Dr Sure’s Unusual Practice’s driving force, frontman – Dougal Shaw, has welcomingly leaned further into electronic elements gleaning krautrock, new wave and ambient music in the creation of new release Bubble.
Exisiting in a solo/experimental space rather than the usual full-band and born of solitude over a two-week period, it’s Shaw’s most personal, vulnerable and full of quirk (textures and randomness abounds) collection of songs yet. They explore solitude, sorrow and the line between sanity and insanity, while coloured with the wry humour that has resonated and endeared Dr Sure’s to us over the years.
Listeners of Bubble will get to understand how this period of upheaval in Shaw’s life has been one of great inward reflection and growth as an artist and human. Bubble is a rewarding listen.
What’s life been like lately for you, Dougs? What’s news in your world?
DOUGAL SHAW: I’m a dad! That’s the big seismic shift in my life. I’m really trying to prioritise being with this little human as much as possible. But yeah trying to keep everything rolling outside of that means not sleeping much and just having every spare moment filled up. My partner is a saint and together we can kinda keep it all rolling.
Dr Sure’s have a new release, a “mixtape” of sorts, that was recorded during a two-week period of solitude; what was happening in your life during these weeks to inspire you to focus on making something? What made you want to explore solitude via song?
DS: It was a kind of involuntary solitude haha. It was during the big lockdown in Naarm/Melbourne that went for like six months. My partner was up in QLD visiting family when it started and ended up staying there for about five months. I was backing her to stay up there, it was pretty rough down here, but also I was definitely going a bit loopy alone. I was fairly void of creative energy and then my shed/studio flooded and the carpet was getting mouldy so I decided to pull everything out, got some self levelling concrete and raised the floor so I could seal the walls. A shitty thing ended up giving me some purpose to get outta bed in the morning. Once I set it back up I spent two weeks straight in there, it’d never been so well organised. Everything was patched in and I’d kinda just go in and hit record and wander around the room playing different things and talking to myself. I made the Bubble songs and another album worth of krauty instrumental ambient things or ‘Frog Songs’ as I was calling them.
Bubble is the album’s title; where did it come from? A reference to song ‘Life in a Bubble’? Is this how life was feeling during the two weeks making this collection of songs?
DS: Yeah, they were calling it the ‘bubble’, you couldn’t go further than 2 kms from your home or talk to anyone not in your house. I was in the shedio round the clock, which felt like my own little bubble within the bubble, and the songs were going into a drive folder called ‘BUBBLE SONGS’. ‘Life In A Bubble’ was just instrumental for ages but I found a note/poem from the same day it was recorded, so I got the robot to recite it for me. It ends with the words ‘life in a bubble’ so I thought it was a nice intro to the project. Also, totally unrelated, when the bub was in Liv’s tummy we started calling it Bubble, cos it looked like a little Bubble on the ultrasound. When he was born we called him Bubble for the first three months before he got a name.
What’s the story behind track ‘All My Friends Are All My Friends’?
DS: It’s like a little bit of insanity in a song. It’s about little faces appearing on my limbs and having yarns with them. It says something about keeping it on the down low so I don’t have to put on 13 masks when I leave the house. Eventually the faces start showing up on mugs and other things. It’s essentially about wanting to introduce my partner to all these new friends of mine when she comes back home and navigating how to break the ice. A lot of these songs are addressed to Liv.
We really love the song ‘Low On Time’ – especially the lyrics: No light for you is no light for me / I think we’ve found the light; what’s it in reference to?
DS: Honestly, it feels like a fever dream when these were made, but I’m gonna do my best to speculate. It’s talking about the simple things that seem so much more desirable once they’re no longer accessible, like driving into the night with the one you love. It talks about the joy of seeing other people succeed and wanting the best for them, and wanting to share in that experience. I think maybe that realisation was ‘the light’ that I refer to. It’s kinda like the epiphany ‘HAPPINESS ONLY REAL WHEN SHARED’, in that movie (I’m blanking on the name) where the guy treks to Alaska solo.
‘Outside Looking In’ is another fav; where did the imagery for these intriguing lines: A hostage inthe porridge / An avatar on a dodgem car / A donkey with a house key – come from?
DS: It’s not quite Alaska but seems I was trekking inward haha. A lot of the lyrics were coming from that train of consciousness type writing so it’s a reflection of where my head was at. I was running around this “shedio” and I guess like I was saying about the fever dream, it’s almost like I was outside of myself just watching it all unfold. I think it says, ‘Like a voyeur in the foyer of my mind’. Seems like I was tweaking out a bit. I was trying meditating and some other things to stave off the anxiety and existential rabbit holes my mind was trying to take me down. Just doing whatever I could to hold it together. The music video is a pretty solid visual representation of my headspace.
Was the song ‘Saturday Night’ literally made on a Saturday night? We’re curious, with the line: I just come here for the conversation – what conversation are you talking of?
DS: Yeah it was a Saturday night. Another weekend in the bubble. I just found some handycam footage on a hard drive a couple of days ago, it’s pretty funny, it seems I’d started setting up the camera and kind of chatting to it, documenting the creative process and whatnot. It was 10 or 11pm and I was like ‘it’s Saturday night, I’m back in the shedio solo, let’s party’. It goes for ages like I forgot it was recording and I’m just walking around playing different things and layering up this tune and humming to myself. I think the conversation I’m referring to is with the Juno, my synthesiser. I say something in the song about ‘mother of mars’, which is a reference to Juno in Roman mythology.
Music-wise how did ‘Ophelia’ come together?
DS: I reckon it’s written like the day after I made this Sleaford Mods ‘Jobseeker’ cover for a compilation my pal made on Critter Records. That’s an assumption, but the drum machine is pretty much the same beat. I reckon I walked in the next day and hit ‘start’ on the drum machine and just started layering up fresh sounds from there. Lyrically it’s another one for Liv and talking about how modern technology has failed us cos we can’t hold hands from 3000km’s away and how her internet in Central QLD was really shitty so our convos were always broken.
For us album closer ‘Ghostwriter’ is one of the most interesting on this release; what can you tell us about the ideas behind this track?
DS: So this is like the first and only time I’ve done this but it’s fully improvised. I did the synth, drum machine and vocals in one take and didn’t have anything written down or planned. It’s funny every time the drum machine adds an element I kinda stop playing synth cos I struggle to do both at a time. And I only do the synth lead when I stop singing. The words are ad lib. I guess it’s like the ghostwriter I’m singing about in the song is writing the song. The only overdub is piano which is also one take, as is. To be honest initially I was like oh that’s the rough idea, now I’ll record it properly, I think I tried twice on seperate occasions before realising it just is what it is.
Was there any happy accidents while recording that you actually kept on the release?
DS: Yeah I reckon most of it! I thought about going back and redoing some bits but in the end I think I just decided to keep it true to the time. It’s loose and raw and kind of written free from any idea of a release or a tour or any future to work towards, it was a time of all those things being stripped away and having to face reality and the present. I think that’s why I’ve been anxious to show anyone, it felt a bit too real, a bit too personal. In hindsight after sitting on it for long enough, and having enough distance from that time and that head space, I’m happy for it to exist as it is.
The photo on the cover of Bubble was taken by Jacob McCann; what do you remember most from the day shooting with him? And, what made you go with that image? How is it connected to these songs?
DS: It was at our first annual ODD BALL at Brunswick Ballroom last year. Jacob’s a great photographer, he’s not afraid to give direction and he always pulls something interesting out of his subjects. He spotted that random doorway to nowhere in the green room and got me up there. I just thought it was a striking image that fit with the bubble concept. I always liked cheesy solo album covers with a portrait on them, this is my cheesy solo album moment.
What’s something that you’ve been super into lately that you’d like to share with us?
DS: Mainly hugging my little guy, watching rubby the rubber tree, laying on the floor, learning to crawl. We listen to the Mug record most mornings, it’s his favourite, and mine. And then we listen to Mikey or Cluster & Eno or Gary Numan. We like to get up early and listen to records and let mum sleep in.
What does the rest of the year look like for you both professionally and personally?
DS: Hopefully lots of the aforementioned hugs. This Saturday we’ve got the big double launch with Kosmetika at Northcote Social Club, got Program and Adored on the bill. Last big home headline for the foreseeable but got some tours coming up. Doing a run up the East Coast with Bad//Dreems in June/July. Touring with my other band the Last Drinks, got a new album out this week as well which I’m super excited about. We’re working on new Docs stuff with the band at the moment, polishing a coupla albums worth of songs which I can’t wait to show ya. Some new stuff coming up on Marthouse. Massive thanks to you guys, Bianca & Jhonny, for the support over the years, appreciate you guys heaps and all your do for underground music here in Aus.
Dr Sure’s Unusual Practice’s Bubble out now digitally and on cassette via Marthouse Records HERE. For more info follow @drsuresunusualpractice and @marthouserecords.
Read previous Gimmie X Dr Sure’s chats:
“It’s important to have some kind of light at the end of the tunnel because a lot of what we see in the world today is pretty bleak”