By Sarah Bennett
By Adam Lovinus
By Jena Ardell
By Nate Jackson
By Gustavo Arellano
By Nick Keppler
By Nate Jackson
By Alex Distefano
Jessica Dobson’s solo career is benefitting from the Beck bump
Let’s go back to the best birthday Jessica Dobson has ever had. On May 12 of this year, sitting at the dinner table with 10 of her best friends in the entire world, she got a phone call, went outside to check who it was from—and found a voice mail from Beck’s music director.
She (along with a phalanx of hopefuls) had tried out for Beck’s backing band; she (along with a phalanx of suddenly less-hopefuls) had prepared for the polite rejection and a nice “almost famous” story to tell later. But after agonizing minutes of small talk, she got the sly by-the-way news that yes, Beck had selected her as his new live guitarist. A little more than 100 days later, she was onstage with him at the Hollywood Bowl, and the morning after that, the bookers and bartenders and drinkers and thinkers who man the machinery between Silver Lake and Echo Park Boulevards were wondering (out loud), “Just who was that girl?”
But if you lived here, you already knew. That was Jessica Dobson, La Habra hometown heroine and Hub Cafe veteran, onetime restaurant manager, and lifetime guitarist and songwriter, performing as Deep Sea Diver, who made a public New Year’s resolution (in the pages of OC Weekly) in 2007 to appear on Letterman by the end of the year. Well, it took 18 months, but there she was in mid-October—Beck’s right-hand woman, taking the solos and backing vocals on “Gamma Ray.” (Though without the ’64 Fender Jaguar, which was once her signature instrument—that warhorse is currently retired at her parents’ home.) Her last show pre-Beck was a neighborhood barbecue at the end of May, and her first show post-Beck will be this weekend at Alex’s: Dobson alone with drums, guitar and three or four pedals (including a tuner).
“I couldn’t do anything with my own music [while touring with Beck],” Dobson says now, “but I met people on the road and talked to anybody who’d listen about my own side project—or I guess my project! It really has opened doors and given it momentum.”
Momentum was sadly intermittent for Dobson for about three years, thanks to a contract with Atlantic Records she signed in 2004. She delivered two full albums—the latest recorded with Shins and Modest Mouse producer Phil Ek—that submerged into major-label confusion. (See Ellen Griley’s “True Story,” July 14.) Apart from loose tracks available online and despite promises of product for years, there would be no official word from Dobson until—well, until now. That birthday she got the call from Beck was the same day she got released from Atlantic.
“A crazy perfect storm of events!” she says. “But it’s finished, and I own the masters, which is incredible. And I’m mixing and recording new songs, and I can say with certainty that I’m gonna release a record in the next few months—because I own it!
“I’m so incredibly antsy! I’m gonna do it myself. I don’t wanna deal with another roadblock. I’m looking forward to bringing it all home!”
Those Jaguar days—when Dobson led a full-band through her own Davies-boys-meet-Elephant 6 guitar pop and a strident Clash cover, too—will hopefully be on there, as will the Dobson songs of more recent vintage. At a show this spring, she faced down an alien crowd that really owed her more attention, with bold, almost-uncontrolled solo electric songs that glowed with confidence, and then a vocal set on the drums that recalled the post-everyone-at-the-time art rock of LiLiPUT or Young Marble Giants. Online, however, she presents the songs as she originally imagined them: alert and urgent full-band guitar rockers that swing off Dobson’s reverbed lead lines and a voice that’s all strength and purpose—Chrissie Hynde, not Leslie Feist. In the break in the middle of her “New Caves” come just Dobson and her guitar: “I couldn’t go it alone, no/I couldn’t go it alone/I thought I might be wrong/But tell me what do I know?”
“I feel if you wanna know where I’ve been the past four or five years, read those lyrics,” she says. “The bridge is all about grappling with all this wreckage—trying to repair a sunken ship. And it was unsalvageable, and I needed to get out of it and go start something new.”
Which all happened on the same day, didn’t it?
“That means a lot to me,” she says. “I think, for the first time, I’ve been able to say everything I wanted to say.”
Deep Sea Diver with the Fling and So Many Wizards at Alex’s Bar, 2913 E. Anaheim St., Long Beach, (562) 434-8292; www.alexsbar.com. Sun., 9 p.m. $5. 21+. Visit Deep Sea Diver at www.myspace.com/deepseadivermusic.