Singled Out: Dogtablet's Shadowlands

K. Wiggins | 01-28-2020

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Dogtablet recently released their new album "Feathers & Skin" and to celebrate we asked Roberto Soave to tell us about the track "Shadowlands", which features Jared Louche (Chemlab). Here is the story:

The song "Shadowlands" is far and away my favorite from a crop of songs that, for the first time in a long and varied career, I'm proud of.

It's a Grimms fairy tale of a record, a sticky, dark-forest confection of a disc, an infection vector that slithers between muscle and bone, gently dislocating and dislodging. If you squint, it sounds like the memory of the girl you had a huge crush on in high school who suffered a harrowing car accident, and though intensely disfigured, she remained eye-wateringly gorgeous and majestic even in her brokenness. It's the sound of seeing her again, years later, and you realize you're still irredeemably attracted to her, your eyes drawn to her as she carries herself with a fragile grace through the abandoned car park. "Shadowlands" had to fit within that landscape and yet stand out.

It had sat in Martin's file bank of potential songs for over a year, cobwebbing itself into obscurity, and I loved it as soon as I heard it, its ethereal quality so unlike anything I've ever worked on before. It felt like an honor to work on a track that's not only so far outside of my stylistic realm but also so much richer and more demanding than anything I'd ever been a part of. The more I listened to it the more powerful it became, cycling around like a some beautiful but slightly damaged bird above my head, and the longer it circled the larger it became. The best part was, the lyrics were right there, woven into the very fabric of the song. I could almost hear them calling to me out of the mists. Almost. It loomed in my thoughts all of the time, but my pen, and my keyboard couldn't quite find the code to unleash all those glorious images I had locked in my head. I sat with it and tossed lyrics at it, but the melodic shape seemed to drift. It started to bug me that I couldn't get words to stick to it. I spent hours woodshedding the song, trying one approach after another. I rewrote the lyrics completely. I slowed it down. I sped it up. I started in the middle of the song, repeating a specific part of it over and over and over and over and .. bubkis. So I put it down for a little while, stopped trying to lasso it. It didn't help. Though I'd put it away, "Shadowlands" didn't exactly leave my airspace. For weeks and weeks and weeks, it fluttered at the periphery of my vision, teasing and taunting, the lyrics flitting by as bats in the dusk, never revealing themselves to me.

Yeah, the lyrics were woven into the fabric of the song, but for the life of me I couldn't find a thread loose enough to pull any of it free. It felt like a huge defeat, piquing my ever-present feelings of inadequacy and failure, and I tumbled into a pit. It churned up to the surface the demons I battle every day, the profound and deeply barbed sense that I'm a fake and that nothing will ever change no matter how hard I fight it. I'm an alien. No one understands me, so what's the point of getting out of bed .. ever.

We were coming to the brick wall of final mastering to get the album released before Christmas, and still I was becalmed in the doldrums; no wind, no current, nothing. Nada. Zip. Martin suggested that we leave it for the next record, but I wasn't having that. It tasted too much like acquiescence. I decided that I needed pressure on me to get the lyrics to come spooling out of me, so I told him we needed to get together in two-days' time. That night, my dad visited me. He had died about a year ago, so visitations from him are disturbing despite how deeply I loved him. Ashen grey, he stood on a pile of white bones atop a windswept hill and stared down at me, grey skies and grey hair blown awry as ever, ink-black crows scudding overhead.

The next morning, I went up on the ridge-backed hills behind our house, up onto the South Downs, the chalk cliffs that run along the bottom of the southern English coast. The weather was chilly and grey and spitting rain on-and-off, and it felt right. As I crested the bleached and autumnal hills, I came to a clutch of wind-battered trees where flocks of sheep graze in good times and huddle when the weather's nasty .. and there, across the hard ground, were scattered a collection on bones from some creature .. and as I stared at them, with the wind whipping around me and the gulls calling out towards the bitter, chilly sea in the distance, words drifted loose from the port of my head, through the shipping lane of my mouth and out into the waves of the world. I stood there in the rain and wind, and lyrics formed themselves into interwoven threads seemingly without effort, unbidden and unblocked.

I spent hours up there, wandering the sloping hills, crunching over hillocks of dry tan grass and rocky soil, singing at the top of my lunges into the teeth of the wind, casting my words across the departing afternoon. I sang a song of loss, of fear, of strength, and of holding on against the odds. I sang for all of my friends fighting their own demons, fighting to stay here against the pull of the razor and the handful of pills, fighting to stay afloat against the rising tide of blankets and bills and bullsh*t, fighting to deal with the challenges that being here on this plane presents us every day. I sang for myself too, to remind myself that though I'm utterly alien, perhaps the alien in me makes sense to other aliens out there too.

Thanks, dad.

Hearing is believing. Now that you know the story behind the song, listen for yourself and learn more about the album right here!

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