I spoke with Jessica Dobson, the singer, songwriter, and guitarist of Deep Sea Diver on August 8, 2014. After years of an unfruitful relationship with major label Atlantic Records, she forged out on her own and began a full-on band: Deep Sea Diver. Prior to 2014, the band released an EP (New Caves ) and a full length (History Speaks ). The band, Jessica & Peter Mansen (drums), are back with a 4-song EP entitled Always Waiting and a few new faces: Garrett Gue (bass) & Elliot Jackson (guitar). This is my conversation with Jessica about the release, their upcoming sophomore full length, and her run-in with latenight host Conan O’Brian.
Stream/purchase the EP at Bandcamp.
Hi Jessica – long time no talk! Have you had any fun adventures this summer?
Jessica Dobson: Peter and I are actually on our way to The Gorge [Amphitheater] to see The Antlers and Arcade Fire. We’re filling up gas in the car right now [laughs]. I never use my ear piece but today I’ve got two interviews. I haven’t seen Arcade Fire in almost 9 years. They played the Casbah in San Diego and I saw them with only 150 people. They had this small tour booked before they blew up and the energy was unreal. The Gorge is an insane outdoor amphitheater. It’s like Red Rocks.
UMH: Oh yeah; I’ve seen pictures of concerts there before and I could imagine seeing any show there would be amazing but this bill will be unreal.
The band has changed members but the obvious constant would be Peter. Has the relationship evolved much within the band dynamic since then?
Jessica: Not much has changed since the last time we spoke in regards to the dynamic of being in a band and being married. It don’t think it ever gets easier but I would say that since History Speaks, there is even more collaboration with sparking songs. It’s a lot more equal on that front. When he sparks something, there is no stopping him. If I don’t finish the song, he is on me every day asking “is it done? – how are lyrics?”
So you announced a new EP this week. Can you tell me a little bit about it as a whole and the 4 songs that are on it?
Jessica: It’s kind of a throwback to my earlier singer-songwriter days like ‘Juno Song’ and ‘All Chalked Up.’ ‘All Chalked Up’ is a song that’s been laying around for years that was never properly recorded. ‘Juno Song’ was actually going to make it on to History Speaks but it never got finished. We recorded both of those songs at a place called Freemont Abbey. It’s an art center that gets rented out. It has an amazing room upstairs where the reverb is beautiful. We really wanted to go on location and record those two songs. I’m not really a big fan of putting on digital reverb when you want a room sound. Those two have their own aesthetic and the other two songs on the EP I think represent more of where we are going. ‘Always Waiting’ is the big, powerful ballad of the EP.
I think people will be really surprised to hear how our newest band member Garrett Gue’s, who plays bass for us now, voice contributes to the songs. He has a couple sweet powerhouse hooks like in ‘Always Waiting.’ His bassline is extremely memorable.
We’ve been able to maintain the quirky side of the way we write ballads and pop music but it does seem like it’s always stepping forward into new territory for us. The EP is a nice, well rounded hint to and throwback to where I came from.
UMH: I’ve been waiting for a studio version of ‘All Chalked Up’ for what seems like ever now! I’m extremely excited to hear that.
Jessica: I know! A lot of people have messaged me about that song. There is a recording from Daytrotter but I think that’s it.
Will all of these songs be exclusive to the EP or will they find their way onto the full length?
Jessica: It’s undecided as to whether we’re going to put a couple of the songs on the record also. We have an alternate version of ‘Always Waiting’ for the record. I think it’s going to fit perfectly. I’ve never done that – have an alternate version of a song on a record. I remember that Björk had two versions of ‘All is Full of Love.’ It’s very special if you can pull it off.
UMH: I really love the idea.
Jessica: Yeah, I think fans are going to dig it. I can’t decide which is my favorite!
You’ve played with several national acts (Beck, The Shins, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Conor Oberst) as a touring musician. Are you still actively working with anyone or have plans to?
Jessica: The last thing I did was with The Shins. It’s been almost 2 years. I’ve done one-off things like with Britt [Daniels, of Spoon] in Divine Splits. Things that don’t take up a lot of time but that I love doing. I don’t ever want to stop things like recording on people’s records or doing things live. I don’t foresee doing anything like a national tour with a band that isn’t my own. It would be going backwards for us after putting out a record and gearing up for a second record plus an EP. I really want next year to be dedicated to touring as much as possible. Going to Europe for the first time! It’s now or never.
UMH: I’m super excited to hear that!
Jessica: Yeah, me too. To not be limited to working with another band and their schedule and instead doing whatever we want. I’m super appreciative of my friends in The Shins and other people. I wouldn’t take that back for anything.
Going back for a second; you played with the Divine Fits on Conan, correct?
Jessica: Yeah. They’d released a couple new singles. I actually saw Conan in Seattle shortly thereafter at a burger joint. It was sweet because Conan is a total gear head [laughs]. It wasn’t like he recognized me right off the bat, ya know. Out of the thousands of people that go on the show. I introduced myself and I think he remembered me once I said I was the one with the Elvis Costello Jazzmaster.
UMH: I’m not a gear head at all but I love listening to others who are. You hit one topic and can just go for hours! [both laugh]
You are one of my favorite females in contemporary music but I was wondering: who are some women you look up to?
Jessica: Absolutely! I’ve always been a fan of Annie Clark of St. Vincent. I appreciate her ass-kicking on guitar and her songwriting. It’s so cool that she’s gone this David Bowie route of morphing into this character with her outfits and choreography on stage. Love it or hate it; I think it’s pretty bad-ass.
UMH: She is amazing on stage. My wife and I went to see her earlier this year. I was a fan of the music beforehand but she absolutely blew us with her live performance. She destroyed it.
Jessica: Speaking of destroying, Janelle Monáe was one of my, actually, all-time favorite concerts. She puts such a work ethic into her show. She’s like a little Michael Jackson; dancing the whole time while singing. She commands the audience! There aren’t many people that curate their shows as heavily as she does and make everyone feel special and unique for coming. I think she is a powerhouse.
UMH: There is so much more to her than the music. She creates an entire world and story around her. Annie does the same thing and it takes someone special to pull that off.
Jessica: There’s a common thread going on here. Let’s see… other women who are “all in.” You were talking about how she created, in her albums, a character for herself. I can’t remember what she calls them. They’re not drones…
UMH: They’re archandroids, right?
Jessica: Yeah, that’s it. Both her and Annie have done that David Bowie/Ziggy Stardust thing.
Björk has been a huge inspiration. I listened to her a lot in my late teens and early 20’s. Her vocal melodies will always be an inspiration to mine. Her higher, sustained vocals. Her collaboration with Dirty Projectors was pretty rad.
UMH: That collab with Dirty Projectors was great.
I was debating how to approach the topic of women in rock because I feel like even highlighting it can create a dichotomy between male and female musicians. I remember listening to an interview where Annie [Clark] answered the question of “how does it feel to be a women in music” by saying “the only difference is that you get asked ‘how does it feel to be a women in music’”. Do you feel it is a relevant issue?
Jessica: There are offensive ways to bring that question up. Asking “how does it feel to be in this minority…” – basically it’s saying it’s weird that women can play as well as men which is not the right way to bring it up. But “how does it feel to be in a vocation where…” it being a common known fact, that not as many women are fronting a band. I don’t think that’s a bad question to ask. For me, same as Annie, I don’t think about it a lot because I was raised in a way where I didn’t set out to be the best female guitarist or best female songwriter, I just wanted to be a songwriter. I learned who I learned from so I don’t see it as an isolated thing.
UMH: I think one positive way to answer the question is make it clear that it’s not an issue. You made a great point; you don’t want to make it sounds as if you are congratulating someone because they accomplished something in spite of who they are.
You mentioned you are working on a new full length. How far along are you?
Jessica: We’re in the thick of it. Just did six days in LA doing most of the basics and now the pressure is on for me to finish lyrics and doing some final arrangements. I’m really excited because Garrett arranged some horns and strings for the record. We’ve never had anyone in the band who did that. It’s great because we didn’t have to hire someone you don’t know so now we got to have our hands in the process. We’re hoping to have it finished in the next month and a half.
Have you set any deadlines for yourself?
Jessica: At this point, we’re basically planning a self-release unless a label steps in and we agree that’s a good idea. The plan is early February or March of 2015.
UMH: History Speaks came out in February of 2012, correct?
Jessica: Yeah. I didn’t want to wait that long but it just turned out that way.
UMH: I was talking with Seth Roberts from Lakes recently and we were talking about how long the process of a record can be. He had the approach of coming to the music when the passion was there rather than rush things out.
Jessica: I understand that. It’s a very delicate balance of not rushing it but also not letting the pen go dry. It’s not fun to feel the external pressure of someone else or even your internal voice. That can be a very condemning voice.
I asked on social media a few days ago about vinyl for the new album. How do you feel about the vinyl resurgence that’s upswelled in that last few years?
Jessica: We really did go back and forth between digital and vinyl. We really wanted to do vinyl but we weren’t sure if it was worth it for an EP. A lot of people have requested it though. We are definitely going to do it for the record though.
UMH: I think it would be smart to wait until after the record so there is more build up around the EP also.
Jessica: Once the EP is out, we can get the ball rolling on maybe doing a really limited vinyl run.
Do you and Peter collect vinyl personally?
Jessica: I wouldn’t say I’m a collector but I buy mostly all of the albums I want to purchase on vinyl. I don’t think I have collectors status yet because I don’t own a lot of 7” or special-edition items. I really love, love, love vinyl. I’m hoping to upgrade to a nicer turntable and speakers in the year or so because it does matter. Everyone, including me, listens to music on our laptop or bluetooth speaker and its sounds terrible.