Interview: Dodgy – part 2
Published on January 9th, 2012 | Jonny Abrams
Here is part 2 of Rocksucker‘s interview with Mathew Priest of Dodgy…(click here to read part 1)…
“If You’re Thinking of Me”
Moving onto (hopefully) successes yet to come, what can we expect from Stand Upright In A Cool Place? Feel free to be as abstract as you like…
(Laughs) Well, it’s the best album we’ve done. We could stop and be happy to know that we’d made it. When we finished in ’97 or ’98, we hadn’t made a bad album; we kept getting better and then we split up, so we didn’t have our ‘shit’ period or ‘bizarre’ period like most bands tend to have. It was a big challenge to come back and make a piece of music that was up there with those ‘90s albums, but we’ve done it, we’ve achieved it, and that was all about us making sure that we’re all on the same page.
The rest of it was easy once we’d made sure that, when we went into the studio together, we weren’t bringing any baggage with us, weren’t still bitter or angry about things. It wasn’t Andy coming in thinking it was going to be a heavy metal album and Nigel coming in thinking it was going to be acoustic; we all knew what we wanted to achieve, and we all started playing music that we like to each other, started laughing together, joking together, drinking together and smoking together. We just started being friends again, laid the foundations, and the rest of it followed.
People are saying it’s the best stuff we’ve done, that it’s what they want now, that they’ve been missing Dodgy in their lives. It’s deeper, more romantic, darker, richer, a bit slower, and it’s very bucolic in its feel as it was recorded in the country, at the foot of the northern hills. Then we mixed it in the Texas countryside…well, you can’t really call Texas countryside ‘countryside’! It was mixed by Matt Pence, who did the last John Grant and Midlake album [Queen of Denmark]; we sent the album to Bella Union off the cuff because we really like their output, like Fleet Foxes, Beach House, John Grant, Midlake, so we just sent it to them and they came back saying, “This is much better than I thought it would be, real high-quality stuff! Talk to this guy [Matt Pence].” So we did, and he loved it as well.
We’ve been getting big thumbs-up all round, really, which is great because we recorded and mixed it ourselves with help from Robin Evans, who’s an engineer we’ve worked with for years. We really understood what we wanted. It was literally just the four of us in this rickety, wooden studio in May and June last year, and you can hear all the noises on the record: doors creaking, tractors outside, bees buzzing, birds…you can hear it all on there. I can smell the studio every time I listen to it. It’s very evocative. At one point, Matt Pence stopped and went, “You fuckers, I’ve been trying to distinguish the difference between American and British bands, and this is it right here! This sounds so fucking authentic. Listen…” Then he played a song and there was a mistake that I’d made where I’d missed a cymbal, and then Andy sort of made a mistake, a harmony that was slightly out or something.
I went, “Ah, sorry man,” and he said, “But you fucking left the mistakes in! And that is the difference between American and British bands. An American band would Pro Tools the fuck out of this to keep it all in time, make sure there were no mistakes, autotune it, make it all pristine, and at the end of the day you’ve got a great-sounding record but it’s just anodyne shit. With this, you put the mistakes in and it leaves and breathes when you listen to it. It shakes like a motherfucker.” You go back to a lot of the Led Zeppelin, Beatles, Rolling Stones and The Who records, and there are loads of mistakes in there! Little squeaks, things that aren’t quite right. They weren’t going for that ultimate snare sound that took three days to get.
“In a Room” (live at Phoenix Festival ’96)
Again, I couldn’t agree more. Foo Fighters, for example: good songs, but I can’t listen to it because it’s just so shiny and clean-sounding.
I know exactly what you’re saying. I had a problem with Grace by Jeff Buckley for the same reason; it’s just too clinical, too clean, and the drum sounds are too ‘produced’. We made a conscious decision on this album not to use any electronic click-tracks, to record it more ‘live’, and as a result you can actually feel the tracks speed up and slow down. It’s great. There’s a click-o-metre which lets you tap along to a song and it’ll give you the tempo of it; we’d tap-tempo the verse and it would be, say, 96, then we’d tap-tempo the chorus and it would be at 100, and the second verse would be back at 96 again. It automatically breathes, just like a river, you know? We hadn’t done that since we started, because in the ‘90s it was very much the thing that you had to have a click-track.
Were the various covers up on your SoundCloud recorded around the same time as the album?
Some were, and some of them date back years. That was a little thing we did for our advent calendar in December; every day of December up to Christmas we gave out a free gift, be it a bit of artwork, an old song, a cover, a b-side, some new solo work, or whatever. There were twenty-four gifts and the final thing we did was an album of cover versions. People loved it, it was great! One of the covers was Nigel’s version of “A Team” by Ed Sheeran, which we’re not necessarily fans of but were asked to do for Radio City Liverpool. They suggested some songs for us to cover and it was stuff like Rihanna and fucking Lady Gaga, and Nigel chose the Ed Sheeran one because his daughter likes it. I think Nigel does a better version, and people seem to really like it!
You seem to have a real connection with the city of Liverpool. I remember you playing the Hillsborough Justice Concert at Anfield in 1997, for example. Does that stem back to working with Ian Broudie on your first album?
Yeah, definitely, and also because we love Liverpool – me and Nigel are both Liverpool fans – and obviously because of The Beatles. You can’t not love Liverpool if you’re a musician. It’s Mecca, know what I mean? The first time you go to Liverpool, you walk around going, “(Gasp!) That’s Penny Lane! Oh my god, that’s the fucking Cavern!” It’s got that romanticism to it, and the people are fucking great so we just got on with Liverpool straight away. It was also one of the first cities that took to Dodgy; we played at the Picket and there were two hundred people there. Then we played Leeds and it was a little bit slower, say, and then we played Birmingham and it was shit for some reason!
I think Dodgy’s sound is quite Liverpudlian, what with all the three-piece (or even Free Piece) harmonies and the little moments of psychedelia here and there.
That’s what a lot of Liverpool people say. Ian Broudie always said that I played like a Scouser! That might be an insult in any other profession but as a drummer it’s a compliment because Scouse drummers really are fucking brilliant. We spent a long time in Liverpool, played the Hillsborough Justice Concert, and also Nigel was one of the first people to fully support the dockers [on a public stage]. We were in the studio and his missus rang up and said, “There’s a media blackout going on but I think there’s some kind of strike or something going on down at the docks. Why don’t you go down and find out?”
Nigel literally went down there – I was still asleep! – and he asked them what was going on. They told him the story of the Liverpool dockers and how the mainstream media weren’t reporting it, and he said, “What can we do to help?” So we started telling people about it, doing gigs, wearing a ‘Support the dock workers’ t-shirt on telly. We were on Richard & Judy with The Lightning Seeds. Liverpool’s just a great city and I adore it. I play with Ian McNabb and The Icicle Works pretty much every year, so I’m always back up there. It’s kind of like my second city, really.
“(We All Need a Little) Lifting”
I noticed that Real Estate isn’t available on iTunes or Spotify. Is it being airbrushed from history?
I’ve got shitloads of copies in my garage, I can get you one if you want! It might be on eBay and stuff. It’s not Dodgy, really. There are some good songs on it – although we left two of the best ones off, stupidly – but it was me and Andy carrying on after Nigel left because we didn’t want Dodgy to stop. It was what we did. So we carried on, got a new singer, but we weren’t in the right headspace and we should have put it out under a different name. People would still have paid some interest to it. Putting it out under the name Dodgy wasn’t right, and the fans let us know it. Some people really loved it, and as I said I still think that it stands up as an album and that there are some fantastic tracks on there, but it’s not Dodgy.
Have you heard back from Kevin Rowland yet about getting a support slot with Dexy’s Midnight Runners? I couldn’t help but notice your cheeky request on Twitter…
(Laughs) I’ve bumped into Kevin quite a few times…Dexy’s I adore, they’re one of my favourite bands. If you listen to the horn lines Dodgy used on the Homegrown album, it’s just us trying to sound like Dexy’s. Me and Nigel would write those horn lines and the horn players would say, “Fucking hell, that’s really good, where did you get that from?” We’d say, “Erm…nowhere…” (Laughs) Kevin wrote a postcard to us, possibly when he was going through his rehab around 1996, and it said: “Dear Dodgy, fantastic record, ‘Good Enough’ is as good as anything I’ve ever heard, what a great pop record! Love Kevin Rowland.” We were like, woooahh!
I remember at the time, Bill Drummond from The KLF was on Roundtable on Radio 1 and they played “Good Enough”, and he said, “That’s the best pop record I’ve heard in years. You know why? Because they repeat in the fucking chorus, just like the old girl groups used to do. It’s a proper chorus.” So at the time we had Kevin Rowland and Bill Drummond both saying they liked us, and I thought, “That’ll do for me!” I’ve bumped into Kevin a couple of times over the years and he’s always been a gentleman. When they reformed a few years ago, I got in touch to ask if they needed a drummer but they’d already got one unfortunately. I’d love to play with Dexy’s.
Do you know yet which festivals you might play this summer?
We’re getting lots of requests from the kind of mid-range festivals that aren’t one of the ten or so festivals that most people know of, and that’s great because I love them; you turn up to a little town in Devon where the locals have managed to get enough money together for a festival, and there’s three-thousand people there, families with kids, getting merrily drunk in the sun, then we get up and play. It’s fucking great, I love it.
“Long Life” (live at Phoenix Festival ’96)
You’re playing a “semi-acoustic” show not far from Rocksucker HQ tonight, at The Boogaloo in Highgate…
Yeah, we got asked to play by the guy who runs the bar, a guy called Gerry who’s an infamous character in London. He used to run a bar called Molly Malone’s in Stoke Newington, which is where Shane MacGowan used to drink, and we’d always end up there until 2 or 3 in the morning no matter where we’d been beforehand, party or gig or whatever. It was always open.
If Shane MacGowan’s there, it has to be!
Yeah, exactly! I remember we actually finished a song there, a song called “Grand Old English Oak Tree” from our first album which we had verses for but not a chorus. Our perceptions were slightly altered – our drinks must have been spiked or something – but Nigel got onstage and I thought, “What’s he doing this song for? We haven’t got a chorus for it.” Then suddenly BANG, he found the chorus, and we just went, “(Gasp) Woooow!”
Then Gerry had a pub in Angel called Filthy MacNasty’s, which is where The Libertines used to go, and now he’s got The Boogaloo on Archway Road. He’s been pestering us for ages, saying, “Come down to me fucking bar and play, lads!” It’s a good chance for us to get all of our team together because Christmas can be such a huge punctuation mark; people forget, things get lost and forgotten about, so we’re going to get all our team down there and play a little gig.
Do you still review demos for Rhythm magazine?
Not anymore. I don’t know how I managed to stay on for that long! There’s a girl called Louise who’s the editor, and she’s brilliant, has a sense of humour and liked to cater for everyone’s tastes. But then as per usual they get the marketing guys in, and they go, “Hang on, we’ve got to market this more towards young boys who like rock music.” Because they’re the boys who like drums: they’ve done that kind of calculation. So the people they featured became more and more from heavy rock bands, metal bands, emo bands, and the humour level started to disappear completely. I would be taking the piss totally out of Red Hot Chili Peppers and various bands who I think are completely overrated, and they said, “Look, you’ve got to stop taking the piss out of Chad Smith, kids love him.” – “Aw, but he’s shit, though.”
They’ve got a lot to answer for, Red Hot Chili Peppers; the amount of shit English bands that came out in their wake, shit English boys from the home counties thinking they can play funk, because of Red Hot Chili Peppers. It’s disgusting, it makes me sick, and they should stop! So they reduced my column down to forty words per review, shoved in at the bottom of the page, and I’d get loads of people coming to see me at gigs going, “Why did they reduce your column? We loved it!” As per usual, they’ll get one complaint from a rock fan without a sense of humour and the hundred people who love it won’t be writing in to say they love it. However, the two people that don’t like it do write in and they have to respond to that, so they finally said, “We’re restructuring the magazine.” I said, “Thank fuck for that.” I didn’t have a fucking clue who I was writing for anymore. But it was good while it lasted.
Any plans to resurrect Two Drummers Drumming?
If we get asked. The other drummer in that, that’s Maurice from Strike Back. It was the view of the music industry from the back seat from the ‘60s to the ‘90s, so he could talk about his experiences as a drummer in the ‘60s and I could talk about my experiences from the ‘90s onwards. It was good, and taking it to Edinburgh was certainly an experience!
Are there any obscure and/or up-and-coming artists you’d like to recommend or give a shout-out to?
I know Nigel’s a massive fan of Holy Fuck. There’s a band called Smoke Feathers who supported us on tour who are really good. Their bass player plays with us, they’re a cracking little band. There’s a guy from Bristol who’s kind of like a ‘folk rapper’ – very intelligent, very funny – called Clayton Blizzard. He’s really good. And there’s a Frank Turner-esque singer/songwriter called Gaz Brookfield; he’s great, we like him. There you go, there’s three for you!
To end with, we’re going to test run our brand-new-for-2012 standard closing question: if you had to spend the rest of your life in solitary confinement (“on a desert island” has been done to death), and you could only take the entire back catalogues of five different artists to sustain you, whose would you pick?
Blimey! Well, Bob Dylan, just because there’s a lot of records of his that I’m still yet to discover or get into, and it’s so rich that you can just listen to a Bob Dylan record and drift off. The Who, because I’d have to have some anger with me. I’d probably have to take some classical, again because there’s a lot I haven’t discovered yet; people tell me that Mozart’s the dude so perhaps I’d take The Best of Mozart, or Mozart’s Golden Greats! Some of my favourite bands only released a couple of albums, so they wouldn’t be any good. I’d have to have some soul in there, so maybe some Marvin Gaye…or how about the Atlantic box set, or the entire works of Motown. Will you allow that?
Ah, go on then.
There you go then, the entire works of Motown; that’ll take in Stevie Wonder and Marvin Gaye, people like that. Fucking hell, I’d be buzzing on that one! So Mozart, The Who, Bob Dylan, the entire works of Motown…what else would I need…oh, Dodgy! Yeah, I’d have to have some mental masturbation.
Matthew, thank you.
Stand Upright In A Cool Place will be released on 20th February through Strike Back Records. Click here to pre-order your copy. For more information, please visit www.dodgyology.com or check out the band’s blog at dodgyuk.blogspot.com