Feature Stories

Wanz Dover Turns Near-Death Experience Into His Most Successful Album

In many cases, the notion that what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger is absurd. "What doesn’t kill you makes you fragile" may be more sensible. But after a health scare that put him in a hospital bed for weeks, Wanz Dover came back stronger than ever. He is now working on several upcoming releases, bringing top-notch techno talent to Deep Ellum and working as a DJ several nights a week. But he also used his time in the hospital as inspiration for his most successful album yet.

Dover came up with the idea for Music for Hospitals while in the hospital. He wrote the entire album in his head. Within a few weeks of leaving his hospital bed, he had recorded and released it. “The music I go to sleep to is the most important music I listen to because I listen to it every night,” Dover says. But he hasn’t changed up the playlist much over the last decade.

He enjoyed Steve Reich, Terry Reilly and Seefeel, but also Brian Eno’s Music for Airports. When Dover was in the hospital he mainly just had these songs for sleeping in his phone. Known for exploring many different genres, including punk and techno, he always wanted to make ambient meditation music. Dover was fascinated by how perfectly Music for Airports and collaborations with Fennesz and Ryuichi Sakamoto helped relax him in the worst of times.

“I tried listening to Galaxy 500 and it sounded like death metal to me,” Dover says. “I was in such a fragile state.” He clung to Music for Airports and the two albums from Fennesz and Sakamoto. The music is experimental and minimalistic, but quiet and meditative. “I felt like a cyborg,” he continues. “But the music kept me sedated and calm while I had all these wires and tubes poked all over my body."   

The music kept him from panicking and he decided to record his ambient meditation album almost immediately. “I always wanted to do an album like that,” Dover says. “Anyone can do a collection of drones, but it’s different when it actually has a theme and a purpose. I’m glad I decided to wait.”

The song titles directly reflect the experience of his recovery. “The Morning Walk” was what he had to do every day in order to heal. “IV Change” was written in his head while he was getting IV changes, even when the nurse had trouble finding the vein. Other titles reference a CTS scan, his hospital room number and surviving the night.

Once Dover returned home, family and friends were around to aid in his recovery. For several days he could do little more than get out of bed and walk to his home recording studio. But he did it, and quickly completed Music for Hospitals. “When you’re sitting in a hospital it gives you a lot of time to think about stuff,” Dover says. “I’m not usually the type to compose songs ahead of time. I like to compose on the fly.”

But trying something new has paid off. People started telling him that they were buying it for people in the hospital. “Well that’s what it’s for,” Dover says. Nurses told him what a nice soundtrack he had in the hospital as he was thinking the same thing. Many people choose noise from a 24-hour television. “It’s not good for the body,” he says. But Music for Hospitals is soothing and meditative, written with major keys. It's electronic bliss. People reached out to Dover to tell him it was exactly what they needed while in recovery.

More than two decades into his career in the local music scene, Dover has a huge and diverse catalog. But Music for Hospitals is now his most successful release. And since illness and hospitals will always be a part of life, it has enormous potential for longevity. He also plans for the album to be issued on vinyl in the near future.

Right now he is preparing to take his creation back to the hospital with him for a follow-up surgery. “I wanted to create something that could be used in a very practical sense,” Dover says. Creating the album was a cathartic experience, and when he released it he just asked for donations. He was more concerned with making sure people heard it than making money.

Yet he made money. “That was very unexpected,” Dover says. “I’ve actually made more money off that release than anything else I’ve put out.” He was able to pay off some of his hospital bill, but he has to pay off the rest before his next operation. And then he can expect even more bills to follow. But he has stayed busy with shows and hopes Music for Hospitals will continue to serve a purpose.

As busy as he was before, Dover is even busier now, working on several upcoming releases. The thought of dying before completing all the music he wants to make fostered a sense of urgency. To him, a busy pace should be the norm.

In a few weeks, Dover will go back under the knife and then he will be out of commission for a couple weeks. But expect him to be back with a vengeance. What couldn’t kill him has certainly made him stronger.