Even though people keep inventing pretty specific musical categories, it would take a pretty devious term-smith to convince anyone that Dosh is of a type. Minneapolis drummer, keyboard player, and loop-wizard Martin Dosh puts out his records on a hip-hop label, Anticon, and his sly polyrhythms and distinct Fender Rhodes sound work a seam between jazz and electronic experiments. Dosh albums are both intensely solo and intensely collaborative: More than a dozen players, from sax player and multi-instrumentalist Mike Lewis (Dosh's main musical partner) to Andrew Bird, contribute to Dosh's fifth album, Tommy, due out April 13. Named for Tom Cesario, a close friend and sound engineer who died in 2008, Tommy breaks up the bubbling canopy of keyboards that dominated 2006's great The Lost Take and 2008's Wolves And Wishes. From the fuzzy stroll of "Airlift" to the guitar chords that pound "Gare De Lyon" to a close, it proves how many different sounds and elements the songs can incorporate while still sounding undoubtedly like Dosh. Onstage, Dosh wrangles his own live instrumental parts (and a considerable pile of gear) with loops and compositional layers. Before heading out on a solo tour opening for Twin Cities rap duo Eyedea And Abilities, which comes to the High Noon Saloon on Saturday, Feb. 20, Dosh spoke to The A.V. Club about making the new record and playing for hip-hop crowds.
The A.V. Club: What did you try to do differently on the new record?
Martin Dosh: With the exception of the first tune, which maybe sounds a little more like some of the stuff from the last two records, there's more vocals on everything. Not necessarily me singing words, but there's more vocals from myself and other people. There's a lot of guitar on it. There's a lot of bass. There hasn't been a lot of bass on many Dosh records. This is the first one that's got dedicated low end on every tune. The building blocks of the tunes on the last two records were these arpeggiated sequences and stuff like that. This one, the building blocks are either a drum beat or a loop or something that wasn't necessarily an arpeggiated keyboard.
AVC: On the last two albums, there are vocal parts that just become part of the mix. Did you want to make them more prominent this time?
MD: There's one tune I'm singing on, "Yer Face," and I guess it's probably the closest to a pop song I've ever done. Initially I wanted to have the vocals sort of buried, sort of part of the whole thing. But the guy who was mixing it was like, "No, you gotta crank those things." So we turned the vocals up. I guess it's just a little strange hearing myself sing, and not wanting to have to do that in front of people.
AVC: The Bonnie "Prince" Billy vocal on "Bury The Ghost," from Wolves And Wishes, gave the song a completely different character than it would have had otherwise. Did you expect it to turn out that way?
MD: I sent him a track and he said, "I don't really know how to approach this." I was just like, "Well, do what everybody else does and improvise four tracks over the whole thing and send it to me and I'll sort it out." One track he's wailing at the top of his lungs, one track he's just kind of doing the low moaning stuff. It was just a matter of going into that and picking out the things that suited different parts of the song.
AVC: You played a special show at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis in 2008, and all these screens showed you at work from different angles. Do you like for people to be able to dissect your music and see how you're putting it together?
MD: Ideally, sure. I don't want just the technical aspect of what I'm doing to be forefront, because I like the music to be there too. But I like the fact that I'm not just sitting onstage and queuing it up with a laptop. That whole thing, it's basically bringing my studio on tour with me and making music the same way that I make it in the basement. For that Walker show, with all the screens, that was the show of a lifetime. I think it is valuable for people to see what I'm doing and get it in that level too, but I've read stuff on the Internet too, on some of the videos I've posted, that people don't think it's real, that I'm lip-synching or play-synching to a track that's already there, which is totally not true. To put some of that to rest, I guess it would be kind of cool to have that, but whatever.
AVC: How often have you toured with hip-hop artists? Do you get mixed reactions from rap crowds night to night?
MD: I toured with Why? back in 2003. I did a tour with Sole and Pedestrian back in 2005. I've done some shows with P.O.S. in Minneapolis. Many, many years ago, I did some shows with Atmosphere, before they were even really Atmosphere. But that was 1997, I guess. I've never really done a hip-hop tour that wasn't Anticon. I'm pretty certain there's gonna be some shows in this tour where I'm playing my set and somebody's gonna be like, "Play some music!" or some idiotic crap. I'm kind of prepared for that to happen, but I think that I have enough of an audience, too, that people will come out to see me play a solo set.
AVC: You named the record after your friend Tom Cesario, which obviously puts an important personal touch on it.
MD: All the music and song titles always wind up being sort of related to things that are in my life. It's kind of funny, because it's obviously a very famous Who record, but I think my friend who died probably would have gotten a pretty big kick out of the fact that I named it Tommy. He would probably be laughing the loudest about that.