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It was that mastery that piqued the interest of Andrew Bird, who had heard Dosh's records but pegged him as something of an electronic musician, a guy up there with a laptop, cueing prerecorded samples. When Dosh opened for Bird at the Loring Pasta Bar in 2005, Bird, also something of a master of the looping pedal, walked over to Dosh's rig. "When he saw my setup he sort of said whoa and told me he was looking for somebody who could do drums and keyboards. Bird was touring alone at the time, building loops of his signature violin lines and other parts, then singing over them. Dosh joined Bird on tour later that year, and they've been collaborating live and in the studio ever since. "It's become my job," Dosh says, with a disbelieving smile.
"If I am going to play with another human being I want that person to have a distinct universe of his own," Bird says of his decision to partner with Dosh. "Both of our musical worlds—they are these two spheres that happen to synch up instead of me just completely absorbing him into my sphere. I still feel like we haven't scratched the surface of what we could do."
Onstage, both men are creating loops and then playing over them. The only thing more unlikely than one person making fluid, emotive music from a patchwork of pedals is two people doing it together. Dosh had to learn to juggle again, but this time in front of a much larger audience. Today when that play-fort cockpit comes out of the basement, thanks to Mr. Bird, it is reconstructed on festival stages in Europe, theaters in the U.S., and late-night television soundstages (Letterman, Conan) in New York City. Even on his own, Dosh is playing to a growing audience. He sells out large clubs as far away as San Francisco, and even the shows that don't fill up are indisputable successes.
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.
On his last West Coast tour he played to 100 people in a room made for 600. But after the show, he says, "Everybody there lined up to talk to me. How is that a bad show? The very idea that you can travel somewhere else and have people pay money to see you and talk to you—amazing."
Often when people line up at the stage after a show, they are musicians with musician questions: "They'll come up to me and say, 'Man, how did you do that thing in that crazy time signature?' And I'll just say, 'I don't know. It just sounded really cool.'"
That's another area where Bird and Dosh square up nicely. "I don't like playing with academic musicians who want to talk about how this goes from one odd meter to some other odd meter," says Bird. "I don't really get a thrill off of knowing what I've just done—as long as it feels right. And Martin has an amazing feel."
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DOSH IS STILL BUILDING his world. Most recently, he's recruited the multi-instrumentalist Mike Lewis, best known for his work in the frighteningly talented Minneapolis jazz combo Happy Apple, for his live shows. Onstage, Dosh does what he always does, and Lewis, a natural improvisation man, responds on bass, saxophone, clarinet, or a modified kid's synthesizer.
The two rarely practice. Instead, they just play their shows, trusting each other immensely. "It's pretty inspiring," says Lewis. "Sometimes we just look at each other like, holy shit!" Dosh is, to put it rather primitively, a man forever in search of that holy shit! moment. "If I ever get to the point where I'm not learning something new," Dosh says frequently, "I'll probably stop." He's nowhere near that place now.
"He just wants to do a good job and make something beautiful happen," Bird says. "Whatever it takes to get there."