Features

My DC: A Conversation with Dove Lady

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Photos by Mark Hoelscher

Dove Lady is composed of former co-workers, roommates, and good friends Jeremy Ray and A.J. Thawley, a dynamic two-person project who pride themselves on pushing their limits as musicians and “inhabiting the skin” of the genres that influence them. Since 2015, Dove Lady has rapidly, and sometimes feverishly, sought to release new music. They’ve produced four EPs and a full length, Onewhich was recorded and released this year, and recently came off a 12-day, 11-city tour. Ray and Thawley have no intention of slowing down, however, and plan to release two more EPs before the end of the year, the next installments of a 26 EP project (one for each letter of the alphabet). 

I met up with Dove Lady at their home (known as Kokomo, a DIY show space in Brookland) to talk about their recent escapades, their process and  Dennis Quaid. 

This interview has been edited for length and clarity. 

How long have the both of you been living at Kokomo? When did you move out to Brookland? 

JR: We moved to Tenleytown in June [of last year] and we moved here, to Kokomo, in September of 2016. 

How does living together as a band, as well as recording music (and then going on tour), affect your relationship? Do you guys ever worry you see too much of one another, or do you think it helps your craft?

AT: We have kind of opposite schedules, so we don’t see too much of each other, but it makes the time we are able to spend together much easier if we want to create something. We’re able to go downstairs… we have our practice space that serves as our music room of sorts. We can practice there, or just make noise and collaborate.

What do you like most about Kokomo, as well as the rest of the neighborhood? Would you say you draw inspiration from the space, or is it a shelter from the outside world?

JR: For me, it’s definitely a haven. I love living here cause it’s comfortable, my room is cozy and small. It’s just a great place to come back to from being out and it definitely inspires me sometimes. I’ve had some good days that I attribute to being in the right place in the right time. Also living in Brookland, all the houses have great gardens, so they do garden tours when everything’s blooming, which is great. You get to walk around and see flowers… it’s a special place for a lot of different reasons, for my mental sanity and emotional state. It’s good to come back here and regroup.

What else about the neighborhood do you enjoy, other than the residential living areas?

AT: So Brookland is one of the few places in D.C. that has a lot of long-standing local businesses, and I love that about the place. Down the street on 12th there’s Murry and Paul’s, and then Brookland Grill right across the street. Jeremy and I often have a discrepancy on which is better [laughs]. But ultimately it just feels like a neighborhood, it’s not wrapped in a lot of the craziness that happens when people are put out of their situation. Brookland is a place where you see the same people, and it’s not so much like walking into a Chipotle, even though there is a Chipotle down there. You get to know the people who are around, and I like that a lot because it makes me feel at home. Our neighbors always yell at us and ask, “how’s it going, how’s the music?”

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So you’d say the neighborhood is fairly receptive to you all hosting shows and playing music? There’s always that problem with DIY spaces and loud music, especially in residential areas. 

AT: Our neighbors, they really don’t mind us. And that’s part of what makes Kokomo really special, we’re able to do what we want to do. 

JR: They hardly hear us, too. There’s never been any noise complaints, really. All the people that we do know are really nice and cool. With the slight busy-ness of the street, and also people being unfortunately used to the firetrucks and ambulances, music is probably a little more pleasant than being reminded somebody’s hurt down the street. 

What was the inspiration of your band name? 

AT: So before living in D.C. we lived in Southern Maryland. We had friends who lived there and allowed us to stay there. That was our safe haven from a lot of crazy things that were going on. The owner of the house is our friend named Jessica Dove, and her nickname is Dove Lady. Because she offered us that safe haven, we named our band after her. She was just an inspiring person, a very influential person in us being able to do what we do now. That was two and a half to three years ago, when we started in on this whole thing,

You recently returned from a short, albeit packed, tour with Fond Han through the Northeast and some of Canada, hitting 11 cities in 12 days. These were some of the first shows following the release of One. What was it like to be on the road and playing so many shows, especially while trying to incorporate new music into your set?

JR: The tour was interesting and exciting. We were playing all this new material because the album had been done for a little while. It was exciting to go out there, play these songs and see people’s reactions. Generally it was all pretty good, and really good practice because we hadn’t played a lot of these songs live. [The songs] always kind of evolve when we play live, it was kind of like an exploration of these songs again. 

I read that towards the end of the tour that A.J. dislocated his shoulders, like both of his shoulders. 

JR: At the same time!

So how did you adapt as musicians to accommodate that injury? As a drummer I imagine that was much more difficult than if you were playing the keys or the guitar.

AT: A lot of what we do live is based on improvisation and feel, just to be able to do and feel comfortable with whatever we’re doing. So in that moment where I was physically strained, we did a lot quieter sets, and were able to adapt to that in a way that was more improvisational. We were playing the songs quieter, as Jeremy said, and we were exploring those songs a lot more and how they evolve in a live setting. We were able to do that much differently that if I didn’t get hurt, so it was an odd blessing, to be able to explore what is possible with something that is already set in stone as a recording. 

JR: We would just add more of a groove to our songs. I was thinking about how we would make these songs more grooving, kind of pulling from some more old school R&B influences, really just kind of feeling it out without trying to be too crazy. We always do our best to just have fun and not make it too much of a thing, we like playing all kinds of music. 

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Let’s talk about the album. A lot of the songs on One seem very stylistically different from one another, and some of them seem to almost change genres halfway through. How did your songwriting process affect the final product? Would you link two unrelated tunes into one or was it all a very deliberate choice? 

AT: During the process of writing One we were living in Tenleytown, sharing a basement where it was our two beds and our musical equipment in the same room. We were working the same job for a bit, so we would schedule ourselves so we could come home together at certain points and write the album. We would basically start with the question of, “what do you want to hear,” which is a question we still ask one another when we write new stuff. Even if it’s just saying something like, “let’s make a groove.” We just wanted to do whatever and feel comfortable with it. There’s no reason to write an entire album all in the same way because we draw our influences from so many different avenues. So why not crassly change a song from a blast beat to a smooth R&B tune? There’s no reason not to do it, so let’s just do it anyway. 

JR: A big part of writing the album was looking at what we’ve done so far and seeing how we can more or less do the opposite, or just something different. In particular with One, since we were going to be recording it with a friend as opposed to in our living room. We felt we had to do a bit more of an in-depth recording experience. I also told myself that I was going to use every one of my guitar pedals on each song in a different way, so I was wondering how I would do that without sounding like a pompous jerk. Most of the album was a back and forth between the two of us, and if it doesn’t suck, we keep going. 

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There’s a point on “Sunday” where the song transitions from being this wild lo-fi romp to very clean, almost psychedelic vocals. Was that part of the in-depth recording process you wanted?

JR: Yeah, that was all Stevie Wonder-inspired. A lot of the time he would double track his vocals with two mics next to each other. He does this thing where he gets really close to the microphone and just goes back and forth, creating an auto-pan kind of tremolo type of thing. So literally since I watched videos of the Stevie Wonder Band’s performances from ’72 I’ve doubletracked every vocal for like, the entirety of my life since then [laughs]. 

Your first four releases on Bandcamp are A, B, C, and D, in that order, so titling the LP One seems to intentionally set it apart from your past releases. Could you speak more to how or why One is separate from those first four EPs?  

AT: Well we’re doing five songs for each letter of the alphabet, and those are songs that we just release for free to the public via Bandcamp. One is just the beginning of our full-length releases, which are going to be albums that we put not necessarily more effort into, but more time. 

So your plan is to do an EP for each letter of the alphabet? That’s a pretty audacious project. It seems like you guys want to release as much music as possible and get it out there as soon as you can. 

JR: The project for the alphabet has always been a thing, like since we met we’ve talked about wanting to record as much music as possible and record as many different styles of music as possible. But ideally not just be a band in the skin of something else, like really taking the time to learn about other types of music that we love. Me and AJ are lucky in the sense that we don’t find it hard to write songs if we try. If I sit down and I say, “I’m going to write something today and it’s going to be dank,” that’s going to be really hard and I’ll just get mad and just be upset. A big part of our relationship and playing music together is just going for it, capturing a time. There’s always music happening, so when we play we just tune into this thing and kind of spit this stuff out. 

Also if we don’t do these 26 EPs then one of us has to shave our head like an alfalfa. It’s called the alfalfa bet. 

Do you have any additional performances slated for D.C. or elsewhere? What are Dove Lady’s plans for the rest of 2017 in terms of recording and performing?

JR: Our next show is with Yowler and Hovvdy at Comet. We’re hoping to also play Uptown Art House, with Jamal Gray, sometime in September. We’ve got some more songs we want to record, and we’re hoping to move on with the letters and record two more before the end of the year. Then it’s on to another album–we’re always writing and always playing so we’re kind of in the mode of asking ourselves, “what do you want to hear next?” 

As a final question, you posted on Facebook last year asking “What if Dennis Quaid played William Wallace in Braveheart?” So my question to you is, what if Dennis Quaid played William Wallace in Braveheart? 

AT: [laughing] It’d be like The Rookie, but the pitcher dies in the end. 

Listen to Dove Lady’s album, One, and catch them at Comet Ping Pong on Sept. 22.