Martin King speaks with ReGen about his creative and collaborative process, resulting in his most personal Dogtablet effort yet.
An InterView with Martin King of Dogtablet
By Ilker Yücel (Ilker81x)
The underground music scene is chockful of collaborative outlets, numerous bands that have formed not under that tired and dreaded umbrella term of “supergroup,” but more as a creative hub to allow musicians of various styles and generations to explore the bounds of artistic impulse. Among them is Dogtablet, spearheaded by Martin King over the course of several albums and EPs to pursue a virtually uncategorizably adventurous sound – with past and present collections featuring such celebrated talents as Jared Louche (Chemlab), Steven Archer (Stoneburner), Coral Scere (Scere), Cat Hall (Dissonance), Mike Reidy (W.O.R.M.), Jennie Bellestar, Frankie Nardiello (Groovie Mann of My Life with the Thrill Kill Kult), John D. Norten (Blue Eyed Christ), Daz Sharp (Spoils of Grace), James Reyna (Melodywhore), and Sapphira Vee. The project’s most recent release, Black Space Dust & Memories has brought Dogtablet to Jim Semonik’s Distortion Productions, with regular songwriting partner Roberto Soave appearing in a far more limited capacity to result in one of King’s most personal and introspective efforts of his career. Just prior to the album’s release, he took the time to speak with ReGen about the album’s creation, giving us insight into his creative process and the collaborative spirit that has driven his music.
First of all, how are you? How is your health?
King: I’m doing okay, all things considered. Physically, I’m in pretty good shape. I get a lot of walking done in a day. Mentally… my mental health is better now than it’s been for a long time. I went through some tough stuff about 12 years ago… I learned a lot about myself, cleaned up my act, and put myself in a much better place. Thank you for asking.
Dogtablet primarily revolves around the musical partnership between you and Roberto Soave, writing the music together while you are responsible for lyrics and vocals. Tell us about your creative process – how do your individual approaches to composition or songwriting differ, and how to you bring the two together?
Black Space Dust & Memories features some prominent guest appearances, most of which you’ve worked with on past releases. Are the songs written with a particular voice in mind, or is the selection of who will sing which sing primarily up to them?
King: Well, usually at some point during the creative process, I get an idea of the type of vocal that I think would work… so at that point, I would contact somebody and send them the track to see if they’re interested. On this album particularly, this is the case, especially with Coral on ‘Whispers’ – I knew as soon as I had the first piano riff that I wanted her to do the vocal – and Melodywhore on ‘Profiler X&Y,’ where originally, I was thinking of the track as an instrumental when I remembered the great spoken word contribution he made on ‘Every Little Lie’ with Sapphira Vee from the Pearldrop Blue album. So, I rang him and explained what I had in my head… .and he smashed it back to me. It was perfect.
How much input do the different vocalists have in the lyrics – maybe not in terms of the actual writing, but does the choice of vocalist affect how you write the words?
King: Each vocalist has 100% responsibility for the lyrics to their own contribution. Also, they know that arrangements can be changed to fit around the lyrical needs. Totally. And sometimes when they send their vocal stems over, it inspires me to make changes to the track to enhance the vocal… if that makes sense. For example, when Cat Hall sent her vocals back for ‘The Dreamer,’ I was inspired to change a lot about the sounds and the feel of the track… even playing drums on it, which I rarely do these days. It became a much better track.
The album features guitarist Phil Moseley, and Roger Ebner on saxophones, who I know also contributed to the last album, Pearldrop Blue. As well, Steven Archer appears on the instrumental ‘These Remains.’ Tell us about their contributions to Dogtablet – how did they come to be involved and what do you feel they bring to the music?
Are there any musicians or vocalists you’ve not yet worked with that you’d be interested in collaborating with, either within Dogtablet, or perhaps on a different project?
King: Well, there are a few, for sure. I recently worked on a Japan cover version with Marselle Hodges… I would definitely like to get a Dogtablet track together with her. Yvette Winkler is in the Dogtablet crosshairs (if she didn’t know, she hopefully will now!), and one day, I’ll drag Curse Mackey into the mix too. To be fair though, I met Sapphira Vee randomly on Twitter, and I listen to a lot of new bands that I stumble over on social media, so I guess you never know who’s coming next.
What do you most look for in a collab, what are the most important elements that you feel are necessary for you to consider it?
King: I need to like the style of music for sure, and I have strong political and social opinions, so I won’t knowingly involve myself with people who are not like minded. But other than that, I’m usually happy to give it a go.
The album is described as ‘a soothing trip through space,’ and there are some rather cosmic passages, which isn’t unusual for Dogtablet’s varied sound. What does space mean for you? Do you have a particular interest in the cosmos or astronomy?
King: I don’t really have any particular interest in space or astronomy, but I do believe that we come from space (not in a tinfoil hat alien way, obviously). I mean more that life is created from matter that has evolved from space in some way, and when we die, we return to that same matter. That sounded much more coherent in my head!
Meanwhile, the lyrics seem much more dreamy and personal, perhaps looking more inward, while concepts of space are by definition outward. Is there a purpose to such a dichotomy in terms of the themes you’re exploring, or is this nonsense?
King: It’s a very personal album. I guess this is because without Bob, I was left to my own devices. I’m 60 in 2024, and have been reflecting on my life, successes, mistakes, family and friends loved and lost… it’s not unusual, I suppose. I lost my dad in 2020 at the start of the pandemic; he was a jazz pianist, a truly gentle man, and the reason that I’ve been able to do what I’ve been doing since the age of 10. While outwardly, I don’t think that his passing had any great effect on me (which I don’t understand), on reflection, I think maybe it triggered a different part of me, artistically. As you get older, death features more often in your life and it’s hard not to be affected by it, I guess. As each generation above you disappears, it’s inevitable that you start to realize that it’s your turn next.
Since 2017, Dogtablet has had virtually an album release each year, with 2022 being a minor exception as Ashes was a shorter EP. Nonetheless, especially given the global situation, what was the imperative for you to maintain such a prodigious pace? What sorts of challenges have you been faced with, either logistically or creatively?
Musically, Dogtablet seems to often be described as a post-industrial or darkwave band, but there are often other elements of electronic, ambient, and even some bluesy or jazzy textures. What are your thoughts on validity of ‘genres’ in this day and age? I’ve asked this a lot, and many say it still matters for marketing purposes… do you think so?
King: I think it can matter if you’re a new or young band and are trying to make an impact on a scene. But we’re really not (young or trying to make that impact). Both Bob and I are making music that we like to make, and I find it fascinating how our guest vocalists are prepared to step out of their comfort zones to try something a little different. I’m sure that from a marketing point of view, it’s a nightmare for Jim Semonik and Distortion Productions, so I realize the restrictions that our cross-genre music puts on our success. But I’m lucky to be in the position I’m in, and only in recent years have I realized that I’ve been lucky that way all my life; it’s just that for a while, I was too stupid to realize it.
You’ve been making music for a number of years now. What is your perspective on the current state of the industry and the many avenues that exist for independent artists to retain control of their creative destiny?
How do you feel indie labels like Distortion Productions are exemplary of directions that you feel the industry could or should take?
King: I get the feeling that Distortion has a feel for the old school. In many ways, they remind me of Test Dept’s first label, Jungle Records in London, and also Martin Atkins’ Invisible Records – a commitment to what they believe in, truly independent, and a champion of the artist. So many bigger labels and publishing companies focus their A&R on TikTok and Instagram, which does bring in a fast buck, but leaves nothing as a music legacy. And that’s what all artists want surely… to leave a legacy.
Just for a bit of gear talk, what pieces of equipment or types of sounds are being made now that are exciting you and giving you some inspiration?
King: I used to have a studio down in Bermondsey, South London, with a massive desk, and lots of outboard gear. Now I have no outboard gear. I use a Mac and Pro Logic, a Behringer X-Touch, my ageing Genelecs, and a Big Knob. I use a lot of Native Instruments, Rob Papen & Spectrasonics softsynths, etc…. and I’m about to treat myself to a Roli Seaboard Rise 2.
Outside of music, what do you most enjoy? Movies, books, hiking, cooking, etc.
King: It’s no secret that I am huge fan of Greyhounds. I currently have two and I am their servant. I do a lot of cooking, listen to audiobooks, and I support Manchester United and have done since 1978. In between times, I may have the occasional beer.
Is there anything you’d like to add that I’ve not brought up?
King: I don’t think so. This interview has allowed me to be more coherent than usual. So, I thank you for that.
Photography provided courtesy of Dogtablet