Oakland band Subtle pictured left to right: Jordan Dalrymple, DoseOne, Alexander Kort, Jeffrey 'Jel' Logan, Marty Dowers, and Dax Pierson.
In 2004 Subtle released A New White and in 2006 they dropped the second installment, For Hero: For Fool. Very recently they released their third full-length, Exiting ARM on Lex Records. Amoeblog caught up with DoseOne to learn more:
AMOEBLOG: For those who may just now be hearing your band's music for the very first time, can you bring them up to speed on what Subtle is all about and in particular the central character Hour Hero Yes? Additionally, how important is it to be familiar with the previous two Subtle albums, with their ongoing intricate themes, to fully appreciate Exiting ARM? In other words, is it like that TV show 24 where if you missed the previous episodes you feel kind of left out in following the storyline?
DoseOne: To be honest: all along we have woven these themes and motifs into the music knowing that the music should also remain accessible from any point in listening. These works should be accessible as both a work of song and as a timeless four minute chunk of layered creativities. So that being said, there is by no means "homework" that comes with Subtle records. It's meant to be rich and abound with things to interpret: next decade proof, if you will.
Otherwise the lore runneth over. Hour Hero Yes is a modern man. As flawed as he is brilliant; both hero and fool. The three Subtle full-lengths follow his arm and ascension entirely. A New White is the writings of the shell and man Yes once was, the man he must reconcile with. It all takes place in one bedroom in
Oakland. And as his quest for self intensifies, his one bedroom begins to come to life as his night terrors and day dreams begin to flood with omen and creature. At the end of A New White, Yes opens his door and takes to the world, fear at his back.
For Hero: For Fool chronicles and scores the path of Yes as he takes to the world.....and the more he lives out his days on earth, the more epic they become, as the omens and premonitions begin to go wild, sometimes injecting themselves directly into the waking life of Yes. At the end of his quest he resigns to his efforts on earth, leaving his finer and clearest self permanently in prose. Yes decides to leave this life, and dives through a door in his dream. However, unbeknownst to Yes, there is no escape. Rather, Yes has merely leaped from one keep to another form of being kept.
And this is where Exiting Arm picks up: EX Arm itself is a collection of the pop songs Yes is forced to make for the Ungodz that keep him, and www.exitingarm.com is the graphic rendering of Yes' almanac of amassed fact, which he keeps secret from the Ungodz. It is his collection of truths, and it is what he divines his lyrics from to lay subversive content and honesty in the center of the pop songs he is forced to craft for the Ungodz.
AMOEBLOG: What initially inspired the character Hour Hero Yes?
DoseOne: I simply drew him one day. While writing A New White I found an old water damaged picture of a realtor which had fallen off a for sale sign and I wanted to stripe his face so bad I could feel it.
And this is how I found all the Subtle motifs. They hit me like a soft lightning. I then wait and try to figure out why. I give their fortune its flesh eventually. And they in turn give me something to live for, and look for in the wide world of work and dim depths.
AMOEBLOG: So then Subtle's music lends itself to the "pop music as singles or songs" tradition -- in that you can just listen to one song isolated and out of context but still fully get into it?
DoseOne: Yes, very much so. The first song on A New White says it all, however: these are not meant to be songs and never will be. These are our works of art; some catchy, some dark, some dancey, some pensive, but all are still works of sung, sound, and drum. So if you're asking me, I think they are utterly removable and bump-able. I like prose over song bones and feel that anything else is uncivilized, but I am biased like the Pope on this one. Music is not a source of entertainment for me. It's one of inspiration!
AMOEBLOG: And a real catharsis too, I would imagine for you, as well as for the other members of Subtle?
DoseOne: It is the only one I know. I don't know if I am cursed or lucky, but I can pretty much air 90% of my issues and emotions and bright ideas through song and album arts. And for the rest of the band, it is a similar percentage. Each of us needs our outlet, our arm by which we might rifle off some of the stress and questions that all too often collect and compound in our chests.
AMOEBLOG: Many have labeled or come up with descriptions of the type of music Subtle makes, but how do you describe it?
DoseOne: Modern, not before its time (but) rather "of it" entirely. We address fearlessly the fine line in the sand between influence and derivation. We are making our work in a time of men where the derivative work is king; Spank Rock, The Strokes.....glam-gun raps. To not be truly new is one of the only and age-old insurances of success. We avoid the negative aspects of this mercilessly and pride ourselves at the same time in honestly interpreting our own musical idols and influences. It is the age old fine line: are you a blues thief -- worst thing in the universe, or do you steal what becomes you -- the water mark of an inspired and hunger driven artist? That being typed, when asked on airplanes by the person next to me what kind of music I make, I respond "Integritous rap rock, with poems in the center," which is almost like a nonsense sentence when you think about it from the perspective of a third person who is completely virgin to our soundings.
AMOEBLOG: How did you, someone who started out in hip-hop as a battle emcee, end up making this kind of music? What specific twists and turns along the way led you to this point?
DoseOne: Most definitely it was peers. I have been people-lucky in this endeavor. Poor in other arenas of luck, but I have met a myriad of self-taught artists and idols -- all of whom I have shared with, been inspired by, and stolen from. Apart from that, it has been a gradual unlearning process. I have tried to, at all times, follow my gut and heart toward the arts and allowed for my choices to revolve around the music and my relationships rather than around a career path or vanity. Technically it took....a countless collage of mistakes and brilliant takes: thousands upon thousands of hours in my life being recorded and an odd, and at times turbulent, childhood, some effective unusual parenting, and a brief infinity of thinking.
AMOEBLOG: I have read and heard Subtle described as DoseOne's project. Is that an unfair description?
DoseOne: Yes. All money is split six ways, and in our modern and thing-maddened world, that tells all. In this group I am the frontman and meaning-maker but Subtle is six small men in a giant robot -- each of us as vital an organ as the next. I like to say we are in a relationship, not a band.
AMOEBLOG: Subtle has a special place in the hearts of us here at Amoeba Music because of the band members who are current or former Amoebites, including Marty and Dax. You also worked at Amoeba, right?
DoseOne: Oh yeah. Amoeba took care of me. I will never forget that. I'd serve 50Cent for y'all. It is where Subtle came from. We would all meet after work in Jordan's apartment. it is where Dax played beacon for so many people, directing them to great music, in one of the only stores on earth where you could find it all. Those were formative and inspired times for us all. I like to think of us as the only real out there Amoeba band....no pop nonsense....real record store all stars...self taught, broke buying as much music as they make. You guys should let us play on your roof. It's undeniable and permanent for us....the bond between our band and Amoeba. Personally, professionally, and morally, we are some how quite entirely aligned.
AMOEBLOG: Speaking of Dax Pierson, I really admire how you (like Amoeba) have been so supportive of Dax since the accident. For those who know nothing about what happened, could you break it down and also tell us how Dax is doing right now?
DoseOne: Wow! It is irony-laden how the epic nature of our music and art-attempts reflect our actual experiences in making music. Three years ago we all got in a life changing accident when our tour van (with trailer) hit black ice in Omaha. We flipped and went off the road. Dax was paralyzed severely. He is now quadrapalegic. He has recovered from the crash but is still quad. He has control of his shoulders and biceps with which he manipulates and works computers and all things gadget.
His life now is enhanced, and intergested with technology intimately. And it is a good thing: the state of tech today allows Dax to not only live and function day-to-day but also stay abreast socially and artistically, make music, read books, the whole nine. To say Dax is inspiring is an understatement. I have never in my life met any one or thing that embodies strength more specifically and dynamically. And life for him is normal: different, mind you, but he has constance and tries to maintain that...there are not infrequent health concerns, and always will be, but unlike most folks I know, Dax is indeed living with a capital L. Check out the video from our YouTube page (below) of Dax making music. It is the best possible explanation -- seeing is conceiving.
AMOEBLOG: Now, besides that van accident, Subtle had another set back, while not as serious, still a significant inconvenience, when you guys got robbed in Spain. All of this shit is the sort of thing that can
either break or make a group. Would you say it has made you guys much stronger as both a band and individuals?
DoseOne: Yes. Like the Hero. We have taken the stairs. Our heads are level. Our eyes are wide, and our heart is one. It is odd, this world. We are all middle class in a underlying and permanent way. So we understand the nature of doing something with your life or just wasting away at an hourly rate. We indeed understand this all too well. And this bad, has been for us both chariot into the sun and fall back down to earth. Artistically we are so content and in our prime.....hungry. Yet life-wise, doing this music with all our hearts has taken more from us than it could ever possibly restore. And for us it's just important to not be to Christian about this. We are not a structure of pity and tragedy. We are a focus of strength and triumph. Half e or half f. Depends what side of the sacrifice you're on.
AMOEBLOG: How different is the live Subtle (onstage) from the studio version of the band, in terms of instrumentation and sound recreation?
DoseOne: Not different. We actually cover our recorded songs in a sense. And while we record on computers, you will never see us with one on stage. That shit is a no-no. So we sample what we can't drag along or recreate in an instant, and step up to be held accountable for all the breaks and bangs of the songs we made. It is a unique process but all we know since Jel and I come from rap roots this is all we had. Our songs only existed once we recorded them. There were no rehearsals or garage we played in. So Subtle is the merger of musicianship and band ethics with the high stakes "sound like the recordness" and ethos of rap.
AMOEBLOG: The copy of Exiting Arm that I have is just a simple slim case CD with cover art and a list of the eleven song titles. Is there or will there be another version or some more detailed online version of the liner notes?
DoseOne: Oh yeah. I made each format unique: CD, vinyl, and the digital booklet. And of course there is www.exitingarm.com. Each has puzzle pieces in it that the others don't. You got a promo.
AMOEBLOG: Is Exiting Arm the end of a trilogy or part three of an ongoing series? And what is next for Subtle and for DoseOne?
DoseOne: That's up to the world. You know me and the boys can always go for another round of high impact art hearting. We will be working on the sound track for a short film, to hopefully go to feature, with sssr. It will be the animated tale of Yes. We will also be doing a re-approach record for Exiting Arm full of new music made with new friends.
AMOEBLOG: Anything else you would like to add or any shout outs you want to give?
DoseOne: All the people at Amoeba Music, I know and love, you know who you are. Myself, Dax Pierson, and our art, owe you the world. And to all the people out there who still buy records, and take them home, and headphone them, and stare at the cover, and then stare at the wall and go there inside the songs, y'all are my mother fuckers...I ride hard for you!