Friday, June 16, 2006

Mini-Interview: Doveman

Doveman's Thomas Bartlett has secrets to tell ... stories about honey on your breath, noticing that your lover's been drinking by herself again, and your life reading like a harlequin romance ... and all of them sung in a whisper by a man who says "the word of god is fine, I guess, but I don’t like doing as I am told."

Bartlett and his co-horts in Doveman are currently touring across the country on the way out to Los Angeles next Wednesday, but he still endeavored to answer a handful of our half-baked, half-intelligible questions this last week.

So, how did the band come together?

Trial and error, luck, happenstance, symbiosis, photosynthesis, hubris, hummus. Sam (banjo) and I have been best friends and collaborators since way back in the day (the six-year-old kind). We've known Peter (cornet) since we were 12. Jake (violin) was my next-door neighbor in the freshman dorm at Columbia, before I escaped the rigor-mortis of academia, and Dougie (drums) and Shahzad (guitar) I met a few years ago in NYC.

You’ve been playing classical piano since you were young and studied with one of the world’s top teachers, but you never wanted to be a classical musician. How did you decide on this direction?

I love the music, and I wanted to learn to play the instrument as well as possible -- and I still do, and will continue to, play classical music at home for myself (primarily Bach). But I like words almost as much as I like music. I wanted to write songs. I forced myself to sing them. I began to enjoy it. Etc.

And the name of the band is based on a collage your brother made?

Yeah, a postcard that he sent Sam, with my head pasted on a dove's body.

What’s the story behind the album’s title?

There is none, really. There's a line in one of the songs (Dancing: "my heart's not an acrobat"), but mostly it's just that it's a word I like a lot. So is "influenza." Alternate titles at one point: "Doveman vs. the Anti-Coze." "Doveman in: Smackdown!"

The songs Honey and Teacup are amazing... lyrically perfect. If this were a video game, you’d hear "Flawless Victory!" when they finished because you kicked the listener’s ass without them ever being able to get in a single shot ... you know, in a quiet, unassuming way. Did they come together easy or did you sweat over them for a long time?

Thanks!Honey took me quite a while to write. The music was immediate, but the lyrics were worked over for a long time, often while trying to fall asleep.

Teacup was as speedy as they come. I had just gotten a home ProTools system, and was testing it out. For the test file, I recorded that organ part and looped it, and over the next couple hours wrote the whole melody and lyrics and recorded it. That's unusual for me, though. Lyrics take me a long time.

All the songs on The Acrobat seem very personal. Are they? Or are you enjoying fictionalizing? (Or a little of both?)

I'm really not quite that miserable, I promise. There are lines that refer to real events, but scattered among loads of fictional moping. It's almost more a personal mythology of heartbreak and ache. And tea and coziness.

One of my favorite things to do in the car on long road trips is to try to identify all the different instruments in each song in The Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds. There are quite a few in The Acrobat as well. What’s all in there?

That's a great game to play with Pet Sounds, and a difficult one too, that such insane and brilliant orchestration he did for that record. The Acrobat is quite modest in comparison: Piano, Wurlitzer, pump organ, banjo, guitar, trumpet, drums, violin, and a very few touches of electronics. I think that's everything.

You’re touring the country with David Thomas Broughton right now. How did that come together? Are you friends or was that just a happy accident or was it your label’s doing?

A happy accident. We weren't friends before, but we are now. His booking agent contacted us about the idea of a tour together, I was loving his record, it seemed perfect. And it's worked really well. We've been blending our sets together, and having David sit in on the Doveman sets.

What’s next for you after the tour?

We're nearly finished with the next album, so I guess trying to find a label for it. I think we'll tour some more in the fall.

Last question: What bands are you liking the most right now?

The National, Cocorosie, Plush, and Stars Like Fleas.

That’s it. Thanks for your time, Thomas.

Doveman will appear with David Thomas Broughton, One Trick Pony, and The One AM Radio next Wednesday (June 21) at Tangier, which is located at 2138 Hillhurst Ave in the Los Feliz neighborhood of LA. Tickets are $8.


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