The whole time I’m driving, I’m thinking it’s electrifying that in a few short hours I’ll be face to face with Doves, one of my favorite bands of the prevailing year. I didn’t get in on the interviews during their last US excursion, but managed to weasel my way in this time around. Doing 85 on the LIE, I tell myself that 110 miles of white line and traffic is well worth even fifteen minutes with Doves frontman, Jimi Goodwin. In a somnambulist-tinged haze I make it to Irving Plaza and was in for a strange interlude.
First things first. This is a band from Manchester. Yes. The one in England. The small town that has spawned such musical legends that has garage bands across America fumbling with guitars trying to get that melancholy sound only the Manchesterites can pull out of a hat. Is it the rain? Is it the unemployment? No one knows. But the fact that Manchester is a town of epic musical proportions cannot be denied. The brief list includes: Dickie Valentine, The Hollies, Herman’s Hermits, Wayne Fontana and the Mindbenders, Freddie and the Dreamers, The BeeGees, 10CC, Sad Cafe, Elkie Brooks, The Buzzcocks, Joy Division/New Order, The Fall, The Smiths, James, Simply Red, The Stone Roses, The Inspiral Carpets, A Guy called Gerald, Happy Mondays/Black Grape, Take That, M-People, Oasis, N-Trance, Kavana and Cleopatra. Lisa Stansfield and Verve are all from Greater Madchester, as it’s lovingly referred to by industry. Name one town in America has given us that kind of musical weight. And don’t say Seattle, because that’s just funny.
Doves incorporates twin brothers, Jez and Andy Williams and their old school-mate, Jimi Goodwin. Of course, they bumped into each other after a long respite at the notorious Hacienda club, acid-house booming and the meeting place of many a great band. What are three English boys to do but form a band? So they do. Acid House was infectious and they named their band Sub Sub, mind you, a dance band. Their first label release, “Space Face”, became popular in Manchester’s clubs and brought them to the attention of New Order’’s manager, Rob Gretton, who had left Factory Records to form a label of his own, Rob’s Records.
“The Coast EP” was their first release for the label in 1992, an instrumental dance track that won much praise and sold well for an underground release. It was the 1993 release of “Ain’t No Love (Ain’t No Use)” though that won the lads legendary Madchester status. As none of the band had much confidence in their own singing skills, they recruited friend, Melanie Williams, for the role. The result was a club classic, reaching number 3 in the UK charts and making appearances on Top Of The Pops.
The success went to the heads of Andy, Jimi and Jez, who spent every penny they earned living it up in Manchester’s legendary club scene. It took them almost a year before they returned to the studio. The result, “Respect”, was a huge flop whilst the album “Full Fathom Five”, also failed to recreate the success (and sound) of “Ain’t No Love”.
They were working with the likes of Tricky and New Order’s Bernard Sumner, still using guest vocalists, and were preparing for the new Sub Sub release – produced in their own warehouse studio. But it was all lost in a huge fire that consumed their master tapes, equipment, and the soul of Sub Sub. Surveying the immense damage – melted and incinerated machines, computers and the like – they didn’t despair. In fact, it was the beginning of a new epoch. So Doves was born, rising like the Great Sphinx from the ashes – literally.
So I get to Irving Plaza for the interview and I’m bumped for what turned out to be an hour for the most ridiculous interview I’ve ever witnessed. I’m told that the NY Metro TV Station is interviewing them live in segments. My photographer and I watch in horror as the band is put through embarrassing LA-type interviewing tactics, right on the spot live, by an interviewer who is too perky for his own good and downright made everyone in the room uncomfortable. Jimi’s girlfriend is sitting on a sofa when the guy with the mic tells him “All the girls are salivating for you, Jimi… How does that make you feel?” He just looks at him with a blank stare. When the twins are asked questions they answer straight yes or no, because the vibe was so vapid and silly that it didn’t make sense. It wasn’t Britney Spears the moron was interviewing. This is Doves… from Manchester. Not some boy-band.
I felt bad for the band. If I could have gone postal on the whole Metro Station crew I would have. I dont own firearms. Yet. When the whole thing was over I waited patiently for my fifteen minutes. I was told after sound-check. Another half an hour passes and I’m told Jimi is too pissed to do another interview. I don’t blame him, but I beg. And beg. And beg. And beg. Finally he says he’ll do it and we meet up after another half an hour of listening to the band warm up – which, by the way, ROCKED
Here’s how it went:
t. Hey Jimi. I just want to apologize for that horrible interview. That guy should be killed. We’re not all like that. I felt bad for you guys.
jimmi: It’s alright. We survived. But thanks.
t. Originally you weren’t the lead singer. The band was auditioning people, no?
jimmi: Yeah, we did loads of people. It was fucking soul-destroying. It nearly broke us up for a while. It was six foot goths doing “Imagine” with lyrics changed. People didn’t get it. I was always the one conveying the ideas to the singers. I was told to go in the room and tell them what we want. Know what I mean?
t. Didn’t it occur to you soon that you were the one for the job?
jimmi: It was like everyone in the band was saying it, but I’m not the type of person who’s fucking going, “give me the mic,” know what I mean? It took my two best friends, my band mates, to go look we’re getting no where here. You try it. All our friends were saying it but not us.
t. Is there pressure being the frontman?
jimmi: No. Luckily it’s a band. I fucking admire people who are one man armies, but you know, it’s admirable, but we like collaborating. We all like fucking pitching our ideas. I try not to think about all that. We’re natural performers. The music’s got to be good, that’s all.
t. Your music gets lumped together with the Brit pack, with the likes of Coldplay, Radiohead. I find you’re more like Badly Drawn Boy (aka. Damon Gogh). I heard you guys played back up for him.
jimmi: Damon had some songs. We did a 7″ for his label, Twisted Nerve, and then we did two on the album. A lot of people don’t know that. It sounds like Damon like really gave us a leg up, but the album was nearly done by the time we worked with him, know what I mean? He’s just a friend. We collaborated, that’s it.
t. Coming from Manchester, did you consciously realize you were part of a musical history?
jimmi: Yeah, we take it for granted don’t we. Influenced by most of the bands out of that city, The Buzzcocks on. They’re all very different, this Manchester sound. It’s just a very musical place. No one sounds the same.
t. How much did The Hacienda have to do with your success?
jimmi: Sub Sub, that’s where we met. At The Hacienda on the fucking dance floor. “What are you doing here?” We’re all checking the same things out. Techno and House Music.
t. Where is your music going after this album?
jimmi: Some of the stuff we’re working on now are more upbeat. Yeah. One tracks got like lightening drums on it it’s really turned out well. It’s pretty joyous. Melancholy is easy. Everyone can do that. It’s really fucking hard when you’re not a totally happy person. (laughs)
t. The fire was a disaster. Do you consider it a blessing in disguise now?
jimmi: It’s funny. It was fucking… it was fucking really humorous. Going in that day. “What the hell else are you going to throw at us? Come on God.” Laughing. This is fucking, alright, what else can you do? If we weren’t sure it’d be over. Luckily we had some money. We got out an album called The Delta tapes, the last thing Sub Sub did. It was a bye bye.
t. I read you wanted to keep the name Sub Sub.
jimmi: Everyone was paranoid about shit, now we’re all of a sudden a guitar band. That was the assumption. Fuck that man. We can do what we want. We decided to get away from the past, you know. Just break away and start again. I could see both sides of it. We’re not that band anymore.
t. Is the keyboardist, Martin, part of the band now?
jimmi: Pretty much. He’s not writing with us yet, Martin. He’s writing on his own. He’s just got a deal on his own. Martin is pretty much in the band. We don’t want an eight piece band but we want to create what we do on the album.
t. You work a lot with computers right. What’s the process?
jimmi: It depends on the song. Some come from one person’s demo. Some come from actually jamming all three in the room. No real rules. Jez is really the most prolific of us all. Jez is always got something. Andy and me do the lyrics and melodies. Different songs come from different people.
t. Why don’t you use “the” before Doves. I see it used in stories but I notice you don’t use it in the name.
jimmi: It’s the only conscious thing we did when picking the name was the “the”. But people put it there for us anyway, don’t they? Are you from NY?
t. Been here 15 years.
jimmi: Look at this place. It’s fucking huge. Jesus. It’s massive. It’s lovely. It’s amazing. I’m knackered now. I’m getting a bit tired, but it’s because I’ve been doing a lot of drinking, so it’s my own fault. So I’m starting to be good now.
Between chain smoking and a hung-over rock and roll sweet demeanor, tired and sad eyes, talking like the best of New York truck drivers, somehow I just don’t believe him. I hope he never stops being bad.