White Dove is the kind of band whose music leaves you scratching your head trying to figure out who it reminds you of, until you realize that the group is really doing its own thing altogether. On The Hoss, the Candle, White Dove’s first album as White Dove (previously, the band was known as Monster), the Los Angeles-based trio fashions an inviting twang-pop sound that finds the sweet spot where nostalgia and novelty overlap. So while frontwoman Alex Johnstone’s voice might recall Chan Marshall in her more melodic, even-keeled moments and you might hear hints of Mazzy Star’s twinkling atmospherics here or a slight touch of Belle and Sebastian’s indie symphonics there, The Hoss, the Candle develops into a piece that stands up well on its own terms. With the imminent release of The Hoss, the Candle, PopMatters touched base with the band to find out how the album came together and why Monster became White Dove. PopMatters is premiering The Hoss, the Candle, which comes out on RSRCH + DVLP on 16 July.
PopMatters: The Hoss, the Candle is your first full-length as White Dove, but you were around for a while before as Monster. What was the idea behind the name change and did it impact your musical identity at all?
Alex Johnstone: The idea for the name change was simply that I had grown up and I was writing different types of songs. I also needed to move on a little bit from the last incarnation of the band, which had its own space and time and will always be really important to me. I needed to have something to strive toward and I kept seeing the words “White Dove” like some weird imagery pop into my mind. That might sound corny but it’s the truth.
Jack Long: Yeah, Carl [Harders] and I joined Monster, but after playing together for a while, we just knew we had developed into something different. The name seemed more like a result of the sound, rather than the other way around.
Carl Harders: It just seemed necessary at a certain point and Alex suggested White Dove and the headache of thinking of a new name was over.
PopMatters: One way to describe your music would be say that it’s at the intersection between Americana and indie-pop. There’s definitely a rootsy feel of earlier Cat Power, but then there are melodic, more orchestrated moments that almost recall Belle and Sebastian. How would you describe your sound and what kind of mood you’re aiming for?
Alex Johnstone: Thank you, those are nice comparisons. People have been saying that I sound like Cat Power since I started my band when I was 17 and I think the weirdest part about that is I really love her. It’s an extremely high compliment to receive, but I think what influenced me the most about her was her lyrics. I thought her songs were so beautiful. I never think about the way that I sing or my voice or anything like that. I don’t think it’s really something I could change even if I wanted to.
I haven’t listened to Belle and Sebastian for a really long time, but they may still be somewhere in my head. It’s funny, I think a lot of times what I am listening to comes through, but in a different form to others. When you said rootsy, I thought of Dennis Wilson because we listened to him a lot while recording and he can be very rootsy. Of course, what comes through on my side may not make someone else think of that, but that’s probably where it came from. We were listening to mostly the Beach Boys, Flying Burrito Brothers, the Byrds, and other stuff like that. Jack, Carl, and I all listen to a lot of ’60s and ’70s albums, but I wouldn’t know where to start with that. I’ve gotten pretty into power pop lately and I need to write at least a couple of power pop songs to get that off my chest. I think an intersection between Americana and pop can describe a lot of music, the more I think about it.
Americana has a certain connotation for me that I don’t resonate with somehow. I think bands like the Raspberries and Big Star mixed country into their music in the ‘70s, but people just called it power pop. There’s not a lot of power pop on our current album but I’m just musing.
I’m definitely more excited about new bands now than I was when I was recording the album. I have expanded my horizons on that level. We’re not country enough to play with the country bands and not poppy enough to play with the jangle bands. I think there’s a beautiful spot in between I’d like to explore more. I also want to retain our freedom.
Jack Long: It’s always tricky with describing your own sound. Americana maybe brings to mind an earlier sound, banjos and mandolins, which are cool, but I think we might be coming at it from a later period, where Neil Young or the Band dug into that folk and country thing. But yeah, the orchestrated aspect to the album definitely is the other side of the coin for us. We love pedal steel, but we also love Felt, the Smiths, and stuff like that.
Carl Harders: That’s inevitably a hard thing to describe because it’s not like it happens consciously, we listen to and love certain bands/music and things happen. The pop aspect seems to be overlooked sometimes, so it’s nice to hear the Belle and Sebastian reference even though they weren’t something we were specifically listening to at the time of the recording.
PopMatters: White Dove is based in the Los Angeles area, so there’s definitely a bit of a So Cal element evident in your music, perhaps more of a chilled-out, almost desert-like feel along the lines of Mazzy Star. Does your environment come into play in the music you make?
Alex Johnstone: Yeah, I never understood what that meant. I swear I never got that from my music at all, and then I went to the east coast one time and this girl said, “I love your songs, they sound like California.” I was so perplexed by that — what does that mean? But I do hear it now, at least what they are referring to. We do love California music and I am from here. The Beach Boys are one of the most prominent musical elements in my life, period. I know that people usually mean more like Mazzy Star, though. I was reading about how Hope Sandoval didn’t want to work with all of the people they wanted her to work with when she was getting famous. Her label was pushing her to do stuff she didn’t want to do so she just left. Those must have been crazy times.
Jack Long: It’s one of those things maybe that you don’t notice while you’re making music, but people can observe after the fact. I definitely hear it now though. I think especially with Alex, she can’t filter that kind of thing, and the environment and things like that seep through.
Carl Harders: I think the California thing is partly listener projection because they know where you are from, but you also can’t deny that your environment influences who you are. We all love going out to the desert and have spent a lot of time there together.
PopMatters: Dave Trumfio from the ’90s band the Pulsars produced your album and is also releasing the album through his RSRCH + DVLP label. The Hoss, the Candle also happens to be the first album released by RSRCH + DVLP, so he must really be behind the project. How did this close-knit working relationship come about?
Alex Johnstone: He heard our album through a mutual friend and wanted to work with us and we were really excited to. I already really miss recording in the studio with him — I want to record again so bad. He’s really fun to work with.
Jack Long: Dave is our biggest supporter and we just knew he got what we were doing. So when he talked to us about putting out the album, we were just like yeah, of course, let’s do it!
Carl Harders: He’s the man! We all really appreciate everything he’s done to help us get this record out.
PopMatters: With the new album out now, what are your plans for the rest of the summer and year?
Jack Long: We’re going to do some more videos that I’m excited about. And we also have a ton of new songs that I can’t wait to record.
Alex Johnstone: We really want to get on the road before we get too old. That was sort of a joke. I just had a quote pop into my head from this guy who was freed after being wrongfully convicted and jailed for 16 years and when he was asked what he was going to do with his future, he said, “Be with my girl and my family…pet a dog…ride my motorcycle and just, ride man.”