Creatively Satisfied

Martin Dosh's mad-scientist alchemy results in a compelling instrumental alloy

When Martin Dosh was a seventh-grader in Minneapolis, he used to DJ for his junior high school dances.

"I guess I had one of the better collections of music among my peers. I had a stereo, at least. I lugged my little double-cassette deck and vinyl player down there," says the now-35-year-old Dosh from the Minneapolis home he shares with his wife and two kids.

"I didn't do the whole dance. I would put on a song here and there. It wasn't like it was a continuous DJ mix or anything."

The point is that even at 12 years old, Dosh was trying to turn his friends on to cool music. Which, it might be argued, is what he is still doing today.

The four full-length albums Dosh has made under his name--the most recent of which is the acclaimed Wolves and Wishes, released last month--feature a jazz-inflected, mainly instrumental alloy of electronica and indie rock, built from live drumming and keyboards, samples and looping riffs.

The project known simply as Dosh will play Tuesday night, June 17, at Solar Culture Gallery, with opening act Anathallo, a well-regarded avant-garde rock band from Mount Pleasant, Mich.

Until last year, when Dosh performed live gigs under his own name, it was as a one-man band. He played everything himself, swiveling back and forth on his stool between a Fender Rhodes piano, his drum kit, various percussion instruments, samplers, effects and a looping pedal.

Tucson fans of Andrew Bird, a revered pop singer-songwriter and violinist, were the most recent local witnesses to Dosh's magic when he backed up Bird at the Rialto Theatre last year. (Dosh also has done at least three solo gigs in Tucson that he can remember. A live version of "Steve the Cat," tracked in Tucson, is included on Dosh's 2004 Naoise EP.)

Such mad-scientist alchemy is still part of Dosh's modus operandi, but since 2007, Dosh's performances have included musician Mike Lewis, who adds saxophone, bass and keyboards to the mix.

Dosh's recordings have mostly been released by the independent, primarily hip-hop-oriented label Anticon Records, causing some hip-hop purists to scoff.

Even though he doesn't feel a need to defend himself and doesn't claim to be a hard-core rapper, Dosh understands and appreciates the hip-hop approach to making music. It's about redefining the world around us by using tools at hand to create something new.

"I think the sort of aesthetics of hip-hop are close to what I am doing: looking back and referencing older music, rearranging it to make new beats, new perspectives.

"But instead of doing that by digging through old record stores, and using that stuff to create samples, I am making the samples myself, sometimes rummaging through the stuff, old cassettes and things, that I recorded to many years in the past, just looking for a different and new way to play something."

Indeed, it's plain that Dosh's passion for music began when he was a child. The son of a former priest and an almost-nun, Dosh says, "My dad really liked music. And my mother was always singing to me a lot when I was growing up. I would say that being sung to every day by my mother had lots of influence on me becoming a musician."

He can't remember the album's name, but he does recall the music with which he first became enamored.

"It was some old rockabilly record, a collection of different artists, I think. I have searched through my mom's basement and garage for this several times since then, too, but I can't find it. I remember it was when I was probably like 6 or 7, and I just played it constantly on this old portable record player I had.

"My grandpa had a bunch of cool old stuff, too, and I listened to a lot of that as well. He moved in to our house when I was about 8. One of his records that I used to always listen to was this Henry Mancini collection, a six-record set. I used to love to listen to the Pink Panther theme and 'Baby Elephant Walk.'"

He grew to fall in love over and over again, with Run-DMC, Prince, Devo, New Order and The Cars, among other acts.

"I sort of really got into music and listening to a lot of stuff when I was about 10, I guess, finding stuff I would like in the Top 40 and on FM radio. I would record stuff off the radio, you know, waiting around for the stuff I wanted to come on."

In the early 1980s, Top 40 didn't automatically mean the music was shit, as it so often does these days.

"Oh yeah, radio was a lot cooler then. I mean, the No. 1 song in any given week could have been 'Whip It' or 'When Doves Cry,' which was really amazing, having songs like that being the No. 1 song for weeks on end."

Dosh says musical values such as rhythm, melody, texture and environment all share equal significance in his music, but what is most important is that he likes it: "The main person I am trying to please when I make music is myself. I want to create something that I would listen to and something that I haven't heard before. That's what makes me feel creatively satisfied."

That's not to say that Dosh only wants to please himself with his music. He hopes it touches the audience in positive ways, too.

"Maybe as a result of hearing my music, some of them will feel the same way that I feel--connected to something larger than themselves. Hopefully, it will make them feel happy and involved intimately with life around them."

At the risk of invoking religion, one wonders if Dosh finds spiritual fulfillment in music.

He simply answers, "I would have to say yes to that."

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