The following is an Independent Spotlight exclusive interview with The Drama Dolls, a rising independent band that just released their new EP, 'The Sublime Art of Self Importance.'
Your new EP was mastered by Pete Mayer, a man who has worked with the likes U2, Garbage, the Killers, and Jack White. How did this collaboration come about? It’s an impressive credit for an indie rock group.
Well, I always admired his work and as he supports independent artists, we made the approach and he agreed and did a fantastic job on what is a difficult and dense mix.
I found your decision to release a three track EP admirably bold. A critique I have of independent artists all too often is their packing of records with every song in their repertoire. As a result, countless indie records are full of songs that should have been left on the cutting room floor. Was this intentional? Or was it all the band had to record? I’d love some insight into that.
No, we have over 100 songs in various states of undress, so a lack of material was not the deciding factor. All three songs are linked conceptually by similar themes and it felt right to limit it to those songs. To be honest, I felt the strength of the songs was enough for just a 3 track debut. I know it can be tempting to add filler tracks, but we wanted the EP to say, "this is us; this is who we are."
Your self-description of your sound certainly embraces some brevity: “guitar driven angst.” Are you pulling inspiration from the grunge movement or movements that are typically considered ‘angsty’? ‘The Sublime Art of Self Importance’ is a compelling record, but I’m not sure if it sounds particularly angsty.
I guess this shows how a band can't be trusted to describe themselves! Other material is more brutal so I guess the sound in my head feels angsty. The process of building songs in the studio means that tracks evolve and can dramatically change very quickly. For instance, there are mixes of 'I Want More' as just vocal, piano and cello, so the final sound isn't finalised till' the final pre-master mix. I compose and arrange in a very visual sense, almost like a painter with a collage. For instance, originally the chorus of 'Prayers' was a sudden drop and almost like an anti-chorus but ended up anthemic.
Your sound is cinematic and dramatic by nature. It’s quite epic, actually, and almost feels like anthem-rock at times. You have three band members. How does this music translate to your live performances? Can you pull off what you can in the studio on stage?
Essentially, we are a studio band based around my wife, Agatha, who does the engineering, along with Alan on drums and myself. The line up will no doubt change from release to release, as for example, Alan can't do the next record, so I will be on the drumstool for that one. If neccessary, I can play everything myself and just use session musicians as required. Live performance isn't something we are looking at, to be honest, as there are too many compromises in the sound to make it worth it. The transatlantic nature of our line up also is a logistical nightmare. I realise this is not the normal route to take and quite probably will harm our chances of success - I can live with that.
Earlier this week, I spent a good deal of time with the new EP and reviewed it here on the Independent Spotlight. One of my critiques was a lack of production is certain areas of the album. For example, buried vocals in the second tune. Apparently, though, this was intentional. Can you elaborate on that decision and inspiration?
Yes, thanks for the review by the way. Yes, the lower vocal mix came about after mutiple mixes with vocals sat higher in the mix, and to be honest, it just didn't suit the music, and lost the magic of the track. It is a very involved mix for 'I Want More' and the soundscape seemed to match a shoegazing style vocal level. Bands like Ride made similar decisons, but I do realise it is a personal taste thing, and I do stand by it.
There are a number of non conventional mix decisions on this record, but all were made in pursuit of the sound I was looking for. Apart from the odd wish to change a bass drum level or a nudge on the fader here and there, I am very happy with the mix. Is it perfect? No. But that brashness states our intent. I generally find vocal levels way too high in modern rock mixes, anyway, so it was not a surprise that we mixed it that way. Pop demands the vocal be the dominant sound but I believe this has polluted too many other genres of music.
Our sound is made up of layers and each listen reveals a little more of our sound. Mixing is hard but does represent what our music stands for. There is a claustrophobic nature to our lyrics and music, with many themes of despair, futility and hopelessness, so It would be a deriliction if we pursued a more polished conventional mix.
For a debut effort, the album is very well organized and put together. You’re even signed by a record label, Velvet Ant Records. Talk a bit about the road that lead to these recordings. When were you formed, how were you signed to the label, and has this project been awhile in the making?
Well, Velvet Ant Records is our own label, as we wanted to take the DIY route ourselves, with the current music scene, the old distribution models, and label relationships are no longer sustainable... so this method seemed the best route. And we don't have A&R to deal with. So other than promotion and advertising budgets, what else would we need a label for? We have our own studio, we arrange all the artwork, do our own production and we can arrange our own distribution, so for now they are surplus to requirements. I think that thirst for major label signings is a well trod road that has begun to lead nowhere. I don't want some twat with a baseball cap telling me what sound or style I need to develop.
‘Don’t Waste Your Prayers On Me’ is certainly impacted positively by Nicole Addie from the American band, Halocene. How did this come about? How did you collaborate with her on studio work internationally?
Addie is a fantastic vocalist and working internationally was easy. I had clear ideas what I wanted and she interpreted them perfectly. Our main vocalist, Chris, is based in the USA, so this method of working suits me. Technology transforms long distance collaborations.
How have you built your following since the inception of the Drama Dolls? You’ve released the album digitally, but you also had a wonderfully creative physical release. (100 individually numbered CD’s and DVD’s, hand-painted artwork, prints, etc.) Most indie groups today stray from doing this - it’s expensive, for starters. Why’d you go for the physical release and limited edition sets? Are any still available for readers of the Spotlight that may want to jump on one?
All the copies of the original run have sold out but we have pressed a few non limited editions, so if anyone is interested, please email through our website. The physical product seemed a logical step for us, especially as the artwork is very important to who we are as a band, and I wanted to ensure everyone could see this. I have always been an avid collector and I wanted the whole package to be something exciting to open. Too often, just relying on digital releases, (though important) loses that sense of permanence. It doesn't make sense financially, but then again, nothing with music does. The following is building steadily, but we intend to do more promotion once we finish the next few releases. The music is what matters and if it's shite or undeveloped, no amount of promotion will help, so I would rather concentrate on honing the songs.
What is in store for the future of the Drama Dolls? Is this an effort with an extensive path ahead of it? Are there any musical directions you want to go in that you have yet to explore?
We will go where the music takes us, as I mentioned, the music evolves and the final songs change quite substantially, so it gives us plenty of opportunity to take chances and risks, and dare I say, experiment a little. How this translates to sales and our profile, it is too early to say.
Finally, I always ask this of Independent Spotlight interviewees. It’s always neat to understand our artists not only as producers of music, but consumers, too. If you were to set your Spotify or iPod on shuffle, what five songs would pop up? Perhaps the songs or bands that get spun the most at practice or in passing amongst the three of you?
Well this is probably what my playlist on shuffle might sound like today, but who knows tommorow.
Joy Division - Love Will Tear Us Apart
David Sylvian - Orpheous
Killing Joke - Love Like Blood
White Lies - To Lose My Life
Dronning Maudland - Hollow Eyes
Connect With The Band:
Soundcloud - https://soundcloud.com/thedramadolls/the-sublime-art-of-self-impor-3-trk
Band Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/c/thedramadollsofficial
Official Website: http://www.thedramadolls.com
Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/pages/The-Drama-Dolls/152486534788338
iTunes Link: https://itunes.apple.com/gb/album/sublime-art-self-importance/id993860461