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Doves | Last Broadcast | interview | Jez Williams | alternative | rock | Lollipop
The Last Broadcast (Capitol)
An interview with guitarist/vocalist Jez Williams
by Tim Den
NME headline: "Most Life-Affirming Album of the Year." Melody Maker: "The New Radiohead." Oh no, not again, you say to yourself. Not another supposed-second coming of the Great Brit Hype. Have no fear. Doves are no hype. They are simply the most moving rock band today.
Having been through the early '90s Manchester Acid-House movement as electronic duo Sub Sub, Doves came into being around '96 when Sub Sub's entire studio (with all their equipment inside) burned to the ground. Having just come off of a career dry spell, the firestorm was more than the group could handle. In an effort to start anew in the face of adversity, twin brothers Jez (guitar, vocals) and Andy Williams (drums, vocals) recruited old childhood friend Jimi Goodwin (bass, guitar, vocals) and formed Doves, hoping the new creative energy would erase the negativity of the first half of the decade. Fast forward to 2000: Doves' debut, Lost Souls, gets nominated for a Mercury Award and goes platinum in the UK. Even with less media frenzy in the States, the group tours relentlessly and sells out clubs all over the country. Alternative Press even proclaimed the album to be of staggering beauty and melancholy. I, of course, fawned over the album as well (see issue 55). It was the perfect manifestation of pure anguish: All of the heartbreak and defeats the band suffered during the Sub Sub days. Lost Souls felt like a masterpiece film with a tragic ending that you just couldn't let go of. In short, it was the best album of '00/'01.
2002: Things are different in the lives of the Doves' members. After two years of critical praise and financial success, you can't blame the band for feeling more cheery. Thus the optimistic romp that is The Last Broadcast: A ray of sunshine through the bleak, cloudy, northern England skies, a nostalgic smile on a mourner's face as he strokes the tombstone of his beloved deceased. Okay, so not all of the sadness has given way to jumpin' joys, but would we want it any other way? Hell no. Not when the bittersweet concoction tastes like the a kiss goodbye, like reading old notes from high school lovers. When "Words" jumps out at you like The Beatles' "It's All Too Much" on a careless Sunday drive, it's not just the pulsing energy that moves you, it's also the hidden, closing-your-eyes-throwing-your-arms-in-the-air, transcendental melodies telling you a sour tale.
"There Goes the Fear" is the perfect single The Stone Roses never wrote: Bouncy, clever, eruptive, hypnotizing. "M62 Song," a reworked King Crimson tune, murmurs from a distant ocean. The ghost of Jeff Buckley is summoned on "Last Broadcast," while "Pounding" lets loose a daydream of a melody over - what else? - pounding drums. But the peak of the album comes right in the middle in the forms of "Satellites" and "Friday's Dust." The former, a Gospel-esque declaration backed by a "We Will Rock You" beat, hammers its sincerity and regret into your chest like an emotional nail. The thundering kick drum beats you down again and again, fading into the soothing "Friday's Dust" just when your psyche can't take anymore. Restless strings and a stirring flute caress the song's aching, hurting melody, swaying it back and forth until everything disintegrates into a blurry vision of tears and deep breaths. Can this be real? Can music really have this much power over the human nervous system?
Like many British papers have already stated, The Last Broadcast is an album that could only be made in the wake of House. The airy vibe, the relentless beat, the soulful melodies... but The Last Broadcast isn't just the sum of Doves' past. It's the emergence of a swan from a long-suffering duckling. And boy can this swan write songs.
Where are you calling from?
Denver. As in Things to Do When You're Dead.
You follow American films... What is your favorite?
My all-time favorite is Mulholland Drive. But I just saw Clerks and loved it. That's an old one though, isn't it?
Kevin Smith was almost gonna write the new Superman movie.
Superman!? Jesus! The one that's supposed to star Nicholas Cage?
Supposedly. Who knows now. Have you seen American Movie?
It rings a massive bell... I've heard of it. I just might check it out on DVD.
So, changing gears: The #1 album in the UK! Are you surprised?
It was very unexpected. We are very proud of the album, but how the public's gonna react's a different matter. But yeah, we were really surprised by how many people bought it and understand what we're doing.
Do you think - like so many press clippings have already proclaimed - that it's because The Last Broadcast is more of an "uplifting album" than the moodier Lost Souls?
I don't think so. I think it's because Lost Souls sold not through hype but through word-of-mouth, especially in England. Of course we got some press attention here and there, but it mainly spread within the audience itself. Then we gigged and built up a really dedicated fanbase, one that would stick by us. I think when The Last Broadcast came out, all our fans went out and bought it. NME just made a few comments about it, that's all.
They proclaimed you "the next cultural phenomenon."
Yeah, "the new Radiohead." (laughs) That's followed us around, to be honest, like a noose around our necks.
Rolling Stone's review of The Last Broadcast went something like "former Radiohead clone finds footing" or some shit...
Yeah, I read that too. It was just kind of a frivolous, throw-away type of review. (It was) nice, but still a throw-away.
Radiohead's from Oxford, whereas you hail from the legendary Manchester scene.
Of course! I mean, we all love Radiohead, but we don't feel any affinity with them. The reviewer was probably like "British? Oh we'll just put that tag on 'em and it'll do!" At the same time, I guess people need to tag music in order to explain it to others...
It's also harder to explain to an American audience, most of whom have never heard of The Stone Roses.
Really? I guess I can understand that. Did The Smiths do well in the States after they split up? I know they never made it the big at the time, but there was a rediscovery...
To an extent, but an average American is more likely to know who Soundgarden are than The Smiths. Your Manchester background seems to be a big deal to the British press...
Yes. We're in no way trying to slag Manchester at all, but we don't really care. Obviously we love Manchester, and it has a high output of good bands - New Order, Joy Division - but we don't feel that much affinity with the scene. We're not patriotic - we're not like "Maaaaaanchester!" and all that crap. But in Europe, we get asked about it a lot. "So you come from Manchester!?" Sometimes it helps, sometimes it can be a hindrance.
Manchester's a real tough, blue-collar town, right? At least according to Oasis and Manchester United fans...
Sure, very working class. The only way out (of town) is music or football (soccer). When you're growing up, you're either good at school or good at sports. I was crap at both, so there wasn't much option, really. Lost Souls is very much about that "way out." The lyrical content is very escapism. Same thing with The Last Broadcast, there's a lot of "looking over the fence." When you live in a shithole, you want to escape.
Are you worried that you might lose some of your audience because of The Last Broadcast's upbeat-ness? After all, most people I know got into Lost Souls because of its depressiveness...
That's an interesting thought... I think there's still melancholy in The Last Broadcast cuz it's the same three guys and there's still that yearning. But we wanted to make a more optimistic album cuz we felt more optimistic. We'd be lying to ourselves if we made Lost Souls Part Two. That was never on the agenda. I think we were in a comfortable situation when we finished Lost Souls; just happy being in a band and touring. We're not gonna sit down and say "We can do this but not that." We can do exactly what we want. We can change. We can mutate. We're one of the lucky bands who can do that; we don't get bogged down by our own limitations. This was the album we wanted to make. And of course, there're still moments that sound like the old Doves. "Friday's Dust" is a good example of that intensity and atmosphere.
How do you write?
We write individually and together as a band. Last year, we wrote then toured, came back, wrote some more, and toured again. We can't write on tour, we have our heads away. When you have space, that's when your ideas come. There's no set pattern, really... We try to keep things as not "Monday to Friday, clock-in clock-out" as possible.
There're only three of you, and a lot of the times Jimi (Goodwin, bassist/vocalist) plays second guitar. Who handles the bottom end - not to mention the atmospheric effects - in the live setting?
We have help from a keyboard/synth/samples/loops guy; he fills out the sound. A few songs we loop the bass in a computer, but we're trying to keep that to a minimum now. We don't do it much with the stuff from the new album. It was okay for "Catch the Sun," but we've pretty much gotten rid of that (trick). The way we see it, it's all about the music. If stuff can help us fill out the sound, then so be it. It's that thought process right down to who's singing which song.
I read that you guys were having trouble figuring out how to play your first single ("There Goes the Fear") live.
When we finished The Last Broadcast, we went on a big tour in England (with Travis) playing arenas. The idea was that we'd do the tour, then "There Goes the Fear" would be released. But we didn't have enough time to figure it out. So on the promotional tour for the single, we didn't play the single at all! (laughs) But after we came back, we figured it out and really, really enjoy playing it now. It was a total turn-around: Something we thought would never work is now one of the highlights.
We wanted to do a different spin on "The Man Who Told Everything" too, but - again - we didn't have enough time. So we're not doing that one on this tour. And I know there're a lot of people who are not chuffed about that. We'll be back for three months in Septempter, though. We'll definitely get it back in for that.