Throwaway Style: A Wholesome Interview with Dogbreth

Throwaway Style, Interviews, Local Music
Martin Douglas
Photo by Che Hise-Guttone

Throwaway Style is a monthly column dedicated to examining all aspects of the Northwest music scene. Whether it’s a new artist making waves, headlines affecting local talent, or reflecting on some of the music that’s been a foundation in our region; this space celebrates everything happening in the Northwest region, the first Thursday of every new month on

When we embark on a new path in life, it's only natural to think about the things we've left behind. How do we know what lies ahead? This concept visited me many times as I listened to Ever Loving, the first Dogbreth album written and recorded since founding member Tristan Jemsek left his lifelong home of Phoenix and moved to Seattle. As the sole constant of the power-pop band, with its deep cast of changing and rotating members, finding new members for his band wasn't a foreign task. But as a veteran of the Phoenix DIY music scene, a community he has been a part of since a teenager, such a significant change of scenery makes it easy for memories from a past chapter in life to crop up. Even after a small handful of years.

"Walk You Again" is a touching ode to an ex's dog who lives states away, tears welling up in the void as fur is plucked off of a shirt that had been boxed away. Old keys are thrown away, memories of going through cans of ginger ale being drawn up by a song on the tape player. Nostalgia for a home a person leaves behind isn't necessarily the overarching theme of Ever Loving, especially given the fact most songs are written in the past tense. Memory is an emotional property enaged in all works associated with Dogbreth, this time around augmented by the talents of JJ, Malia Seavey, and Bil Palmer. Palmer wrote three songs for the new album, including lead single "When U Call My Name," an absolutely sublime display of salvation in the face of uncertainty. Throughout the album are immensely melodic narratives about bundling up and trying to stay cool, financial and spiritual debt, and aging years in the span of a nap.

The songs belonging to the newest iteration of Dogbreth are bountiful with warmth and emotional intelligence.

I spoke to Jemsek, Seavey, and JJ in the comfy heat island of a KEXP conference room (Palmer contributed a few valuable insights in absentia) shortly prior to the release of their excellent new album to talk about the making of the album, the formation of this iteration of Dogbreth, and why they're almost always late for load-in. (This interview has been edited and ever-so-slightly condensed for clarity.)

KEXP: Cool. So I guess we'll start from the point before you came to Seattle. You grew up in Arizona, right?

Tristan Jemsek: Yeah, I grew up in Phoenix, Arizona. I started getting involved in the music scene there when I was around 16.

And so how many Dogbreth albums have you — I mean, you've done a lot of stuff even before Dogbreth, right?

Jemsek: So I played my first show in 2004. My first band with my brother. I have a master list going of all the bands that I've been in or played with as like a touring member, as a fill-in member, all [the bands] I've worked on. It's, like, it's over 80 bands. Yeah. I didn't go to school as a kid, so I kind of just like played in bands.

Just as a way to not be home, I just found this weird art/music scene in Phoenix and just really just kind of went all in on it with my brother.

It was a fun time in Phoenix. Looking back, I kind of have a different analysis of it. It was something like mid-gentrification or pre-gentrification, all these older buildings downtown being repurposed as art galleries and all-ages music venues coffee shops and stuff. And at the time, as a 17-year-old, it just seemed like paradise where you could just like go and play in your weird bands and do whatever you wanted. But it's totally what made that area seem like profitable outside businesses to kinda swoop in and build it up and make it like, you know, raise the rents so people that grew up there couldn't live there anymore.

Ah yeah. [laughter]

Jemsek: As a teenager and [a person in my] early 20s, it was really fun to have like ten different places that my shitty bands could play.

Well, living in Seattle, we definitely can't relate to that. [laughter]

Jemsek: I was always in like five to 10 bands and most of them were like, you know, high-concept noise bands or just wild punk or hardcore bands, like other people's pop punk bands. And then I just kind of started Dogbreth as a solo project, just as a vehicle for my more, like, personal or sentimental songs. 

Right. It was called Gilmore Grrrls, right?

Jemsek: Yeah, totally! Before Dogbreth it was called Gilmore Grrrls. And before Gilmore Grrrls it was called Ugga Mugga; it was a Mr. Rogers reference. I picked Dogbreth just because I didn't want to have a pop culture reference as a band name anymore. And a lot of people think it's a Replacements reference because that was their name before they changed it to the Replacements. But I hadn't even heard of the Replacements yet. 

So what brought you to Seattle?

Jemsek: Well, I've always loved Seattle, from the first time I came here on tour in 2006. And then just like, you know, coming to visit friends here, one of my best friends, Zach Burba, moved here from Phoenix in like 2008 or nine. And so coming to visit him and seeing the city and music community from his perspective, really made me fall in love with it. And yeah, I also fell in love with someone here, too. And that kind of tipped the scales as well.

Yeah. Sometimes it does. [laughs]

Jemsek: It made, like, something that I've been meaning to do for a while into something like, "Okay, I'm gonna do it," you know. It was just that last little bit of motivation I needed.

So did you all know each other before Tristan moved to Seattle?

Jemsek: Yeah, I met Malia before I had moved.

Malia Seavey: Yeah, [but for only] one day, though. We only knew each other for one day. We both were in this other band. But as like touring.

Jemsek: Oh, I guess I had moved. Right, because I was playing in Pleasures. Yeah. But it was about right after I got here because I was touring with the Phoenix lineup. 

Seavey: Oh yeah. We both played this music festival with the [other] band, but it was like my first show with them and it was in Oakland. So we drove down to Oakland and then his band was already on... Dogbreth? Dogbreth was already on tour. And then we were set up, and basically I was playing the drums and that band. Trista walked up and basically put a strap on and played our set and was like, "Good to meet you!" Yeah, it was a really silly way to meet. Like, "We're gonna rock this gig, hopefully." [laughter] It was great. It was great fun.

Jemsek: I'm trying to remember the first time I officially met JJ? Was it in Bellingham? Or had we met before that?

JJ: I had posted some gear on the Gear Spot page and everyone was making fun of me about it. And you messaged me acting interested and never replied. [laughter] I think that's the first time we ever interacted. We played, was is it? Tommyfest? I think is what it was called? In Bellingham. I was playing with Jason Clackley and the Exquisites. And it was just like one room and two stages and we were facing each other like right after the set.

Seavey: Makeshift?

JJ: Yeah. And I think we just hung out at Black Lodge a bunch or something.

So, how did it come to be that all of you individuals kind of migrated towards Dogbreth?

Jemsek: Oh, I feel like I should also mention how I met Bil.

We were coworkers at the same coffee shop. And Bil is actually the first person that I've made music with that I didn't meet, like, through the music scene. We were just coworkers at the same coffee shop and we just got along really great like from the start and sort of talking about music. And yeah, I think Bil brought up, "We should jam sometime."

Seavey: And then I met Bil like a week before our first practice, because he was my Uber driver. He was like dropping me off at the Vera Project. And I had a show, I think with you guys or something, and he mentioned Dogbreth. I was like, "Oh yeah, I'm actually going to play in that band soon." And he was like, "No shit. I play in that band." I was like, "Well, nice to meet you. I guess we'll be seeing you around more."

Actually, I met both of you in really weird ways. I don't remember how we met, though [gestures to JJ]. Just [Seattle band] Itemfinder.

JJ: It was very normal.

Seavey: Yeah. I think it was just like we probably played a show together or something. [laughs

JJ: What about Greg? Should we talk about Greg?

Seavey: I don't remember how I met Greg.

Jemsek: Oh yeah. Greg played bass on the record and played with the band for about a year? I just met Greg through shows through his band called Bobby's Oar.

In terms of like how we all got it together, it was a totally different Seattle Dogbreth, right after I moved here, that I kind of lined up right as I arrived, of people I had known for a while. For whatever reason, we did like a tour and it just made sense to... I don't know. Band chemistries [are] funny. You can put a bunch of, like, really good friends together in a band and they're all friends separately, but when that unique group of people are together, it just doesn't quite mesh in terms of like everyone's instincts and playing style somewhat. That was just like the case with that first lineup, I think.

So I just decided that I wanted to kind of like reformat and I don't know, I just kind of scouted around town for a while. [laughter] And I just took way more time in just assembling the roster. That's what I like to think of it, as a roster.

Seavey: There's like 30 people that have been in this band.

Jemsek: Yeah, there's been a lot of people that I've played in Dogbreth. It's kind of like a family band. There's been, like, you know, home base players and then like touring players. It's kind of like a bench on a sports team, you know, replace the starters, we're just like the core members. And then if someone can't do a tour or something, you know, you go to your bench, and you're like, "Heeey." 

I feel like that's a super cool idea to have instead of having to rely on schedules and like, "Oh yeah, well I, you know, I've got something going on or something just came up." But it's cool that you're still able to go on tour and play music and get out there for the people.

Jemsek: Yeah, totally. And that's just like, you know, it's just part of being older playing indie music that doesn't make money. [laughter] And playing with other folks that are also older and, you know, it's a lot to ask to just, like, drop everything all the time. It's just it's just a fun way to do it too.

So tell me about recording Ever Loving. You all were in Anacortes for that, right?

Jemsek: Yeah, at the Unknown. 

Seavey: And we got to camp out there for a whole week.

That's cool. A week is good enough time to record. I'm certain you all had demos figured out and stuff.

Seavey: We didn't really demo together. [Tristan] did some.

Jemsek: Bil did some. We made a few very like, you know, iPhone demos. Voice memos.

Seavey: We had been playing the songs for quite a while though, except for one. That's the one we learned there, right?

Jemsek: Yeah. There's when we learned right there in the studio and recorded it on the fifth run-through of us ever playing it. Which is ["Through the Walls"] the last song on the record.

What percentage of the album would you say was written in the studio versus having demos done for it?

Jemsek: Well... I mean... That's a good question.

Seavey: I mean like 80 [percent] done, and then we did some like piano parts and I did some clarinet and harmonies. 

JJ: Off-the-cuff harmonica.

Seavey: Yeah, but it didn't only happen in the studio, though. This took a really long time to finish. 

Jemsek: There was a lot of post-production.

Seavey: After this, we were doing overdubs in Olympia for like a year [laughter] and then we did some in his house.

Tristan Jemsek: Magic Lanes.

We spent like five days basic tracking in Anacortes and sleeping there. It was so immersive and so fun. It was like the longest that I had ever spent working on a recording. I think any of us?

Seavey: Yeah, for sure. In a row, definitely.

Jemsek: Then we did vocals and overdubs at our friend's home studio in Olympia.

Do you feel the environment of Anacortes influenced the recording at all musically?

Jemsek: I think so. I think that a studio is just full of really inspiring energy and inspiring gear.

Seavey: Lots of funny toys in there, and great pets. Really wonderful pets.

Jemsek: What were their names?

Seavey: Kathy and Boop.

Were they cats? Dogs?

Seavey: There is a cat that was there all the time. And then Kathy was a dog. And Kathy is beautiful like gray — 

Jemsek: Amrinder? Whatever dog is like that — who's that artist that does like the portraits with those dogs and like Faye and Sesame Street, you know, it's like dogs with human hands, you know?

I know exactly what you're talking about. I have it in my head, but I don't remember the artist's name.

Jemsek: We'll fill that in later. [ed note: weimaraner and William Wegman!] But yeah, Kathy was wonderful.

Seavey: I definitely channeled them.

Jemsek: We brought in our friend Mike Ditrio to engineer it. And they were just super fun and like, so easy to work with. Just down to try different things and experiment with running like five different guitar amps at the same time. On one song, there was leftover a big copper plate reverb that Karl Blau had made and just left in the studio and I guess it had never been used before.

Seavey: They found it unfunctional. But we found a place for it. [laughter] It's in there somewhere. I don't remember where.

So, Karl Blau made it and never used it?

Jemsek: It's this like 15-foot structure, it's a frame that he made. It's seemingly out of branches that he found on the ground that he just nailed together and suspended this long piece of copper, and just like drilled some holes in it and connected a wire to it somehow.

Seavey: With a contact microphone. 

Jemsek: Contact mics.

Seavey: Yeah, I think we're talking to him and he was like, "Oh yeah, that thing sounded like shit." And were were like, "Oh, we thought it was kind of cool." So that's its debut, on Ever Loving.

Jemsek: Yeah. So, that's the fuzzy lead in "Took My Time."

Sounds like a very Karl Blau apparatus.

Jemsek: Exactly. Just imagine him like working on that at like three in the morning in his garage while his family is asleep. [laughter

Seavey: Putting all this time into it and being like, "Eh. Didn't work."

JJ: We played that one show with him where at the end he was like, "Everybody take one of these things. I don't want them." And it was just a bunch of things that he had made. I still have something. I don't remember what it does.

Seavey: He gave us all rocks too, and then we held them, and then he told us that they all represented symbols of dicks. I was like, "Damn, I've been holding this and rubbing it and I hate it now." [laughter

That was such an aside. It didn't have anything to do with our record.

Jemsek: We love you, Karl!

It's good for the interview. I like having funny asides for it. What do you think personally is the difference in your songwriting between when you lived in Arizona and when you moved out here? Because this is your first record that you've recorded since you moved out here, right?

Jemsek: I think I've just gotten better at tapping into my style.

How would you describe your writing style?

Jemsek: I have this fortune cookie fortune on my laptop that I think about a lot, it's like the four basic premises of writing. It's like clarity, brevity, humanity, and... I forget the fourth thing. But basically, I try and think of, like, the economy of writing and, in songs, telling a story like in as few lines as possible. Just trying to preserve the emotional energy of the moment. I revise but I try not to revise that much and just try and like, I don't know... 

Keep that initial feeling in there.

Jemsek: I think of it as like trying to write theme songs for a specific feeling. Like the theme song of a feeling. And the people in this lineup of definitely influenced my writing too. I feel like I've sort of started to like write to how we play together. Like a lot of my songs, I would bring to the band mostly done, but it was like some room to kind of, you know, get input from everybody and kind of reshape. I'm more open to collaboration than it used to be.

What do you feel Bil adds to the band that wasn't necessarily there before?

Jemsek: Well, he adds his own wonderful songs. There's three of his songs on this record. Then there was one that ended up a piece b-side on a casssingle we made as well. But he adds really creative guitar playing and harmonic ideas and has inspired me to think about song structures more.

"When U Call My Name" is a banger, so kudos to Bil on that.

Jemsek: Definitely. Yeah. He sent me a batch of demos and he was like, "I dunno, like maybe some of these would be good." But when I heard that one was I was like, "Yes, that has to be a Dogbreth song."

Seavey: He's also just really fun. Bil is so fun to play with. Sometimes I look up and he's just hopping around. And he just smiles so big, sweat dripping.

JJ: I've tried my whole life to rock out. But Bil can do it and not miss a note. And I'm just like, "How do you do this?"

Jemsek: That's what blows my mind. Like he can dance and move that way while playing a solo and not missing a note.

Seavey: And sometimes singing, too.

Jemsek: Yeah, he's so naturally gifted. I remember the first time that we got together to jam and I had a new song. I was kind of like thinking about asking him to join the band, we were kind of like alluding to it, but we were both very careful about it. You know, like, "You know, we'll get together and jam a little bit and see how it feels." He learned the song so fast. And just instantly, I was like, "Yes, I want to play music with you, like I want you in this band."

Maybe now would be a good time to segway into the things that he wanted to say. 

Seavey: Stop vaping is one. He said stop vaping.

JJ: Wear a helmet. 

Tristan Jemsek: He says tell people to stop vaping. Also wear helmets on the e-scooters. Also, read your terms and conditions on new apps and stuff. 

So this question is for Malia and JJ. What does playing and Dogbreth add that playing in another band hasn't?

Seavey: It's always been a really easygoing project for me. I've come from a lot of bands where sometimes you like feel in trouble if you mess up. But like, [this band has] always been really gentle. I mean, really, the first couple shows I played were, I think, the biggest shows I had ever played before. They were when we supported AJJ, and so I was like so scared. But then everyone was just really relaxing for me. 

Sounds like it would be intimidating, though.

Seavey: Yeah, totally. And I'd come along and be like, "Man, I messed this part up." And people would be like, "It's OK. It's rock music. It was fine, right?" Not that we're just trying to mess up all the time, but I just felt more easygoing about that. Which I think makes it easier to be in a band. I feel like my ideas are like — we can usually incorporate them, which is really pleasant. Gone on a few really fun tours and played some really fun shows. It's just been really easygoing.

JJ: Yeah, I'd say the same. It's just like a really wholesome time when we spend time together, too. I feel like we just kind of laugh and all have the same sense of humor and it's just nice.

Jemsek: Definitely wholesome.

Seavey: Wholesome. Usually late. [laughter] Almost always late.

JJ:  It's just because we're having such a wholesome time.

Seavey: We're just busy being wholesome.

I wish I could end the interview on that but I've got one more question. What's your favorite song on the new album? This is a question for each of you.

JJ: I think I have my two. I give it two. "Took My Time" and "Me Changing." And maybe it's because those are the two we haven't really played that much.

Seavey: I think mine is "Like a Gift." Oh, no, it's "Two Plastic Spools" for sure. The ending is so fun to play live. I really love that. It makes me feel really good to play that song.

It feels like a cathartic thing to play. Like I'm listening to it in my head and if I played music, I could see myself like really like getting my feelings out through playing [that song].

JJ: What are the two songs where Patrick's in between?

Jemsek: Oh yeah. Patrick's soundbyte is in between "Like a Gift" and "Need More Time."

JJ: Yeah. That might be my favorite moment.

Jemsek: We had our friend Patrick — who also did the layout of the album — he was around one of the dates that we were recording and we had him record all his catchphrases a bunch of times and different ways for us to like potentially use somewhere.

Seavey: "Suppy, my puppies?"

Jemsek: Yeah, "Suppy, my puppies," "Hell yeah," it was just those two. But he said both of those catchphrases in all sorts of different ways. 

Seavey: For like twenty minutes. [laughs]. 

Jemsek: I really like "Old Keys" because I'm really happy with how the outro came out and our the vocal harmonies, some really nice. But there's a sound collage in the beginning that was just really fun to make. That was one of the last things that we did in my house. I recorded — I have this like Video Aquarium VHS, recorded that. Recorded the sound of a burning dollar bill. Just making all sorts of weird sounds in my house. And so when I listened to it, I can kind of like hear all that stuff. So that's really fun. 

Seavey: Is that where the phone thing ended up too?

Jemsek: Oh, no. That's in the sound collage that Patrick is also in right before "Need More Time." But my favorite right now is "When You Call My Name," Bil's song. It's like such a hit. I love it. I love listening to it. Or "Two Plastic Spools." That's my favorite to play. That feels really good to play. Sorry, I could just name...

It's like the whole record is your favorite song.

Jemsek: It's like picking a favorite kid!

New and News

Chong the Nomad and Stas Thee Boss Team Up for a Needle Drop-Curated Immigrant Legal Resource Center Compilation

The Immigrant Legal Resource Center is "a national nonprofit that works with immigrants, community organizations, legal professionals, and policy makers to build a democratic society that values diversity and the rights of all people." Anthony Fantano is the founder and host of The Needle Drop, the very popular music review video blog. Fantano and the ILRC teamed up to release a vinyl compilation to raise funds and awareness for the latter's efforts, featuring artists hand-selected by Fantano. Sitting among artists such as Open Mike Eagle and Xiu Xiu is Chong the Nomad, the absurdly talented Seattle producer who Fantano famously gave major props to earlier in the year. "Undervelvet," which features the also-absurdly-talented Stas Thee Boss, showcases Alda Agustiano's gift for melody and texture, creating a vibe that sounds like the best smoker's lounge on Neptune. If you're interested in supporting the ILRC and buying a copy, you can order one here. Copies will be shipped tomorrow, November 8th.

The Showbox Saga Continues with a Legal Settlement

King 5 News reports the City of Seattle will pay Roger Forbes, the owner of the building which houses The Showbox, $915,000 to settle a lawsuit filed in 2018 when the property was rezoned in order to be included in the city's Pike Place Historical District. Part of the settlement includes an agreement to find a third party to purchase both the property and the Showbox name for $41.4 million, provided the City Council and the Landmarks Preservation Board don't have any objections or proposed controls. Read more about the story on King 5's website.

Live and Loud: This Month's Recommended Shows

November 6: The Paranoyds, Monsterwatch, and Sundae Crush at Barboza

November 9: Tamaryn, Foie Gras, and NAVVI at Clock-Out Lounge

November 10: 36?, Laura Hickli, and Cellophane Eyes at Spanish Ballroom at McMenamin's Elks Temple

November 11: Mary Lambert, SassyBlack, and Youth Speaks Seattle at Neptune Theatre

November 13: Big Bite, Dreamdecay, and Nasti at Black Lodge

November 14 - November 17: Freakout Fest 7, featuring Crocodiles, Death Valley Girls, Naked Giants, Weep Wave, The Shivas, Smokey Brights, Spesh, Mirrorgloss, Razor Clam, El Shirota, Beverly Crusher, and many more at various locations in Ballard

November 15: Den Tapes Showcase, featuring members of Antonioni, Happy Times Sad Times, Dusty, and Coach Phillips at Cafe Racer

November 16: Mat Brooke and Jenn Champion of Carissa's Wierd at Fremont Abbey Arts Center

November 16: Great Grandpa, Ings, and Tourist Activities at Chop Suey

November 21: Danny Denial, DoNormaal, and Guayaba at Barboza

November 23: Sleater-Kinney at Paramount Theatre

November 25: Wild Powwers, Prism Tats, and Spesh at Sunset Tavern

November 26: Moon Duo and someurprises at Neumos

November 27: Romaro Franceswa and Perry Porter at The Crocodile

November 29: The Black Tones, Mirrorgloss and La Fonda at Spanish Ballroom at McMenamin's Elks Temple

December 3: Mount Eerie and Julie Dorion at Neptune Theatre

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