Any band who can boast a CV containing stints with The Wildhearts, Honeycrack, The Cardiacs, The Ginger Wildheart Band, Jackdaw4 and The God Damn Whores must be worth sitting up and taking note of. So it proves with The Dowling Poole, a band who came together when Willie Dowling and 'Random' Jon Poole sat and made google eyes with each other during the recording of Ginger Wildheart's 555% album. The result is Bleak Strategies, an album which is a million miles from bleak, instead being one of the most uplifting Power-Pop-Rock highlights 2014 has served up. With both of the mainmen in this band (NOT a project, as we'll find out!) possessing razor sharp wit and a reputation for zaniness of the highest order, Sea of Tranquility's Steven Reid took his life in his hands as he delved deep into the Bleak Strategies of both Willie and 'Random' Jon…
As a pledger for Ginger Wildheart's '555%' album, I had the pleasure of watching your in the studio relationship grow and flourish... was it musical love at first sight?
Willie Dowling : "Not really – He was a grower shall we say. Well, that is until I saw him sit at the piano and start jamming out some fairly serious things with his head turned to the sky like he was having a nap. And then when the red button was pushed and it was his turn to record, this serious, adept competent and considerate musician with supreme powers of concentration suddenly took over the room. That's the Jon Poole I fell in love with….and it helps that he's quite amusing of course."
A: John Poole : "Although there was a distinct lack of eye-candy on offer during that session our beer goggles were very much intact which is ultimately what bought us to your attention."
However I believe that it took the pair of you a little time to pluck up the courage to ask the other to work with them. From the outside the two of you working together seems like such a wonderful fit, why the initial bashfulness?
J: "Despite our rather forward personalities we both have a mammoth-sized fear of getting changed in the changing rooms of swimming baths. Frustratingly, this spills over into our personal life and has a knock on effect on our relationships with people. Had we not touched on this subject one drunken night then I imagine none of what followed '555%' would've taken place."
W: "I think there were a lot of reasons, not least of which the situation that we were both in with our respective bands. But also because I think that it's a bit like asking a girl out for a first date. You're so terrified of rejection it takes a good deal of bravado to pop the question."
You have both had long, winding musical paths leading up to The Dowling Poole. When it came to song writing for the album did you decide to focus on one side of your musical psyche, or did you both just let fly and see what happened?
J: "I should only speak for myself here but when I heard the mischief Willie was up to I recognised a side of my own writing that I felt I couldn't offer to other people I was working with, as it may have steered other people off in a direction they may not have been comfortable with. When I first thought, or wondered about a collaboration with Willie I imagined a multicoloured, psychedelic, summery sounding collection of classic, British pop songs. The first ideas I presented to the table were along these lines. Anything that either of us comes up with gets chopped, changed and added to via the Dowling Poole machine. The great thing is that although I had recognised similarities in what we'd previously done, I feel like we've had a positive effect on each other's writing and constructing."
W: "I think Jon had a pretty good idea of what we were going to do because he kept describing it. At the time I was not long finished with Jackdaw4 so I was still meandering a little and I'd throw songs in randomly until I caught the drift of what he was writing and how it felt, and I then got a little more focussed and started to chip in along the same lines."
Was the initial writing process a collaboration or did you bring completed ideas to the studio to thrash out?
W: "Usually, one or other of us has the bulk of a song to present but it quickly gets thrown into the pool and chopped up, taken away from or added to and enhanced, which generally means that although it is recognisably the original song idea, it has been suitably dressed and styled by a process of collaboration."
I've got all the Jackdwa4 albums, the God Damn Whores releases and the 'Random' Jon Poole solo album. Impressively right across 'Bleak Strategies' it's possible to hear aspects of both of your song writing as the songs unfold. Is that a sign of just how "together" you were on this album?
J: "Yes, I think so. As I say despite being on the same page and having a number of influences in common, somewhere along the line it gets distorted and gets plopped out of The Dowling Poole machine clear as a cloudless, summer's day."
W: "Well I'd be a fool to disagree with that, so 'yes'."
I know you've both worked "solo" and in bands before, but how refreshing was it to work with a partner so willing to share ideas and take on someone else's opinion?
J: "I think when you're used to being the one in charge, one of the hardest things to do is to give up control and hand the decision over to another entity but in truth, if you can find an equal who's opinion you respect and who you are willing to take direction from when you're lost in the woods then it can have a hugely positive effect on your output. BUT you must find the right partner first and that isn't always easy."
W: "For me it was quite unique because although I've always encouraged collaboration with my previous bands, for one reason or another it's generally been me making the decisions and this was the first time in my life that I felt I was having to up my game in order to match the talents of someone else. That might sound intimidating but believe me, it was the most enjoyable sense of liberation I got from it."
So what's behind the album title 'Bleak Strategies'? It seems almost like a contradiction to the joyous sounds the album reveals?
W: " Ah well then….in the context of your question I guess its all about juxtaposition. The contrast of the extremely maudlin meeting the joyful and celebratory. It's contrasts like this, that serve to remind us of the human condition. In our lives, most, if not all of us experience extremes of emotion, usually with no real understanding of why. And we struggle through and try to make some sense of the chaos. Just when we think we have an answer, we've cracked the code as it were, from out of the random ocean comes another wave of chaos to knock our lives back into disorder. Also, your more astute readers will know that to no small extent, we're taking the piss out of Brian Eno – in a very respectful way."
J: "I'll say one thing about this and one thing only: Our mascot on the album cover: Edwina One. Edwina 'One'. 'ONE' 'ONE'…"
Which leads me to ask, what's the significance of Edwina One the "lady mascot" on the cover of and in the videos for the album?
OK, then…… I'm always intrigued by the lyrics you guys create, can you expand on some of the themes the album explores. My personal favourites are 'Saving It All For Saturday', 'Empires, Buildings And Acquisitions' and 'Twilight Subplot', but feel free to expand on any of the songs you'd care to highlight.
J: "'Twilight Subplot' was inspired by a dream I had where I became hyper-aware of the fact I was dreaming. I suddenly thought, 'Hang about. I'm only dreaming which means I can get away with all manner of awful things I'd never have the nerve to do in real life.' So I experimented with doing bad stuff to see if I'd still have a guilty conscience in the same way I would if I were awake. I'm pleased to report that I did! So I can't be all that bad. Can I?.. Also there's another song on the album, 'A Kiss On The Ocean' that people have confused for being a love song to a girl. It's not. It's about a narcissist. A person that looks at their reflection and falls in love every day. It could be an egotist, a poser or just someone who is unaware of anyone else outside of their own head."
W: "'Saving it All For A Saturday' is story telling in the traditional 'Kinks' manner. For twelve years I lived on a council estate in South West London. It's a little potted check list of things that are pretty much familiar to anyone and anywhere in the UK I imagine. When people live that closely together in relative poverty it's impossible not to notice the every day events and coping strategies that people have. On a Sunday I'd take the 30 bus to visit my Nan in Hackney. And for an hour and a half to two hours, I'd sit on the top deck and watch the urban sprawl of London pass my eyes. It sounds more romantic than it was."
Now I know that Ginger Wildheart seems to have already moved on from the Pledge model and that when I asked Willie about Pledge after the final (sniff, sob) Jackdaw4 album, that he felt it could be a "double edged sword" where those likely to buy the album already will have by the time it is released commercially. Do you feel that fan funding platforms are the only realistic ways for a project/band like yours to get their music out there these days? Or is it already in danger of buckling through saturation - if indeed that's possible?
J: "Aah, a business question. My favourite. Over to you, Dowling…"
W: "I have very mixed feelings about this. I suspect both of your observations may be true, but while there is no other choice for a band in our position, I'm glad the PLEDGE platform exists. I just wish that more pledger's were disciple for the bands they love and spread the word a little more. That said, some of our new friends and pledger's worked wonders for us this time.
Having watched the Pledge video updates for The Dowling Poole, Willie, with your contacts, when will you two secure your own "Odd Couple" TV sitcom...?
J: "My favourite film! If we did I'd have to be like Jack Lemmon's character, Felix Unger. Irritating neat-freak, food-obsessive who makes weird moose-calls to clear my sinuses. Willie's much more Walter Matthau than me, shaking his head in despair at my idiocy."
So what are the future plans for The Dowling Poole? Some live shows? A follow up album? World domination? Afternoon tea?
J: "Yes, live shows, more albums, world domination, more everything. People are talking, radio is playing our stuff and we have a live session lined up for Marc Riley's 6music show, which is rather exciting."
What other projects or collaborations do you have lined up?
J: "'Other' projects?! This ain't no project!"
W: "No projects. The Dowling Poole is a band. Calling it a project makes it sound contrived and business like."
Thanks for taking the time to answer the questions. Cheers!
W: "Your welcome."
J: "And thank you too. I'd like to leave you with this one thought: 'If you're eating sprouts and the shops are all shut, it must be Christmas in this house…'"
The Dowling Poole Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/TheDowlingPoole
The Dowling Poole YouTube page: https://www.youtube.com/user/TheDowlingPoole
The Dowling Poole Pledge page: http://www.pledgemusic.com/projects/thedowlingpoole
"Bleak Strategies" is released on 11 August.
(Click here to read our reviews of Bleak Strategies)