By Jake Rossen
By Jesse Marx
By Michelle LeBow
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In a booth at a neighborhood pub in south Minneapolis, a slumped and bearded Martin Dosh is staring into his beer, tapping his fingers on the table, and talking about a coming performance at the Walker Art Center. It's an evening devoted entirely to his music. The May 3 event has a title, "The World of Dosh," and he's effectively been asked by the museum to curate a tribute to himself, with special appearances by past and current collaborators like whistling indie-rock song-master Andrew Bird and underground hip-hop phenomenon Jel.
"Trying to map it all out is fucking with me," says Dosh, shaking his head. "I'll need a stage manager or something."
Probably he won't. Dosh's art is multitasking.
Hear Dosh's music with free MP3 downloads, some of them only available digitally at Citypages.com in our REPORTER'S NOTEBOOK, which also includes videos and a wealth of photos.
Onstage and in the studio he makes his music, often alone, in what can best be understood as a cockpit. In the center is a swiveling drummer's stool, and with a push from one foot, he can turn to face a drum set, his vintage electric piano, or a small table with a tangle of cables, effects machines, and a synthesizer.
The catalog of Dosh's stage and studio collaborations reads like a record-store clerk's year-end best list: Andrew Bird, Bonnie "Prince" Billy, Wilco, My Morning Jacket, Tapes 'n Tapes, Devendra Banhart, Peanut Butter Wolf, Happy Apple, the Bad Plus, the Jayhawks, Atmosphere—it goes on and on.
"He's been this enigmatic, brilliant figure in the background," says Philip Bither, curator for performing arts at the Walker. "He's somewhere between the worlds of experimental music and pop." Bither lists the genres Dosh's music and collaborations have inhabited: contemporary classical, electronic, improvisational jazz, hip hop, and rock. "He's somebody who can find links between all of those styles and do something fresh and intelligent," says Bither, "and that's rare."
Slowly, Dosh has been stepping to the fore. His next full-length under the Dosh moniker, Wolves and Wishes, is his fourth, but there is a sense—as his recordings and his performances evolve into ever more accomplished and complex endeavors—that he is just beginning.
Dosh has established something of a command and control center in the tiny basement of the single-family home he shares with his wife, Erin, his nine-year-old stepson, and his four-year-old son in the Powderhorn neighborhood.
"Welcome to my practice space slash laundry room," he says, descending the narrow stairs to his basement. He steps into his cockpit, hemmed in on all sides by idle instruments, laundry piles, and other detritus of two constantly pulsing lives—family and work—in daily collision and collaboration.
He proposed to his wife with a song ("I Think I'm Getting Married"), he's put his kids in multiple songs, and there's even a song built over a recording of a younger Dosh singing a Cold War-era anti-nuclear song as a kid at the Montessori school near his home, which his kids attend and where Erin works.
He points at each of the cables, instruments, and machines and explains them with all the reassuring confidence of a professional pilot. When he's done, he might as well have just told you how to fly a 747.
"So basically, here's the way all of this works," he says. "I have three microphones plus this floater mic. The sampler goes into here. The keyboard goes into here. It all comes out from one channel in the back. This cable goes out through the distortion pedal and there are two more looping pedals down there...." And so on.
Dosh calls it his "rig." Looking at it is a bit like looking at a musician's brain divided into small pieces and laid out on a table. This piece is where the rhythm comes from. This one produces melody. And this one, arrangements.
"It was all so complicated-seeming at first," his wife says. The two fell in love as Dosh was building and learning his rig. "Then he showed me how to use his looping pedal."
To understand what Dosh does, you have to understand the looping pedal. It's essentially a foot-operated recording device: Click the pedal once and a red recording light comes on. It can record up to 18 seconds of whatever you plug into it—microphone, guitar, keyboard.
Click the pedal again, and whatever you recorded between the clicks begins playing in repetition, infinitely. Click once more and whatever you record will play in a loop alongside the first recording. Layer upon layer, the looping pedal allows a single musician to sound like six, a dozen, more.
In his basement, Dosh demonstrates. He clicks the pedal and records the tap-tap-tap of a drumstick on a hi-hat cymbal. He clicks the pedal again and the taps loop and become a sort of metronome. Next he swivels to his electric keyboard and adds a short and simple melody line—then another on top of that. He swivels again to his synthesizer and records a bass loop. Then he is back to the drums to add a lighter-than-air groove that feels something like late-'60s R&B. This song he has just invented has five parts. He sits straight and listens. Dosh's great gift is transforming what is essentially one long math problem—piecing together rhythms and melodies recorded one at a time—into simple songs rich with texture and melody.