Jessica Dobson: Deep Sea Diver Musician, Ex-Shins Guitarist

Think about your dream job. What does it involve? Maybe traveling the world with someone who has inspired you for years and doing what you love? Now imagine walking away from that job to pursue a more true-to-you passion.

In the past two years, that's precisely the transition that Jessica Dobson has undergone.

Dobson is a for-real musical badass—she sings and plays guitar, bass, piano and drums. She spent a few years performing live with artists like Beck and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, and was subsequently offered the dream—touring with The Shins as lead guitarist. She played with them for a year before she was officially inducted into the band. At which point, she told James Mercer, "thanks but no thanks" because she wanted to work on her solo project, Deep Sea Diver.

Deep Sea Diver released its new EP, Always Waiting, on September 2 and is set to release a full length album in 2015. Nick Peterson with Apes On Tape broke the news to us about the EP, then put us in touch with Dobson so we could ask her a slew of questions about Deep Sea Diver and her stint with The Shins.

Can you tell me a bit about Deep Sea Diver? Where does the name come from?

Deep Sea Diver started as a moniker for myself back in 2008. I plucked the band name from a song that I wrote and then renamed that song "New Caves." It was inspired by a Jack Kerouac book of poetry that i was into at the time. 

In your ideal world, what would happen with DSD in the coming years? 

We want to start touring in Japan so we can open for a band called "Bump of Chicken." This is an actual band in Japan that, I believe, mistranslated the word "goosebumps." Genius. 

You just released a new EP coming and you have a full-length album coming out in 2015. Tell us about the EP, Always Waiting.

The Always Waiting EP was the perfect outlet for a few of our older songs that didn't quite fit the full length, and I think a foreshadowing of what's to come with the second album as well. We ventured out a bit more with synths and electronics on the newer songs, and I was able to spread my wings more on guitar by getting grittier and using more experimental sounds.

Last year our friend Garrett joined us on bass and it was exciting to be writing with someone else who had a completely different ear and approach to our songs. He was instrumental in helping co-write "One by One" and laying down some sweet Paul Simon/"Graceland"-esque bass. One of my favorite moments on the EP is his bass line that comes in toward the end of "Always Waiting." It's so damn memorable and triumphant. For the more stripped-down songs, we recorded them at an old church called the Fremont Abbey that has the most stunning natural reverb. I've always wanted to do location recording and our producer/engineer Luke Vander Pol did such a fine job of capturing the songs in a more natural/live fashion. 

Where does your inspiration—both musical and nonmusical—come from?

Most of my inspiration comes from keeping my eyes and ears open constantly. Conversations with strangers, my own interpretations of Flannery O'Connor stories, a word of wisdom from someone I respect, working out pain un-dealt with in my own life and others through lyrics, etc. As long as I don't stop long enough to dig a grave of self-consciousness and apathy, there's enough going on around me to observe and to be inspired to talk about and write about. 

You're married to your drummer, Peter Mansen. How did you meet? Was he a bandmate first? And what is it like working with your husband? Hayley Young

I met Peter when I was recording an album in Seattle in 2006 for my solo project. He was working at a coffee shop that I frequented and I remember seeing him washing dishes in the back, and he was very obnoxiously Tuvan throat singing. Shortly after that, I somehow ended up working at that coffee shop and we became best friends instantly. He rules. Peter joined the band once we started dating and he moved to California where I was living. Being in a band is already a screwy, bend-over-backwards, diplomatic, humbling, gut-wrenching, but totally worth it and rewarding endeavor. Being in a band with your significant other is all of those things, plus sleeping on the couch from time to time when you disagree if a song's good or not. (Or maybe we are the only ones who do this . . . ) 

You’re an amazing guitar player and singer, but I read that you play other instruments as well. How many do you play? Is guitar your favorite?

Piano was my first instrument, and from there I taught myself how to play guitar, bass and drums. In junior high I played clarinet but that was very short lived. The itchy green and gold band attire was not in line with my "wear all black and only listen to the Cure" goth phase. Guitar will always be my favorite because I get to move around more and sometimes do the splits.

You said in an interview with KEXP that you quit The Shins because you felt like you were leaving Deep Sea Diver unattended. What was it like working with a world-renowned band—and how did it feel to walk away from the huge crowds and constant touring? 

Playing to huge crowds can definitely be a thrilling experience, but at a certain point the faces just turn into a sea of people and you stop seeing individuals. It is more exhilarating for me to feel the electric energy in a room of people that are fully immersed in the show than to play to a festival of 50,000 where you are barricaded 50 feet from the nearest fan.

Are you working on any other projects right now that we should be watching out for?

I might be singing on Bryan John Appleby's new record, but other than that it's just DSD.

Hayley Young

Playing guitar, especially in the “big time” with bands like The Shins and Beck, is a pretty male-dominated space. Do you get a lot of grief over your gender? How do you deal with it? 

Thankfully no, i have not come across a substantial amount of pointed or ignorant gender-specific comments.

I'm well aware that most guitarists in rock bands are males, but that was never a driving factor for me to be a good female guitarist. I just wanted to be as creative as possible on guitar and I practiced a ton. I also embrace the fact that I am a female in a band and love that it gives me a unique voice (literally and figuratively). It's always fun to meet other ladies in bands on the road and to get away from the van/boy town for a while! 

If you could give advice to budding musicians out there, what would you say?

The most influential artist in my life has always been Nick Cave. A quote of his that I live by is "inspiration is a word used by people who don't do much." He is indicating that hard work, constant observation of all things beautiful and dark around us, and a tremendous dedication to creating and writing is what leads to inspiration. If you're feeling writers block, don't let the pen run dry. Keep pushing forward, even if the words don't make sense at the time. 

Describe yourself in four words.

Type A
Type B
Loyal to a fault

Photos courtesy of Hayley Young via

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