KEXP Q&A: Jessica Dobson of Deep Sea Diver

photo by Eric Gonzalez

The wildly talented guitar player, Jessica Dobson, who fronts the band, Deep Sea Diver, has also played extensively with bands like Beck, The Shins and Conor Oberst. Jessica knows the guitar inside and out and is a master of tones and composition. KEXP caught up with her to ask her about her favorite moments touring with various bands, what her most recent crazy dream was, and what’s next for her baby, DSD.

How many bands are you playing in now? 

Well, pretty much only Deep Sea Diver right now. I left The Shins about a year and a half ago. Peter, who plays is Deep Sea Diver, has a side project and sometimes I’ll guest appear as a percussionist and a singer but that’s just for fun.

When I left The Shins they were still finishing tour and I only left because I felt I left my baby, Deep Sea Diver, unattended. We’d released History Speaks when I was on tour with The Shins and always felt there was more work to do. As of now, I don’t foresee myself touring to that capacity with larger bands like that in the near future because I’m focusing on Deep Sea Diver at this time. But it was amazing and I love all those people.

When did you first start playing guitar? When did you first get good at guitar?

Well, I played piano first. I often think about the time that my dad busted out this old 12-string and he showed me a couple songs on the guitar. I was 11. And I told myself I could do that. For the rest of my life I chose guitar over piano because I already had theory and knew how to read music. Picking up the guitar became my third arm, I was inseparable from it.

I think I’ve always been kind of a ham of a performer. I just love making people laugh and singing with them. I guess I realized I was good at the guitar when people would ask me to play songs. I would go home and learn songs on the radio and pick apart albums. When people kept asking me to do it, I realized what I was doing wasn’t necessary in vein.

Rapid Fire: what sticks out as your favorite memory of playing with… 

Beck – When we played the Hollywood Bowl with Spoon and MGMT opening, I walked out to a sea of people and saw my parents in the front row. We opened up with “Loser” and to see my mom and dad with huge smiles, singing along to one of the first songs I ever learned in 6th grade – that was one of the most serial moments. George Clooney was in the front too, along with tons of celebrities. I thought, How am I doing this right now? 

The Shins – I toured so much more with The Shins than with Beck so there are a lot more memories – but I think there was a special moment every night. It was always such a thrill to be James’ right hand man as lead guitarist and to bring songs alive and to also have the freedom of being creative within the new and old tunes. It was more getting to know the band and crew as family because we toured so much together – it was much more personal.

There was one funny moment when I fell at Sasquatch in front of 60,000 people, though, because a person dressed in a Sasquatch costume came on stage and I stumbled and tripped on my guitar chord. There was no coming back from that! I just got up and started soloing. 

Conor Oberst – Peter, my husband, played tambourine on one of the songs in an encore for Conor and someone came up after and said, “I really wanna buy a CD, you were amazing!” A lot of people in the Conor tour then were into autographs and so I picked up a pen and asked if he wanted my autograph, but he said no, he wanted the tambourine player’s! That was fun. 

Deep Sea Diver – Most recent favorite moment was by far the Christmas show we put on. So much work went into it and into making it special. I grew up being in musicals around Christmas time and you just feel you have to put on a production – we did our own lighting and everything. Peter built a huge backdrop of Christmas lights and then at the end of the show we closed with an original and went into a medley of “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas”. I got on my friend John’s shoulders who was wearing a Santa Clause outfit and soloed throughout the crowd at Neumo’s. It was so bizarre. 

Can you remember the strangest dream you’ve had recently?

Oh, man. Too many. All I have is strange dreams. The most bizarre one was when, in my dream, I heard a song playing, I was in the forest – I’d just seen a Radiohead video with animals following him, so maybe that’s where it came from – and in my dream there was a bear and my mother was chasing me with a knife and the big giant bear said, “Gooo thaaaat waaaaay” in a very molasses slow voice. When I woke up from the dream, I went to the piano and I wrote the song and it’s one of the weirdest songs I’ve ever written. If only all my music could come that way...

How does Seattle affect your music, what do you miss about it when you’re on the road?

I think coming from Southern California, in Long Beach, the city is not spread out down there, it’s a five minute bike ride anywhere. So I find myself being able to focus more here in Seattle because it’s more spread out. Me and my husband live in North Greenwood. The landscape of Seattle – I thought about this the other day – the Seattle sound over the last few years is a bit more reverby, spread out. I didn’t grow up here – but I think the Seattle landscape affects our sound.

When I’m on the road, I miss the coffee. But that’s changing, it’s getting better nationwide. The coffee movement has spread! And I miss my friends a lot, that’s the biggest thing on the road. I’m really trying to make my home a real home. It’s fun to come back to hibernate and throw bar-b-que’s.

What are you working on now?

The second Deep Sea Diver full-length and an EP, which we’ll release first in early fall. The LP will be released in early 2015.

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