The Inside Track: Dolour - 'The Stay-At-Home Trilogy'

“Everything I Needed” by Shane Tutmarc (Dolour)


When I think back to my earliest rock and roll dreams, I always imagined that I would be in a band with my best friends. The camaraderie. The collaboration. The fantasy of The Beatles that inspired countless young musicians to start bands over the last 50 years. This fantasy always included a George Martin too. A benevolent mentor in the producerʼs chair, bringing out the best from everyone and taking the songs to unimagined heights. It was never my fantasy to make self-produced one-man-band albums. But looking back now, I see how those seeds were planted right from the start. 

I got my first acoustic guitar in 4th grade. It was a Spanish guitar with nylon strings and a very wide neck. My tiny 10-year-old fingers barely being able to form a simple G chord. My dad taught me how to play House of the Rising Sun which gave me enough chords to learn other songs and begin making up my own. The next year I tried out and got the spot as the drummer in the school band. With the Beatles “red” tape blasting on my boombox, I would practice in the garage for hours and hours with my snare drum, upside down garbage bins, and paint cans lined up to make a “drum kit.” My dad had a beautiful sunburst early-70s Fender Jazz bass hidden under his bed that I wasnʼt allowed to touch, but I would sneak it out when he was at work. My mom tried to teach me piano with a beginners book when I was young, but I didnʼt have the patience to learn to read notation, so it wasnʼt until a few years later that I took what I knew from guitar and note-by-note worked out how to play chords on the piano myself.

When I started writing songs and making home recordings I knew just enough on each instrument to approximate a “full band” sound. Recording myself playing all the instruments became my earliest process of putting songs together. My family had a karaoke machine, which was just a big speaker with two tape decks attached. One tape deck played while the other recorded. Using the built-in karaoke microphone, I realized I could swap the tapes back and forth until I had a recording with drums, bass, guitar, keyboard, and vocals. Growing up in the very rock-band-focused city of Seattle, I didnʼt know anyone who was making albums by themselves and never thought of it as an actual option. I never thought of myself as a guitarist or bassist, or even a real musician. In my estimation I merely “knew enough to get by.” Whether it was insecurity or naivety, I always assumed anyone who called themselves a “guitarist” or “bassist” or “drummer” must be better than me, because I never defined myself that way. But after years of putting bands together, with line-ups changing every few months, these one-man-band skills ended up coming in handy once I started recording real albums.

As Dolour started picking up steam in the early 2000s, I couldnʼt shake the fantasy that some hero - a producer, a label, a guru? - would come along and make my dreams come true for me. But whatever strides I made with turning Dolour into a collaborative band, the project would inevitably fall back into my lap, and Iʼd be left starting the process all over again. So by the time the 4th album - The Years in the Wilderness (2007) - came out and that hero never arrived, it was clear Dolour was never going to be the “four lads with a mentor-producer.” I basically ended up ghosting Dolour. No big farewell tour or even a proper final show. It felt like the dream had died, and I couldnʼt muster the enthusiasm for going through the formalities of any sort of final grand gesture.

I entered my “solo” years (which ironically became my most-collaborative years) thinking that the way to alleviate this dilemma would be to make records in a more traditional way - with a band in the room, and someone else (anyone else!) calling the shots. I didnʼt take any of the hundreds of unfinished Dolour songs with me on this new path. They represented the past that I was eager to be rid of. And for my new
songs, I even chose not to make demos, beyond a simple vocal and guitar/piano. I didnʼt want to get attached to any predetermined parts. Although I continued to have a hand in arranging the songs with my hired musicians, I did my best to just focus on being the singer-songwriter, and leave the rest to the “pros.” During these years I had the opportunity to collaborate with so many amazing musicians on my records - folks who had played with legends like Elvis Presley, Brian Wilson, Neil Young, and Kurt Cobain - but after a few albums it started feeling like I was sitting on my hands.

By now I was living in Nashville TN, over a decade since Dolourʼs last album, and somehow I found myself becoming a sought after musician, producer and writer for other artists in the studio and on stage. Every few months I was on the road with a different group playing bass or playing lead guitar, keyboards or even drums. Most of the artists I was hired to produce had very small budgets, so Iʼd often end up playing
everything to keep costs down. At some point, it hit me that I was actually playing way more on other peopleʼs records than my own. As far as my music was concerned, one thing was becoming abundantly clear - no one was buying my solo albums based on the legendary bassist or drummer I had on the sessions.

It got me thinking. Now that I had gathered so many different musical and technical skills over the years, what would it feel like to make a whole album myself? At the same time these thoughts were circling my head, I was also beginning to be haunted by the pile of songs I left behind when I closed the door on Dolour all those years back. I suddenly felt compelled to do something with these songs. They were some of my favorite things Iʼd ever written - and by now my reasons for abandoning them held no water. If I didnʼt finish and release them, no one would ever hear them. And - if not now, when?

The Royal We
Iʼd recently come off a run of being a multi-instrumentalist and producer on four back-to-back albums for different artists over the course of 12 months. My production process which had developed over these consecutive projects, gave me a concept of how I could return to this daunting pile of unfinished Dolour songs. What if I approached it like 24-year-old Shane brought these songs to me to produce today? It would free me from the temptation of being overly precious with these long-lost song ideas. I could tear them apart and rearrange them however I pleased. And being that no one outside of my immediate circle knew these songs, they would be brand new songs to everyone else. After working out blueprints/pre-production for most of the songs and starting to dig into the nitty gritty of the album tracking - suddenly the pandemic hit and the world entered Lockdown. No longer did I have the luxury of questioning whether this was a smart move for me creatively or career-wise, it was now my life-raft which I was incredibly grateful for. It gave me purpose during those confusing early months of Covid. I wasnʼt sure if the album would merely be a long-overdue “closure” experience for me, or if it would turn into a full-on return of Dolour. But that didnʼt matter to me anymore. I had something to focus on every day, to keep me balanced from the horrific news around the world. And the stay-at-home protocols left me no choice but to make the album at home by myself. I had extremely low expectations for how people would respond to the album. Case in point, I didnʼt even tell most of my friends or family what I was working on. So it came as a complete shock, when I put the album up for pre-order in the Spring of 2020 - people responded. By the time the album was released in June, I was so inspired by the initial response that I went straight into writing another album. And the first fully new Dolour songs in 15 years started pouring out of me.

Now in the summer of 2020, entering phase two of the pandemic, with still no signs of live music happening - this album became another life-raft to keep me afloat during these ever-evolving turbulent times. Having more confidence that there would be an audience for this album, I attacked the writing and recording with more vigor and a stronger sense of purpose. While The Royal We had ended up being a
one-man-band album almost by accident, Televangelist was the first album I intentionally made completely myself. The opening line of the title-track, which was the first song I wrote for the album, “I wonʼt control you/I want the whole you/Iʼd never change you/I want the strange you” could be as much about making peace and finally accepting my insular creative process as it could be a promise to a lover. The next 6 months proved to be some of the most important months of my life. While writing and recording the album, I got engaged and married to my longtime sweetheart and we also bought our first home together. By early 2021, Televangelist was completed and my life was in a very new place. But there was one last chapter to revisit before I would be completely free from the ghosts of the past.

Origin Story
Iʼve never been a very nostalgic person. I prefer to look forward. Itʼs one of the reasons that the initial journey of making The Royal We, and returning to Dolour at all, came with probably more analysis of motives from me than anyone else. And now that I had The Royal We and Televangelist under my belt, which took care of both unfinished business and brought my music completely up to date, the only thing
remaining to complete this resurrection was a reckoning of Dolourʼs original era. With the 20th anniversary of Dolourʼs debut album looming and still no live shows on the horizon - again I was left with “if not now, when?” I knew that I would want to play these new albums live whenever the world reopened, and I knew I‘d also need to balance the set-lists with original-era songs. But would I still connect with
these ancient songs? Would I be able to believe in them enough to perform them well?
The best way I felt I could reconnect with these songs would be to “renew my vows” with them, and bring them back into the studio. Similar to my process for The Royal We, I didnʼt put any rules on myself. If there was a lyric I wanted to change, Iʼd change it. If there was a chord progression I could improve on, Iʼd do whatever the
songs needed. But this album came with some unavoidable baggage, unlike The Royal We, Origin Story was made up of Dolourʼs most-known songs. Would this bum out some early fans? I even questioned if Iʼd want to hear a favorite band of mine rework their early songs. Keeping this in mind, but not catering to it, I soldiered on. A major blessings of this Dolour rebirth has been the amount of brand new fans
discovering these albums. So more than anything, I wanted to give the new fans the best introductions to these songs that I could. Maybe it shouldnʼt have been surprising to me, but Origin Story ended up taking the longest of the new albums to make, and it was the most challenging too. Trying to strike the balance of being true to these songs I wrote in my late teens and early twenties, but also being true to myself today was a tightrope walk with every song. In the end, I got what I was looking for: I reconnected and fell back in love with the songs, and couldnʼt me more proud to introduce (or re-introduce) them to whoeverʼs out there listening.

Full Circle
I guess if thereʼs a moral to all this - itʼs simply a reminder to stay open to things going in directions that surprise you, and always pay attention to your instincts. This three album journey, which Iʼve nicknamed my ‘Stay-At-Home Trilogyʼ, brought me full circle to the excitement of my earliest recording experiences with the karaoke machine swapping tapes back and forth until I had a completed song. So even though I never found my Beatles or my George Martin, I found that I had everything I needed all along.

See Dolour live December 29th at The Crocodile:

‘Stay-At-Home Trilogyʼ (The Royal We, Televangelist, Origin Story): Vinyl/CD/Cassette/Merch





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