The Modern Man's Un-Bible
An Interview With Subtle's Dose One
I caught up with Subtle frontman Dose One (via the internet) recently to discuss, among other things, their latest release on Lex Records For Hero: For Fool. The album is quite possibly Subtle's most polished and realized effort to date and it's no accident. Borne, in some ways, of the band's February 2005 road tragedy that left keyboardist and lynchpin player, Dax Pierson paralyzed from the chest down; the album is a brave and passionate grabbing of life by its throat, a golden phoenix sort of record. Feeling so inpired and curious about this densely packed piece of art and metaphor I wanted to hear Dose explain it to me, in under 2000 words. The answers I got back left my jaw agape. This piece was originally intented as an article but I've come to realize this unhinged poetic maniac is much better served unabridged.
CHALKEDUP: Can you describe the narrative of For Hero: For Fool for me?
DOSEONE: Well, you asked for it.....
1. A Tale of Apes I 'Hour Hero Yes' begins his journey on the short end of his songs, on a stage before a crowd finding himself stricken by having a voice to yell things with, yet no meaning to ground them in. And as the empty feeling begins to overcome him...
2. A Tale of Apes II He flashes back to his beginings steeped in honest to goodness intent, cutting art from nothing in a basement somewhere in the Midwestern States.
3. Middleclass Stomp He then returns from his flashback to the "merch booth" where he is often absent-eyed, dreaming of what things would/could/should be until he is visited by 'Debts Officer Promise' and his army of a hundred something swarming forks. They proceed to unravel before him his very fate in clausal form. "Middleclass or Above" a dooming or saving statement which lays our hero flush against the rest of the apathy blooded human universe.
4. Middleclass Kill The clarity and fear fire it sets off in Hour Hero Yes bring words to his tounge and strength to his chest as he finds himself a killer in such middleclass-ed wilderness. A survivor of its worst and still bent beyond it....to his best.
5. Midas Gutz And so he is now champion of his own worst nightmares and wildest survivor ideals. So tough, in fact, he could sift through his own guts and still stand to catch limelight and blow kisses or throw fists....until he realizes that in all his triumph he has simply managed to surround himself with half-interested people who only praise what they seem to deeply fear and this causes him to sink in his own skin--to rethink his trajectory.
6. Nomanisisland And so he goes solo, so solo, that he might never come back. Building himself a raft from tree and rope and cope, he sets sail on the atlantic to survive the real way: to be flesh in the palm of the sun, floating atop the all powerful water of earth to truly be small amongst the massive. He does not die, he only lives to grow a beard about it...and clear his skull beneath the prolonged lengths of his life.
7. The Mercury Craze So he returns to the world a man reborn, a man one can only call lucky. This luck sets what's left of his blood on fire and he tells people the tale of his will to live, and this becomes a popular affair. His way of life starts to smell like gold, and only his blood is to blame. And now that his blood is so popular will he give it to all those who come asking? Will he sell it to those who beg in the shape of want? And then what? When he is so throbbed after, where does that leave such a survivor, where would that leave an honest man standing?
8. Bed to the Bills Why, back at his door [of course], checking his mailbox for bills, and brushing the dust off his bed. To return the luckiest man in the world, to an empty home with all its running debt collecting. And so he takes to the streets with his drug and his days, and they melt into the meld of other days and the dreams of suits and fantasies of laying in a lady's lap 'til sleep. He returns to his door again and again, to do his drug and hold off on all that luck for no reason, to freeze himself, to be himself, to his bed, to sleep.
9. Return of the Vein And then things get ugly...As he sleeps half thawed, the Long Vein of the Law returns to claim his direction in life, only this time the LVOTL is considerably more violent and fear striking--showing you the terrible things he must do to make money in the face of meaning. And even your shadow finds it too dark to bear and you can't yell your self awake--you can only watch and bear how much worse your world might be. And you wake up, on a bench, in a park, starved for your own hunger again. And you step ready to die back into life....
10. Call to Dive On your way home the city itself seems to come alive showing you the desperate and delightful wilds of itself, showing you the jungle of old Oakland, the modern day violence and resolve of your very street. You realize, there is no saving you, no cleansing of your past and present. [There's] simply your body as arrow, to either remain dormant and half dead in your bed...or to be shot, in human dive into the very action of your life and the meaning of your spending days to death on planet earth.
11. The Ends And so Hour Hero Yes sits on the edge of his bed again, clear of skull, and sound of heart, prepared to eat his days and live his nights with every single cell of himself. To be the very collection of selves and songs he really is. And he sleeps. And he dreams the perfect dream, of having no choice, only gravity as if drawn by an umbilical cord again toward the light of living outside the yolk of death into an honest place of abscence and presence. As his skull is striped with black and light, he opens a door...
And that is where the next record will begin....
CU: For Hero: For Fool seems to be a much more audacious indictment of the banality of modern times than your previous efforts. I'm thinking specifically of your derision for the middle class: "This is no joke.../ they can see themselves at 50/ and are not psychic/ Hung in the ever evening of their years." As you age and progress as an artist do you find you're getting more pissed off with the world and these sort of people?
DO: Yes and No...
As I mature as an art maker, writer, and "someone who is held accountable for the words he says"-er, I have realized the size and scope of the sort of grandiose and all-points bulletin statements I can say and then stand behind, and 'Middleclass Kill' is one of the first pieces that i feel yolks this part of me. It's hard for me to write songs about my failed relationships, or George Bush and the terrible-horrible-no-good white people inside him but when I got to the heart of this notion of "middleclassdom" I realized this is something i have been feeling deeply about since highschool--when the post-puberty pangs of being destined for career-dom first kicked in. I then realized this is something I could say with all my heart...and edge.
But in the same respect I am honest and careful in this poem to direct my anger at the many parts solution of what is oppressive about being rich, poor, or in-between in this day and age.
I spend quite a bit of time, making sure I am the being the right "honest" sort of preachy when I put my personally political foot down. There is nothing more poweful than a truth packed monologue and nothing worse than a greasy, self-centered, preachy, me-me-me-I poem.
CU:The album art on FH: FF strikes me as vastly more realized than that from A New White (with respect to creating a visual link to a song's motif/theme). Was it critical for you to up the art-ante on this one? How was the process different?
DO: The music , prose, and artwork are all based directly on A New White and everything is doubled down on and sort of re-pronounced more allegorically. In many ways this is the testament to our car accident, and its severity: that in the face of being more fragile than we ever thought we might be we will either fade away, or double our gravity in every regard. It is getting a grip on living again, only twice as tight in some regards and this was quite plainly my inspiration for it all....the artwork that is.
In technical terms....I taught myself to draw doing the art for A New White and it is how I got to the art for For Hero: For Fool....and the more I drew from my centre, where my poems come from, the better the drawings got, they even began to flesh out portions of the imagery that the prose do not--completing the circuit. And between you, me, and the reader, this was natural and sort of just began to happen. The other major influence is my fiance, Erin, she is a visual artist of no comparison in my mind/world and watching her exact her inner minds eye with pen and ink, is truly inspiring. It reminds me of how I grind days into poem parts and so i took a page from her book....by osmosing as much as i could.
The last step was creating the board game, which both she and I agreed was the crown across the work and needed to be made tangible to take my little world and make it real outside of printed word and headphones, to make it an artifact.
DO: That is Dax...beatboxing and playing piano at the same time, in one improv take. The piece brought a lump to my throat the first time he played it for us after the accident.
The return to form is both tribute and necesary for relating the color of the song to the nature of the poems. Like you say about the artwork, the raw rap air of 'Midas Gutz' is exactly what that poem needed to become whole. And my performance on it needed a sort of bullet-proof air to it and it marks, on the record, what it is to be "hard" of both constitution and bicep--intellect and swagger.
I also made a conscious effort on this record, to style my ass off. To push not only what I know I can do best, but push the unwritten tenets and high bars of being a vocalist/rapper/un-singer, whathave you.
CU Hour Hero Yes is often simultaneously depicted in your writing and art as an icon of transcendence (he leaves earth; he has angel wings on the back of FH:FF) and yet one of imprisonment (he seems to struggle in the metaphysical sewer of modern life; he's depicted on the back of A New White wearing what looks like a jailer's shirt and before him is a fish trapped in a bowl; on the back of For Hero: For Fool he's donning full cellmate garb and floating skulls are probing his face with tongues made from the arms of Adam and God in Michelangelo's Creation of Adam). Why the dichotomy--the freedom clashing with the entrapment?
DO: Because i know nothing else. All of the creativity and wildest dreams which [Hour Hero] Yes comes from, are bound beneath the hand of rent and impending doom or dayjob lengths. This is not an era of Unicorns and perfect princes who can ride the slightest lightning, or bring dead birds back to their wings. Instead, [Hour Hero]Yes is a character of common accord and uncommon intent, a dreamer in a dead man's shoes. I would never offer up the world a hero who can not defend himself against the way things are. Would there ever be such a thing, a hero made of solid gold who never guesses? Hour Hero Yes is what's awesome and flaw-lined about being human. All those wildest dreams hung to hover in a skull above the body of a man who is late for work...a liver.
CU: How important are religion and spirituality to your work?
DO:I would say that my work is my religion and spirituality, without sounding too corny. It is all i believe in. It is what i feed myself to, both humbly, and with avarice. It teaches me self-discipline and resilience. I was raised in the absence of religion, by two hippie parents who were leaving organized religion aside for meaning, for a sense of quest or purpose that is more tied to the spectrum of human emotions...not useful fairy tales and highest hopes, so to speak.
This absence did not leave me an unbeliever. I have always been naturally and obsessively afraid of death and I have always felt guided at the same time. So I believe in something and nothing at the same time, confident I will have to fight averages and probabilities to live the full length of my lifetime. And to do so with meaning, I must think and feel a great deal about said lifetime while i have the chance.
And the legacy/ tale of Hour Hero Yes is in fact my working/modern man's un-bible. A collection of tales, born of earth ordeals, bent on finding meaning in the vacuum of the work weeks pending; without all the rules and passing on of lifestyle regulations.
CU: Like most people it takes me a long time to piece together the reoccurring themes and images that pervade your work and even then I feel like I'm barely scratching the surface. Is the hallucinatory density of your writing completely intentional, and how do you respond to people who say your shit's hard to digest? Also, how in the fuck do you keep it all straight in your head?
DO: Well that is a good sign, because to be frank, these themes take a while to occur in me and my life's lens. And then they have to wait to occur in my writing and then I sort of have these clear moments where i realize, these themes have been here all along, and never before had I described such unwordable aspects of myself or the world so succinctly. I edit these works for years, layering them, bringing up questions on one song that I later answer in another poem--allowing the prose to be fleshed out across experiences by the light of the readers/listeners skull. In essence, leaving things to be pieced together by those who care to do so, as I do, for myself.
As for the hallucinatory aspect of my writing, I simply find it to be the perfect off-form. I am not inspired necessarily by art-school text books or an entire sheet of acid, I just really see "the dream" as the ultimate form of encapsulation, communication, or escapism--where everything can or could not have meaning upon meaning, an environment where everything is charged. You simply need to add choice/intuition to the equation. That being said, I somehow stumbled upon this way of writing. It is a meld of dream recollection writing and dense personal truth-packed prose and i use these personal truths as my facts, as the things I can say that I feel are undeniable and I arrange the dreams around them.
And I try not to keep it all straight in my head. That is why I set these parameters up for myself before i really sank into this trilogy (or the world of Hour Hero Yes)--so that i might have something to grow by, where I can be as fantastic or frank as I feel I need to be. A whole other world tuned to the tilt of my liking and tallest fears. It is a way for me to not die writing about myself, and my eggshell, but rather the world and its myriad of lifetimes let loose.
So, long story short...I straighten it all out as I write it. It's part of the process, and it's what keeps me guessing, intrigued in what I'm doing--writing whole songs on For Hero: For Fool, to explain single lines on A New White. And the next record will be even more exploratory...I am already some 6000 unedited words into it.
DO: He came to me. At first as a humourous obsession, as the carnal American, the guy everyone on earth knows. I sort of defaulted to him after finding the fame and foibles of Jesus Christ to be poem ready and truly amusing. He may very well be the second most popular human ever in existence. With George, [however,] there is proof he existed, proof he was human--both war hero and slave owner. And then one day I began to think about the tale they tell you in grade school, about how he can not tell a lie, and the cherry tree bit. I realized what he had become--this deity, or living greco-roman american allegory of pure human constitiution. Meanwhile everything they tell you about him is fabricated: wooden teeth, pure honesty. He became "fame" incarnate for me. And as I continued to see him in my future and writing he also became "fear "incarnate.
CU: "Hour Hero Yes" has appeared on a number of your projects. Is For Hero: For Fool his swan song or are you going to continue developing this character?
DO: No, it is his beginning. It is only at the end of this record that he actually become Hour Hero Yes. The progression of the Subtle writing from here on out will get significantly more fanciful, and somehow more relevant to the politics and world we live in, as Hour Hero Yes becomes the crusader he was meant to be. At the same time he is a gateway to exploring my other characters who will become the focus of the Subtle writing...Doc. Moon or Gun, Reverend Pitman, Long Vein of The Law, Debts Officer Promise, the Headache Twins, the Wrecking Anchor. The list goes on and on....
CU: What can we expect from the next Subtle album?
DO: It will be an artifact, from the far side of sleep. A collection of lore, legend, characters, songs, poems, and facts all gathered and written by Hour Hero Yes. It will explain, reference, and expound on all the motifs that arose on both A New White, and For Hero: For Fool. Musically it will be a complete graduation, going where we have never gone before (our un-moto) and re-visiting/vamping melodies and places we have gone before. I will pick freely from the pages of Hour Hero Yes' lore collection to make songs of such things and the relationship between the text behind Subtle and thus the songs we make can keep growing, allowing for us to keep doing what we do best, while keeping it unbridled yet ushered to a focus.
I know it may sound confusing, but beneath all these guidelines we pride ourselves on having no rules that wrap completely around our art; allowing for our lives and perspective changes to influence our music as much as our abilities and long standing inspirations.
CU: What's the status on you and Jel doing another Themselves album? Is it still a back-burner item at this point?
DO: No, it is on our plate as I type. We are, however, approaching it like our first record--as it comes, more one song at a time. And i am writing specificly to the music, rhyming and focusing my writing in the prefered hiphop form of discourse:the monologue. Some of the poems are things that have come to me in the past four years, and i instantly knew they would be Themselves songs when the day came.
There are songs about Anticon...Jeff and I...the whole arm...a goldteeth and commercial rap diss poem....all sorts of good things.
CU: How are you guys together on the road? Do you all get along?
DO: Oh yeah, but getting along is a relative term.
One thing the accident really brough to a hilt, is that we are in a realtionship, not a band. We have always been a very sensitive collection of grown men, but going through something so heavy and life changing, fused us to each other and since then getting along has been one of the many things that such a drastic perspective change has bent into shape.
Touring itself is a delicate balance of together "boys club" time, and the desperately necessary alone time--which sometimes is only constituted by spacing-out in the car when everyone is somehow quiet for an hour. We definitely find the same things funny and the same things un-funny...the rest is water under the bridge....of tour.
Bradley Iles, 24 October 2006