May 12th 2010, just another spring day? I think not, and the evidence is all around me as snow and rain fill the air here in Denver, Colorado. While dancing around outside the Hi-dive catching some snowflakes on my tongue, I found something else to be rather unusual as well. My ears caught a hold of this unconventional sound that literally pulled me straight into the venue, up to the bar and before I knew it the music grabbed a hold and had me reaching for a beer and a closer spot. The melodic riffs and short intertwined loops coming from his Fender Rhodes keyboard and assorted pedals had me hooked, while his live percussion set up next to the keyboard just blew my mind and kept me groovin’ to the beat. His name is Martin Dosh and he is not your typical musical composer, but no worries, your ears are sure to thank you for the vacation. Dosh was playing with long time collaborator Mike Lewis and together their songs take you on a journey you were never even aware you wanted to embark upon, until now. The music is applied to your eardrums in so many layers, flittering synthes, short bits looped over and over, on top of which the saxophone, which may seem like it should be out of place, perfectly melts it all together. Read on as he explains his inspirations, influences, and even methods. He even divulges a little about a possible upcoming tour this fall and with the way the show went, I definitely will be getting tickets next time around!
SICK OF THE RADIO: Who do you consider to be some of your musical influences?
Dosh: My earliest influence was Top 40 FM radio in the early 80’s. Back then Top 40 was everything from Devo, The Cars, Prince, Michael Jackson, it was this mish-mash of styles and stuff. So that was the first stuff I really got into- listening every week to Casey Kasem. Now when I started playing drums, when I was 15, I got into classic rock quite a bit like Led Zeppelin’s John Bonham, Mitch Mitchell from the Jimi Hendrix Experience, and Ginger Baker from Cream. All those 60’s classic rock drummers are those guys I sort of tried to emulate at first.
SICK OF THE RADIO: So you have a degree in creative writing?
DOSH: I went to school for four years, decided my major after two years; I took a lot of English classes, read a lot of books. I wrote a lot of short stories too, which looking back on them weren’t very good, not horrible, but I think I wrote two that were actually really good out of them all. But, for some reason I just stopped writing you know, once I got into recording on my four track, which was maybe a year after I graduated from college, even before then I quit writing journals.
SICK OF THE RADIO: Why then do your songs have such few words?
Dosh: Here’s the deal, the very first band I played in was called Como Zoo, We met the first year in college and played all through the early 90’s up until I moved back (to Minneapolis) from New York in ’97. I was a drummer in the band and I about 80 percent of the lyrics. I think through that experience of having someone else sing my lyrics, I was able to sort of write whatever I wanted and it didn’t really matter. But looking back on some of the stuff, I don’t really like it, you know what I mean, I don’t really like what I was writing.
I mean I obviously like music with words, but I think being a good lyricist is about as hard as being a good short story writer or a good novelist or whatever, it just takes a lot of skill and talent to be good at it. You know I do have some lyrics on my songs, but they are all either snippets of a vocal phrase or something that just resonates, so I find it ok to sing. I think anytime that I actually am singing, nothing has been written ahead of time, it just like the song is going on- hey let’s try and record some vocals- and then whatever comes out of my mouth is what ends up being the song.
SICK OF THE RADIO: So it’s kind of spontaneous then?
SICK OF THE RADIO: Explain your typical process of making a song, and what tools/instruments you use?
Dosh: There’s not really a typical way since as the years have gone on I have progressed, but I remember when I used to write songs it was just on the four track. These songs were all instrumental by the way. So I would set up the piano at my parent’s house when I moved home, and just mess around all day and try to write songs. Then I would sort of get an idea or a form of a song figured out, go in the basement, record the drum parts of the song, bring the four track upstairs and record the piano. That was the process from 1996 to maybe 2000.
By that time I had amassed maybe 100 cassettes worth of material of four-track stuff. Then I went back over songs I had composed like that and started to chop them all up. Then my style changed to just sampling stuff that I had made previously. From that point on the composition process was more of just trying to find this really short loop, a one second or four second loop, that I would just record for the bed of the song, and then record more stuff on top of that. But it definitely became more loop based/ sample based at that point.
SICK OF THE RADIO: You have been creating music for some time now; what are some of the ways you see/ have seen, yourself progress and grow?
Dosh: I think the only way to progress or “make that jump” is by trying to understand new instruments and new pieces of gear. I used to go to music stores and try to buy old keyboards. I’d take them home and just try and figure out how I can get the weirdest sounds out of them or just try and push different buttons until that happens and record everything along the way. All the progressions of the way the records sort go is sort of a compounding of basically learning the gear better. Since I record everything I’m always trying to discover more. I guess basically me recording something, is me trying to understand a piece of gear and recording the whole process of me figuring it out. Pretty much all of my favorite songs that I have done are a result of me basically not knowing what the hell I’m doing and documenting that.
SICK OF THE RADIO: What are some of your favorite songs that you’ve done?
Dosh: I think my all time favorite song, even though I have a bunch of them I like and could go back and listen to, is “Um, Circles and Squares” which is track three on The Lost Take. I had composed the melody and I had just gotten this EX 800 sequencer from 1984 and I was trying to figure out how to work it and how to use the MIDI stuff on the back. I finally figured it out, composed the melody, popped in the sequencer and I was just experimenting with the speed and I got to this one tempo and pressed play on the sequencer, and when it played the melody back I just couldn’t believe that is what I had composed. It was just a series of notes but then I sped them up maybe 100 bpm and it was just the coolest thing. I heard that and I was definitely like this is the new direction I want to take this in. That’s why the Last Take and Wolves and Wishes and even a couple on the new one Tommy have those repetitive sequences in them. Once I figured out the sequencer I began looping the sequences, I’d make a long sequence and make a shorter sequence with different notes and just see how they harmonize with each other. It’s just experimenting and at the time it seems like an inexhaustible fountain of cool ideas
SICK OF THE RADIO: What instrument is your personal favorite?
Dosh: I would have to say the drums just because every time I go see a band that’s the first thing I look for. I always check out the drums first and everything just falls in line after.
SICK OF THE RADIO: Tell us about your most recent album, which you released last month, entitled “Tommy” and what inspired you.
Dosh: It’s my friend Tom Cesario, who was our sound guy, he was a long time friend I had known since high school and he passed away about a year and a half ago. It was made in the wake of his death, and I was thinking about him the entire time I was making it and was the main inspiration for the color of the record.
SICK OF THE RADIO: How would you say it is different than the previous records like Wolves and Wishes or the Lost Take?
Dosh: More lo end, more drums. I wanted to see how thick I could possible make it be without having it explode. For the most part it is recording a bunch of stuff, like every idea imaginable, and then in the mixing process getting rid of a lot of stuff. I would say in this record I probably just took away less stuff than the previous records, it just made sense to leave more in.
SICK OF THE RADIO : You have collaborated with loads of artists such as Why?, Atmosphere, Eyedea & Abilities, Andrew bird, Sage Francis , and others, who was your favorite?
Dosh: The one I have found to be most inspirational working with and has changed the music in general has got to be Mike Lewis. He’s the guy who played with me last night (in Denver) on saxophone and bass. I’ve been going to see him for a long time; he’s an incredible saxophone player, plays jazz stuff, I just never imagined he’d want to play with me. Then when I was working on the Last Take I asked him to come in and play saxophone on a song. I gave him a cd of the song ahead of time and he really liked it a lot, listened to it a bunch. He came in and recorded the song in one take and then he was like “ya, by the way I think I can play saxophone on your other song” so he played on Um, Circles and Squares really fast lines and he just nailed it first take. I had never up until that moment expected to have a saxophone on that song. He rearranged the way that I heard the song and thought about it. Playing with him every night is really cool too.
SICK OF THE RADIO: If you could share the stage with anyone you’ve never performed with, living or dead, who would it be?
Dosh: That band Department of Eagles, I think that we could do some really good stuff. I think those guys would be great to work with. It would be fun to do something with Prince as well but I think he would blow me away. He’s way better than I am.
SICK OF THE RADIO: I know it may be early but do you have any plans yet for either more tour dates or more album release dates?
Dosh: I think we may put out a digital and vinyl of the two-piece band me and Mike have going. We’ve recorded a couple shows on this tour so that might be released depending on if it turned out ok, I haven’t heard it yet. But I am 95 percent sure I’m going to be going back out on tour in September and October through the Midwest and the East Coast so look for that.
Photos & Interview by, Jennifer J. Greene