After more than a dozen years and four albums together, the very fine Portland-based folk-rock band Dolorean, led by Al James, is calling it quits on Saturday with a farewell show at Mississippi Studios in their hometown. ReNewMusic.net editor Jim Fusilli called James to discuss the split and what’s next.
RMN: I don’t know how I feel about this news, Al.
A: I felt the same way initially but it’s been a long time coming.
RMN: Was there a turning point for you?
A: When we went into the studio in January. We went in without the support of a label; I funded it myself, thinking we’ll have five days in the studio and be creative. We had some good things that were going on, but it didn’t feel like we had that shared group mentality. In a way, we did what we normally do, and that was fine, but it didn’t feel new or fresh. I didn’t want to get to a spot where we re-treading ground that we covered before.
RMN: The band never did get its due, I think.
A: I don’t know that there are too many things we didn’t accomplish. I’m proud of the things we did, and the catalogue. I don’t know what it would’ve meant to be part of a particular moment or scene, and thinking you’re not getting the attention you think you deserve. Our catalogue and our consistency is going to make me feel better than if I’d had two years when we got a ton of attention.
RMN: Your kind of folk-rock is popular now with Beck, Conor Oberst and the non-Nashville side of Americana. Do you ever think you were ahead of your time?
A: I feel like we were ahead of the curve in Portland. When we started out, everybody was playing post-rock; they were Thrill Jockey-obsessed, playing instrumental, very mathematical and very precise music. We didn’t want to do that. We’ve been on our own path and that feels good. But I think there’s a still a big difference between recording and the live show, and we never figured out the entertainment side and that’s a big part of it.
I like what’s happening now. I love Michael Taylor’s Hiss Golden Messenger. He was in that band, the Court and Spark. He’s in North Carolina, making albums by himself: folk rock that is so good. Things happen in a certain time frame and you don’t know when people will get hip to what you’re doing.
RMN: You may have been behind your time as well.
A: I think that’s fair. The cycle is becoming quicker and quicker. Every genre and every era of music is open for pilfering in an interesting way.
RMN: What’s next?
A: I’m not quite as driven and compulsive about songwriting as I used to be, but it’s still there. When I was pushing real hard, I’d watch people on stage and say ‘I wish I was up there right now.’ I don’t feel that pull. I’m still excited about writing tunes, but not performing. I love that Bobby Charles reissue – the sweetness and simplicity. Or the guys in the Band who did solo stuff: Richard Manuel at the piano, pretty and sad. That might be part of it. But I’d like to write some songs and change of the process. Dolorean was always very comfortable for me. It was integrated with our families and our lives, which was great too. But I think I’d like to go to a new place, spend a couple of weeks and just do a record.
RMN: What do you think Saturday night will be like?
A: I think it’s going to be a lot of fun. A lot of friends and family. The show will be filmed and recorded. I was into that to capture it. We’ll see if it turns out any good. We’re kind of like the Eagles when we play: We’re pretty stoic and we don’t move around a lot. We’ll probably do a Neil Young tune, long and sloppy. ‘Razor Love’ from ‘Silver and Gold.’ We love that song. It’ll be a normal Dolorean gig. We’ll stay true to what we’ve been doing. It’ll hit me afterwards. It’ll be: ‘Whoa.’ But I’m usually pretty definitive. I didn’t want to do a hiatus. I didn’t want the guys to be strung along – they’re all in other great bands anyway. I was thinking: ‘Let’s be creative people and move on to the next thing.’