Far Out Meets: Doves discuss an honest and authentic return to music after a decade in the dark
In March last year, Doves made a spectacular comeback after ten years in the wilderness when they played a sold-out Royal Albert Hall in aid of Teenage Cancer Trust. With a renewed taste for collaborative artistic creation, they then spent last summer playing a plethora of festivals and, today, they share their fifth record The Universal Want—an album that looked implausible a few years ago.
The North West trio, which is made up of Jimi Goodwin along with brothers Jez and Andy Williams, over the course of their prolonged break Goodwin recorded his 2014 solo album Odludek whereas the Williams brothers formed Black Rivers together who released one album in 2015.
After years of distance, Goodwin and the Williams’ reconvened in 2017 to see if that creative spark was still there with no expectations of a full-blown reunion but just a personal experiment. That jam session then sowed the seed for The Universal Want, a record which is an absolute joy from start to finish and feels like a remarkably fitting antidote for these dark days.
“We did our last gig in 2010 and I hadn’t seen Jimi in seven years for a start, so we met up first before we did any music,” guitarist Jez Williams told me over a socially distanced phonecall as we discuss Doves’ lengthy hiatus. Williams speaks with honesty, reflecting openly on the whole experience of reuniting with Jimi Goodwin after all these years. “We just wanted to see if the hunger was still there, we got all of our instruments together and booked ourselves into a studio near Manchester to see what it was like because none of us knew,” he added, as a first explainer as to why the prolonged break was absolutely necessary for Doves to still be a thriving entity in 2020 rather than a nostalgia act.
Thankfully, that spark still exists which should be no surprise considering the three of them started making music together all the way back in 1991 as dance act Sub Sub, a group who even scored a number three hit with ‘Ain’t No Love (Ain’t No Use)’. “It felt very familiar like we had only last played the other day, we just started playing some old songs from memory and probably in the wrong key but it was great. It was like ‘wow, there is something there’,” Williams told me about that initial session.
This renewed vigour that the band have in 2020 is a world away from the despondent place all three found themselves in a decade ago and, that newfound energy which encompasses the band, can be heard on the dynamic new record The Universal Want—a project they, as a band, were simply not in a place to create following 2009’s tiresome Kingdom of Rust cycle.
“We did our last gig at Warehouse Project in Manchester in 2010 and it was one of those strange gigs,” Williams reflected. “You finish it, you go home and at some point one person to phone to ask ‘you alright, when we in next?’ but that phone call never happened.”
“There wasn’t a falling out but you know when you need a break when someone eats an apple and it gets on your tits,” he said of the personal dynamic between the band. “It’s a bit like being in a confined space for so long that you have to change it up. I don’t know if we could have carried on if we didn’t have that break, put it that way.”
Williams then says he is “thankful for that decade” which provided all three members with a second lease of life, the band now existing in a very different musical landscape to the one they featured in ten years ago: “It’s really fucking hard being in a band sometimes depending on how many are in the band, it’s a three to the five-headed monster that has got to go in the same direction,” he said of the challenges that Doves faced.
Admittedly, with age comes experience and maturity, a pivotal aspect which has allowed the ‘comeback’ to materialise in a genuine manner. All three members are now a decade older, ten years wiser and more understanding, a factor which contributes to the likelihood that individual egos are left at the door.
“Obviously people’s perceptions of us have changed, we’re no longer that cool 20-year-old band anymore, as soon as you’re over 40 you’re instantly not cool,” Williams says. “We didn’t have all this baggage with us, it was quite liberating in a way. We were now outside of this weird zone you get put in when you start out,” Williams added with a sense of relief in his voice.
On March 29th, 2019, Doves made their emphatic first return to the live stage to a sold-out crowd at the Royal Albert Hall in aid of Teenage Cancer Trust which was an occasion that will stick with Williams forever. “We’d done one before and we felt it was the perfect way to come back under the banner of this. It just felt right, sometimes you can’t pinpoint exactly what it is and it’s also at the Albert Hall which historically is such a cool venue,” the Doves man profoundly stated.
“We were shitting ourselves, the nerves were so bad you were kind of levitating and you were outside your body,” Williams noted about the band’s mindset prior to going on stage. “Literally, one song and it kicked into place. We absolutely loved it,” he added.
The new album, The Universal Want, is everything that you would want from a Doves record. It is both a stimulating and euphoric listen in equal measure which sits up there with the band’s best work. There was a stark contrast between the relaxed method of recording for this album in comparison to their last project Kingdom of Rust, one which Williams said was “painful to make”. A new mantra of doing “what we want, when we want” released that pressure from their shoulders and is evident across the record.
“We were trying to get down to the nucleus of the songs, we wanted the drums to sound small and claustrophobic so the music can wrap around it. This album is our self-help album,” Williams said before speaking about the tracks that mean the most to him on the record. “‘Cycle Of Hurt’ is one of our favourite songs lyrically and I love ‘Mother Silverlake’.”
The Universal Want is a beautiful return from Doves and their whole reunion is shrouded in genuine authenticity, a priceless attribute which bleeds into the record. The album is the sound of a band revitalised and free from all the constraints that, in years gone by, applied needlessly concern, stress and anxiety. But, most importantly, Doves are just enjoying it once again.