, if you like.
Did you literally hole yourselves up in your converted farmhouse studio for months on end, cutting yourself off from the outside world?
Looking back on it now, I suppose we were isolated. We were almost in a tunnel, if you like. Halfway through, we were thinking there was no end in sight. We started to lose it a little bit. “When is the end in sight? When is it?” And so it just seemed to be this endless tunnel, with no light coming in.
But three-quarters of the way through, we started to see an album emerging, which was the most amazing feeling. It’s like you’re looking at a jigsaw puzzle and then suddenly in front of you, you can start to see the picture. So it was literally from the darkest point to the highest point, in a couple of weeks! (Laughs)
You’ve got a big tour coming up, where you’ll be spending two months on the road. I guess it’s been quite a long time, so have you had any warm-up dates?
We did six warm-up dates, and it was great. It’s something that’s been missing from being in a band. The live circuit has always been a part of us, and it was weird to be in a studio for so long and not do a gig. So it felt so good to get back there. That’s what being in a band is about: actually getting on stage and playing it, in front of the whites of the eyes in the audience.
It feels good to have fresh material in the set, and just to exercise these songs live is an amazing feeling. If you’re playing for a year, you get to understand the songs a little bit more, and you can have a different twist on them from the actual studio recordings.
It’s the old cliché: it’s the travelling and everything else that’s shit, but that actual hour and a half on stage is what you do it for.
Have you got any festival appearances coming up?
Glastonbury is confirmed now. We had two choices – the second stage or the John Peel tent – and we decided to close the John Peel tent on the Friday night. Just because we wanted word of mouth. Everyone was complaining: it’s not big enough, it’s not big enough! But it’s like: sod it, we want to get some atmosphere going in that old tent. It’s gonna be cool.
I’ve heard a few people comparing your position in 2009 with Elbow’s position this time last year. I hope no one’s putting any pressure on you to “do an Elbow”…
Well, that’s out of my control, isn’t it? We’ve done an album that we’re all very proud of, and that we’ve worked ridiculously hard on – so our work is kind of done in that respect. As for commercial pressures and all that, that’s out of our control now. What will be, will be. I don’t think we’ve done an interview, or an article, without people mentioning Elbow!
But there’s one thing that their success has shown: that if you make a bloody good record that can stand on its own qualities, then that record will actually see you through.
Well, yeah. I’m always a strong believer in that. When we went from [early 1990s dance act] Sub Sub to Doves, we thought people wouldn’t give us a chance, because of our prior history – but it just shows you how wrong I was. You do a good album, and I think people will appreciate it.