The situation I'm having drinks at Phinney Ridge's 418 Public House with 27-year-old singer and multi-instrumentalist Jessica Dobson and her husband, Peter Mansen, who plays drums in her band, Deep Sea Diver. The romantic comedy-worthy story of how they met: Dobson, who's from Orange County, was in Seattle recording an album. For coffee, her producer, Phil Ek (of Fleet Foxes, Shins, and Modest Mouse fame), recommended she go to Lighthouse Roasters, where she found Mansen, a barista, standing in the back of the shop attempting to Tuvan throat-sing. "He was being a total goon," she says. ("It's not goon-ish," says Mansen. "It's sacred.") The two became fast friends, and three years later he flew to New York and confessed his love. She turned him down, only to change her mind a month later. "It's pretty amazing that he made himself that vulnerable," she says. "It's a very fond memory."
Shop Talk Dobson was signed to Atlantic Records at 18, but the relationship didn't last. By the time she finished the second record (with Ek), she says, "There was just no momentum left." That's when she started a side career of sorts, playing in backing bands. In the past three years, Dobson's toured playing percussion for Spoon, bass and keys for the Yeah Yeah Yeahs (of Karen O, she says, "I really, really love her a lot!"), and guitar for Beck, whom she describes as "a very reserved person... he definitely reminds me of a David Bowie, like a chameleon. He was very good to us."
Mansen interrupts: "I can speak from a nonpartisan standpoint. He's a weirdo!"
Dobson glares at him. "He's awesome," she says. "What artist doesn't have [his] quirks?"
Dobson's material took a backseat while she was touring. But now she says she's ready to focus on her own music again, though not under the name Deep Sea Diver. "I'm elated about it," says Dobson of playing without the cover of a band name. "I feel like it's something I can own now." Tonight's Comet show is the last for which she'll be billed as Deep Sea Diver; a "Jessica Dobson" album is slated for release this fall.
BTW: Does this husband-and-wife team work smoothly? "No, no, absolutely not," Dobson says, immediately.
They actually tried playing music together years ago, when they first met, and the results were messy. "We played for half an hour, and it was the worst," remembers Mansen. "We both left and went our separate ways."
"It was like a bad one-night stand," laughs Dobson. Mansen says he subsequently adjusted himself to his wife's style of music so that he'd be able to play with her, but that doesn't mean things got easy.
"Basically this is what happens: I sit down, start writing something, he starts playing the most involved, ADD beats, but I'm more of a minimalist, and so I start getting frustrated," says Dobson. "So then some whiskey gets brought out to calm me down. [But] once we get past our stupid insecurities, we come up with some things I would never imagine I could come up with."
"I think the record is going to be cool because of that tension," says Mansen, who admits to breaking down and weeping while writing one song with Dobson. "It's like an autobiography of us."
"There's nothing easy about us writing music [together]," says Dobson, "but it's the best thing in the world."
Preview two songs from Jessica Dobson's forthcoming new album on her website.
Deep Sea Diver plays the Comet Tavern tomorrow, June 29, with the Nightgowns and Future Historian. The show's at 9 p.m. and the cover's only $3.