‘See You See Me’ the fantastic third studio album from The Dowling Poole is released this week. To mark the occasion, we got Johnny Hayward to dust off his notebook and vintage 70s Bush cassette recorder and sent him off to chat with the men behind the record, namely Willie Dowling and Jon Poole.
Hi guys thanks for chatting with me today. I just wanted to start by saying that I think the new album ‘See You See Me’ really is a fantastic album. How do you feel it’s turned out?
Willie Dowling: “Very happy that you like it. I’ve always felt that if you don’t think the latest thing you’ve done is your best work, then you probably shouldn’t release it… (with the obvious exclusions of live albums etc.) Invariably once a record is mastered and on CD, I won’t listen to that album for a while, sometimes years. It’s only after some time, with a bit of objective distance, that I can begin to evaluate an album’s merits and its weaknesses.”
Jon Poole: “Whenever we go into a creative burst of recording I don’t think we ever go into it with any master plan and with this album we weren’t even sure if we were recording an album as such. We were just recording songs as quickly as they came with no preconceived idea of what we’d do with the recordings. It did become apparent as we progressed with these recordings that they were starting to form an album-shaped pattern and it also became apparent that we both had no desire to create a carbon copy of what we’d done before and that we wanted to go places we hadn’t previously. But then maybe subconsciously that’s what we set out to do in the first place when we first became a band. I think, like Willie, I’ll be able to make more sense of it a few years down the line but I do know I’m very happy with where we are at this moment in time and I’m very proud of this album.”
It’s been four long years since your second album ‘One Hyde Park’, why did this one take so long, and what were you up to in-between?
Willie Dowling: “Is it four years? That does seem a long time. That said, churning out indifferent records with only one or two decent songs, just to boast about a remarkable annual output, seems counterproductive to me. We do have the issue that we live very far apart and it is always tricky to find times when we are both free to work together. I don’t think that we work particularly slowly but it does take a long time and a great deal of effort to be sure that every last detail of a song is working the way it was intended. Our songs tend to be very carefully constructed so that every listen reveals another layer of something that might have been missed before. Very often that means that we might review a song at some point, decide its not quite doing something or other and then start deconstructing and putting it back together again until we’re happy.”
Jon Poole: “Four years…fucking hell. But as Willie says, it’s not so much the rate we record at that takes all the time but more how long we spend on the mix, ensuring our intentions are realised effectively and as clearly as possible.
In some ways the geographical hurdles probably force us to switch off in between the bursts of work and to come back with a fresher approach each time we do. That’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it!”
Over the years I’ve seen you play in your own outfits like Jackdaw4 and God Damn Whores but I was wondering what influences/inspires you guys to write in the direction you do under The Dowling Poole banner? I mean it’s a long way removed from what people may be aware of you doing in those bands.
Willie Dowling: “Personally, I don’t really see a huge world of difference between my half of the contribution to The Dowling Poole and Jackdaw4. Jon may feel differently but of all the bands we’ve been in individually over the years, the closest to The Dowling Poole would probably be Jackdaw4. The difference would be in the brilliance of the songs that Jon writes, which means that I have to work that bit harder than I did with Jackdaw4 in a vain attempt to impress him with my songs in the same way he continually impresses me.”
Jon Poole: “Yeah, I’d agree that on the surface the jump from Jackdaw4 to The Dowling Poole would probably seem less of a drastic change of direction than say The God Damn Whores to The Dowling Poole, but speaking purely from my own perspective I don’t feel I’m writing to order with this stuff. You could say I was writing stuff that could be perceived as ‘more our sort of thing’ alongside the other stuff I was doing back then. For instance ‘Rebecca Receiving’ from our second album started out as an idea that dates back to 1999 but of course once Willie and myself worked together on it we came up with something ‘other’ which is the great thing about finally finding the songwriting/recording partner I wish I’d met many years earlier. Now, third album in, the fun is in trying to push ourselves further. We’ll never be 100% satisfied with every aspect of our stuff and that’s what drives us. The day we are will be the day we jack it all in… or ‘off’.”
The new record contains a real mish-mash of genres (even more so I think than the albums that preceded it) yet you still manage to bring it all together into your own unique vision. ‘Keeping The Stupid Stupid’ and ‘The Product’ being two classic examples. How do you do this?
Willie Dowling: “I’m always afraid that if I think too hard about this kind of question, I’d lose the ability to do it. I agree we have a far broader range of audible influences throughout our albums but equally, I hope they’re not too disparate. Whichever musical avenue we choose to disappear down and flirt with, I hope (and believe) we always sound like ‘us’.”
Jon Poole: “I think playing around with other sounds and directions certainly keeps it fresh for us and I’d certainly say that the beauty of a lot of my favourite bands is in the fact that they continue to push boundaries with ever-progressing ideas of sound and structure. But as far as ‘our vision’ goes, even with the experimentation, I feel like we’d never be able to dilute the essence of what/who we are…even if we wanted to. It’s all ‘our stuff’ in the end isn’t it?”
Lyrically too there aren’t many songs that reference ‘zero hours contracts’, what do you guys say to people who think rock music should stay away from politics… however subliminal the message?
Willie Dowling: “I generally say ‘fuck off’. I don’t tell others how to do their job, (actually, I do, all the time, but that’s hypocrisy for you) please don’t tell me how to do mine. It’s fine if you don’t like how we sound or what we have to say. Go find something that pleases you. But everything in life is politics in one form or another. Don’t confuse that with thinking that I mean British party politics. That’s a whole different issue. (but even so, not one I would necessarily shy away from). Look – none of our songs overtly say ‘go out and vote Green or Tory or whatever’, but it would be fairly obvious to most that I’m to the very left side of conventional politics. Song writing about anything other than love – in the usual mundane way that it’s written about – is usually the songwriter expressing a point of view in some way. How could that be anything other than a form of ‘the political’?”
Jon Poole: “There’s also that juxtaposition of paisley-tinted, loved-up poptones where underneath lurks the grim voice of doom. I’ve always been into that. The happiest tune accompanied by desperately sad lyrics or vice-versa. You only have to look at what’s going on in the world with the rise of technology and the decline of common sense to see there’s plenty of material out there to write about. There’s gotta be a few albums in that surely?”
You’ve previously played live shows as The Dowling Poole, any plans to play more around ‘See You, See Me’? I hear Crowded House are touring the UK in June, that would be a great audience for you guys, don’t you think?
Willie Dowling: “That would be absolutely perfect for us. We’d love to do a support tour like that. Any ideas how we might get it?” (laughing)
Jon Poole: “Yeah and when we’ve done that can you get us on Jools Holland?”
Is there anyone out there you guys would drop everything for and love to tour with?
Willie Dowling: “Yes. Far too many to mention. Crowded House are a good start. Fuck me, anyone that would put us in front of an appreciative audience and I’d be there.”
Jon Poole: “Andy Partridge and Robyn Hitchcock are doing stuff together now aren’t they? I think we should organise a tour together then play in each other’s bands!”
Willie, I have to ask what you now feel looking back at that appearance The Grip did on ECT, and at the time did you ever think your music would be so widely heard on TV all these years later?
Willie Dowling: “TV music is a very different thing to The Dowling Poole and I do less and less these days because often it comes with so many constraints and is therefore far less rewarding than The Dowling Poole. Although I’d love to do something for TV or film with Jon if the right project came up.”
Jon Poole: My favourite cereal is actually Muesli.
You have obviously both worked with The Wildhearts over the years, what’s the single biggest thing you’ve taken away from your experiences of working with Ginger and Co?
Willie Dowling: “Mine would be Jon Poole.”
Jon Poole: “I have put on two stone in weight to be fair.” (laughing)
Getting back to the here and now, ‘See You See Me’ is out on Feb 28th on CD and digital download, but can we also expect to see it in the likes of HMV?
Willie Dowling: “We have distribution via Cargo Records, so the album should be available in HMV and other record shops.”
Jon Poole: “I tried to plant copies of our last album in HMV in Cardiff and the girl who works there recognised me and felt really sorry for me so took me into the office at the back of the shop and made me tea whilst I cried for a bit.
Then she let me go… eventually.” (laughing)
Just to finish things off an old colleague of mine (back in our Uber Rock days) once asked Rich Robinson (of the Black Crowes) the ‘would you rather fight a horse-sized duck or 100 duck-sized horses?’ question that was doing the round back then and was met with a total silence in response. What do you guys think of musicians who take themselves that seriously that they can’t be bothered to enter the duck/horse debate?
Willie Dowling: “I’m with Robinson. I don’t understand the question? It presupposes that I would have a preference for one or the other, or indeed any interest in a physical confrontation? What have either party done that so offends me I’d be inclined to fight them? Mind you, I’m notorious for having absolutely no sense of humour. Jon enjoys laughing. I may have laughed once but it was at someone else’s expense and not something I’m proud of.”
Jon Poole: “Could I go back to being friends with the duck-horses after the fight? I think I’d like the mini duck-horses. Can you buy them? Where can I get some? Do I have to buy 100? What was the question?”
Finally, I just wanted to wish you all the best with ‘See You, See Me’ and thank you for taking the time to chat with RPM.
Willie Dowling: “Thank you, and thank you very much for your very kind album review.”
Jon Poole: “Yes, thank you very much for your kind words.”
You can order copies of ‘See You See Me’ directly from the band via the link below or as Willie says above you can pop along to your local HMV when its released on February 28th.