Martin Dosh is a multi-instrumentalist, renowned for his spooling reels that drop in and out, building complex soundscapes that never stray far from beauty. I reviewed his latest record, Tommy, for DiS earlier this year. In short, it got 9/10. More? His most complete work yet, it develops on the themes of his previous work, looping layers on layers, making an almost uncategorisable form of electronica, featuring field recordings, piano, synths and loops falling in and out of synch.
If you require an idea of what the Minneapolitan sounds like, go no further than the video below. It also provides a good preview of what to expect if you choose to see him live (dates at the bottom).
Dosh is also part of anticon, that bastion of alt hip hop, home to cLOUDDEAD, WHY?, Subtle and Odd Nosdam, which has now expanded its roster outwards to bands including Baths, SJ Esau and Tobacco. Where he fits in is difficult to say: as I wrote in my review, if you plotted anticon onto a scattergraph, Dosh would be an anomaly from the line of best fit. So we spoke to him, to find out where he places himself, his creative process and who he wants to work with next.
You make it hard to describe your music in genre terms, other than using sketchy over-elaborate descriptions, because of its uniqueness – so how would you define your sound?
I don't really know, other than what comes out of me is just an amalgamation of all the music I've listened to over the course of my life. James Brown and Jimi Hendrix are huge influences, as are Brian Eno and Devo, but that wouldn't get you any closer to defining my sound. Maybe someone else will come along and give the world a reference point. Maybe some reader of this interview will have a suggestion. What I do when I have to explain what I do live to someone who doesn't know, I say this: “I set my studio up on stage every night, and attempt to recreate my music in front of a crowd. It's kind of like a playpen.” As far as the sound of the records, I couldn't say, other than that they are me.
Who or what influences / inspires you, be it musically or otherwise?
My favourite thing in the world, aside from hanging out at home with my family, is seeing a new band for the first time. That moment when you have your mind erased by something happening in front of you, on stage, or in a basement party, is still a very potent and inspirational force. I saw Deerhunter in Minneapolis in late 2008 and after that show, the world seemed better. Likewise seeing Grizzly Bear a few times in Europe last year. There is real power in creating music, and I have to keep reminding myself of that when I’m on these long tours, away from home.
There's some singing on Tommy - you've moved away from using the voice as an instrument, towards using it more conventionally – is that reflective of a new found confidence in how to use it or a broadening of your sonic palette?
I wish. I still haven't gotten over the thing of singing in front of people whilst doing all the other looping crap that I do. I'm sure I will sing a lot more on the next record, because I don't mind the sound of my voice, but as far as when I have to tour it.... sheesh, I just don't know. I certainly have a desire to connect with people and it seems that the human voice is the easiest and hardest way to do that. Plus it would be a new direction, which is exciting to me.
Your records feel very much like the work of one individual looping things round and round, building songs piece by intricate piece in a studio, to a certain vision. Yet you collaborate regularly with artists such as Odd Nosdam, Bonnie Prince Billy, and Andrew Bird in particular. How does it work in the studio – is it true collaboration, or are you dictating what happens?
It's more of a conversation, between my music, someone else's reaction to it, and my reaction to their reaction. Almost all of the parts that other people play on my records are improvisations, and usually first takes. I will then go back and dissect what they played. If needs be, I’ll move it around, loop it, or just leave it as is. Whatever the case may be, I am not dictating at all what the individual decides to do. At times it can be awkward, because I’ll just cue up the track, hit record and say, “play whatever you feel like playing.” Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't, and sometimes even if I feel like it didn't work, I'll find a nugget in a part that I can use later!
Your songs seem very fluid – is that a result of scoring every aspect out, or of carefully building songs by jamming all the parts together until they fit? What's your writing and recording process like?
Nothing is ever scored out. My ability to read music is rudimentary. The recording process is like building a snowman, and then going back and taking him apart until all that is left is a snowball. I think the main thing that sort of glues it all together and provides the fluidity is my drumming, which is entirely improvised. The layers of percussion that seemingly line up, also can drift apart from each other. Kind of like some Steve Reich stuff that I’ve heard, although I had never heard his - or any other - minimalist works until I’d already put out a few records. [When I’m writing songs] I’m trying to line up loops on the computer that don't quite line up, but line up just enough to make the song work. Almost collapsing, yet moving forward at the same time, if that makes any sense.
I'm going to throw you some questions on anticon now...In your early career you worked with Andrew Broder (Fog) – I'm guessing he was your link into the anticon label. How did it all happen?
I finished my first record, “Dosh” and got 1,000 CDs pressed in early 2002. I had been playing with Andy in Lateduster and when Fog started to play shows in 2000, I became the drummer. There was a big Mush Records tour in early 2002, and Fog played two shows with all those bands, cLOUDDEAD, Reaching Quiet, Boom Bip, and a few others. They were all on a big tour bus, and I gave everybody on the bus a copy of my CD, for no other reason than I wanted them to hear it....Yoni [Wolf, of WHY?] came out to Minneapolis in December to record Hymie's Basement with Andy Broder and that was when he asked me if anticon could re-release the record. I was totally flabbergasted and amazed and honoured.
Where do you think you fit on to the anticon roster? All of the label's artists seem to share some kind of aesthetic feel that's hard to describe, but they all manage to sound fairly different from each other, as well as anything else that is around?
You know, I feel like I fit right in there. I'm just eternally grateful that they believed in what I was doing at the beginning. It's a great place to come from, you know? They are some of the hardest working people that I know, and the music is their work. Endlessly creative dudes.
What do you think unites or defines anticon? It seems like a collective, with all the collaboration between bands, but is it as unified as all that suggests?
Well, initially, I would say the primary thing that defined anticon was the original eight dudes – their spirit of collaboration, both with each other and with others outside of their sphere. All of those guys have ideas for days...and that outburst of initial creativity, let’s say the first five years, is pretty astounding. It's only natural that that kind of thing is unsustainable over time - people move, new artists are signed to the label...but I feel like that spirit is still present, and it certainly underscores everything that I do. So to say that it is as unified as it was in the early days would be ridiculous. But some of the newer artists, like Tobacco and Baths, are certainly carrying on that spirit, but in a totally new way, of course.
Who do you feel closest to on anticon, either musically or socially?
That is a next-to-impossible question to answer. I've toured with every one of the original eight guys, and collaborated with half of them. And I’ve been on tour so much since 2002, doing my own stuff, with Fog, and then with Andrew Bird, that I get the chance to see almost every one at least a few times a year. They really are my extended family. Musically, I'm probably closest to Nosdam and Jel, though having seen how both of them go about recording and making music, it's pretty different from how I do it.
Who would be your ideal collaborator on the anticon roster, and could you see yourself recording with them? Personally, the idea of you and Yoni Wolf working together would be pretty exciting...
Absolutely. There are always conversations. The funniest thing to me about being an artist on anticon is how few “beats” I have made for people to rap over! It's kind of ridiculous. I think doing something with Yoni would be incredible. I've already done a few collaborations with Jel and Nosdam, but I could just as easily see myself doing beats for Dose, Alias, Sole or Pedestrian. All I need is a little more time, which keeps on running out these days.
As Dosh himself admits: “I haven't really toured that much in Europe”, but, fortunately, he’s about to make the perilous journey across the Atlantic (in autumn no less) for a tour of Europe, including a few dates on our verdant shores. Catch him here:
21 Oct - Glasgow, Nice N Sleazies
22 Oct - Leeds, Brudenell Social Club
23 Oct - Birmingham, Mac Arts Centre
23 Oct - Birmingham, Supersonic Festival
24 Oct - Bristol, Start The Bus