I was recently watching a live performance of one of my favorite current bands, The Shins, and noticed at the taping of the show that they had a different guitarist/female vocalist. I immediately did a little research to find out just whom this talented guitarist and pretty lady was and found out her name is Jessica Dobson. Once a touring bassist with the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and Beck, she is now The Shins’ newest guitarist and backup vocalist (I know I’m a little behind the power curve on this one, I hadn’t seen a Shins live performance since their release of Port of Morrow). A little further research led me to her solo EP, New Caves, or snippets of it at least. I wanted more!
I got on youtube to see if I could find any video of the lovely Ms. Dobson and her Fender Jazzmaster and there I found her band Deep Sea Diver playing their tune You Go Running for a KEXP* show (posted below). I was immediately hooked and proceeded to their website and ordered their CD, History Speaks (imagine that, BUYING a CD!) and downloaded the free ZIP file that came with it so I could listen right away. I was highly impressed.
A little more research informed me that this album is self-published and pretty much handled entirely by Jessica and her husband, talented drummer for Deep Sea Diver Peter Mansen. Listening to this album is not the experience you would expect from a completely independent album. Sound quality and mixing is on par with any big-name label’s, which is what really surprised me during my first listen. A lot of independently released albums I’ve listened to sound more like demo tapes than EMI records. Jessica’s vocals are magical, especially since the album is made up of several piano and guitar ballads, mixed in with a couple pop-rock tunes like You Go Running and Keep it Moving. Peter Mansen is a talented drummer, though most of the drums on the album are pretty subtle with Jessica’s voice being the main feature. Watch the live version of You Go Running and you’ll see what I mean about Mansen’s drums.
Deep Sea Diver performing live for KEXP
The piano on History Speaks is enchanting and at the same time somewhat haunting, which fits well with Dobson’s vocals. Plain and simple, this album is put together very well, especially for a self-published one. The sound is incredible, the vocals and instrumentals in the slower tunes fit together perfectly, and the upbeat tunes are so catchy that I’ve watched live videos of them at least a dozen times in the past few days. I wasn’t kidding when I said I was immediately hooked.
Reading into Dobson’s history a bit, one will find that she was signed to Atlantic records at a young age and made two records with the company, both of which were scrapped due to some disagreements. It took a few years of regular early-20s day jobs for her to get back in her groove, taking an offer to play guitar on the road for Beck, and bass for the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. Producer Peter Elk helped her produce the New Caves EP, also released independently, which led to Deep Sea Diver and History Speaks. Earlier this year, she struck out on tour with The Shins for the first time, which has seemed to work out well for her. On stage, she fits into the band’s chemistry very well, as a highly talented lead guitarist and backup vocalist. Your humble narrator is one guy who is very glad she made her way back up through the trenches.
Jessica Dobson performing with The Shins
*For those of you who haven’t heard of KEXP, they are a public radio station out of Seattle, WA that feature an eclectic mix of indie rock and pop, punk/hardcore, and local music from the Pacific Northwest. You can listen on their website or on the TuneIn app like me.
This was in the mail when I got home from work tonight:
No, thank you Jess.