Jennifer Pickrell

YA Writer


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Interview with James Houlahan of Dogs on Television

Some questions about the band, then a few about James:

My first question was going to be “Where did the band name come from” because I’ve been curious since I first saw it.  But…I see that you’ve already answered that question for Boston Band Crush, so I’ll tweak my question a bit:

     1. The inspiration for the band name came from some funny headings – have any songs or lines from songs also been inspired in a similar manner?

No, I don’t think so…song lyrics tend to occur pretty spontaneously.  They sorta pop like fireworks in my head.  I rarely am consciously thinking of a phrase or group of words I saw elsewhere.  I’m sure that stuff goes on unconsciously, but I am not at liberty to comment on the workings of my unconscious mind!  Seriously though, sometimes I notice things after the fact.  Like, there might be a lyric or a picture that seems somewhat familiar in retrospect.  But I also don’t dwell on stuff like that.  I’d rather focus on the next song I am writing.

     2. (2-parter) Tell me how the band came to be.  And, each of you had different musical backgrounds/tastes, so how did you go about finding a sound that meshed well with all the band members? 

The band came to be because I really needed an outlet for crazy loud electric energy, and also because I had a couple of songs (Start a Fire, The Jailer) left over from my old band.  And I knew I needed to record these with a band.  I needed to have a kind of interpersonal energy going on, to capture the potential of those tunes.  So I Craigslisted for a drummer first, and met Brian Arnold.  We jammed for awhile and even considered just being a duo.  But I found that kind of limiting so Brian brought his friend, Sam Sanders, in on bass.  Sam brought a great, funky energy to the project.  Plus he’s not afraid to play dirty, distorted bass sounds too, so he’s very versatile.  Unfortunately, Brian had to leave the band shortly after the record came out.  But, fortunately, very fortunately, we were able, a few months ago, to recruit Andrew Allen on drums.  He brings an inventive, expansive energy to our sound.  I am very excited of where the sound of the band can now go.

In terms of the overall sound, it’s a pretty loose affair, technically speaking.  I really dig bands where the goal is to play your heart out, to really shoot for the moon with every song.  Sure, there’s a mistake now and again.  But as long as we all focus, and listen to each other, and put every ounce of our heart into each song, we can’t really go wrong.

     3. Is it really true that DoTV played its first live show without ever having practiced together? 

Totally false.  But that makes for a great story.  I hope people continue to believe it!  Ha ha!

       4. I’ve been reading reviews of the CD and of your lives shows – I’m pretty sure every single one mentions a “blues” sound.  Had you thought of the band as being bluesy before or was this a description that surprised you all?  How would you define your sound? 

Before you answer, I’ll throw down my two cents: My first thought was that whole crunchy guitar, wailing vocals, rockin’ out sound from the 1960’s – very pure and about the music.  Even with the slower songs, there’s a definite “fullness” to the sound, sorta Bruce Springsteen + E-Street band-ish, where it’s about playing awesome live shows.  I could listen to “I’ll See You” over and over again.  Well, I am listening to it over and over again…     

Well, blues is everywhere.  Blues is behind almost all American music.  It’s the great river of sound from which flows the ocean of all jazz, R&B, soul, and rock music.  It’s a sound I am comfortable playing, but DoTV is very far from being a blues band.  We definitely incorporate bluesy sounds and styles, like the Black Keys for example, but we are playing rock music.  I understand why a critic would call us out as “bluesy,” because they need to classify our sound.  We’re definitely not “jazzy,” as a counterpoint.  But if I had to describe us, I would say we are a garage rock band.  In that sound, there’s blues, but there’s also some sonic novelty and more experimental kind of stuff going on.

I like your two cents…we are definitely shooting for a full sound.  And we do try to bring a live energy to any recording we make!

      5. While doing research, I came across “Notes on a Record,” which documents an album from the very beginning, all the way up to the release party.  What made you decide to blog about the behind-the-scenes aspect of making the album?

That’s something I started when recording my solo record, “Seven Years Now.”  There were just all these amazing details about the process.  I thought people should know.  It’s incredible how sounds can just be captured in the air, stirred together, and frozen on plastic.  I needed to write about how that happens.

      6. You CD release party was in June – did it feel like just another show or was there an added energy?  I know you all play at a lot of Boston-area venues and I’ve never been to Boston (or even Massachusetts), so I’ve gotta ask – how are the music fans up there?

Boston is a great music town.  It’s small, for a city, but there is a ton of stuff going on relative to its size.  There are a million bands and people do go out to shows.  Everybody’s got their favorite band or club.  There’s always buzz and chatter about who’s hot, etc.  And it’s always great to see a full room!

Our release show was amazing.  We had some great bands on the bill, like Blackbutton, Jaxon Boom, and Mikey P, to help us out.  And we had a great set, I thought.  We were joined by Stephen Konrads of Sleepy Very Sleepy on keys during our set.  We made some crazy sounds!  It was a sweaty, blissful, high-energy evening.  Definitely a very special show.  And we were so grateful that so many people came out!

      7. Your original drummer moved shortly after the release of the record, but you’ve found a replacement.  I was reading the answer you gave to Boston Band Crush (before you’d found Andrew) and you mentioned that you were looking at the situation as an opportunity to change the sound of the band.  I know you didn’t mean overall, but what types of musical changes have you made as you adjust to your new drummer and he adjusts to the band?

Well, drums are pretty much the most important part of any band, I think, in terms of the sound.  They totally set the pace, not only in terms of rhythm but in terms of feel and the sort of wider aesthetic vibe that begins to coalesce around any given band.  How they hit, what they hit, when they hit.  It’s a lot of information for the ear!  We’ve only had one gig together so far, but I think Andrew’s style opens up a number of doors for us, musically.  He’s already voiced his preference for a song where we change the time signature, at least once.  Dogs go Prog.  Ha ha!  I guess I am willing to try anything once.

     8. What’s next for DoTV?

Other than multiple time signatures?  Ha ha, just kidding.  Well, we’d like to try playing in some rooms where we’ve not played yet, with some bands we are into…  For example last weekend, I did a solo set, sharing the bill with The New Highway Hymnal.  Their set totally blew me away!  They are amazing.  So I’d like to do a show with them plus DoTV.

I’m plugging away with the record.  We just got a great review in The Noise for it, and I am hopeful some more will come our way.

Musically, I hope to be able to get more comfortable developing the electronics in our sound.  In other words, using loops and other such sonic weirdness to add texture, layers.  Sorta like sonic alchemy.  There is a lot of room to grow in that direction, as long as the songs are strong and the band is tight.  Which I am confident both will be.  And there is a possibility, if we found the right player, we could add a keyboard player or some kind of multi-instrumentalist.  So I guess the future is wide open.  It’s also bright.  So bright, I have to wear shades.  Ha ha!

A few questions about James:

     9. You work in publishing and you’re a songwriter so I’m gonna take a guess and say that you love the written word.  I know that you became serious about song-writing in college – how do those earlier songs differ from the songs that you’re writing now?

I guess the main difference is nowadays I am much more convinced of who the narrator is in the song.  I should say right away it’s never been me, really.  The narrator, that is.  Back when I started I was just never very sure where the song was coming from.  I could never really describe the figurative “voice” behind the words.  Now when I write I get much clearer pictures in my head.  It’s like characters are beginning to develop, and more of their lives are becoming clearer to me.  I still write an occasional song in a more unconscious manner, where I am pulling a lot of linguistic hi-jinx.  But messing with language for its own sake is no longer as important to me as beginning to hint at stories, faces, experiences that I see in my imagination.  I want to stress again that I don’t write confessional songs.  So this is all fiction for me.  But I think fiction can be just as true as reality, true in the sense of having undeniable meaning and expression.  For me anyway.  I guess that might sound a bit crazy…  Perhaps I live in my head too much.

     10. You’ve performed solo and with a band – how do solo performances compare to full-band “face-melting?”  I’ve had acoustic musicians tell me that there’s a certain vulnerability when it’s just you and your guitar up on stage.  Does having the band up there with you make you more likely to stray off a set-list or to try out a new song? 

No, actually I am more likely to try something on my own, playing solo…  With the band the idea is for all of us to come together, and to use what we make together to connect with the people listening.  When I am solo, there’s nobody else to listen to.  And that can be a little unnerving.  You could call it vulnerability.  You’re just out there, alone, dangling over a sea of chaos.  It’s important to focus, dig deep, and try to connect directly to the people in the room. So you no longer have the buffer that you have with the band.  You can’t hide behind the drum set.  You can’t yell (approvingly, of course) at the bass player.  It’s just you and a microphone.  So it’s an entirely different kind of focus, and strangely enough, it ultimately can be just as intense as rocking out with a band!

Check out more about James and the band:

Dogs on MySpace: http://www.myspace.com/dogsontelevision

Dogs on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Dogs-On-Television/116094025227

Buy the Dogs on Television CD here: http://www.cdbaby.com/cd/DogsonTelevision

James Houlahan: http://www.jameshoulahan.com/

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