Doves in the ascendant
After two Mercury nominations, the pressure was on Doves to produce a barnstormer. The Manc guys — who play Belfast next week — tell Andy Welch about the terror of great expectations
Critics have universally hailed their forthcoming album Kingdom Of Rust as their finest, so it’s no surprise to find Doves member Andy Williams in a relaxed state. The band’s drummer, sometime singer and co-songwriter couldn’t be more at ease as he chats about the lengthy writing and recording that created the Cheshire trio’s fourth epic album.
“The reviews have been very positive, but that’s not something we set out to achieve,” he says.
“We are really proud of the record, we put a lot of hard work into it and we’re all really pleased with it.
“We’re pretty sure we’ve made the best record we could, so I suppose it’s nice when other people back up your own thoughts. Getting a bad review isn’t the end of the world, though.”
It’s been just over four years since the band released their last album, Some Cities. The record, like their first two Mercury-nominated efforts Lost Souls and The Last Broadcast, picked up magical reviews and flocks of devoted Doves fans.
Such dedication from their fervent followers and superlative zeal from critics is a double-edged sword; it’s given Andy, his guitar-playing twin brother Jez and bassist/singer Jimi Goodwin the confidence and time to create the classic-in-waiting that is Kingdom Of Rust, but has also driven them to the depths of despair.
“Doubt crept in, definitely,” admits Andy. “The first year we were writing and writing and writing but we weren’t getting anywhere.
“We were coming up with new songs but they weren’t pushing us on. ‘Can we still do this?’ was an obvious thought going through our heads, and any serious musician that doesn’t have that doubt at some time or another is a liar.
“I think it’s good to doubt yourself, because it drives you on. We’re quite harsh critics ourselves, and we just felt anything we were doing in 2007 wasn’t up to par.”
While only lead single and title track Kingdom Of Rust remains from the early recording sessions, their time in the recording studio did inspire the threesome and former Massive Attack producer Dan Austin to approach 2008 with renewed vigour.
“It’s hard to stop what you’ve been doing and start again. Sometimes there’s a gem of an idea that’s worth saving,” Andy says.
“House Of Mirrors nearly didn’t make it on to the album because we couldn’t end it. Fortunately, Dan was messing around with [recording software] Pro Tools in the studio, and accidentally put the verse vocals over the chorus music. We all heard it and said ‘That’s it! How did we not think of that?’ That’s where technology can really help you out.”
The trio have always been interested in working with such cutting edge techniques. In a former life they were known as Sub Sub, and brought us the 1993 dance classic Ain’t No Love, Ain’t No Use, which featured vocalist Melanie Williams and got to No 3 in the singles chart. They released one full-length album, but in 1995 an electrical fire destroyed their studio, equipment and demos for what would have been their second album.
Shortly after, they decided to lay Sub Sub and their dance-oriented sound to rest and create the more guitar-based Doves. The band is now in agreement that this event, although catastrophic at the time, was actually something of a liberation.
The band’s story, full of triumph against adversity, shares similarities with that of fellow Manchester-based survivors Elbow. After years of plugging away Elbow finally recorded their debut album in the late 1990s, only to be dropped by their record label at the last moment, sending them back to square one.
Now Elbow have properly come good — last year winning a Mercury Prize with their fourth album and recently headlining their biggest-ever live shows.
Comparisons between the two bands are impossible for music journalists to resist, making Doves everyone’s favourite to ‘do an Elbow’ in 2009.
“We’ve heard it all before,” says Andy, laughing. “It’s a bit convenient, really, but then I think Elbow were compared to Doves for years.
“We’re made up for them and how things have worked out in this last year, they’re very good friends of ours, so we know how hard they’ve worked. What a great band they are, we’re just so chuffed for them.
“The comparisons seem a bit lazy, and begin and end with the fact we’ve both been going a long time and we’re from the north of England.”
Aside from being excited ahead of Kingdom Of Rust’s impending release, Andy is most looking forward to getting back out on the road to tour.
“We’ve just done a very small UK tour, which was brilliant, so I’m looking forward to really getting stuck into the songs when we’re playing. They all change when we’re on tour,” he says.
“I love seeing different places too. We never take anything for granted, so coming back and seeing the fans that have waited for us is very special. When we came back we weren’t sure whether people would still be interested so we’re really chuffed that people still want to hear us.
“We put the graft in and toured for years, and we always make strong records. That creates a direct connection with the audience, rather than our success being on the back of the hype of the press. That directness has worked in our favour.”