One time member of hitmaking punk rockers the Dum Dums, JOSH DOYLE talked about his faith and music to Mike Rimmer.
Sometimes it takes a while to set up interviews. You correspond and try and find a mutual space in the diaries and schedule a chat. Sometimes you have to cancel and re-schedule and it takes a while but Josh Doyle holds the record for the longest time between making an initial approach for an interview and finally getting to chat to him. Five years! Five long years!
Josh was a Dum Dum when I first emailed him. The lack of correspondence could have been caused by the fact that his band were enjoying chart hits and high profile tours and making it in Japan. But I suspected that it was something more sinister. A decision by the management of the band that they would keep quiet about being Christians. So I quietly gave up, noting along the way that the Dum Dums enjoyed four chart hits in the 12 month period from March 2000. And then they broke up, playing their final gig at Greenbelt 2001.
Imagine my surprise when at the end of 2004, Josh emailed me to tell me he was doing some solo recordings and would I like to have a listen? He sent me the excellent indie EP 'The End Of Fear' which marked a low key return to recording. It was produced by Sam Shacklock and recorded in Nashville where Josh had decided to live. And now he wanted to talk to me!
When it comes to the break up of Dum Dums, I have always blamed Busted! My suspicions proved well founded as Josh explained, "Busted were just coming out and they were flatteringly based exactly on my band. Our record company started saying they were going to make us like Busted! They were going to give us everything and put a lot of money into it. They told us, 'You just have to write songs that are more peppy and upbeat for the schoolgirls.' That bothered me because that wasn't where we came from in the first place. We came from a place of being into Pearl Jam. We got offered the Smash Hits tour and we got offered Eurovision as well! We got offered all kinds of great things but I just didn't think it was the right thing to do for my future."
So he broke up the band and headed to the USA to recuperate. Prior to changing their name to the Dum Dums, Josh's band had worked on the Christian circuit. He remembered, "I felt led to go into the mainstream to kind of be a positive voice. Not necessarily a Christian voice but just a bit more raw but having morals about yourself and that kind of thing. Which was very different to what was going on at that moment."
He confessed that the band were "big in Japan" although he looked embarrassed when he said so. "It's terrible that it's such a Spinal Tap-type statement," he grimaced. "Japan is like a bigger market than England from the record company perspective. So it's quite a big deal when you get over there and do well." And of course the band toured and toured. "We supported Robbie Williams all over the country and Bon Jovi. The good thing about the band is that we weren't Busted quite just yet. We got to play with the Flaming Lips, Paul Weller and we played with Victoria Beckham. We played with the complete spectrum."
Despite the success, the toll of touring and the rock'n'roll lifestyle slowly eroded Josh's spiritual life. He commented, "Spiritually, things did kind of take a turn for the worse a little bit. I had it a little bit better because I was married and I was in church all the time. There's pressure because my mom and dad are preachers and when you do something really bad then you kind of blow it for the whole family. So I didn't quite go off the deep end. But I wasn't living a great Christian life. I was saying stuff from the stage which was just.lewd."
Eventually, exhausted and exasperated with life in the band, Josh moved to America. He explained, "I actually felt called by God to come over to America. I don't tell everybody that, especially non-Christians because they think I'm barmy! Because stuff was going well and we could have made massive amounts of money. But I really felt that God was calling me to get out of England, go to America, start again; get surrounded by Christians. I mean, Nashville is the place for me because there's a lot of Christians there and this is the hub. Although I didn't want to get into Christian music, I knew that there would be people around that would be a good foundation to get a good start again."
One of the key songs on the new EP is the title cut. "The song 'The End of Fear' came from a place of recognising that when you've done something big, there's a lot of pressure afterwards. We played some shows in front of hundreds and thousands of people at Hyde Park and things like that. When you've meant something to a lot of people, there's a lot of pressure that everything that you've got to do from then on has got to be perfect and has got to be as meaningful."
He continued, "We were studying in church about fear of man and fear of God, and how fear of man can grip you. But if you've got the fear of God then the fear of man doesn't mean anything. So that whole song is about getting over the fear of man and what people are going to think. Being focussed and 'You can do it!' It's very positive, that kind of thing. There's a class in New York where their teacher made them write out an essay based on the song! They all sent me letters about it! It was a non-Christian class!" He shook his head with a bemused smile on his face, "There's some crazy stuff happening with that song."
With the passing of a few years, Josh is more reflective of his time in the Dum Dums and has plenty of happy memories! Like getting lost in Japan because he decided he wanted to visit Universal Studios but he couldn't read the bus signs to get back to the venue and missed the soundcheck. And he has happy memories of playing football at Wembley stadium in a charity match! Dum Dum band mate Stuart Clarke scored a goal but Jimmy Nail was offside! "We blamed it on his 'Crocodile Shoes'" he smiled weakly! Josh also reckoned he must be the only person to ever meet all of dc Talk and all of the Spice Girls!
Josh remembered that the band were trained to be pop stars. Kate Thornton taught them how to do interviews. "We were in a posh hotel and she was very nice." He remembered, "She taught us how not to answer questions. She'd just done Westlife the day before."
Does he have any regrets about his Dum Dum years? "There were plenty of good things that happened like conversations with people," Josh shared. "I did some witnessing. I talked to Robbie Williams and we had some really intense conversations about faith and what he believed and what I believed. I got to pray with some tour bus drivers and stuff like that. There are things that I regretted, just because you get a bit egotistical and you get, 'Oh all these people are coming to see ME!' And I've got a habit of saying stupid things trying to make people laugh as well. The best thing that came out of it spiritually is that we had our last show at Greenbelt. I asked them to fly Switchfoot over as the next 'big thing', and they flew Switchfoot over and now Switchfoot are massive. And it's like, Josh knows what he's talking about! We had our last show at Greenbelt and a whole bunch of our fans came and a bunch of people got saved as well. A bunch of our fans actually got saved and they're still going on with God right now. So that's something that came out of it that was really positive."
As I write Josh is in the studio working on his debut solo album. So why the EP? "I knew I needed to do something because I hadn't done anything for ages. I've been waiting on my producer. I've got a new band coming up and we're going for the mainstream thing again. I just had to do something because I had a lot more songs that weren't going to make it onto the album and I needed to get them out. I met 21 year old Sam Shacklock who is a complete genius programming guy. The EP came out in November. I've just been selling it online and it's doing really well."
The EP is a low key reminder of Josh's talents but he's playing it down because he's waiting for the album he's recording with his band to be the big come back album. He's also a little shy about telling me what the band are going to be called. I teased him but he wouldn't relent and tell me the name. All he'd say was that it begins with a "P". Thanks Josh for the clue!
There are certain lessons that he's learned from the past that he'll be putting into practice this time around. Josh explained, "Daniel Bedingfield, when he first started to get famous, called me up and we had a massive chat about this. I was like, 'Look, you've got to get yourself a mentor on the road.' And he actually went and did that. He got a mentor on the road and he still goes around with him now in fact. He is keeping it real, he's doing a really good job. So I haven't really thought about it but I should follow my own advice! The big difference is I want to get a couple of guys in the band that are going to be full on Christians, so we've got a bit of a central focus right there. That's going to be one thing."
He continued, "I've got a lot more of a support mechanism now that I've got a baby, I've got a wife and I've got a church and I've got a life group. They're used to dealing with musicians being on the road so they have services mid-week and stuff like that. That's the good thing about being in Nashville because they're geared towards people on the road. Ultimately, it's all down to my devotional life and my thought life and all that kind of thing. I'm on the record saying I'm not going to backslide! Alright?"
He confessed, "There are a lot of lessons that I've had to learn. I think maybe that's part of why it's taken me so long to get back. It's because God has been teaching me what I need to do; dealing with me about things before I can kind of be 'a righteous man approved', so that I can go out there with his blessing. I seriously do think that's maybe why it has taken so long. I did come quite close to the whole crashing and burning thing. But it's my calling. My calling isn't to the Christian industry, my calling is to the secular world, to provide a diagnosis of the human condition. And this time I actually put in a bit about Jesus and what he can save us from, so it's another step in the right direction."
Josh explained the direction he believes he'll be taking. "Someone had a word for me about having national recognition as a musician again. But the big thing was that I was going be out there ministering to other artists. And that was actually what my calling was; the music thing was just a small part of it. So I'm clinging onto that word. I actually got to go out on the road with Steve Winwood last year. He took me out just so that I could have some money. It was really good experience. I got to test it out a bit and I got to live out being a Christian in all of it. So, baby steps."
It's now late in the evening as the conversation draws to a close. I wonder out loud whether this time around, when he becomes really famous with his band that begins with a 'P', whilst he's having his chart hits whether he'll let me interview him this time? "Yeah, yeah, yeah." He shouted, "YES, I WILL!" and then laughs, adding conspiratorially, "We can do it secretly! I've always been a Rimmerama listener."The opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those held by Cross Rhythms. Any expressed views were accurate at the time of publishing but may or may not reflect the views of the individuals concerned at a later date.