Dave Dobbyn like you've never seen him before

By Lydia Jenkin

To help celebrate New Zealand Music Month, we've gathered together a bunch of acts at much different stages in their careers, starting here with veteran Dave Dobbyn who talks to Lydia Jenkin about his tour-with-a-difference.

New Zealand music icon Dave Dobbyn. Photo / Dean Purcell
New Zealand music icon Dave Dobbyn. Photo / Dean Purcell

Sharing ideas, stages, and songs, collaborating, talking - that's what New Zealand Music Month is all about. And perennially positive Dave Dobbyn has waded into the annual celebration with gusto, with a tour involving more than 30 other musicians in a festive exchange of songs and good times.

The idea came out of a goodbye show for his sometime backer, singer-songwriter Victoria Girling-Butcher, who was leaving for Paris. "[The idea] was really cool, lots of different musicians, all seamlessly interacting."

So as well as playing Parnell's Paddington, he's heading to Masterton, Wellington, and Christchurch, and has asked a variety of local musicians in each city to perform with him. They'll each choose a song of Dobbyn's to perform, and he'll perform a song or two with them in return, the aim being to find fresh interpretations of some older songs and introduce the audience to new material, too.

Even with a consistent backing band who'll be performing throughout, that's a fair few new songs for Dobbyn to learn before he sets off.

"I know! I have trouble learning my own songs," he laughs. "I mean, a bit of rehearsal and usually I'm fine, but when it comes to other people's songs, I've always been terrible at it because I forget lyrics. But for me it's a great chance to play guitar and piano and do backing vocals and all that stuff, too. It's utterly liberating, you're not in the spotlight. And I don't do that often. I'm one of those bloody tortured songwriters."

The musicians involved are from a variety of backgrounds and genres - country, rock, psychedelic, electronic, R&B - so Dobbyn is expecting the unexpected when it comes to hearing his songs in a new light.

"That's going to be the biggest kick, because it just opens up your ears really.

Songs are just conversations, but if you have a musical conversation, it takes it to another level really, so it's a great revealing of things.

"It's like opening up your toy box to share, only to find all your toys are slightly broken," he laughs. "Some of the old songs are a bit like that, but these guys can help to get them running again."

He's avoiding any sort of "let's all strum along" jamming scenarios - the musicians are all working on specific arrangements for each song - plus they'll be cramming in as many rehearsals as they can beforehand.

It's an action-packed time, particularly because Dobbyn is also moving house from one part of Grey Lynn to another where he will have a studio in the backyard.

It will be particularly useful while Dobbyn puts his next album together - he's been writing lots of new songs and might play a couple on this tour.

"They're almost at a point where I could throw them at a bunch of musicians, my band, and they'll grow up very quickly, so it's all very exciting.

"I've made myself a rule though, that I'm not going to go into the back yard studio wearing slippers or pyjamas. You've got to go in fully dressed, ready for work."

He's also very much looking forward to having plenty of other musicians coming in to write, rehearse and record, particularly his son, who's currently studying at Mainz with Recloose, and will be on tour with him as part of the Inter-Soul Collective.

"There's nothing like having a blast together, playing together with my son. And we'll leave a kit set up so that people can come in and have a jam, work up their songs. I'm so happy to have the space as a base."

Dobbyn seems in a very enthusiastic, collaborative state of mind, and he's hoping this tour might turn into something bigger.

"Perhaps something we can do every year, maybe even turn it into a show that can be held in theatres. I'd love to do it in Dunedin too, play with some Flying Nun people. It doesn't have a full stop on the end of it."


SINGING FROM THE BOOK OF DAVE

Anna Coddington

Which song are you going to sing?

Be Set Free from The Islander

What made you choose it?

I listened to this album a lot when I was about 17 or 18 and was really getting into songwriting. I had been writing songs for about three years by then and was just starting to think about songwriting as a craft and there are so many amazing songs on that record. But this one in particular really got me (along with Beside You) - I thought the lyrics were very good; meaningful but elusive enough to put your own meaning in there, and the melody with its crunchy, chuggy guitars is superb. This song really reminds me of that time in my life.

SJD

Which song are you going to sing?

It Dawned On Me from Twist

What made you choose it?

Firstly it's a great song off a great album, Twist, which always meant a lot to me (and to scores of others I know). I love themes of revelation and redemption in songs - the idea of falling in love again with the places, the people that you're already familiar with. This one has a simple timeless tune that, in keeping with the album's title, has a little melodic twist in it that comes with the tagline.

Vocal-wise, it's intimate but has that little DD Smash edge on it - heartfelt lyrics that are hopeful but never cheesy and a simple organic arrangement that takes it all home beautifully.

Jesse Sheehan

Which song are you going to sing?

And You Will Lose Everything from Available Light

What made you choose it?

It paints a picture of a man helplessly shaking the bars of his mental prison, seeking refuge from his despair in the very thing that has caused it. "I'm with you now to wash your pain away, and you will lose everything." I love this song because of its raw honesty and bravery in exploring the darker depths of the human condition.

It speaks to anyone who has ever felt lost and alone, scared of being abandoned by those who love them, helpless to overcome the struggles in their lives. It is melodic, clever, and the lyrics are both heartbreaking and beautiful. It's simply an incredible song and I can't wait to sing it with Dave at his Auckland show.


LOWDOWN

Who: Dave Dobbyn, along with Marlon Williams, Aaron Tokona, Paul Ubana Jones, Scribe, Adam McGrath, The Bads, SJD, Jordan Luck, Anna Coddington, Graham Brazier, Peter Urlich, Jesse Sheehan, Jan Hellriegel, Glass Owls, Warren Maxwell, Wayne Mason, Iva Lamkum, Thomas Oliver and more.

What: Stories Old And New Tour.

Where and when: The Bedford, Christchurch, May 11; The Paddington, Auckland, May 18; Bodega, Wellington, May 25; King Street, Masterton, May 26.

- TimeOut

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