Ever since moving away many years ago - first to Austin and then to North Carolina - fans of Mike June could see him in New Jersey every now and again. He would usually be performing a solo gig or a show with his wife, Jess Klein (a wonderful artist as well). Mike is returning to Jersey for a pair of shows in November, but this time he’s got a band with him - his old band, in fact - the Dirty Doves. And he will be playing songs from his past that he rarely plays these days, if at all.
Mike June & the Dirty Doves was a band I used to spin in the early days of online radio. They had many great songs and put out a terrific record called Lovesick. When they broke up, I wondered what would happen to Mike, but his songwriting as a solo artist just got better and better with each release. Many wound up being in my top 5 list of releases for the year. Still, when I heard about the upcoming band shows, it made me nostalgic for those old songs and I reached out to Mike to learn more.
You can catch Mike June & the Dirty Doves at Pino’s in Highland Park on Friday, November 17th (with COSMIC KARMA and guests) and at The Mason Jar in Mahwah on Saturday, November 18th (with Steve Leonard Band).
Can you give me the back story on how the Dirty Doves came about and what led to the band breaking up?
Well, when my first band broke up after 4 years together, I felt like I had wasted a lot of time and effort and I knew that I didn’t want to tie my fortunes to anybody else. If I was going to succeed or fail, it was going to be on me. So I started Mike June & the Dirty Doves with a few different guys in 2001, and that lineup changed a little bit and then I recorded my first proper record, Crooked.
The record got good reviews, and we played a few shows with that lineup, and then everybody left for different reasons. Rich Malloy went to Nashville and became a great session guy. Bob Miano (RIP, he passed recently) was in demand in Jersey as a steel player, and quite frankly, I was a bit of a mess. But I met Jay Forsythe and Ed Fritz at The Underpass in Elmwood Park, I think they were playing with Brian Fitzpatrick at the time, and we met and hit it off. We all liked Uncle Tupelo. Funny, looking back at it now, Wilco was still bit of an underground secret! But they bought in Clint Morris on bass, and we started jamming and writing the songs that would become my 2nd album. Played a bunch of shows with that lineup and the that’s also when the band morphed from a band backing me, to it being more of a real band. We really developed our own sound. That’s also when we became one of the de facto house bands at The Underpass, which was the heartbeat of the original music scene in North Jersey at the time, A lot of people came through there that are having great careers in music.
We must have went through a dozen drummers during that time, but then started recording Lovesick and we met Joe Vernazza (drums) playing the open jams at the Underpass and it all just clicked. He fit right in. Then we finished the record and Jay moved to New Mexico, and we recruited Matty Aderhold to play bass, and Clint moved to guitar. And that’s the lineup that stuck together the longest. We put out Lovesick, which did pretty great locally, and critically, and played a bunch of shows.
I was a pretty unreliable band leader at the time. I had some addiction issues, that at the time didn’t seem like much, but almost twenty years later I can see how it affected everything. And when that part of my life got too much I decided to move down to Austin. That was in 2008, I think. We played a few farewell shows in early May of that year. There was no animosity or anything like that. I left because I needed to change my life. But we have all played together through the years. Never all at once, or as the Dirty Doves, but we’ve all remained tight. Eddie has played on all of my records, and still does to this day. And Matty played on Exile and Talkin’ Revolution.
When was the last time you guys played a show together? Did you ever think you'd be doing shows with them again?
I don’t think I ever gave any thought to whether or not we’d play as the Dirty Doves again or not. I’m not really fond of looking back, artistically, so I probably didn’t foresee it. But I was invited to play a festival in Asbury (in West Jersey, not Asbury Park!) In 2018 and I asked those guys if they wanted to do it. And it went great. It might have been the best we have ever sounded, for so many reasons: we’re older, we’re better musicians, better listeners, and most importantly, I’ve been sober for a long time. That was a first! And so much has happened since then, with the pandemic, etc., so I’m very excited for these shows. Not only for the music, but to see my friends. It’s been a while. Too long.
Has the band had rehearsals in the past year (in-person or online)?
None! We’ll jam once or twice before these shows, but we were never a practice band. One of my great influences is the Grateful Dead, and I kind I lead my bands with the same musical ethos: I don’t really tell anybody what to play or when to play or how to play it. We just trust each other and let it fly. You can’t really rehearse that too much!
On social media, you hinted of possible new songs by the band and maybe an EP or album in the future. Are you guys just taking it one step at a time or are you actually planning for a release?
We are recording a new song as we speak called “21st Century Man”. Thanks to modern technology, we can all work on a track without having to be in the same room. It’s a little different making music this way, but for recording, there are also a lot of benefits, the main one is having unlimited time to work on a part without worrying about how much the studio time is going to cost. We started laying it down, and it’s sounding good, and I know everybody else is into doing some more, and I have a stockpile of songs to work with, and some of them are a custom fit for for the Dirty Doves style and sound. So yeah, I hope it happens. I’m notoriously slow at making records, I’m kind of like the indie version of Def Leppard, and I’m working on several projects right now, so I’m not going to put a date or a time frame on it.
Are there any songs from the past you’re really excited to play live again?
Absolutely. I have played probably a thousand shows since the end of the Doves in 2008, and most of them have been solo acoustic shows, and a lot of the Doves stuff doesn’t work as well in that environment. Plus, I’m the kind of artist who just wants to do what’s next. I’m not big into digging into my past work or repeating myself, so there are definitely a few tunes that I am looking forward to. “Anywhere” from Crooked was always a signature Doves tune, and “Crooked” and “New York Radio” from that same record are tunes I haven’t played in a long time. “Fighting the War” from Lovesick was one of our bigger songs, but I never play that at solo shows, so those are the few that come to mind.
What led you to ultimately staying as a solo artist?
Well, like I said earlier, when my first band broke up, I knew I wanted to be on my own. And that’s the ways its always been. The Dirty Doves just kind of morphed into its own band, in the same way the E Street Band or the Heartbreaker did, and I welcome and encourage and accept contributions from everybody I work with, but I’ve always been the final arbiter. So, in that sense, I’ve always been a solo artist. But when I started touring a lot, it became an imperative and my de facto state of being.
I believe I saw you put a solo album on hold while doing the Doves stuff. Any estimated date for when there might be a new Mike June album?
No estimated date for the new Mike June record, which I think will be called “Modern American Folk Music”. Most of the tracks are done, I just need to put the finishing touched on it, but I’m excited about it. I’m trading in new waters. I recorded everything by myself in my home studio, The Golden Commode. I played all of the instruments, and I’m using drum loops and synthesizers, which I’ve never done before. It’s pretty close to a disco record. Protest Disco!
Do you and your wife try to stagger the release dates between each other’s work? Or do you both just put things out when you have them ready?
We just go about our musical lives the same as we always have. We keep our solo work pretty separate from our marriage. We were both established singer-songwriters with our own distinct voices when we met, and music wasn’t really what drew us together, thank god. So we don’t really coordinate with each other on those matters. We did start our own band called The Halfbacks, and that band has it’s own set of songs that we wrote just for that project, and we play gigs, and hopefully we’ll find some time to record them and put a record out at some point soon.
Finally, how are things in North Carolina?
North Carolina has been great. When we moved here it was to get back to the East Coast and be able to tour more regularly. Of course, then the pandemic came and shut that down, and the live music business has really changed since then, so it hasn’t worked out quite in that way, but we love it. We live in a small town, Hillsborough, near Chapel Hill and Durham. It has a great music scene, with so many talented and generous musicians. Our little town is where Yep Roc Records is HQ’d, we have our own radio station, and some great restaurants, and lots of art. Lots of writers. So it’s been great. And every third person in town is either from New York or New Jersey, so you feel right at home!