HOME TO ROOST
Doves are back with a lauded new album and - as singer Jimi Goodwin tells Jim Carroll - they're happy in their skins and raring to go
TODAY, according to Jimi Goodwin, is when the Doves go back to work. "This is the first interview of God knows how many I'll do about this new album," the singer says with a smile. He probably won't be grinning when it gets to interview number 109, so let's make the most of his enthusiasm today.
Goodwin carries a drink and a packet of cigarettes over to a table in a London hotel foyer. His fellow Doves, Jez and Andy Williams, are upstairs doing other interviews, while a TV and radio crew are waiting patiently for their turn. The topic of conversation today - and every day for the foreseeable future - is Some Cities, the new Doves album. It truly is an album to relish, a band completely at one with their sound.
If you have spent any amount of time with Lost Souls and The Last Broadcast, you will find many new reasons here to be cheerful. The wheel may not have been reinvented, but new wheels were not what was required on this occasion. Instead, there's further proof of Doves' uncanny ability to craft emotional soundscapes that soar and peak with spectacular intensity. Apt too, that amongst the album's many mini-epics is a track called Snowden which, misspelling and all, is the perfect soundtrack for tearing up mountains and cascading down valleys.
That such music speaks volumes is, Goodwin says, something of a blessing. "I'm not the greatest talker about what we do," he says with a shrug. "And I sometimes squirm when I read it all back. But all we want is for people to see that we're constantly evolving as songwriters, musicians and as a band."
The first steps taken towards Some Cities came in Manchester when the band met for a chat a month or so after the Last Broadcast tour had ended. "We always have a meeting before starting an album and we discuss where we think the new one might go. We're all adults, so we can talk quite openly about our music without coming to blows.
"We've always talked about doing a really concise 10-track, 40-minute album. We've been accused in the past of being a band with all these grandeur bells and whistles - which I never got. This time, though, the album turned out just like we imagined it would."
Hooking up with Madonna producer William Orbit led the band to a studio outside Rosemount in Co Westmeath. There it quickly became apparent that there would be no Ray of Light or anything else emerging from the sessions.
"Jeff Barrett from our label, Heavenly, suggested we work with William and we were fine with that, we're always up for trying new stuff. But I think we expected too much from him. He was happy just to be in the studio with us because he hadn't worked with a band since Blur. His point was he was just recording what he was hearing. He wasn't doing anything that we wouldn't do ourselves normally and we put a lot of pressure on him almost to subvert us. He's a top guy, but it just didn't work."
Instead, Doves flew home and the album went in another direction. They demoed and recorded songs in various rented cottages throughout the north-east of England before calling in Blur and Elbow producer Ben Hillier.
"I wouldn't like people to think that we're set in our ways or stagnating as a band. I think we had hoped to reinvent ourselves with this album, which is why we were so open to working with William, but, at the end, it's still us three just doing it," says Goodwin.
"We're quite happy with what we've done. If people want to speculate about 'will they be the next Coldplay yadda yadda yadda', that's up to them, we don't talk about that. Of course, I want it to do well, but that sort of fucking talk has no bearing on my life."
Such conjecture, however, does have a huge bearing on how Some Cities will be perceived. Doves have enjoyed a steady rise in sales and profile from album one to album two, so Some Cities is naturally seen as the album to do all that and more.
Goodwin is willing to participate in this process, but only to a point. Of course, he and the band want the album to sell and their shows to be well received, but not at any cost. He points to Wilco as an example of how a band can sell their music without selling their souls.
"You leave a band like Wilco alone and great things happen. I'd like to think the same applies to us, and I know the people around us understand that. We don't get A&R-ed like other bands. Sure we'll take suggestions onboard and we'll try things out like working with William Orbit, but we know what's right for us at the end of the day.
"We get accused of having a lack of image and not having anything to say, but we've never said we were that kind of band. The most hands-on thing we can do is play live and we're about to do that for the rest of the year. We're not lazy, right [ laughs]."
At the same time, Goodwin is acutely aware that touring is not always enough and he points to France as an example of this. "I don't want to come across as Mister Unit-Shifter, but when you find out that you've sold 19,000 albums in France and there were only 200 people at the last gig we played in Paris, you want to know how the hell that happened. Do they just buy albums and not come to gigs? How does it work out there? We want to remedy that and play to more people in Europe this time around."
A band like Doves thrive on the road so, Goodwin acknowledges with a grin, quitting the touring cocoon can be disorientating. "I got home last time and I was in a kind of daze for about three weeks," he chuckles. "The phone wasn't ringing, no-one was telling me what to do, there was no mollycoddling. You're in the middle of a whirlwind for a year and then suddenly, you're back on your own time, back to civvy street. Domesticity is great for a while - I'd be doing the washing-up before going down the pub - but sooner or later, you start thinking about what comes next."
Which leads us back to the hotel foyer, a tape-recorder, a new record in the shops and shows to play. Goodwin has nothing but enthusiasm for what lies ahead, even as he peruses the first of many record company schedules for the weeks to come. After all, this is what they signed up for and, best of all, they've an album to hawk that they feel will do the business.
"This album feels like a huge step up for us," he says. "There's no flab. We've done what we set out to achieve which is BAM! a fucking sledgehammer over the head of an album with 11 great songs. It comes from the heart. We know each other pretty well by now and if these tunes are working for us, they must be boss tunes."
Some Cities is released on Heavenly/EMI on February 18th. Doves play Ulster Hall, Belfast on February 26th, The Heineken Green Room sessions in the Theatre Royal, Castlebar (27th) and The Ambassador, Dublin (28th)