Dolour – The Royal We (Q&A)

It is very hot outside when I listen to The Royal We, Dolour’s new record, for the first time. That does not seem a coincidence. The record seems to be the soundtrack for a hot day.

10 timeless, well-crafted melodies, in different styles.

On Wake Up The Sun and Chasing The Sun, Shane Tutmarc sounds like Burt Bacharach or (even) Gilberto Gil and I Am Over It could be a song by Christopher Cross. The Snake Eye reminds me of a Gilbert O’Sullivan song.

‘Yes and No’ and ‘Drunk Dial’ are pure (Indie) Pop and are, as far as I’m concerned, the highlights of The Royal We and I wouldn’t be surprised if ‘Yes and No’ finishes very high in my list of the best songs of 2020.

Sweet Sweet Music spoke to Shane Tutmarc.

How did this record come together?

“The Royal We” was a very unusual record for me in a lot of ways. This is my 11th studio album and my first Dolour album in nearly 15 years. So that alone made it unique.

Dolour was my first band that I started when I was 16 years old. By the time I was about 24, after 4 albums, I took a big stylistic turn and started digging more into my musical roots in country, gospel, and blues which took me on a decade long journey and a bunch more albums. Ultimately, that journey led me right back around to how I originally made albums – writing, playing, and producing myself, and combining all my various loves of music into a potpourri of sounds. The first record in this full circle approach was “Pink Noise” which I put out under the band name Solar Twin in late 2017.

After making that album, I suddenly felt the notion of returning to the world of Dolour for the first time in a decade. But it still took me a while to figure out what that meant, and how best to go about it. I started by digging through my Dolour archives for the first time. When I ended Dolour I left behind hundreds of song ideas and hadn’t looked back since. For my first few post-Dolour years, I felt super strongly about closing that door and never looking back. But over the years that had waned, to the point where now I was super interested to see what ideas were left behind, that might interest me now.

So after digging through old CD-Rs and hard-drives full of these ideas, I found so many things that excited me, and I felt that with everything I’ve learned songwriting and production-wise over the last decade this could end up being a better album than any of the original Dolour albums. But in my nearly 20 years of putting out music, I had never reached back into previous eras of mine before, so it took some mental gymnastics to work out how I could make this a step forward and not a step backward. After going over the idea for months, I came up with a concept to help me approach returning to Dolour while moving forward. I’ve done a lot of producing and co-writing with other artists over the years (most recently with The Explorers Club, and Sean Nelson), and so I thought I’d approach the album as if it was a collaboration with someone else – my younger self. As if 24-year-old Shane came to me with these songs, and asked me to produce an album for him. That process really worked. I was able to take what I liked from my old song sketches, and freely adapt them any way I wanted, without being overly precious about anything. To let the songs be what they want to be today, and not give in to any personal nostalgia.

When did you decide to start asking for opinions on the new songs?

Given the nature of the project, and how I basically had to create this elaborate fantasy scenario in my mind to even move forward with it – I kept my mouth shut. And being that I was recording, playing, and mixing everything myself – there was no one else involved to bounce ideas off. Other than my girlfriend and my brother, who heard bits and pieces of it throughout the process, It wasn’t really until I got to my first round of “final mixes” that I started sharing it with a few close friends.

But, honestly, I wasn’t too interested in opinions. I am my own worst critic, so I’m rarely in need of more critique, and by that stage, there isn’t much an outside opinion can do to change my course. But sharing songs with friends gives me a chance to imagine the listening experience through their ears, and that alone helps me listen more objectively. The opinion that surprised me the most were from my mastering engineer, who I’ve worked with on tons of albums – of mine or other artists’ albums I’ve produced – over the last decade and this was the first time I really heard him get super enthusiastic. He’s always very kind, and a pleasure to work with, but this time there were more personal comments about how much he loved the record. That meant a lot, coz he masters albums for a living, and he’s on music overload 24-7.

As an artist, you chose to show your emotions to the world. Is it always comfortable to do so?

When I’m writing a song, it’s a very quiet, personal thing. I’m not thinking about the world. Once I get into the production side of it, the thought of other people eventually hearing it starts to creeps in. But my process is so insular, being that I write, record, and play everything myself, it’s really not till very late in the game that I start thinking about other people hearing my “emotions.” I will say, lately this thought has come up more than usual though, with all the social and political unrest in this country, I’ve written several songs addressing that, but for the most part those aren’t topics I want to be working through – emotionally – in front of an audience. Political songs are something I occasionally do for myself, for my sanity, but that’s usually enough for me.

When was the last time you thought ‘i just wrote a hit!’?

Honestly, every song on this album gave me that feeling at one point or another during the process. That was kind of a prerequisite for what songs made the cut. Several songs got left behind during the making of this album if they didn’t quite give me that feeling, but every one of the songs that made the album gave me that special feeling.

Which 5 records would you bring with you for your stay on Mars?

I suppose a stay on Mars would involve a long trek out there, and probably a long stay there? So albums that I never get tired of, and always make me feel good:

1. My Bloody Valentine – Loveless: The lush textures and melodies, and the almost indecipherable lyrics make this a record that I always hear something new with every listen.

2. Shuggie Otis – Inspiration Information: This is another one that the lyrics are mostly secondary to the melodies and the overall sound. Brilliant and it never ages.

3. Marvin Gaye – What’s Going On: This album is often on the top of my ever-changing “favorite albums” list. It always delivers and always inspires.

4. The Beatles – Abbey Road: I would have to bring some Beatles with me, and over the last few years this album has become my favorite. All four of the Beatles and George Martin were working at 100% on this album. And there are enough little curiosities throughout the 17 tracks to keep me coming back and appreciating it more with each listen.

5. Amadeus Original Soundtrack – Neville Marriner: It was the movie Amadeus that really opened up my love of music as a youngster. I was already super into drawing and painting as a kid, but this movie (and soundtrack) made me want to be a musician and composer in whatever way I could. I still love Mozart’s music and listen to it all the time. I often take naps with Mozart in the headphones. I feel like it can’t hurt to have Mozart’s gorgeous melodies swimming in my head while I sleep. His music never fails to inspire and make me want to work harder.

Recording music. What’s all the fun about?

For me, being a songwriter/multi-instrumentalist/producer means that the “composing” and creativity never stops from the first note you write to the final mix of the song. So, the recording is part of the songwriting journey for me. I often start recording the song before it’s even finished being written, so it’s all intertwined for me. To be honest, one thing I’ve actually enjoyed about this quarantine period is that there is no pressure to play shows. I enjoy the occasional live show, but writing and recording is what gets me out of bed in the morning.

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