A Conversation with Doves Peak
I sat down today with Russell Kranes and May Cheung to talk about their band, Doves Peak. They are releasing a single, Part of Your Life, on March 19th 2021. I met May through her husband Jason Levine, a long-time member of Leaders in Software and Art and Creative Tech Week participant. I met Russell through Stan Killian, a jazz musician and composer that was part of a Creative Tech Week event in Feb. 2020. Seeing them together was a trip, and since they are about to release a new single - their first single together - I decided to learn more.
Isabel: So tell me about this band. First of all, what genre of music do you play? Is this jazz?
May: My background is mostly jazz, but this is R&B or Gospel influenced.
Russell: You could call it Neo-Soul.
Isabel: I actually don't know much about what this could mean. What are your musical influences?
Russell: My musical influences are varied but I have been most inspired by the high-energy yet delicately emotional sounds found in the American pentecostal church. Having spent almost seven years playing two to three church services per week, I have undoubtedly crafted my style as simply 'church'. Whatever I play and write I can't help churchify everything that I do. It is a part of me and a source of everlasting gratitude. When I hear beautiful music, I listen to it over and over again. I remember the first time I heard the Beatles song, "Golden Slumbers". It was as though they had read my mind and had written that song for me to feel comforted in my awkward teenage years as I was trying to navigate school, identity, and girls. My goal is to offer similar yet unique experiences to my listeners. The feelings that I still get when I hear Abbey Road or Pet Sounds are a respite from the anxieties of the world and an entry point into something so beautiful yet so simple: presence.
May: I’m a versatile vocalist, primarily from a jazz background. My influences crossover from Folk, Pop, Jazz and even a bit of country - think Joni Mitchell, Sarah, Ella, Billie, Celine Dion, Mariah Carey, Patsy Cline and Townes Van Zandt. I would describe my voice as warm, powerful and enveloping. I’m able to execute melodies of said genres because of my obsession with their stylistic detailings, like runs and grace notes.
Isabel: How did you guys meet?
May: Our mutual friend Pravin Thompson invited me to play at a local bar in Brooklyn back in May 2019 (Birthday Show), and Russell, who was Pravin’s roommate at the time, showed up. Going through the motions of playing a solo show, I wasn’t sure if anyone was really listening. Sure enough, after my set was done, Russell came up to me and complimented me on my playing - then asked if I would be into singing some of the tunes he wrote. I obliged and the rest is history! Because of Covid, we haven’t been able to hang out as much but when we are fortunate enough to see each other, we take long walks in the park, talk about life, go hiking, party and attend each others’ shows. I actually introduced Russell to his girlfriend, and he's gotten to know my husband Jason, of course. Jason is a livecoder and he and I have a band together called Scorpion Mouse, we've played SXSW together and have toured internationally, so there's always music in our house.
Isabel: Russell, what did you see in May? Beyond, obviously, her amazing voice?
Russell: Well, funny you should say that, because it's actually her amazing voice. May is simultaneously an explosive gust of wind and a calming breeze that gently rustles the leaves on a summer night. I first met her at a one-woman show at a small bar in Brooklyn. I had been writing my own music and lyrics for several years but hadn't been able to find the right singer. May is that singer. I heard her sing and was actually astounded. I thought, "not only is she amazing, but she has such similar musical sensibilities to me and would be the perfect partner for my own project". May embodies two very different yet equally compelling sounds in her singing: a sublime melange of soul singer Stevie Wonder with country singer Patsy Cline. Her sweet but soulful voice lends itself perfectly to the music of Doves Peak, her own music, and truly anything she wants to sing.
Isabel: And May? What did you like about Russell when you first met him?
May: Russell is like a human encyclopedia when it comes to music - especially in the world of Gospel, Jazz and R&B. His intuition when it comes to accompanying me or anyone for that matter, is exceptional, bar none. Russell is innovative and constantly aims to improve himself and his music. Coming from “church”, as they say, he is professional as they come. We agree on so many facets and approaches to songwriting and the musical chemistry is evident. Also, I think we really click because we share a passion and respect for Black American Music and we both experience the immense joy, sorrow and messages that are conveyed when we play or listen to it.
Isabel: Sounds like a wonderful match of personalities and influences. I can't wait to hear the new song when it comes out on March 19th. How did you think of your band name?
Russell: Well, I read George Orwell's 1984 in college, and I liked the word doublespeak. It's deliberately euphemistic ambiguous or obscure language. Because we're two people we’re a duo, so double speak. We played with it, and somehow it became Doves Peak.
Isabel: Russell, your single will drop on March 19th. What inspired you to write your new song, Part of Your Life?
Russell: I sat down before I wrote this song and listened to Pet Sounds. I have listened to this album probably over 2,000 times. My parents took me to see the Beach Boys when I was 2, at Jones Beach in New York. After I saw them I couldn’t got to sleep unless the Beach Boys was playing on tape cassette in my bedroom. If I woke up, they used it to put me back to sleep. It's the album I know best in my life. And I wanted to be inspired.
Isabel: OK, but you said this song is R&B or Gospel influenced. Pet Sounds isn’t either.
Russell: The melody on Part of Your Life is inspired by the Beach Boys. And the chords - the thing about Gospel is really just American style harmony. It’s logical mathematical progressions. The Beach Boys actually is not. The harmony is routine American but the melody isn’t. I can imagine Brian Wilson singing Part of Your Life. He wouldn’t sing it like May. He would sound super white and California, because that’s what he is. I can so imagine him singing it. Perfect pitch, super clear precise notes, no ornamentations, no embellishment. HIs pitch is just sublime. It’s out of this world.
May: Yeah, he’s marvelous.
Russell: You have great pitch too. But with him it’s a different style. It’s more of a laser beam.
May: If you think about the layers in Pet Sounds --
Russell: And the vocal harmonies! They're very precise. It’s just this wave of emotion that takes you somewhere.
May: Well, he went through a lot.
Russell: He had a bad life.
Isabel: What happened?
Russell: His father was abusive, an alcoholic. He has severe mental illness. He developed his own drug use. And had abusive parenting. He’s a fascinating guy.
May: Just a brilliant musician. So much sadness in his life but made such beautiful music. Actually really happy sounding, aesthetically. But the words are just so heart-wrenching.
Russell: The funny thing about the music is that it’s also really dark. It’s haunting. Do you know the song Little Surfer Girl? It’s creepy. May: Almost a Hans Christian Andersen type of vibe. Russell: Almost like a slasher movie! It’s some creepy shit. I love it so much. May: The complexity. The more you listen to it, the more layers are involved. Genius music. Russell: for sure. Which is true of a lot of great music. I’ve listened to the White Album so many times. And I still find new things. It’s crazy. May: Oliver Nelson Blues and The Abstract Truth. I was listening on high quality headphones and I was blown away. I wasn’t even high or anything. And I realized I never knew there was flute in this. Whoa. This is awesome! Just blown away by the dialog... and the Art of Trio Brian Meldau. Russell: Volume 2 with Countdown is bonkers. May: The Language with Larry Grenadier. It’s so palpable. You’re in the room with them. Russell: I really love his live in Tokyo album. Someone to Watch over Me. Isabel: Well, you two, our time is up here, but I can certainly tell why you two love to work together now! I wish I could be a fly on the wall more often during your conversations! Thanks so much for talking with me today. Where can we go to find out about your single release when it comes out? Russell: Check out our Bandcamp page here. And also, check out my band Little Gorgeous and also, May's website where you can learn more about her. May: Thanks Russell, and thank you Isabel! Russell: Yeah, thanks Isabel for your interest in our new song. I want as many people to hear it as possible and I hope it brings joy. Isabel: I hope so too! Good luck.