The Dowling Poole – Refuse (Q&A)

The Dowling Poole’s Refuse is chock full of beautiful pop songs with slightly complex structures and strong lyrics, as beautiful as the best moments of XTC, Sparks or 10CC.

Willie Dowling and Jon Poole talk about saveloy, toxic masculinity, shades of Jellyfish, and the ‘runt of the litter’ .

I played Refuse all weekend.  There is so much to experience that I keep wanting to go back.  Was it a goal in itself to make such an album, or does it just happen when the two of you start making music?

Willie Dowling: “Except for the last two tracks, REFUSE (I think of it pronounced as ‘refuse’ as in ‘refuse to do as one is told to do’, whereas for Jon, it’s ‘refuse’ meaning ‘objects of no further use’ and since he came up with the title I guess we should go with that) is a collection of songs that were left-overs from other albums, largely because although we really liked them, they didn’t seem to fit with the construction of the album we were working on at the time. Some were recorded during album sessions but didn’t fit with the other songs’ flow, and a couple (I think ‘Fuck You Goodbye’ is one example) were recorded between albums. 

So it’s just good fortune if they hang together for you and I’m really pleased you would think so. But if you haven’t heard them, I’d politely encourage you and your readers to listen to any of our other albums – our last album ‘See You See Me’ would be a good place to start – and hear how it sounds when we make an album with an intentional beginning and end.”

Jon Poole: “We are both rubbish at playing football so there is never a goal in sight although Willie is quite good at doing ‘headers’. This particular album is a compilation of forgotten tracks that never made it onto albums so there really is no concept as such. I’d like to stress, it’s not that these songs didn’t make it on to albums because they were substandard but because each of them may have been viewed as sounding ‘out of place stylistically’ with the other songs on the albums they were recorded for. I wouldn’t say that each song was the ‘runt of the litter’ but I am delighted that they have finally found a home to inhabit together. This was an album I was very eager to see come out in physical form so I’m very happy with this release. One thing I enjoy about it is that the songs run chronically by year and spookily it hangs together as a good solid album and sounds like it was painstakingly compiled in a pleasing order which it really wasn’t.”

Refuse has such a rich sound.  Was it a joy to dress up the songs so beautifully?

Willie Dowling: “I’m really flattered that you  should think so. Jon and I don’t tend to think too hard about it. From our beginnings we recognised something in each other that might work well in combination, and we set about trying to capture what that might be. For my part – I’ve always written and recorded songs in much the same way, but I think working with Jon gave me something I’d not had before, which was a fellow friend and songwriter whom I wanted to impress, so I think I might have been inclined to work a little harder and not take a few short cuts that I might have done had I worked alone as usual. But it’s difficult to say with any objectivity. We do what we do instinctively and we both seem to enjoy it, and thats good enough!”

Jon Poole: “It’s hard to say because the way we work is to simply get our heads down and get on with it. It’s pretty intense because we live in separate countries so the time we do get together is extremely precious and we try to cram as much work in as is possible within the constraints of time. You’ll get the odd joyous moment, usually when stumbling on something by accident  but more often than not it’s usually not until we’ve put the stuff out then a year or two passes then I’ll hear one of our songs and think ‘Wow, look what we done!’”

To my Dutch ears, The Dowling Poole sounds as English as it gets.  That’s a compliment, do you agree or is my hearing too limited?

Jon Poole: “I do agree and I would say we have very little choice in the matter as that’s just the way we write and the way we sound. I remember when we put our first album out, we felt that it was a little like a celebration of 50 years of classic British pop music. Personally, every thing I’ve ever written from the age of 11 onwards has sounded quintessentially English. It’s not that I don’t listen to American music…I listen to loads and I love it..but I am drawn to Englishness or Britishness in music and I’ve always had a very English sensibility in both music and life, to the point of having friends from all over the world actually laugh at how English I am.”

Willie Dowling: “This is going to sound awful but I rarely listen to music so although I think I know what you mean, I couldn’t say with any degree of authority. I mean I think there are elements of Beach Boys harmony and shades of Jellyfish perhaps, that would dispute the ‘strictly English’ claim, but since the only other bands I know much of anything about are largely English, I wouldn’t be surprised if you were correct.”

The meaning of success has changed over the years. What would success look like for the new record?

Jon Poole: “Well it would be nice to sell a few copies! I genuinely think we have something both classic and unique to share with the world and I just wish we could reach more people. We’ve tried various methods of raising ‘Dowling Poole awareness’ and it’s always an uphill struggle. A week or so ago, a friend of mine put a comment under one of my Facebook posts saying ‘I had no idea The Dowling Poole were SO good!’ I’ve been posting about our stuff for 10 years and he’s only just hearing us for the first time….and he’s a mate?! And that’s not even an isolated case. That’s the mere tip of the iceberg of what we’re up against on a daily basis.”

Willie Dowling: “The world has changed completely for music by virtue of the  huge impact of the internet and its knock on effect on many other components. For years, I held the idea of ‘success’ to be measured in terms of record sales and fame. These days I consciously try hard not to think about those things. What matters more is that I can pass hours and days and weeks in my studio and come out each day feeling fulfilled and happy. It might mean that we’re never well known or made wealthy by our efforts – and its tempting to believe that we might deserve that kind of validation – but it seems to be another way of measuring ‘success’ that mostly works – for me at least.”

How do the two of you cooperate? How do the songs come about?

Jon Poole: “One of us will individually demo an idea then bring it to the table at which point the other will pull it apart, make suggestions and maybe rewrite bits then we’ll both arrange as we go.Once the idea has been fed into the Dowling Poole machine it will eventually come out the other end as a fully-formed song. It can only be classed as a Dowling Poole song once it has gone through that process.”

Willie Dowling: “Mostly we write individually and then throw ideas and arrangements into the other persons songs. Although on ‘REFUSE’ we have our first real co-write with the song ‘The Hand Moved’. I’d come up with the basic song but I don’t think either of us were happy with the chorus and as I recall, Jon came up with a great new chorus idea, which I then tinkered with at the edges lyrically and a little musically.”

Fuck You Goodbye is what my kids would call a banger.  Made to make a full house scream along?

Jon Poole: “I’d call it a saveloy.”

Willie Dowling: “It’s a song I wrote, I think between albums, about what they might now call ‘toxic masculinity’, coupled with an increasing frustration with the way supposedly democratic politics in the UK and US was beginning to play out, and the glaring weaknesses in the US and UK’s sacrosanct, but extraordinarily loose definition of what constitutes ‘democracy’ was being revealed. Of course it has only gotten far worse since then and I despair of what is happening at the moment, particularly in the UK. The sooner the fuckers that created the mess in the UK are told; ‘Fuck You, Goodbye’, the better, in my view.”

British eclecto pop masters The Dowling Poole recently released their forth album, ‘REFUSE’.

‘REFUSE’ features a collection of tracks, often with a strong political message, cushioned in beautiful melodies and harmonies. 

The Dowling Poole is comprised of song writers and multi instrumentalists Willie Dowling and Jon Poole. The duo has released four albums, ’Bleak Strategies’ (2014), ‘One Hyde Park’ (2016), ‘See You See Me’ (2020), ‘REFUSE’ (2022) as well as a number of digital only single track releases.

All four The Dowling Poole albums are now available as CD’s and digital downloads from Bandcamp

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