"It's Liberating Not Having to Compromise My Guts": An Interview with Doves' Jimi Goodwin
As the frontman for Doves, Jimi Goodwin proved to be quite the pop craftsman. On his new solo album, he creates a sort of personal mixtape, styles all around, Goodwin telling us how as a solo album, it couldn't have existed in any other form.
Every music fan suffers from the fondness of creating and evaluating lists. We rank the things we love as sometimes our memories can be faulty and we want to clearly recall the things that crash land in our world and for a period of time consume our attention and fill up our hearts. We make lists to qualify our albums of the year, our top all time concerts, our top five desert island albums. We make lists of songs in the form of mixes for the women and men we love who we want to love us back. For me, I have always simplified the process and instead make it a point to easily recall specific moments I have witnessed in my years of music exploration and experience.
One such moment took place during my junior year of college when I first heard Doves' second album, The Last Broadcast. I was a fan of their debut and had high hopes as I pressed PLAY on my stereo. The album immediately grabbed me as ethereal and mysterious even on its first listen and still some 12 years later, still an album I return to often. But what I remember most is the first time I heard the album's title track.
It starts with the sound of a guitar being tuned and gently strummed like a soldier taking a final few breaths before storming out of landing craft approaching a sandy shore. The pace quickens and voices loop with a twinkling xylophone before lead singer Jimi's Goodwin voice oozes to the center. There are so many gorgeous things happening at once but Goodwin's voice is the anchor of the song providing the counter melody to the background sounds. At one point Goodwin sings:
You can't escape yourself
You can't just fall away
It comes to the point when you feel nothing
But "nothing" was the complete opposite of what I felt. I felt everything at once. I felt the breath in my lungs and remember a warmth envelop my body. The song fell so perfectly in place like a video played in reverse of a glass dropping from someone's hand and the glass magically reforming in a persons grasp.
And then I laughed. I laughed at loud at how perfect the song was and how everything ahead of me at that moment in time seemed manageable and full of infinite possibilities. If that is not what breathes life into the purpose of music, then what is?
Over the next few years Doves released two more albums that I eagerly anticipated and enjoyed to varying degrees. Regardless of their latter day efforts, Doves have remained one of my favorite bands and an act that I viewed cheated as severely underrated or even worse relatively unknown.
Jimi Goodwin has just released his first solo album, Odludek. The word is Polish and translates to a variety of meanings but the closest is "loner". Goodwin is an incredibly kind and gregarious person over the phone, likely surprising to a casual listener who thinks anyone fronting a British band must be just like Thom Yorke.
"It was not acrimonious at all," Goodwin begins to answer the first version of the same question he will likely endure throughout this press run. "They are brothers man and I have known them such a long time: 23 years! It wasn't coming from one particular person and it was just the right thing to do."
"[People] may say, 'Four years go by and now you again?' So why now? Because I have a collection of songs that I think that really come together and it felt ready. I have been jumping at the bit for a couple years now and to Jeff Barrett's credit at Heavenly Records, he just talks straight to me. He said, 'This is really interesting what you did, but you aren't ready.' I was kind of trying to force the issue a bit but it was really better for me to do really do it in my own time, at my own pace. Working with Doves it was like a block of stone to where it really needs to reveal itself before you can dig in but that's the way I work."
And this piece of stone does not disappoint.
In the press materials announcing the release of Odludek Goodwin was quoted as saying, "I wanted to make this mad mixtape, the kind you'd pass back and forth with your mates; eclectic as fuck. That's the way we've all discovered music over the years isn't it? We join our own dots to make it all make sense." Goodwin himself is susceptible to these lists, these collections of moments that I mentioned before. I shared with him how I always felt the most difficult part of putting a mix together was the track listing and if he had any issues laying out the song order.
"It was fantastic and almost weird," he says. "We would take these two week breaks and the most recent mixes kept landing in the same order -- I never had to juggle it. In the past, with three people in a band, you would constantly go back and forth with your version of the album: 'I like your start and the middle but don't really like where you put that one' or something. Maybe we all just mean to please for this album maybe how they kept falling in this specific order was some sort of sign. I never knew that 'Terracotta Warrior' would work as an opener with that big oomph. They just kept landing in this specific sequence. I knew [the tenth and final track] 'Panic Trip' would be the last one from early on and once I got to track to track nine I said, "OK, it's done."
Goodwin continues: "With a mixtape you do it instinctively because you're pleasing yourself and your mate and you say such and such will like that when you swap tapes or CDs. It was in that spirit that I wanted it to flow."
And calling these ten tracks a "mad mixtape" is not too much of a stretch. The aforementioned "Terracotta Warrior" opens with a guitar burst that sounds like the alarm clock ringtone from hell and it certainly grabs your attention. "Live Like a River" kicks off with an EDM Coachella Sahara Tent bounce with an ESPN highlight reel and completely contrary to anything Doves ever laid down and then segues into the horn anthem meets piano ballad, "Hope" and into the wily and carnival like bombast of "Man V Dingo". Somehow the album manages to go in multiple different directions through the course of its 42-plus minutes but it never seems distracting and pulls off the feat of being eclectic but not for the sake of showing off. What is especially impressive is that Goodwin played the majority of the instruments on the recording, a territory he had not really ever dabbled in before.
"I could play drums a bit, blah blah blah," he notes. "It was more out of necessity. The kit is right there and I was like, 'Let me get on it and show you what I mean.' I love fucking around and it's like jack of all trades and master of none, really. When I am orchestrating strings and brass on the album it's kind of fun pretending you're a bass trombonist and writing the parts but having no knowledge of playing it physically. It's like putting masks on. It keeps it fun. It keeps it interesting."
I admit to Goodwin that I had some trepidation the first time I listened to an advance copy of the album, unsure if I was worried -- or maybe hoping -- that his solo album would be "Doves-esque" in sound. I explained that as a lyric-focused music fan, his voice was always front and center to me and something that would be difficult to separate from this product. And history isn't always kind to a solo artists extra circular activities. For every Michael Jackson, Paul McCartney, and Peter Gabriel there is a Julian Casablancas, Mick Jagger, or Paul Banks. It is one type of insult for a successful band's front man solo effort to be panned, but an even greater risk of being ignored completely.
"It probably was conscious. I am still a bit touchy about that," he states. "'Oh it's Jimi from Doves -- I know what that will sound like. Not really. If I wanted to make a record of 'that' I would have stayed in Doves. Maybe it's a reflection of the things I want to hear more often in other people's records. Not everything is inspired."
"Maybe it was about making my record a reflection of what I want to hear," he continues, "I didn't want it to be singer-songwriter, introspective record. I wanted it to be open. It's out of my hands now but I made the record I wanted to make."
What is clear is that Goodwin is not the least bit nervous or self-conscious going out on the road this spring with a new four-piece opening up for his long time friends and fellow Brit contemporaries, Elbow. Rather he is excited. He is excited for this new chapter and for this new sound. He is excited to see if he can be relevant in 2014 on his own, making a record he would be interested in hearing.
"It was just like a new band starting out making this record for me," he notes. "Nobody was waiting for baited breath to see what I was doing. [When we started] it was $40k to make your first album after only hearing a few songs and they like you. These days you're coming through the door with a pretty much a finished record. It's like any job some days where you doubt what you are doing and on others it's like you're on the right track. If people 'get it' then I will be like, 'Wow!' I will be thrilled."
"I am trusting myself a lot more than I was maybe used to," he elaborates. "In a band you do have to compromise but in Doves we were just honest. Someone would say 'I am not really feeling that line' or something and it might be the most personal thing that person ever had in their brain but you got other people who you respect who aren't always going to get it. It's been liberating not having to compromise my guts all the time and just stand where I am now. It is what needed to happen right now and without new experiences you got nothing to write about."