The Dowling Poole have released their second album, ‘One Hyde Park’, another glorious collection of pop gems recalling greats such as XTC, the Kinks, ELO and the band’s own unique twist.
Here Jason Ritchie chats to Willie Dowling who gives a fascinating insight to machinations of the music industry and what fans can expect from their upcoming gigs in May…
Congratulations on the new album which has gone in at no.46 on the Indie albums chart and no.13 on the Indie breakers chart.
Yes I had heard that, although I am not quite sure what it means. There is a lot of smoke and mirrors in the music industry. You can guess which chart position I will go with. I honestly don’t know what the difference is, although one doesn’t have to be professor of music to know the Indie chart is a more accurate measure of success than the Indie breakers chart. We were in the chart last time with the ‘Bleak Strategies’ album.
Around the release of an album you get these fantastic reviews, the same thing used to happen with Jackdaw4. Took me all the way back to the years of the Grip. Kerrang! in those days would do a round-up of what bands to watch for in the coming year and we were featured for three or four years on the trot. This year will be the year of the Grip they said. Nothing seems to make a difference as far as I can tell. There is a tendency from the public when they read things like this that the band are bound to make it.
The only thing where these sort of things worked was with the Honeycrack experience. Things were happening for you in terms of reviews and radio, there was a whole machine behind you taking care of their individual units, for want of a better word, for the record label. They were there to follow through with it and make the most of the exposure. Outside of that capitalist way of how to market something, you rely on blind luck and being in the right place at the right time.
We can’t afford to take our full electric shows out for a long period as it loses money. There is frightening stuff out there Jase, you probably know more about this than I do. When I came to book these shows some venues wanted £300 deposit. Not a fee, a £300 deposit to put a gig on there.
Now with all the best will and press in the world the Dowling Poole are not going to pull in more than a 100 people outside of London. By the time you have looked at hiring a van, rehearsal, possibly a roadie and you’ve got petrol, Travel Lodges etc. It is such a money loser I don’t know how new bands do it. In my early days you were on the dole, it was a struggle and you cheated here and there to get through, but it was possible to be a band and make a living out of it. I don’t know how young bands do it nowadays.
This idea that there is a work ethic is utter bollocks. Every decision that one makes is very financially driven. If you or 19 or 20 years old, you have got to face paying a £300 deposit to a venue for no-one to come to. I sound very miserable don’t I? (laughs)
No you are right, you see it where bands have to a fee before they even start to look at promotion.
Pay to play has existed to some extent to during all my professional career and especially in the higher echelons of the music business. In our case with Honeycrack the record label put us on a support with Alannis Morrisette. Money doesn’t exchange hands in paper bags, it was illegal by then. However, they would make a contribution to advertising, sometimes huge contributions. £10-12k for a 3 to 4 week support tour was quite usual. The support band’s label would make that contribution, or bribe as I would call it. Even the press to some extent, as a new band you’d beg for a feature or even half a page. Journalists knew very well that new bands don’t sell copy, so the label would say I can give you an exclusive on the new Manic Street Preachers album and by the way can you give half a page to our new band Honeycrack?
It seems to me it is even more difficult now from a financial point of view. More so as it affects every area , no-one quite sees the full picture, we only see little glimpses through our little window. Once in a while one can see it, like hard copy sales of ‘Classic Rock’, ‘Uncut’ and ‘Mojo’ are way down on the glory days. Everybody struggles and you are less likely to take risks, more likely to put the flavour of month on the front cover than a new band gaining rave reviews.
How are you finding it after the new album has come out. You have the rave reviews and it must be frustrating that it doesn’t always mean extra fans through the doors at gigs?
My instinct is always to some extent to let people know the reality of it the music business. I think it can be extremely off putting to appear to be celebrating success and appear to be pouring damp water on it, rather like the way I am with you right now (laughs).
I have a tendency to focus on one area, in my case always about breaking the band. My successes have never come from that targeted field, they have always come from left of field. It is very good for the soul, that sort of thing.
For instance, on Spotify the track ‘Adam & Eve’ has been picked upon by various actors and I assume it is because it has got this sort of anti-theist, as opposed to atheist approach. It is not agnostic, more anti-religion and it has developed a life outside of where I was focusing which was on the single and the album.
Odd little anomalies pop-up like journalists liking it, radio stations playing the songs and I don’t know what to make of it. My tendency is to attempt to rationalise some order out of the chaos you are presented with.
My model of focusing everything on the album is slightly redundant now, it doesn’t work that way. Songs do have a life of their own. It takes us a long time to do an album due to the geography and so on, but we could have released it earlier as it was ready last September. However as we did it via the Pledge system we needed to strategize it, have a build up, videos, PR and a plugger in place for the radio. By the time this has been completed in January the release is back to April.
The whole focus has been about the album, possibly because of our age and the fact our fans prefer the physical formats. But we might do something different next year, rather than disappear for a year, maintain some kind of presence. Play more frequently and look to release more music, in the shape of work on three tracks, then release these and work on another three tracks to be released another few months later. We can release these in a physical format at a later date.
We would be meeting what the generation below us expect and a way to keep us on the map. That was the mistake with Jackdaw4 in that you disappear for a year and the goodwill you had built up goes, then you have to start all over again with the next album release. I would be curious to know what you think?
I agree with you that many bands now release a single or a couple of songs, then play a few dates or festivals. They can then collate these groups of songs for a physical release later. It must be cheaper to have online, downloads rather than CD with all the manufacturing costs.
Exactly. There are costs with physical copies and manufacturing. The gross made in the Pledge format would barely pay one person’s wage for six months and it is not enough for a band, but it is not unimpressive. I have a studio and certain equipment, it was television that made this possible and it had nothing to do if I was very good at it, more that I happened to wander into those circles. It did very well for me for a few years.
There is so much music and you can stream it or whatever.
Exactly. People keep trying to look for the single reason why the music industry is dying or changing. There is no single reason, it is the human condition, the Hindenburg thing you are the observer so hard to see the affect.
It is not just about downloads, not just about iPods, not just about the fact everyone can make music on their computers nowadays or that musicologists for the past ten years have been teaching people how to have the perfect pop hit.
It is all of these things plus a simple mathematical thing that people my age have a fifty year back catalogue of music we love and we still want to listen to them. It is true of most people my age why do we need new music? We wouldn’t seek it out in the same way and we have still got all these brilliant albums that we consider to be formative in our being. It is who we are.
There is a limit to how much new stuff you need, but why would you go look for it as you did as an 18 or 19 year old? Same as an 18 or 19 year old now music has such a far less significant effect on them as there are many other things for them. It is not that it is unimportant to them, it is just part of the background to their life rather than one of the most important things that defines you when I was that age.
Turning to the upcoming dates in May, is it a full electric set?
Well the issue there is that drummer suddenly couldn’t do it and we were faced with the very real prospect of doing these acoustically or we don’t do them. So it has meant a series of journeys back and forth to the UK to grab someone and try them out. I think we have found our man, a guy called Elliott Vaughn, who by coincidence did CJ’s (Wildheart) last tour.
The Wildhearts connection is still there then!
It is quite bizarre the way this happens, there is a little universe of Wildheart related issues. To one extent you find yourself struggling against it, then realising that there is nothing you can do because it is the truth. He has stepped in and saved the day.
We are doing these three electric shows and would you believe even after all these years I am quite nervous about. It has been a while. We did the ‘Marc Riley Show’ for BBC6 Music, but that is quite a controlled environment. This is something totally different and with sixteen songs someone, somewhere is going to be disappointed and ask ‘Oh why didn’t you do this one?’. That is a good thing isn’t it?
The acoustic way worked well, we did two lots of dates and we are looking at some more this year, at the end of June and July that are yet to be confirmed. The ambition is to do it electrically when we can but be fluid enough to do it acoustically if the opportunity comes up.
Message for you fans…
Thanks so much for keeping the faith and particularly when we badgered them quite hard over the past months to forward links to their friends, chat about us on Facebook and re-tweet us on Twitter. They did time and time again, I am eternally grateful for that. Every time I sent an email out I felt like we were hectoring them, it is a very fine line.
UK dates 2016
Thursday May 12th Iron Road, Evesham http://www.wegottickets.com/event/353169
Friday May 13th Esquires, Bedford http://www.seetickets.com/event/the-dowling-poole/bedford-esquires/966310
Saturday May 14th The Borderline London http://www.ticketweb.co.uk/event/YGB1405N
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