Rungs of records balance on every flat surface, coils of electronic cables stretch every which way, threatening to snatch at your ankles. A studio's worth of musical gadgetry frames the room, flirting with certain free fall. But I'm more concerned with what hangs on the wall. I try to shake them but I can't. Those eyes, they track you like magnets, then latch on with the weight of an anchor. There he is, rock-god Big Brother, the ever present Nick Cave. The weathered poster of the icon acts like a motivational placard here in Wanz Dover's bedroom. It might as well read "Hang in There!"
And hang in there he has. Dover's been a pillar of the Dallas music community for 20-some-odd years now. From proto-punker to guitar alchemist, on to dance producer and back again, the man doesn't know the meaning of artistic burnout. Just as surely as Cave's presence looms over Dover's creative workings, Dover's influence extends into each wrinkle of the local music scene.
Dover's latest efforts put a new twist on an old project. Apart from extensive mentions in local music coverage, you might know the Black Dotz as the best live rock act in town. Dover, the principal songwriter and de facto manager, is looking to add more superlatives to that reputation. The last seven months have seen the Dotz revamped, made anew through instrumental additions (there are now two guitarists and two drummers), renewed focus, and a tweak in source material (less punk, more Afrobeat and krautrock -- ergo less punchy, more sprawling). The band's four-year lifespan is coming to a head right now.
In many respects, the story of the Black Dotz begins 12 years ago, with strands going all the way back to Dover's defunct band the Falcon Project. In truth, it's more complex than that; the Black Dotz revolving membership has tie-ins with a long list of local groups, including The Paper Chase, Brutal Juice, Nervous Curtains, Pinkish Black and Unconscious Collective to name a few. But for the sake of brevity the lineage goes something like this: The Falcon Project became the Falkon, which spawned the Black Arm Band, which in turn, following a five-year hiatus, became the kindling for the Black Dotz.
Which brings us to today. The Black Dotz's current lineup, a quintet, consists of Ian Hamilton on guitar/keyboard, Max Oepen and Mark Baker also on drums, Dover on guitar/voice/saxophone and Zack Busby on bass. I can't speak much to the past, but the chemistry between this unit is truly something else, a hive mind geared toward mutual artistic reward. Dover, insistent on downplaying his role in the group, realizes this: "These songs could not happen without all five of us. Period. It's all about synergy and chemistry."
At only seven months old, the new Dotz are firmly in step with one another, a feature that speaks to each musician's dedication to the cause. "We started getting together every sunday night," Dover says. "I had written some unused songs for the Black Dotz years ago and we started playing through them. What resulted basically reinvented the band."
Whereas in the past the Black Dotz were almost exclusively a live entity, they're now primarily concerned with polishing songs for the sake of recording. As Dover explains it, the band's approach to music making is highly organic, with shades of improvisation throughout: "I just bring the ideas to the room and we blow them up here. They really take on a life of their own."
After months of practice, the Dotz took to the studio in October, intent on cutting several albums' worth of music at once. (They even camped on-site just to make sure). The trip wound up being a several day endeavor, a musical sprint that saw the band scream through 26 tracks in just 72 hours. Inspired by the production techniques of Teo Macero, the musicians played through their sessions with little to no interruption between cuts -- an attempt to capture that ineffable spark endemic to live musicianship. "The idea was to just play and play and edit later, just record everything we could in the moment, and edit it down into songs afterward," Dover recalls.
Spoiler alert: it worked.
What came out the other side of the sessions is some of the most lively and rhythmically satisfying music DFW has produced in some time. Its bluesy textures and sweeping heft runs parallel to Swans' recent output, yet it's decidedly more restless and animated than that, suggestive of themes altogether more modern, even dystopian. In discussions, Dover points to Alice Coltrane, Can and Fela Kuti as inspirations, but when pressed a bit further, he describes the Dotz new music as "deeply rooted in Southern gothic, gospel and roots-music -- mostly black roots music."
It's a dangerous game to engage in record-collector music making -- that is, building music up from the bones of one's favorite artists or musical stylizations. But that's not what's going on here. Preempting this question, Dover clarifies, "We are only into these bands because they are into the same things we are into; they share similar musical values."
Recorded at Echo Lab studios with engineer Matt Barnhart, all 26 of the new tracks are set to see the light of day within the year. For the moment, the plan is to release three 12-inch records and a seven-inch, all of which will be self-released. The first EP, entitled Hallucination Station, is slated for physical release in February or March, though the digital version landed just yesterday (tip: go buy it).
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Like the artists they admire, the Black Dotz's aspirations concern not the monetary, but rather the intrinsic value of their music. "We aren't waiting for a label to come down and save us," Dover reiterates. "We just want to make awesome art, and to share it."
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