Friday, April 22, 2011

A Word with Dosh

Multi-instrumentalist megaproducer Martin Dosh is a man who should need no introduction. Through his solo releases on Anticon, his work with Fog, Andrew Bird and many, many others his influence as an artist is felt throughout the musical world. A dedicated craftsman if ever there was one, Martin's work ethic, skill and integrity have carried him from humble beginnings in South Minneapolis to a stage at Coachella. Mr. Dosh was kind enough to answer some questions for The Somethin' Else about his life and music. Read away and be sure to see him perform tonight with Food Pyramid and the Galactic Orchestra at the U of M's Whole Music Club!

You're holding down drum duties for Gayngs at Coachella this year. How did this come about?

I’ve been friends with Ryan Olson for a long time, he’s helped me a bit over the years with his knowledge of Pro Tools and general awesomeness. I played the drums for Gayngs’ cover of George Michael’s "One More Try", and helped out a little recording Mike Lewis’s sax for the Gayngs record. For Coachella I was just filling in on drums for Joe Westerlund. It was a blast. I randomly met Jerry Harrison and Flying Lotus (not at the same time) riding around on those little go-carts they have at those festivals. Memo to self: ride more go-carts next time you are at a rock festival.

In addition to your prolific output as producer and solo performer, your responsibilities with Andrew Bird and various other musical odds and ends you attend to, you've recently started playing drums with the Cloak Ox (a band comprised of the original members of Fog). How does this band differ from its predecessor?

The simplest distillation of this idea would be that Fog seemed to revel in making things difficult for itself (musically), whereas the Cloak Ox revels in making things easy and instantly gratifying. We get to do what we are good at. It is actually a shitload more complicated than that, but that might be the easiest explanation. Its the same dudes, we’re all 10 years older and have all done wildly divergent stuff in the interim. All of those combined experiences, plus our trust in each other makes this band totally different. Plus I don’t have any keyboards or looping devices, I just get to hammer away on the drums. It is a totally satisfying thing.

Any other collaborations or moonlighting in the works?

I’ve been doing a lot of remixing since I put Tommy out last year. It is a very fun use of my time, but perhaps has been taking a bit too much of my creative energy, as I generally spend way too much time on any given piece I’m working on (including my own stuff). I’ve done remixes for Cepia, White Hinterland, S. Carey, Haley Bonar, My Jerusalem, Eyedea and Abilites, Roma di Luna and probably a few more I’m forgetting about. Someday I’m going to release a comp of all my remixes in chronological order. I’m sure it will be very revealing.

Before releasing the first Dosh record in 2002, you performed in a variety of groups as well as practicing and recording assiduously on your own. What led you to begin your solo career and how did your prior work inspire and influence your solo beginnings?

My solo career is partially a result of my issues with communicating with other people. and partially a result of my desire to communicate with other people. I would love to lead a band, but as anyone who has worked with me can attest, I’m not that gifted with words. I don’t always know what I want, but when I hear it, I know it. In a way that’s why Mike Lewis is the perfect foil for me, because I hardly have to tell him anything. He doesn’t ask for direction so much as he just does what he wants within whatever structure we have mapped out for a song, and it is uniformly awesome. Jeremy Ylvisaker is the same way.

With regards to the second half of that, the reason I put out that first record was simply to communicate with my friends and family and the world, I guess, that: this is me, these are my friends, this is what I do and my friends helped me do it. It’s hardly a solo recording. All of my records, with the exception of Powder Horn, would have been impossible without the help of my pals. The first dosh record has 14 other musicians on it! Andy Broder wrote 2 of the songs for crying out loud! I’m not going to say that the overall aesthetic and driving force and vision weren’t mine, but my career is totally owed to all of my friends. That’s why all of the photos are on the back of the first record. I want to never forget that.

Does your work in other groups continue to still inform your creative process?

Absolutely. I think it’s more of a process of osmosis. I’m sure the same goes for other people I play with/have played with being influenced by what I do. If anything, working with other talented people makes you want to strech your boundaries and keep on trying to find something new and unique. And though it’s a hard axiom to live by, I love the quote from William Faulkner which says, “Don’t just try to be better than your contemporaries, try to be better than yourself.” It’s a comforting quote to me, because whenever I start to look at music as a comptetion, and I try really really hard not to, I realize it’s a no-win game. I should only be trying to impress myself.

Since the beginning, you've included your peers in every part of your process while maintaining your distinct sound. What are the advantages of sharing your creative process and, with so much outside input, how do you maintain your unique sound?

I touched on this a bit earlier, but I think the glue for the whole thing are my ears and my drumming, my relatively simple approach to melody, and my total disregard for standard song forms. Most collaborations involve other people improvising over a simple chord progression, or even just a short one-bar loop, me recording them, and then later chopping up their contribution to fit my idea of what the song should sound like.

With many artists like yourself working in multiple musical genres at once, the Twin Cities has been a musical melting pot for many years. How has the local scene evolved?

I can hardly consider myself an expert on this subject as there are so many new bands all the time. I make an effort to go out as much as I can, and check out new stuff, but I really don’t think I could write any kind of treatise on the local scene of the last 15 years.

Whose work stands out the most?

I can’t answer that question due to not wanting to piss anybody off.

You play both drums and keyboard. How long have you been playing each instrument respectively, and what artists influenced you on each?

Well, my piano skills are shall we say, lacking. So for my rhodes, I would say in terms of melody, the biggest influence would probably be Jerry Garcia. In terms of tone, the biggest influence would probably be Jimi hendrix, in terms of feel, the biggest influences would probably be Herbie Hancock and John Medeski, though I don’t claim to be able to play anything like them in the slightest. For drums, the list is long: Mitch Mitchell, John Bonham, Jack DeJohnette, Mike Clark, Bill Bruford, Dave King, Billy Martin, JT Bates..... I could go on here for a day or so......

What instrument would you really like to learn to play?

That's an easy question: Guitar. However, when you play in a band with Ylvis and Broder, it’s kind of hard to take that idea seriously.

Your drumming was initially understated in your live performances, to make way for the whole process, but it seems like you're starting to play more extensively in recent shows. Is this a conscious choice? Has anything changed about the process that facilitates this?

Well, I’ve been doing a lot more solo shows as Mike has gotten really busy with various other projects. I find that playing drums is the most joyful thing that I do and whenever I play the kit, it seems those are the peak moments of a show. I guess I'm just trying to extend that good feeling. Also, I never know where it will lead, and oftentimes a new beat will take me in a different direction. So, I guess it is a concious decision in that I’m deciding to let go a bit more and just let er rip. My command of all my various looping devices and routing of signals is also a lot better, which usually means a lot less set-up time in terms of building loops on stage.

What music were you listening to ten years ago and what are you listening to now? Is there anything that you listened to then that you still enjoy now?

10 years ago... Tortoise TNT,
Radiohead Kid A,
Squarepusher, Feed Me Weird Things
Everything on Anticon

All the stuff I liked 10 years ago, I still like..... literally everything.....

Is there any electronic music that you've been enjoying lately?

Caribou’s Swim was easily my favorite record of 2010, Baths’ record, Cerulean, is amazing. I really like the new James Blake stuff.

Who are some of your favorite producers?

DJ Premier, Jel, Ali Shaheed Muhammad, RZA, Chris Taylor, Madlib and, of course, Nosdam

A husband and father of two and a former school teacher, what relationship does music have with the community at large?

Not enough of one. I’m working on that. Get back to me in a year.

What is the musician's role in society?

Apparently to make commercials for the gap.

What does the future hold for Dosh (albums, projects, etc.)?

Looking like I’m trying to finish up an EP asap. We’ll see if that actually happens! The Cloak Ox will hopefully release something very soon and do a tour this year. The Bird record comes out early next year sometime, and then we will tour the crap out of it.

What would your utopia be like?

A society where everyone knows their neighbor and is invested in the health of their immediate community. If that were the case, the rest would take care of itself.