Mark Millar talks with Andy Williams, Drummer for English, indie-rock band, Doves about their forthcoming, fifth album, The Universal Want, released on EMI on Fri 11th. September 2020. Andy talks about the bands’ eleven-year break, lockdown and upcoming live shows.
Doves released your fifth album, The Universal Want after an eleven-year artistic break, on Fri 11th September 2020. How does it feel to have new music coming out finally?
AW: It feels really good. The last thing I put out was in 2015, and that was with my brother Jez, so it feels terrific to have a new Doves record out. Obviously, it’s tempered with a bit of weirdness that we can’t gig it at the moment and we can’t promote it in that way. It just feels great to get new music out finally, and I can’t wait for people to hear the new songs.
Did lockdown affect the album or was it finished beforehand?
AW: We mastered it and compiled it in London the week before lockdown. We booked the studio for the middle of March. For me its always a gratifying part of the album process. I still love going to London to master and EQ the album and work out the order of the tracks and catch up with old friends, but the main thing is we put the record together. So it was exciting but also quite weird because the streets were empty down there because we knew what was coming – it was a bizarre mixture of emotions. Then the UK locked down a week later. It was good psychologically for us that we got the album finished before the lockdown. Obviously, it was bloody weird going through this lockdown, and it was such a strange time but certainly, band-wise we got there just in the nick of time.
The band were on hiatus for eleven years did you imagine the break would be so long?
AW: No, we did a Best of album in 2010, and we toured that for a few months then eleven years past, and we started this new record in 2017 and didn’t tell anyone. We started writing together very naturally, and we were more than ready for it again. Obviously, I have seen a lot of Jez over the years because he is my brother and we did the Black Rivers album. I only saw Jimi a couple of times a year, but we spoke and kept in contact all the time because he is an old friend. We fell back into it, and it felt very natural and familiar, but in a good way, so the early days of writing were inspiring, and the songs were coming. We had a lot of ideas because Jimi had been working on his second solo album and Jez and I were working on the second Black Rivers album. Hence, we had a lot of material to go at, and we resurrected some old Doves songs that we thought we would have the clarity of time to work out what was missing in those songs and we eventually got those completed. On the whole, it was an enjoyable process.
What was the catalyst that got the three of you in a room to start writing again?
AW: I think we just all felt it was time. It had been building up for a while through texts and stuff, and I think we felt we missed that chemistry that we’ve got and we missed hanging out with each other. We had had a long time apart, and we missed that dynamic that all three of us together can bring.
Did you go into the album with ideas about how it should sound and the kind of subjects you wanted to write about?
AW: Not really we don’t speak about it. All three of us write separately, and then we will do a bit together as well – there is nothing ever written by design at all. You do it on a song by song basis. You can only write about what you are feeling at that present time, it’s all quite haphazard with us. Hopefully, it comes together at the end, which luckily it did. (Laughs) We got the album title The Universal Want, and it felt right for the rest of the record and where we were at.
What was the song on the album while you were recording that made you realise you were on the right path?
AW: For me, I’d say that song was ‘For Tomorrow’ because it’s a song we kind of started years ago and we never managed to crack it. It was quite a live-sounding song. Some of our songs we put together like patchwork in the studio. It was recorded in a studio near Manchester, and we were playing lots of different takes and then going back and listening to them. It was very much a band sound and filmic, soul music vibe. It has all the kind of music that we love. Personally speaking, that song pinpoints a time when we were buzzing in the studio, and that’s a very nice memory of recording the record.
The band played the first show in ten years at the Royal Albert Hall for Teenage Cancer Trust in March 2019. The band enjoyed a fantastic reception. How did that feel after being away for so long?
AW: It felt terrific, and it was an excellent way to come back for a great cause. We had done gigs for Teenage Cancer Trust before. We weren’t going to do it, but then Roger Daltrey wrote to us directly, and we were big fans of The Who growing up, and we thought, “We can’t say no to Roger Daltrey.” (Laughs) It felt like the right way to come back. In the beginning, we were a bit scared but Dave, our manager, convinced us that it was a good way to come back and it was a good fit for us and it is for a fantastic cause. It was pretty nerve-wracking on the night, and there was a lot of expectation, but the audience carried us through it. There was so much warmth in the room, and it was a night I won’t ever forget.
After that performance, did it give the band more confidence when you went back into the studio?
AW: Yeah, I think so. We were kind of on our way by then in the studio. We had done quite a bit in 2017, and we did a bit in early 2018 then we put recording to the side for a while once we were offered that gig. We thought, “Right, we are going to have to spend some time getting our shit together and getting these old songs back into shape.” But yeah, we were entirely on our way with the record by then. We hadn’t told anyone what we were doing so that there was no pressure on us because it might not have worked out. We could have gone back into the studio, and it might not have happened, so we didn’t want that weight of expectation on our shoulders. But yeah, certainly the reception of the Albert Hall gig put wind in our sails, and we realised there was a hunger for new Doves music. That night was a humbling experience; people had flown in from South America, the states and Australia – it was insane how far people had travelled for the show.
‘Carousels’ the first track released from the album got a great response from the fans. How did that feel? Why did you choose to put that song out first?
AW: For us, it felt quite different as a Doves song. People have said since, “Oh no, it’s a classic Doves song.” But for us, it felt it was different enough sounding. We were very keen not to make an album looking back, or a ‘Cedar Room’ MK2 or ‘There Goes the Fear’ MK2 – we don’t ever want to repeat ourselves, and ‘Carousels’ felt like a fresh start for us. There are other songs on the album that are a lot more familiar Doves sounding songs I guess, but all of us from the management and the label felt like that was the right song to reintroduce us back to people.
My favourite track on the album is ‘Cycle of Hurt’ where Jez and Jimi share vocals. What can you tell me about the making of that song?
AW: Jez brought that in towards the end of the record, and we liked the speech voice from a computer – it was unusual. It was like ‘The Sulphur Man’ of The Last Broadcast where the three of us all chipped in on the lyrics – that song almost didn’t make it on to the record. There was another song that hopefully will get released next year called ‘Saint Teresa’ and they were both vying to get on the album and ‘Cycle of Hurt’ won because it worked in the whole composition of the record – I’m pleased it’s made it on there.
I’m looking forward to ‘Saint Teresa’ coming out next year – its one of my favourites. I don’t know if it will be part of an EP although we will have to write the rest of the EP. We didn’t want too many songs on the record. We are quite an old school band, and we wanted to tempt the listening experience from start to finish, and we feel if we put too many songs on there, it is asking too much of people.
Doves head out on the road again next year. Are you looking forward to getting back to playing to the fans after all the madness this year?
AW: Yeah, I can’t wait its desperate times for live music and for everyone involved in the live music industry, going to gigs is part of our culture. It’s going to be weird putting an album out and not getting the feedback off people you get when you are doing a gig so I can’t wait and I cross my fingers that we are going to be able to do it.
Before Doves, you were Sub Sub and had a massive hit with the club anthem ‘Ain’t No Love (Ain’t No Use)’. How did you find the transition musically from that to the first Doves album Lost Souls?
AW: It wasn’t an overnight thing; we had got bored of huddling around a keyboard and sampler. We grew up around more traditional rock bands, and we missed that part of playing. If you check out some of the later Sub Sub stuff, you will see we had already started that transition. We did a track with Tricky and did a track with Bernard Sumner from New Order, and if you listen to those songs, we had started with more of a band sound and playing again.
It’s well known towards the end of Sub Sub; our studio went on fire, and we wanted a fresh start after that. Yeah musically we were worried if people would take us seriously, but you’ve just got to follow your gut instinct with these things. We spent years perfecting the first Doves record so as long as the music stands up, no one can touch us, and we would get away with it, and we did.
It was a giant leap for people who had heard ‘Ain’t No Love (Ain’t No Use)’. I have always been very thankful for that song because it bought us a lot of years. We were on an indie deal with Rob Gretton, and we got half of that back when singles sold, and that enabled us to buy a studio which gave us a lot of time to develop our songs. Doves definitely wouldn’t have happened without that song, so I’m forever grateful for how well the song did for us because it did enable us not to have to get proper jobs and start the process for changing into Doves.
Would you have continued with Black Rivers if Doves had not gotten back together?
AW: Yeah, we were starting a second album for Black Rivers so that was the plan. In fact, a couple of the Black Rivers songs did make it on to the new Doves album. I would always be doing something with music – I’m always writing or recording; it’s just what I do and what we do. I’m unemployable in other areas you know?
Is The Universal Want the beginning of a new era for Doves?
AW: I hope so yeah, I feel we have got more new music in us still definitely, I do not try and plan too far ahead. The album is coming out on the 11th September and then the tour in March 2021, so I can’t see past that, but there is a desire within the band to make more music. We have not sat down and discussed it, but we all feel there’s new music in us definitely!
Doves recently announced an extensive tour for next year, where Forest House and previously released tracks from the forthcoming record, both Carousels and Prisoners, will be aired, alongside cherished Doves classics. The full list of dates announced so far for The Universal Want 2021 UK & Ireland Tour are as follows:
Sun 21 Mar Cardiff, University Great Hall
Mon 22 Mar Bournemouth, O2 Academy
Tue 23 Mar Norwich, UEA
Thu 25 Mar Brighton, Brighton Dome
Fri 26 Mar London, O2 Academy Brixton
Sat 27 Mar London, O2 Academy Brixton
Mon 29 Mar Bristol, O2 Academy
Tue 30 Mar Birmingham, O2 Academy
Thu 1 Apr Manchester, O2 Apollo – SOLD OUT
Fri 2 Apr Nottingham, Rock City
Sat 3 Apr Newcastle, O2 Academy
Mon 5 Apr Liverpool, Eventim Olympia
Tue 6 Apr Dublin, Olympia
Wed 7 Apr Belfast, Limelight
Fri 9 Apr Sheffield, O2 Academy
Sat 10 Apr Glasgow, Barrowland – SOLD OUT
Sat 11 Apr Glasgow, Barrowland