Deep Sea Diver: Group Project


Deep Sea Diver’s Jessica Dobson pursues the benefits of team ball

“I’m going to ask him to stop playing drums while we talk, because if he keeps doing that, it’s going to drive me nuts.”

Jessica Dobson lives with—and is married to—the drummer of her band Deep Sea Diver, Peter Mansen. Mansen is doing what drummers do: practicing his craft in another part of the home they share in Seattle. The background noise this activity creates has become a bit unnerving for Dobson as we discuss the finer points of her group’s sophomore LP, Secrets (self-released via High Beam), perhaps one of the finest albums of 2016.

Dobson’s musical bona fides are undeniable. Signed to a contract with Atlantic Records at age 19 (she recorded two albums for the label that were ultimately shelved), the gifted multi-instrumentalist went on to perform as a touring and recording member of the Shins, Spoon, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, as well as Beck and Conor Oberst, lending her colorful guitar flourishes and knack for offbeat melodies to each act while simultaneously continuing to write and record as Deep Sea Diver.

Having released the well-regarded History Speaks LP in 2012 and the even-better Always Waiting EP in 2014, Dobson finally bid her time with the Shins adieu—with James Mercer’s blessing—to blaze her own musical trail, but not as a solo artist. Instead, within a band construct.

The results on Deep Sea Diver’s latest release have proven worth the wait. With Dobson’s focus now solely applied to her own music, the quartet has taken a considerable leap forward, recording Secrets with Radiohead engineer Darrell Thorp as a mostly live-in-the-studio affair, allowing the band’s interplay to fully take flight on tracks such as the squalling, propulsive “Wide Awake,” bouncing pop confection “Creatures Of Comfort” (the upbeat melody of which belies the pain implied by a repeated assertion that “it’s tearing us apart”) and the album’s finest moment, “Body On The Tracks,” a soaring guitar-and-mellotron fest that could easily pass for one of Billy Corgan’s studio-built guitar orchestras if I hadn’t witnessed Dobson playing it note-perfectly during her band’s spotless set at Seattle’s Bumbershoot Festival earlier this year.

“I tend to take the ‘mad-scientist’ approach to playing live,” says Dobson. “On certain songs (such as “Wide Awake”), I get to have a blank slate to do whatever I want. The way we recorded Secrets was to do the basic tracks live in the studio, to be all in a room together and capture a completely different spirit than the first album, which was multitracked and recorded separately. I’m proud of that record, and it actually has a really analog vibe, but we had yet to capture what our live performances were like. The songs on Secrets are more unhinged, have a more urgent feel to them than what we did before.”

Dobson’s considerable individual gifts notwithstanding, it’s her willingness to be a teammate that seems to hold the key to her musical future.

“I used to feel guilty about bringing songs to the band. I would wonder if I’d be able to ‘Jeff Tweedy’ the song, meaning, if it was just me on guitar or piano, would that song translate?” she says. “I’ve grown away from that recently. I still aim for simple, straightforward communication, but if it takes people to fill voices or harmonic parts to capture the spirit of the song, I’m a lot more OK with that now. I can’t get the value of Secrets across just by myself.”

—Corey duBrowa