Swearing at Motorists singer/guitarist Dave Doughman never wanted to be a father.
“I never thought I would procreate — ever,” he said from his home in Germany during an early March phone interview.
Yet when Doughman’s son was born in 2007, he threw himself into parenting with the same unbridled sense of enthusiasm he’d applied to his music career since recording his first cassette in Dayton, Ohio, nearly two decades ago.
“When he was born and I first held him in my arms it was electricity,” he said. “It gave me this energy and this sense of fulfillment where my whole focus became hanging out with this kid. I don’t have so many great memories of my father and I hanging out together, and I want to make sure to make lots of those for him.”
The music, in turn, started to take a backseat to these new responsibilities, with Doughman essentially throwing a tarp over Swearing at Motorists and letting the band idle in the garage. For a time, the frontman appeared content with this new arrangement, but following the youngster’s third birthday a growing unease started to gnaw at his insides.
“2010 was such a great year. I was making great money. I had a great job that allowed me to be home most of the time. And I was miserable,” said Doughman, noting that he’s battled depression much of his adult life. “I couldn’t figure it out. It was like, ‘You have a beautiful, healthy son. You’ve got a wonderful house in a foreign land, and a job that’s giving you everything you need. How can you possibly be miserable?’
“It took me a while to realize [it was because] I had no outlet for my emotions. Music isn’t something that I do. It’s something that I am.”
Even so, Doughman approached his return to Swearing at Motorists cautiously, like a commuter navigating an icy walkway, fully aware recording a new album would put him a step closer to touring, which would eventually mean leaving his son’s side. It’s a struggle the musician wrestles with openly on “The Darkest September,” easily the most emotionally raw tune on the band’s long-in-the-works new album, While Laughing, The Joker Tells the Truth, singing, “It’s not fair to look to you for comfort, one so young.”
“That song was me waking up, like, ‘This is how it is, man. You’re using your son as an excuse to not be who you are, and it’s not fair to your son, and it’s not fair to you,’” Doughman said. “I was using him as an excuse to not be myself because I was afraid to be away from him. Also, subconsciously, maybe I was afraid no one would care [about the band] anymore.”
It’s a concern that dissipated once a 2013 Kickstarter launched to fund the manufacturing of the album succeeded in raising more than $16,000 in less than a month (Doughman has since secured distribution deals with labels in the U.S. and Europe, and a wider release is forthcoming).
“I need to be able to release records and promote them when I’m able to — not when it fits someone else’s schedule — and [Kickstarter] gave me a chance to work on my own terms,” he said. “I’m a father, and my main priority will always be my son and his well-being.”
Remco Brinkhuis photo