DATE OF INTERVIEW:
8th June 2014
METAL DISCOVERY: How did you arrive at the name Little Dove, and is it supposed to represent anything within the context of your music or vision for the band?
VANJA: When Dylan and I started playing together I knew we needed a name of our own. "It'll come to us" - he said. One day I was watching Game of Thrones and heard the evil queen call Sansa Stark "Little Dove" and I thought, "that'd be a cool band name." Threw it out to Dylan along with some other choices - Little Dove was the first pick, and the rest is history.
(Vanja James on the cathartic potential of Little Dove's music)
"When I perform it, I'm reliving the situation that inspired me to make the song...I try to give people an opportunity to drown themselves in the song to make themselves feel better. Life isn't easy. Music helps."
Interview by Mark Holmes
Official Little Dove Website:
LITTLE DOVE DISCOGRAPHY
Little Dove (2013)
One man with a homemade drum kit; one woman with a guitar and her voice. On paper, Californian-based Little Dove are about as minimalist as it gets within a band context. However, the punk-edged gargae rock created by this duo belies their ostensible minimalism, thanks largely to Vanja James' stupendously wide-ranging and powerful vocals. And with last year's self-titled debut album characterised by an array of simultaneously gritty and catchy compositions, all perfomed with an emotionally-charged impetus and wrapped up in a refreshingly organic, live sounding production, Little Dove are undoubtedly an exciting prospect. Metal Discovery posed a series of questions to both members to find out more about this most promising Stateside act...
Little Dove - promo shot
Photograph copyright © 2014 Roxy Maronyan-Cooper
VANJA JAMES; DYLAN COOPER
Official Little Dove Facebook:
MD: A lot of journos in reviews etc. seem to be making a comparison between Little Dove and The White Stripes which, for me, is a somewhat insular and lazy reference point. Are you worried that these incessant comparisons might compromise your artistic individuality in the way people perceive your music?
VANJA: Not Really - I take it as a compliment. We've gotten references to everyone from Queens of the Stoneage to Aretha Franklin at this point (artists I actually listen to!). There is no escaping we are a gritty Garage Rock type of band, but I also pull influences from Jazz and my love of hooky pop music. If they wanna make a White Stripes comparison, so be it. Jack White's still very relevant, and not going anywhere any time soon.
MD: It’s a phenomenal debut album you released last year, but did you achieve everything you wanted to with this first effort?
VANJA: You mean like, make millions of dollars and get our own private jet? Not quite - but we did get management & booking for the UK and Europe - which is pretty cool. Plus Steve Albini is willing to do our 2nd record, which is very, very cool.
MD: The strength of the material is astonishing as every track’s a winner. Are the eleven songs everything you wrote and recorded for the album, or did you have any material in reserve that didn’t make it to the final tracklist?
VANJA: The songs are a by product of about 3 years of audience testing, and sharpening ideas with various people. When I met Dylan, those songs were the best of the best that I brought to the table. There's maybe four half finished ideas out there in the ether that we might bring in later on.
MD: Apart from the claps on ‘Misery’ and harmony backing vocals on ‘Sink Ships’, you have a very stripped-down approach, although still attain such a massive, full sound. One fuzzily distorted guitar, one homemade drum kit, and one voice (albeit one incredibly powerful, wide-ranging voice!) – in theory, that doesn’t equate to a big sound, so what do you think it is, in actuality, that makes Little Dove transcend those minimalist elements?
VANJA: I'm gonna leave this one to Dylan to answer. He's the key to my musical universe.
DYLAN: Chemistry. It's us... the two of us. When we get together, we rock, we sweat, we hit, we sing....music comes out of us, and we don't care how or why. Vanja sings the truth, and I add the emphasis. That's it. That's all it should be.
MD: You’ve also attained a nice organic sound through the production and, as I wrote in my review, it’s “an antithesis to the over-produced, clinical sonics of a modern-day Pro Tools polish”. It actually sounds like real people playing real music, and music that’s “alive”, if you know what I mean. Was it, and will it always be, your aim to keep it “real” and as organic as possible?
VANJA: YES! That realness you are hearing is because we recorded it live and not to a click track. Keeping it raw and connected to the essence of the human spirit will always be a top priority for us. I don't foresee anything computer made in the future.
MD: Dylan, I’ve been blown away by the awesomeness and sheer audaciousness of your homemade kit. I presume your choice to use DIY drums was always a creative one rather than for budgetary reasons?
DYLAN: The main reason I built my own drum kit was out of necessity. I have been playing and recording music since I was a kid, and as soon as I had the ability to record more than one track, I realized that I would need other sounds to fill out my songs. My mom's pots and pans were really my first 'drum kit'... and ever since, I have found it more enjoyable to make my own sounds. I know a lot of musicians that started out the same way.... I just never stopped doing it. I've built all sorts of homemade instruments over the years, but I've had the most fun building and playing my drum kits.
MD: It sounds amazing on the album but, when recording the kit, was it a struggle to mic up and capture the sound you wanted, compared to that of more conventional drums?
DYLAN: We actually didn't spend much time worrying about mic placement... because it is a one of a kind instrument, there is no right way to do it. It's probably much easier than recording real drums because a standard has been set for great drum sounds, Muscle Shoals comes to mind, and that standard is hard to beat. I'm playing a clothes hamper, so the bar is set pretty low... As long as it sounds like drums, and the feel is there... I'm a happy man.
MD: I gather you use the clothes hamper at the centre of your kit to emulate a bass drum, but do you still use a conventional kick pedal, or is there some sort of other DIY wizardry going on behind there?!
DYLAN: Yes, the clothes hamper serves as the bass drum AND as the road case... the whole kit breaks down and fits inside... I've also attached wheels and a handle so it rolls. I've built a few kick pedals, and broke them all... I'm still working out the kinks. But right now I'm using a conventional kick pedal...However, I do make my own kick beaters, so yes, it is slightly modified to get a better sound out of the hamper.
MD: I’m guessing it’s of great personal value so have you got the kit insured?
DYLAN: Can you insure garbage? I bet you can. This is one of my favorite inventions, but most of my drum kit is made out of things I've found on the street, and I'm not sure how I feel about insuring a collection of trash. If something happened to it, I would just build another.
MD: Hypothetically, if Little Dove took off big-time, would you look to patent the kit? It could become the next big drumming craze!
DYLAN: Yes! I would love to...I already have designs and prototypes. I probably should have done it already, but lately, I've been having so much fun PLAYING the drums with Vanja that it's hard to concentrate on anything else!
MD: If I can ask about your voice please, Vanja, as, on the album, it’s one of the most emotively expressive, affectively profound and sincere vocal performances I’ve heard in a long time. To my ears, it’s simultaneously punky, soulful, bluesy and full of rock energy, and with an incredible range, so what’s your singing background and inspiration? I gather you worked with a vocal coach at university?
VANJA: My mom heard me singing Disney songs and impersonating Julie Andrews about the halls of our house when I was little. My eldest half brother (he's old enough to be my dad) gifted me with a CD of "Mariah Carey's Unplugged" when I was about 9 or 10 and I would sing along to it in the back of our motorhome when we went on a cross country road trip...keeping quietly to myself and writing the lyrics down. Greenday was also a childhood staple. At University I met my voice teacher - I think she knew she had something decent on her hands before I had the slightest clue, so she put me to work more than the other students. After that I became obsessed with singing along to my favorite band, Eisley, to stretch my vocal range, and things really opened up when I started practicing to this live version of Aretha Franklin's "Never loved a man." - she plays piano on the track while singing. It was really great.
MD: In terms of the sincerity of your vocal performance, it really does sound like you’re feeling every emotion inherent in your voice in each of the songs. So is the lived experience of singing, for you, one where you do actually feel the music, and express lyrical themes in a naturally affective way through the range of your voice?
VANJA: Each song tells a story through the lyrics, but I'm not just telling a story. I'm usually talking directly to the person(s) I wrote the song about. When I perform it, I'm reliving the situation that inspired me to make the song, I use my guitar to beat in the point of how I'm feeling, and I'm connecting with the audience, because I want them to feel everything I'm feeling. I try to give people an opportunity to drown themselves in the song to make themselves feel better. Life isn't easy. Music helps.
MD: Style-wise, with the fuzzy distortion, your guitar on the album adheres to a kind of garage rock vibe. Were you aiming for this kind of feeling?
VANJA: Straight up, I just love that distorted guitar sound. I adjust the distortion up or down depending on the style of the riff and the feeling of the song. Just an intuitive process, I guess.
MD: I can also hear traces of punk on songs like ‘Eyes’, ‘Misery’, ‘In My Bones’ etc, with their palm-muted root-fifths on the verses. I gather you’ve previously toured with various punk bands, Vanja, so is that now an innate attribute of your musical makeup?
VANJA: I really fell in love with punk influenced music seeing live shows from bands like Tiltwheel - they were a staple punk band in the San Diego Music scene. Davey Tiltwheel is sort of the godfather of the fast crowd/punk music scene down there, who I learned a lot from. I got an opportunity to tour with Nothington and Off With Their Heads. That sort of drove the whole DIY punk spirit and ethos home.
MD: The video for ‘Into the Ground’, like your music, is minimalist in composition but mammoth in aesthetic. I gather it was your wife, Dylan, who devised the concept and undertook filming duties?
DYLAN: Yes... One night after a Little Dove show, my wife Roxy and I started brainstorming ideas for a video on the car ride home. Lucky for us, Roxy works as an Art Director and photographer for commercials, so she designed the look and set up a shooting schedule and all that mess. She also has all the lights and cameras we needed, so she turned our house into a functioning studio and then shot the whole thing herself in one afternoon. We cut it together, and a week later we had a video!
MD: What’s the general concept of the video as it seems to point towards a theme of emancipation when you tear through the plastic on the “we will shine” line?
VANJA: Well - that song (Into The Ground) is referring to someone who took their own life, and the "we will shine" represents going on to a better place - carrying the good parts of a person's spirit with you, even though they are no longer physically here.....but the concept of the plastic was Dylan & Roxy's idea so, I'll let him elaborate.
MD: You have a solo record due out later this year, Vanja, so what can be expected from this?
VANJA: It might not be this year. It will likely be taking longer than that. I'm making the record because my friends keep bugging me about it - I wanted to make something very elegant and pretty that would make my mom happy. So - there's going to be lots of string arrangements on the record.
MD: Seeing as you only played your first ever gig as Little Dove just over a year ago, for a wholly independent band you’ve already racked up an impressive array of achievements and garnered fairly widespread recognition. Do you see it as important to keep the momentum flowing, and is that easier said than done, what with other commitments such as your solo album, documentary, and day jobs etc?
VANJA: Momentum is important. If we have other commitments that make it difficult to play live, I'll try to ramp up in our online presence so we can build our audience in another way. Yes it is easier said than done, but I spend entirely too much time on my laptop and consume more uppers than the average human. My boss is extremely supportive of my music, which is super helpful.
MD: You’re unsigned at present but will you be actively seeking a label in the future?
VANJA: We are looking, yes. If the label can make the business aspects of the band function like a well-oiled machine, so we could simply focus on connecting with the fans, writing, and performing, that would be wonderful....but if we have to put in extra work ourselves, that's ok too.
MD: You’ve very recently secured management and booking representation in the UK and Europe, so can we expect some live shows later this year?
VANJA: Hoping to make it to Iceland in November - but if that doesn't happen, then UK in July 2015. (that's the plan anyway!)
MD: Are you apprehensive as well as excited with the prospect of taking your music to brand new territories and audiences, or is it all unmitigated excitement and eager anticipation to get out of the states and tour abroad?!
VANJA: The only apprehension is how we travel on an airplane with Dylan's unique drum kit. Aside from that - only good feelings!
DYLAN: Don't worry, V. I'm ready to go! I might even just build a drum kit wherever we go... that sounds fun.
MD: Finally, what would you like to say to encourage people who’ll be reading this to check out your music?
VANJA: We like new people. Come say hi on Facebook or Twitter. We'll say hi back.