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Intimate 'Broadcast'

Doves gain popularity as their message spreads, one listener at a time

October 03, 2002|STEVE HOCHMAN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Jimi Goodwin, singer of the English band Doves, isn't sure he wants to be in a radio world where, as he has just learned, Justin Timberlake earned extra airplay from a New York radio station by revealing on the air personal details about intimacies with ex-girlfriend Britney Spears.

Well, first, he's not sure he has much to offer in that regard.

"I don't know who's going to be excited about what my girlfriend and I did two weeks ago," he says with a self-mocking laugh.

But more seriously, he looks at the Timberlake incident as just one more confirmation that American commercial radio is not going to be very hospitable to acts, including Doves, that strive for emotional depth, artistic ambition and intellectual literacy.

"Radio is messed up," he says. "We're not relying on it."

But the state of radio is not what Goodwin and twin brothers Jez and Andy Williams were referring to when they titled their recent, second album "The Last Broadcast." Rather, it's about intimacy and connection, expanding on the theme of the album's title song.

"The lyrics for that one are almost an open letter," he says. "It says, 'Here we are; is this the last broadcast?' As in me and you, late-night conversation with the girlfriend where it could end right now and you stay up until dawn and either have great make-up sex or you end up sleeping on the couch.

"As the title for the album, it could be seen as sounding kind of final--we've had people saying, 'Are you splitting up? Are you just trying to get publicity?' No, it just seemed to go with the songs. We like the idea of broadcasting, of reaching out. I wanted to call it 'Where We're Calling From' after an instrumental piece on the album."

That focus on connection, both interpersonal and with an audience, is the essence of Doves for Goodwin and the Williams brothers, all 32. It also describes the band's strategy in lieu of radio exposure. "All we've got is a fan base that digs us," Goodwin says. "We have to take some comfort in that."

And they have to be patient. "The Last Broadcast" has earned great acclaim and was a hit in England behind the No. 1 single "There Goes the Fear," an uplifting song of emotional reassurance. And in the U.S., with some prominent noncommercial radio support, that fan base proved solid. In the four months since its June release here, "Broadcast" has sold nearly 70,000 copies, a figure it took its predecessor, 2000's "Lost Souls," more than 18 months to reach.

Further growth in the U.S. has been slow, but patience comes naturally as the band makes its second swing through the U.S. this year, with shows Tuesday and Wednesday at the Mayan Theatre.

Up From Sub Sub

Just getting this far has been a long, slow journey. In the early '90s, the three worked together as Sub Sub, a promising act in the Manchester acid-house scene that is showcased in the film "24 Hour Party People." A beat-heavy 1993 single "Ain't No Love (Ain't No Use)" was a No. 3 hit in the U.K., and their inventive uses of sonic ambience led to collaborations with Tricky and New Order's Bernard Sumner.

But after a 1995 fire in their studio destroyed their equipment and recordings, the three decided to take a different direction, regrouping as Doves with live instruments rather than computers and turntables, and looking to such acts as introspective hometown heroes the Smiths for inspiration.

It was four years before they finished an album, but "Lost Souls" earned glowing reviews for its big themes and sonic sweep, with comparisons to the Smiths, U2, Echo & the Bunnymen and even Pink Floyd. On a creative roll, the group took only 10 months to complete the new album. That energy and optimism are reflected in the uplifting themes, which to many contrast sharply to the dark hues of "Lost Souls," though Goodwin doesn't think of either of them as downcast.

"I thought 'Lost Souls' was an upbeat album," Goodwin says. "It articulated our 20s to me--try to get somewhere, try to better ourselves, become the great band we were in our heads. That's positive. There's a lot of beauty and hope in there. And the new one as well. 'There Goes the Fear' and 'Pounding' are markedly different, nothing like them on 'Lost Souls.' "

Giving Doves hope and rewarding the patience is the evidence that their broadcast is reaching people.

"So far with us, it's really been that one friend buying it, plays it for five friends and then the five friends buy it," Goodwin says. "You have to love that. It's great."

*

The Doves, with My Morning Jacket, play Tuesday and Wednesday at the Mayan Theatre, 1038 S. Hill St., L.A., 8 p.m. $26. (213) 746-4674.

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