Unknown Spins | Keeping it together: An Interview with The Doozer
New in Ceasefire, Unknown Spins - Posted on Thursday, June 7, 2012 12:00 - 0 Comments
From his base in rural Cambridgeshire, The Doozer has carved out a unique place in the UK underground since releasing his first record, Sheet Music, in 2006.
Having made a name for himself by wedding cracked song form to heady fourth world atmospheres, new album Keep It Together goes down much more easily – an unhurried stroll through the same pastoral psychedelia that inspired Kevin Ayers’ Joy of a Toy, or Robert Wyatt’s Ruth Is Stranger Than Richard.
Like those records, Keep It Together also has a strong communal feel, particularly in comparison to the alien late-night zones that The Doozer has explored on previous releases.
Although live incarnations of the band had incorporated fellow traveller Ben K since Great Explorers was released in 2010, this was the first Doozer album recorded in a group setting.
‘We’re talking about a band scenario, so Ben and I had to play in time, something we tend not to do when we play together. We move about the place, like Chinese dancers,’ explains The Doozer. ‘So that was a learning curve.’
Reining in the exploratory and improvisational dimension to The Doozer’s live show was a direct result of Keep It Together’s more song-based, approach, too. ‘The instrumentation reflects the style of the songwriting, so this was the primary consideration. The songs are the starting points, and so it was quite clear from early on that a heavily non-western sound world would not work with these songs.’
Indeed, with the exception of some eastern tinges on ‘Aluminium Dome,’ the weirdly unlocatable sonics of Great Explorers – with its ghostly mbira and unexpected vocal samples – has given way to a vibe that has gently, but insistently, encamped on the village green.
Signifiers of a slightly off-centre Englishness abound, from the Cambridgeshire RSPB reserve namechecked on ‘Fen Drayton’ to the Old Grey Whistle Test-evoking harmonica on ‘Aluminium Dome.’
The Doozer is rarely discussed without mention of his uncanny vocal resemblance to another Cambridge resident, Syd Barrett, and I’m duty-bound to reiterate the comparison here; unlike most contemporary chancers drawing from such renditions of sixties psychedelia, however, The Doozer’s songwriting really does feel like an extension of the same askew English blues tradition as The Madcap Laughs.
When I asked about his relationship with Englishness, and the more exotic sounds of Great Explorers, The Doozer replied: ‘It’s the dichotomy of feeling emotionally and physically attached to this place we call England, and yet of not belonging to it and feeling all of the strangeness of this place and the need to escape its systems, people and habits. Everyday is familiar and everyday someone will surprise you. Like, if a passer by asks you for directions and you communicate directly and truthfully to them the answer.’
Although Keep It Together is a warm, bright record, there’s something here – and particularly in the more angular sounds of Sheet Music – of uncovering the uncomfortable in the mundane; it feels natural to situate The Doozer’s work alongside that of The Fall, or The Shadow Ring, in the continuum of small-town English experimentalists.
That said, for all that The Doozer might draw on rich native musical traditions, he also credits his transatlantic association with Matt Valentine and Erika Elder – aka MV & EE – as a huge influence on his work.
The Doozer has played on a slew of the American duo’s freeform live releases, which take their lead from the folk traditions of the Old Weird America and the freest moments of the Grateful Dead, whilst keeping a third eye trained firmly on the heavens.
As The Doozer says, ‘MV is an inspiration in the way he approaches music. There’s no limits and no holds barred. I’ve always made improvised music and it’s fed into the songs and sounds since the very beginning. Seeing MV & EE shape song forms with this use of improvisation and “space,” you get a feeling of openness. And openness is so important in music. We don’t want to be in a closed space.’
With its airy arrangements and evocations of strange weekend in the fenlands, Keep It Together suggests The Doozer will continue to open up fascinating new spaces to poke around in.