Best of What's Next: The Maldives

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Hometown: Seattle
Album: Listen to the Thunder
Band Members: Kevin Barrans (banjo, rockin’ ZZ Top beard), Jesse Bonn (guitar), Jason Dodson (vocals, guitar), Tim Gadbois (guitar), Ryan McMackin (drums), Tomo Nakayama (percussion), Seth Warren (violin), Chris Warner (bass), Chris Zasche (pedal steel)
For Fans Of: The Avett Brothers, The Band, early Jimmy Buffett

“When it comes down to it, I’m not a very good musician at all,” says Jason Dodson, frontman and one of nine members of Seattle’s The Maldives. The populous rock outfit just released its debut Listen to the Thunder on Mt. Fuji Records, and when it comes to addressing the relative success of his crowded, countrified troupe, Dodson has no problem being blunt. “But I can write songs.”

It can be difficult to conduct a nine-piece band, but Dodson believes The Maldives’ dusty, rag-tag sound thrives from the limitations he pushes on them. Before they settled on their current twangy style, none of them really knew what the band should sound like. Guitarist Jesse Bonn and former member David Wingo (who named the band with help from filmmaker David Gordon Green, several of whose films Wingo soundtracked) once shared songwriting duties too, offering up a smattering of different styles that, for lead singer Dodson, created a crumbling hubbub of disjointed ideas.

“When they were wanting me to play along to songs that they were writing, I couldn’t follow them,” he says. “And so I just said, ‘I have to write my own songs. I can’t fit with them. I can’t play along with your songs.’” He took some time off from the band, reflecting and recomposing his own sound, trading the jagged complexities that first fractured the group for simple structures from the artists he’d known since adolescence, like Bob Dylan and Neil Young. Once Dodson finished his new material, the group pieced itself back together around the beacon of his uncluttered compositions, which he describes as “strictly skeletal.”

“When I write songs, I don’t have a clear picture of what they should sound like,” he says. “I like to keep it open to where the other bandmates have a voice just as clear as mine.”

Now past those early growing pains, The Maldives are one of Seattle’s best—and biggest—hoop-hollering country acts. “What makes us stand out is that we play pretty straightforward music,” Dodson says. “What was that thing that Bob Dylan said? ‘I’m just a song and dance man.’ It’s kind of like how we are onstage… Whatever it is that we’re feeling is what we show. If we write an angry song, then we play angry. If we write a love song, then we show that emotion. I think a lot of people appreciate that. We’re just honest performers.”

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