by Tyler Mangrum
- The Capitol Hill Times -
Despite the amount of difference that exists in the genre vaguely defined as indie rock, Deep Sea Diver stitches together its central elements to form an ambient, jangly sound, driven by the angelic and emotionally-charged vocals of the band’s forming member, Jessica Dobson.
Dobson made her bones while playing with some of the biggest indie names, including Beck, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, and Conner Oberst, before eventually becoming the guitarist for The Shins. But despite her success playing with these big acts, Dobson since diverted all of her talent into making Deep Sea Diver one of the best music acts in the Pacific Northwest. Although the band has been her pet project since 2007, it wasn’t until Dobson became The Shins’ guitarist in 2011 that she finally had the needed recognition to move Deep Sea Diver into the limelight.
“It was a very intentional decision,” Dobson said. “It’s kind of funny how it all unfolded. When we started recording History Speaks is right when I started touring with The Shins. As The Shins’ tour was starting to die down, it seemed like the perfect opportunity. I had just released History Speaks, and it seemed like [there were] way too many opportunities with Deep Sea Diver to keep touring with The Shins. It was a very awesome conversation with [James Mercer] that I had, and it seemed very natural. I do love those guys, and I actually do really miss them, but I think that it was a good decision that had to be made.”
While Deep Sea Diver was initially entirely driven by Dobson, who wrote and played most of the instruments in the band’s 2009 EP, New Caves, she soon relinquished some creative control over the band after meeting her future husband, Peter Mansen. After crossing paths with Mansen in a coffee shop in Fremont while recording an album with Beck in 2006, Dobson soon realized that Mansen was the band’s missing piece.
“We just became fast friends, and eventually realized that we loved each other,” Dobson said. “As we started dating, it became very clear that it was a very natural progression to have him play in the band because I respect him so much as a musician. At the same time, I was very ready to relinquish control as the sole songwriter. He’s an incredible musician, and he was really the first person who I opened up to in terms of collaboration efforts.”
After moving to Seattle, Mansen’s hometown, the two began recording History Speaks, and Dobson grew open to broadening Deep Sea Diver’s sound beyond her traditional roots as a guitarist and a fan of poppy indie rock. As Dobson notes, the two musician’s disparate musical backgrounds coalesce with a precision-engineered album that echoes heartfelt sadness throughout, and Dobson’s expressive vocals scaling peaks and valleys in tone over Mansen’s tightly composed, toe-tapping rhythms.
“I taught myself how to play guitar, and so most of what I was first writing was very guitar driven,” Dobson said. “At the same time, I have a very ballad-centric side of me. But the influences that Peter brings are different than what I grew up listening to, stuff like Deerhoof and noise rock that is very dark, ambient, throbbing music. Although I definitely have these things that are a part of me from all the music, like The Smiths, that I grew up listening to, one of my favorite things about playing with other people is not having a set thesis statement of ‘this is what I want to sound like,’ and the more songs that you write together, the more cohesive it becomes. Without thinking about it, a sound comes out.”
Now, as the band records their second full length album, due mid-2014, Deep Sea Diver is preparing a Christmas show at Neumos, which Dobson says will capitalize on the feeling of the season and present a different, more playful sort of show than what the band’s fans have come to expect.
“It’s the end of the year, everyone’s in good spirits, and we wanted to make it an extremely enjoyable experience for people to go to,” Dobson said. “There’s a lot of tongue and cheek stuff going on. Peter has been working pretty hard on some sweet set-design stuff, and we’re going to be playing three new songs, a few Christmas songs, including an original one that I wrote last year. Wear your ugly Christmas sweaters, and be ready to dance; it’s going to be wild.”