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"He and I have this big argument about girl music versus boy music," says Erin, who has done the artwork for three of Dosh's four full-length releases. "I tell him he's not making boy music because it evokes so much emotion, even without vocals. The melodies are perfect—like I already knew them somehow."
Dosh steps up from his rig and over to a computer in a corner of the basement. He shows off Erin's artwork on the cover of his new record. He hasn't laid hands on the final product yet: "I'm itching to see it," he says, wide eyed.
A photo of his son is propped up nearby. A Grateful Dead shirt, a relic of his youth, hangs on display. There are shelves of CDs and drawers full of recordings he's been making in one basement or another since he purchased his first four-track cassette recorder in 1996.
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.
"I really like having my space here, but it's tricky," he says. "I can't make a super huge ruckus unless there is nobody in the house. Eventually, when we actually clean out the garage, we'll probably convert the garage into a studio."
For now, he makes the necessary adjustments. When he practices at night, with his stepson asleep in a room one floor up and his son asleep on the top floor, he wears headphones. When he needs drums, he cranks the volume from the drum microphones and what he plays softly with brushes "sounds like it's being played with giant sticks."
A visitor to the basement could be forgiven for assuming it was nothing more than a play fort constructed by a middle-aged dad with flagging ambitions. In fact, the space is the beating heart at the center of a universe of collaboration and experimentation called Dosh.
• • • • •
AS A SMALL CHILD, Dosh told his father he wanted to be a singing carpenter when he grew up. He was one of those kids who showed an early reverence for music. Nothing unusual about that. The unusual part is that his parents paid attention. His mother, Millie, was once an aspiring nun who found her calling in early childhood psychology. Dosh was five when he told his mother he wanted to play piano. She responded that his hands were too small and asked if he could wait until he was six. He did. Fortuitously, his neighbors two doors down had a Baldwin baby grand piano. It was their daughter's, and when she joined a fundamentalist Christian church she forswore her musical pursuits as excessive and sinful. Her parents put the piano up for sale and asked $2,000.
Terry Dosh, Martin's father, was a monk at St. John's Abbey for 20 years; he'd been ordained a Catholic priest in 1957 only to leave the priesthood in favor of building a family with the woman he loved. When that baby grand went up for sale, Terry remembers, "I was out of a job and didn't have any money." So he asked his father for a long-term loan and got it.
Dosh started taking lessons. He'd ask his teacher to play the songs he was learning multiple times. Dosh would spend the rest of the time trying to get the song right. He could read the sheet music in front of him, but he was learning the songs by ear, repeating what he heard his teacher do.
When Dosh was 11 he became obsessed with FM radio. Every weekend when Casey Kasem aired the Top 40 singles, Dosh was armed with a pencil and paper. He copied down each song and tracked its movement up and down the charts for weeks. Other times he sat with the radio on and his finger ready to trigger the record button on his cassette recorder. "There was that one Billy Squier tune, 'Everybody Wants You,' it had the car starting at the beginning—vroom! —I just had to get that sound, so I sat and waited for it to come on."
When Dosh was 15, his parents bought him a used drum set. At 16 he enrolled in Simon's Rock School (an early college in Western Massachusetts affiliated with Bard) to study jazz and drumming.
It was an abrupt exit from home at a time when most kids still had at least two years of restless gestation. Dosh didn't stay at Simon's Rock, but he stayed out East, trailing the Dead for a stint, living out of his van, and auditing music classes at Bard in upstate New York. He started a band and called it Como Zoo. They made frequent trips to New York City, where Terry Dosh remembers people thinking it was Cuomo Zoo, after the then-mayor of New York Mario Cuomo.
Dosh was having fun, but he was floundering and he knew it. In 1997 he decided to come back to Minneapolis. He was in deep with student loans. His parents took him in rent-free and he accepted a job teaching music to kids aged three to six and driving a school bus for Lake Country School, the Montessori school his father had co-founded. As young boys, Martin and his younger brother Paul (who is now a professor of Latin American Studies at Macalester College) were students there.