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D.O.T. The 'I's And Cross The 'T's
You just can't keep some people away from the limelight, and for Rob Harvey and Mike Skinner the prospect of resting idle after wrapping up their long-running musical outlets (The Music and The Streets respectively) was never really on the cards. Hence, THE D.O.T., the pair's new incarnation as a double-act, for which Michael has even resurrected his record label The Beats to release the music on, a massive u-turn after he famously had a funeral for the label when he closed it down in 2007, citing the death of physical music (see the video HERE if you don't believe us).
Though their collaboration isn't a surprise to many - Harvey guested on several tracks on The Streets' last album Computers And Blues, and even toured with them for their farewell tour in 2011 - the fact that they are so far down the road with The D.O.T. already might well be an eye-opener for all but the eagle-eyed. The long-standing friends have been working on material together since The Music and The Streets ceased being their going concerns, and they had virtually all of the tracks for their debut album And That finished and recorded before the start of this year. In terms of sound The D.O.T. will probably fall more in line with fans of The Streets than The Music, but it's by no means exclusive: with the exception of lead single You Never Asked (featuring Clare Maguire and Danny Brown), which could be lifted from The Streets' Computers And Blues or Everything Is Borrowed, they do forge some new ground. With Harvey taking on the main vocal duties, and Skinner primarily busy behind the decks with the samples and beats, the overall feel is slightly more soulful, amid the dubby drums and understated hip hop rhythms.
Since then the focus seems to have been honing their online presence (the run of video diaries, songs and snippets from rehearsals posted periodically on their website are a great source of entertainment and insight) and working out how to turn the project in to a live entity. Barring a few small London shows and a collaboration with Elro, plus a gig to 7000 wild Streets and Music fans at Fuji Rock Festival in Japan, the live stage is still unchartered territory for them. The D.O.T. set out on this road with their first run of UK live dates this week, and they will be stopping by The Masque in Liverpool on Saturday 20th October. Christopher Torpey was eager to pick the brains of the duo ahead of the show, and was granted a phone interview with one of the two protagonists - but who was it to be?
Ring ring... ring ring... "Hello, is that Christopher?" The Leeds drawl tells us we have the pleasure of The D.O.T.'s vocalist for the next 20 minutes. "Hi mate, it's Rob Harvey." After exchanging a few pleasantries, we launch straight in to asking Mr Harvey about the group's enigmatic online presence...
Bido Lito!: We’ve just been on the D.O.T. website [the-dot.net] which is full of all kinds of stuff. I didn’t realise that you’d pretty much recorded everything already and most of it’s been in the can for a while now…
Rob Harvey: Yeh, we’ve tried to do as much as we can: some days we get through two or three ideas for songs so we’re quite a way along.
BL!: For a lot of people who are fans of you and Mike The D.O.T. has seemed to come out of the blue – we know you’ve been working together for the past couple of years, but you’ve not really been shouting about this project too much. Was that a conscious decision?
RH: Err yeh, I’d say so. I think we just wanted to make music really, and then see what the reaction was online to stuff. With engaging with fans of The Music and The Streets, there were potentially quite a few people who you’d jar with it, you know? They could be a bit confused by it, or if they were in to what we used to do they might have just wanted that again. We just wanted to ease into it really.
BL!: How long have you and Mike known each other then?
RH: I’ve known Mike for about 12 years – we used to have the same manager. I used to see him at festivals and stuff all the time, we’d have a beer regularly and have a laugh. I got invited down to do a few Streets sessions, and they went pretty easy and pretty well for us both, so we just started messing about with other stuff. After a while people started telling us it was sounding good and that we should start doing something a bit more serious with it. So that’s when we expanded the writing a bit more, forming proper songs.
BL!: You’ve taken a bit of time with crafting the album then, as you’ve been working on it since last year, you’ve got to be happy with how it’s coming across now?
RH: Well yeh, of course. One of the things about me and Mike is that we work really fast with each other – I mean we’ve recorded around 70 songs in a year. We both work on stuff independently of each other, so there’s material coming in from all angles really.
BL!: Is that the way you yourself have always worked in the past with the band then, with that level of productivity?
RH: Well I’ve always been writing on my own away from The Music as well, so kind of. With the band there were four of us in a room making a noise until it sounded good, in a very traditional kind of way. But when I work on my own it tends to be on a guitar or a piano, or with a simple beat, and if it starts that way then I’ll take it to Mike and he makes it make sense.
BL!: Given the amount of music the two of you have already made there must be a natural connection there that you have with each other.
RH: Definitely, it’s just easy, we never find it difficult. And the thing is, we’re always changing the way in which we do it, whether we’re writing together or writing alone or writing with friends, there’s always a different way of doing it. And I think that’s important for keeping it fresh too.
BL!: So who else is The D.O.T. then? Is it just you two?
BL!: So when you go out live on this upcoming tour, it’ll just be you on vocal duties and Mike behind the decks on production? There’ll be no collaborations or being joined by anyone else on stage?
RH: For the minute no, it’s just us two. This first bunch of dates, they’re almost like a dry run really to see what it is. We know how it feels in the studio but we’ve never really taken it beyond that much and done it live. I mean, we’ve done a couple of little gigs, and we got offered Fuji Rock Festival in Japan, which were amazing. But we’re still trying to figure out what that is live, so we’ll stay with just the two of us for the minute. We’re open to ideas though, so if in the future we want to add other elements to it we might do.
BL!: Even though both yourself and Mike are seasoned performers when it comes to playing live dates and tours, is there any sense of trepidation ahead of this first string of D.O.T. live dates?
RH: To be honest I am a little nervous, but I think that adds to the excitement as well. It changes daily between fear and excitement - there’s a fine line between pretty terrified and over the moon! This is where we’ll find out what it really is, what we need to work on, what songs work and don’t. All the stuff that new bands have to deal with, we’re gonna have to deal with. It’ll be like starting again.
BL!: Would it be fair to say that there’s an element of a confessional nature, and an honesty to a lot of the songs on the record? Thinking of tracks You Never Asked and What You Livin’ For.
RH: Err, perhaps. I mean, I find it hard to write music that isn’t like that. I know Mike’s much more story based, and comes at it from a slightly different angle to me. Maybe that’s something for me to learn, cos sometimes it can get a bit much, all that emotional shit! But it’s nice to have that mixture. And it’s nice also to receive someone else’s words. Sometimes I’ll do a verse, and the day will end and I’ll come to Mike’s studio the next day and he’ll have written a verse and be like ‘here you are, sing this!’ It doesn’t stand still then, it’s always moving and I really enjoy that.
BL!: The video diaries up on the website make for excellent viewing I must say. Mike has got form for this type of thing in the past, but how much had you ventured down that path, of using video as a way of portraying your music?
RH: It’s something quite new to me. I kind of got involved with it towards the end of The Streets when I started hanging out with those guys. I get quite excited now when we do the diaries, it’s something challenging and exciting. I were terrified the first couple though cos I didn’t know what to do! But no, I think it’s a really interesting way of visualising what it is we do and expressing who we are. Most of the ideas are Mike’s, I try to bring my bit to the performance.
BL!: Well, according to Mike in a recent interview we heard, a lot of the weirdness from the later video diaries has come from you!
RH: (laughing) Yeh, well I’ve been getting more comfortable with them now! We spend quite a lot of time during the diary just chatting backwards and forwards to each other and then take the best bits really. I mean a lot of the bits that get cut are a bit too much, ha! But it’s really good fun. I think a lot of people don’t know how to react to them though sometimes – it’s supposed to be a bit weird, it’s supposed to be a bit tongue-in-cheek. We don’t wanna come across as taking ourselves too seriously, but at the same time we wanna do something credible and we wanna make some good music. We want it to be a relationship [with the fans], give people a look inside, and that’s why we did the diaries. The diaries are almost like a view in to the dreamworld of what’s actually going on, if that makes sense? Everything that happens in them is real, but we just warp it a little bit!
BL!: Now we recently heard Mike say that you’re the loudest singer he’s ever worked with! What’s your reaction to that and have you got anything to say about him?
RH: (laughing) Well that’s probably true! What can I say about Mike…? He’s an absolute pleasure to work with, an absolute pleasure. It’s a whole different approach and I’m constantly learning, I can’t really pay him any more respect than that. It’s nice to be doing something fresh. I had the best time of my life for ten/twelve years [with The Music] – it was hard work at times but I love the guys I were in the band with. I just wanted a change of scenery that’s all, and Mike felt the same way about The Streets. Because of your age you’re in to things in a set way and you don’t like the idea of change, but then suddenly you do something different and it needs changing: you almost create a template, and what we needed most was to break out of that and do something new and fresh and not really have any boundaries.
The D.O.T. play The Masque on Saturday 20th October, and tickets for this event are available here. The D.O.T.'s debut album And That is released on The Beats on 22nd October.