Douglas ‘douje’ Smolens is a guitarist, writer, producer and comedian living in Los Angeles, CA. Currently, the project that occupies most of his time and energy is performing, writing and producing with the gypsy music band, Fishtank Ensemble, of which he is a founding member. With the release of their 3rd album, ‘Woman in Sin’ in the summer of 2010, the band is usually on tour in the United States or in Europe. (Check out the full Fishtank Ensemble discography here) When not on tour, Douglas devotes much of his time to writing and performing sketch, stand-up and musical comedy with his creative partner, Joshua Murphy with the ‘Doug and Josh Explosion’.
His musical journey began when he was 14 years old with a drum lesson from a friend. After about an hour, he managed to get a rudimentary drumbeat going. As he recalls, “I can still remember the feeling now. It’s like the first time you ride a bike or catch a wave. It’s something you never forget. I’m sure it sounded awful to the neighbors, but to me, it was pure magic.” The inspiration to start playing the drums came when his younger brother Tim, at age 10 picked up the guitar and quickly started ‘shredding’. Together with Tim’s middle school friend, Jason Schimmel, they would go on to make music together for the next several decades. (Tim and Jason would become the main forces in the Metal/Gypsy/Fusion band Estradasphere) And so, like many bands before them, they started playing in their parents’ garage.
In these developing years, the young musicians were fortunate to become friends with many older, professional musicians from whom they gained much insight and experience. For about a year, a friend of the family and musician in the all star cover band ‘Rat Salad’, Roger Summers, would come to their house on the weekends and put them through a veritable ‘School of Rock’. Roger would show each band member how to play their part. Then, more importantly, he would teach them how to play together as a band, and keep the groove moving, all the while making it look like fun. These were invaluable lessons that few people get the benefit of learning from a seasoned pro.
Doug went into college as a biology major thinking he would follow in the footsteps of his father and become doctor. However, fate had different plans. It was at this time that he had the revelation that music was what he was truly passionate about and what he wanted to do with his life. And so almost every weekend he would travel home from UCLA to play music with Tim and Jason. It was during these years, heavily influenced by Mr. Bungle and all the great music they could get their ears on, that they started the project that would culminate in the band ‘Don Salsa’ with the album ‘Kool-aide Mustache in Jonestown’. The idea behind this album was to make the most extreme musical statement possible. The young trailblazers knew they had to the rest of their lives to make more accessible music, but for this first album, they wanted it to be unprecedented. And by all accounts they succeeded. The first song is 33 minutes long and never repeats.
Following the completion of this album, Doug and the boys moved up to Santa Cruz CA where they would live for the next 10 years in a kind of musical incubation period. Santa Cruz is a fertile artistic environment and this is where Doug really went to work teaching himself to play Flamenco and Gypsy Jazz Guitar and was ultimately re-christened with the Flamenco name, ‘douje’.
Having come from California, worlds away from the flamenco homeland of Andalucia, it was only natural that el douje’s interpretation of this music would have a decidedly different feel. Early experiments in combining flamenco guitar with more modern electronic music elements such as drum and bass and techno proved quite successful and would lay the ground for what would later culminate in the album, ‘Worlds Collide’. Though the album was written, produced and performed by el douje as a solo artist, it contains a wealth of collaborations with artists such as Dave Weckl, bassist Tom Kennedy and members of Fishtank Ensemble as well as the gypsy/metal fusion band, Estradasphere.
In early 2004, as the album was coming to a close, a chance meeting at the Oakland California performance warehouse, The Fishtank, would spawn the creation of gypsy/folk/flamenco super-group, Fishtank Ensemble. After only three weeks together as a band, they recorded their debut album, ‘Super Raoul’. Fishtank Ensemble is made of gypsy fiddler extraordinaire Fabrice Martinez, sublime singer and musical saw player Ursula Knudson, the worlds best slap bass player Djordje Stijepovic and of course the one and only ‘el douje’. The band combines the strengths of the individual members to forge a unique and innovative approach to the folk music of the gypsies or Romani people. The second album from Fishtank Ensemble, ‘Samurai Over Serbia’ came out in early 2008, and the band is currently touring extensively to support their newest album, ‘Woman in Sin’.