When former Albany scenester Doug Dulgarian announced last year that he’d be moving to Philly in the summer of 2017, it didn’t even feel like news. While watching his simultaneous come-up in both Jouska (his main band whose current lineup consists of himself, John Mongonia, Jevan Dollard and Shannon Straney) and his solo project they are gutting a body of water, which he swiftly kickstarted with two albums in just six months, there was always the underlying inevitability of a transplant. When he’s not writing or playing rock music, he’s making beats. And when he needs to rest his ears, he’s either drawing comics, creating weird show flyers, or shooting short films straight to VHS. Although Albany has a richer artistic community than most cities of its caliber, a person like that needs all the resources they can get. Philly, the affordable East Coast alternative to Brooklyn that it’s recently become, provides a culture he can thrive in.
At one point during our conversation, Dulgarian casually mentioned that “having multiple outlets allows [him] to never stop.” A brisk, effervescent talker who gets verbally and visibly excited when describing whatever he’s working on at the time, he spoke quickly and assuredly, as if ceaseless creativity is his everyday norm—which it is.
On Friday April 27, he’ll release the third they are gutting a body of water (tagabow) record, gestures been, which will already be his third musical release of 2018 (Jouska’s from Elson to Emmett EP dropped in March, three weeks after his instrumental split/visual album with Apostrophe S).
For tagabow’s eponymous debut and its far-superior follow-up sweater curse, Dulgarian recorded everything straight to 4-track tape. This gave the songs a purposefully brittle, weathered quality that, on sweater curse specifically, played nicely with the scattered audio samples and the mixtape flow of the project. Though, to slap it with the lo-fi tag isn’t quite right. Dulgarian wasn’t using dated technology out of laziness or to retrofy his sound, but to conjure a specific tone and atmosphere—one that’s emerged in the mid-2010’s— that he understands yet always has difficulty describing.
“I can’t really explain it, there’s a very particular style here that’s dark and slow and very strange,” he said of Philly, where many acts of that ilk are originating from. “I feel one band you could cite that everybody would know is Spirit of the Beehive. They’ve kind of changed the way people are playing music here.”
Although Spirit of the Beehive’s music is bleak and dim and drenched in fuzz, lo-fi doesn’t feel right for them either. Whatever they did on their 2017 magnum opus pleasure suck is a good basepoint for the textures Dulgarian captured on gestures been, the first tagabow album recorded in a studio.
“We didn’t have a whole bunch of days [in the studio],” he said. “I wanted to utilize both the tape stuff that I had acquired over time and the general feel of the older records, and bring it to a studio environment. So I brought my 4-track into the studio.”
Using the machine as a preamp, Dularian was able to effectively delve into a musical style as dense and boggy as shoegaze while still retaining the unpolished intimacy of his other tagabow releases. Songs like “houseplant” and “yawner” rival Jouska’s fullest-sounding material, but the latter features a fluttery woodwind synth effect that’s distinctly tagabow. From the very beginning stages of the writing process, Dulgarian said he knows which songs will go to which project.
“For Jouska, we have songs that’re gonna come out that are rooted toward our strengths in that band,” he said. “What John provides, what Jevan provides, what Shannon provides.”
The independent control of tagabow, being that he writes the songs before presenting them to his drummer Ben Opatut and bassist Evan Moffit, is the differentiating factor.
“There’s something about it when I can incorporate ideas without anyone being like, ‘You shouldn’t do it that way.’ This one’s all me. I suppose that people who are playing instruments on this album have some creative input as to their part, but the overall sound is not compromised by other people’s opinion of what it should be. Whereas Jouska is a distinctively group effort.”
“In terms of the overall aesthetic and the overall sound, I want it to sound like a tunnel. Like a subway tunnel,” he added.
Sonically the record is long, dark and cavernous, yes, but conceptually his work reflects the farthest thing from tunnel vision. tagabow continues to be a platform for Dulgarian to question himself and develop a more nuanced understanding of what he’s giving and taking from his surroundings. That’s what he was getting at with the title gestures been.
“Kind of a play on gender bent. Kind of like a checkup. Like what have you been up to? What gestures have you been putting out into the world since I moved here. And these are it, these are what the gestures have been. . . I don’t know what people’s definition of the word gesture is, but I think it’s any action that has intention. It’s like action with intention. I feel as if all these songs are all kind of documenting that.”
One of those gestures is visiting Albany, something he still does frequently and spends a great deal of time thinking about.
“It’s like a vacation. I don’t have to work a job. I already know everybody there. And it ends up just being who’s available to hang out … and if I do come to Albany there’s always some intention. We’re either leaving for tour or playing a show there.”
“It paints Albany now in a different light when I visit. It’s very pure,” he said, sweetly.
gestures been is out April 27 via Bee Side Cassettes.