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The job allowed him time to focus on his musicianship. "I realized I needed to get my shit together," Dosh says. "I wasn't taking myself seriously enough." Between shifts at the school, while his father worked from a home office on the third floor, Dosh would practice his drums in the basement for hours at a time. He started studying once a week with the rigorous and enormously talented Dave King (Happy Apple, the Bad Plus). "It wasn't noise," Terry Dosh remembers, "it was purposeful sound."
Dosh was going out constantly, zeroing in on a scene of jazz and experimental musicians who played in bands and organized informal jam sessions. He wanted in. For a while there was a jam session every Friday night the Front. At the end of the night, the musicians onstage would invite people up from the crowd. "I would always want to play drums," Dosh remembers. "I'd get there at like 10:00 and wait around all night, and they would get me up there at like five minutes to 1:00. I'd play for five minutes and the lights would come on."
Eventually, he was invited to play percussion for a spell with the Sensational Joint Chiefs, a group of well-dressed white guys with a singular focus on the horn-drenched funk and soul of an era 40 years gone. Dosh was bent on innovation. "I'd bring hubcaps down there—all kinds of weird percussion stuff. And I'd just sit there and bang on things and throw things on the floor."
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.
In the end, innovation won. Two members of the Joint Chiefs joined Dosh in a venture they called Cropduster, then Lateduster. The band was built symmetrically: two drummers, two guitarists, and two DJs on four turntables. Eventually a drummer and a DJ fell out and Dosh started with the multitasking—setting up a keyboard alongside his drums.
Andrew Broder was in Lateduster with Dosh. "Marty has a real—I don't want to say childlike, because it's not primitive—but he's always just had a real experimental sense." When Broder struck out on his own, forming the beloved Minneapolis experimental rock band Fog, he lured Dosh in for a bit, where he continued to expand his responsibilities. "You could really see him testing the waters to see how much he could do at one time. Then he got himself a looping pedal and the rest is history."
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DOSH MADE HIS FIRST ALBUM without any thought to performing the compositions live, he says. He just hunkered down in another basement—this one in a house he was renting owned by Lake Country School—with his looping pedal and the rest of his early rig and started recording sounds into an uncomplicated home recording setup.
He put the record out with his own money and called it Dosh. Sometime between finishing the recording and holding his self-released record in his hands, he booked a solo show at the Dinkytowner, a sort of home-base club for Twin Cities experimental music. It was 2002; he had been playing drums for 15 years and piano on and off for 24. He had never been onstage alone. Jeremy Ylvisaker, who played with Dosh in Fog, remembers that first show. "It was like teaching yourself how to juggle in front of an audience," he says.
"If something goes wrong up there," Dosh says, "even now, it could be one of 25 things that has gone wrong. The troubleshooting is the hardest part."
There were no meltdowns at that first show. It worked. That doesn't mean nothing went wrong. Just nothing the audience noticed. "It took me probably 100 shows to learn how to troubleshoot the rig in the moment," Dosh says. There were clear bumps in that road. He remembers one show so fraught with technological snafus that he just recorded a loop of wildly distorted chaos and stormed offstage. "But that's not really me," he says. Andrew Broder points to less dramatic indicators that Dosh was having a hard time of it. "He'd just kind of mumble into the microphone between songs. He was in unfamiliar territory up there in the beginning."
Mostly, though, Dosh was getting it right. "When I first saw him alone onstage," his father remembers, "it was dazzling. He had all of these instruments around him. People were mesmerized." Terry Dosh calls his son's music "abstract jazz"—and he knows from jazz. As a high school student in the late '40s, he would go to all-ages jazz shows at the Flame in St. Paul. He'd buy a bottle of 7-Up for 45 cents and listen to George Sheering, Count Basie, and whoever else was passing through town. Terry watched the kids at his son's shows and he was proud. "It's an audience of young intellectuals," he posits. "His crowd always looks like they're thinking."
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TODAY DOSH HAS THREE full-length records, with a fourth, Wolves and Wishes, coming out in May. Broder has played on each of those records, and he's watched Dosh grow.
"I've seen lots of people try the one-man-band thing. Technology has enabled a person to get onstage with just a laptop and a guitar—it's taking the bedroom to the stage. Marty doesn't approach his music in that insular, bedroomy way. And the level of mastery he has achieved with his system of composing," Broder says, "is totally unique."