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Seismic Break: Mike Dumovich

May 2, 2012

I will be the first one to tell you that I have distanced myself from singer-songwriters; as well as the Americana and Folk genre of music that Seattle has graciously showered me with. It’s not that I don’t love it, cause I do, but there is so much more I love out there in the Seattle music world  that I would like to focus on a bit more. With that said, here I am writing about the genius of singer/songwriter (composer), Mike Dumovich.

It wasn’t but a few months ago when I ran across Mike during one of my late night searches via internet when I stumbled across a couple of tracks … my mouth hit the floor and my heart broke immediately upon hearing title track “Acres”. “Who is this, and why hadn’t I heard of him?” I thought. Lyrically his music is heartfelt, but not impossible to grasp. A wonderful labyrinth of lyrical seduction. Musically, Mike’s guitar work is nothing short of brilliant, and poised. The weight of his fingers hitting the strings with precision. But its songs like “whiteout” that really capture the brilliance of his musical ability on every level. The construction of layering within that song had me mesmerized as if I were experiencing some sort of sensory “whiteout” myself. It was a storm of sound all somehow making beautiful sense. Starting out with a rhythmic pulse of a spaghetti western vibe…something you’d hear out of a Robert Rodriguez film, then slowly evolving into a beautiful wall of sound. Breathtaking.

Recently, I was able to interview Mike Dumovich, and find out a bit more about this brilliant musician that calls Washington home.

What were you like as a kid? I was a dirty little kid who liked the woods (I grew up on Vashon), music and drawing.

Best childhood memories? Going to see one of the Sonics finals game in 1979 with my Dad. Getting a ninja star from Pike Place Market and hucking it off the ferry. Getting to choose the color of the curly slide in 3rd grade. I was in a lot of local plays when I was young too, from then on it gets murky.

 And at what age did you realize you loved music? My dad (Mike Sr.) is a really amazing blues player and I got to go watch his shows a lot in the coffee-house scene in the late 70’s early 80’s. I met a lot of musicians then … some are still at it (Baby Gramps, Jim Page) and they seemed like weird and  cool adults.  He also turned me on to people  like Robert Johnson etc. when I was pretty young. My mom had good taste in classical music as well, and between the two I didn’t really have a choice.  Also, most of my friends from Vashon are all really amazing musicians, and it all sort of culminated into a love that started young.
Is that the same time you knew you wanted to be a musician? No. I wanted to be an artist first, then an actor but neither really stuck…I didn’t really start playing until I was 18. But I think listening to  my friends bands and a couple noteworthy moments stoned listening to lots of Zeppelin, Sonic Youth and the Screaming Trees really kind of sealed it. There was also a performance on Vashon by my friend Rick Sabo playing  guitar at a show out here in between a couple of rock bands that made  me want to cry.
When were you comfortable with calling yourself a musician and proud of what you do? Usually there is a catalyst that confirms (or denies) that? I dunno, it was always around, so when I started playing I just did, I never really felt like “ok, I am now a musician”. Guitar became addicting as I played, it became hard to pass by one and not make noise on it.  Like a nervous habit or something. As far as being proud, I have been lucky in terms of who I have been able play with, REAL lucky, and every time I hear them on something I’ve written, it makes me feel pretty honored that they wanted to be part of it. When you play a good show as well, when everyone in a room or venue is on the same page for a moment, that feels great…though I used to hate playing live.
How important is validation at this stage of your career? And from who means the most? I would like to say that it doesn’t matter to me, but it does. Sometimes its validating to have a stranger tell you that they listened to you while going through old snapshots or something, and sometimes it’s validating for someone you really respect to tell you they got something from it. It’s good to  feel like you’re putting something beautiful out in the world, especially when the old “what is this life and what is it about” questions are running around in your brain.  But I would be lying if I told you that it wouldn’t be nice to see it grow into something a little more in terms of geography…At the end of the day though, I’m almost 40 and am not likely to make any real career change at this point, so it doesn’t really matter.
Your latest release “Acres” is truly an exquisite piece of work. Whats the process of say song ‘Grinding Stairs’ that seems to have so many components to it. Is that a studio process involving others? or is it a “Mike all alone in his own space” process? Thanks. As far as the songwriting itself, it’s different per song. Some songs like “Grinding Stairs” and “Are You Sith” came out in like an hour each over the course of a couple of weeks, other ones took a long time to write.  For every one I actually play though there are probably 5 or so that got started and just fizzled out. But they’re kind of like fertilizer songs for the ones that stay. A couple of the songs were basically written near or around the time of the recording and only finished because someone amazing played something on it that freshened it up in my brain and made me see it in a different light. Acumen is an example. I didn’t want to put it on, but Eyvind had this amazing idea for strings that he derived from one of the possible melodies, add Bill Frisell, and well, it was an easy reversal.
As far as the recording process, that was nothing but an absolute collaborative effort between some of the best musicians I have ever heard. (check credits) The work and detail Jonny Goss put into recording and how he was able to get some of those tones with a few mics in a shack on Vashon was miraculous.  Mel Detmer and Toliver Goering with the pre-mix, mix and mastering made it all fold together. Not just shout outs here, it really is just accurate to say that the record was definitely not just me in a room.
Who are you musical peers? Was there one you heard as a kid and was blown away? Also who do you look up to musically NOW and why? I always liked old blues, but when I was kid I also like Duran Duran, Boston and Falco. Luckily, I had friends that steered me onto more compelling  stuff in my late teens early twenties, a lot of which I still listen to today like Gastr Del Sol, John Fahey (whom I only just recently found out was one of my dads heroes), Joy Division, Slint, Bastro, Leonard Cohen etc. In the last few years, I have been liking Bert Jansch (RIP), Sibylle Baier and a welsh songwriter Cate LeBon. But I also have the benefit of having friends who are in some of my favorite bands of all time and listen to them as much as anything. Correspondence, the Curious Mystery, the Diminished Men, Eyvind Kang, Lonesome Shack, Thousands, Shana and The Sandcastles, Anna Lynne Williams, and many more all get played on my big ugly boombox relentlessly.
You worked with some pretty great people on this album. Any challenges with so many great minds working on the same thing? No. It was pretty seemless honestly. Everyone came out to Vashon, camped out in the sun next to this shack behind my friend Toliver’s house  and we all just had a great weekend of music and trees on Wax Orchards Road. The biggest challenge for me was to just calm down and enjoy what everyone was doing on the record.
Why Vashon Island, I mean I know how beautiful it is? How come you haven’t moved to the city, where you spend so much of your time anyway. Well I have spent most of my time living over there. I moved out here for what I thought was a temporary situation that turned into a year plus. I always seem to forget that about this place.
You seem very understated, I mean even most of your gigs are pretty understated? Is that intentional? You could easily be playing with “The Best” artists Seattle has to offer. Frankly you are the some of the BEST Seattle has to offer, but that’s a whole other article. Or do you kind of shun the popularity game? Hehe, no I do not shun it. I just suck at selling myself (how many times have you heard that one).  I’m also sort of just now putting myself together after a long stint of  living life like a dumb angry crab.
Describe a perfect day for Mike? Morning: Well-pulled shots of d-caf at my friend Kathy’s coffee stand (now that’s a shout out) followed by a newspaper and tuna sandwich from the   Burton Store followed by a bout of sneering at the rowing club members that come up for coffee, and then laughing with friends down there and procrastinating.Afternoon: School work, listen to music, play music or play video games depending on how holy I’m feeling.Evening: Sit on porch and try not to be over taken by the nostalgia and the memory wreckage of living in my home town. Music. Read. Write. Music, then…well more video games maybe.
CLICK HERE to listen to album ‘Acres’ on Bandcamp
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