That’s fucking awesome.
You just have such great stage presence and energy, as well as a really unique style. Can you talk a little about how Dolly Spectra came about? Musically and as a sort of performance persona?
Thank you. Yeah, I feel like Dolly is just an exaggeration of the way I’ve always been I guess. It’s just a culmination of my influences. I’ve always been one to sing and I got really into songwriting in high school and college and I’ve always really been into music artists and bands that do have a sense of style [...] I’m really into early 70s British Glam like David Bowie and T-Rex. And that kind of trails all the way up into late 70s early 80s sort of post glam into New Wave stuff. [...] I’ve always been into that kind of thing and it comes through in my music and in my stage show and everything else I do I guess.
Dolly has a very distinct visual look as well. How has that evolved since you started?
It’s evolved a lot. I’ve always had a thread running through it where I know what is Dolly-esque and what isn’t, you know? [..] I’m really into mid-century modern space age aesthetic and also polka dot. But not in the retro sense of young women back in the day but I’m really influenced by sort of crazy, artsy old ladies with ridiculous glasses and lots of lipstick. I think that’s wonderful. You look at David Bowie and Marc Bolan and they’re completely iconic and, you know, I resonate with that. I’ve been really into bold shapes and bright colors and looking sort of like, who’s that artist who did the Duran Duran album covers? Patrick something.
Oh man, yeah, I know who you’re talking about. I’m blanking on his last name though.
Nagel? It’s like bagel with an N. Patrick Nagel. That guy did all of these illustrations of women and everything’s very angular and sharp and 80s looking and I’ve always wanted to look like one of those illustrations, low key. Growing up I always had a penchant for anything brightly colored and kind of almost like stick it to the man looking I guess. I cut my hair really really short when I was in high school and I always wore lots of like bright pink and bright green. Alien green. I don’t know if that’s a product of growing up in the 90s with all the Lisa Frank stuff going on but I love that stuff too. So yeah, it might seem all over the place but it has a thread running through it.
Was there ever an epiphany moment for you? A time when you knew this is what you wanted to do? Or was it a more gradual process?
I mean as soon as I saw a live video of David Bowie playing at the Hammersmith Odeon in 1973 I was immediately like, oh my god I need to start a band. I was fourteen years old and running around like, how do I make a band? How do I find people that play drums? [...] But it was a long and arduous process getting to a point where my music actually sounds good and I have an identity. It’s been really cool just coming to this level where I actually kind of know what I’m doing.
What was it like getting there, to that level?
You know it took a while. I was in several bands. I kind of had wanted to be in a band rather than be a solo artist because I was really into punk rock and stuff and there was a certain aesthetic and attitude that came along with being in a band that was really attractive to me at that time. Coming from really boring suburbs of Virginia, you know, I needed a little bit of punk escapism. So coming to USC was really the only reason I came out [to California], to be in the popular music performance major program in the Thornton School. And that sort of turned my whole world around [...That’s] when my sort of ideas came to fruition and when I was really starting to think: I know enough now to be a solo artist and sort of run my own thing. And that’s kind of what I want, is to have a band attitude when I’m playing shows and stuff but to just have it be focused on my artistic vision. [...] I want to just do my own thing and really just amp it up in terms of having an image that I can dictate. But I still co-write a lot because I think it’s really fun. and I collaborate with a bunch of other types of artist.
A lot of the times it’s a mixed bag because the first few things that I ever recorded to really put out was just me noodling around in Logic with a bunch of synthesizers. It was just like super DIY. It was stuff I really, really liked but it sounded like nothing I was performing live because it was completely electronic. And then I decided, I gotta ease up a little bit and let go of the reins a little and bring in some really stellar musicians [...] I’ve been recording a lot of material with this guy in the UK who’s actually a huge influence of mine and probably one of my favorite vocalists and songwriters ever, Fyfe Dangerfield He and I just ended up meeting and we hit it off and he wanted to work with me and I was like, oh my god are you serious? So whenever I go over to the UK I'll end up at his flat in Stoke Newington and we’ll just sit and eat giant grapes and write weird shit.
You have a move planned to London. It sounds like a lot of your influences come from british musicians. Is England a place you’ve always had in mind to move?
Definitely. If it was up to me I would have moved to London for college but of course my parents were freaking even to just let me go across the country to California let alone be in a different country but yeah I have always really loved it out there and always really like the culture and I’m obsessed with british music and british comedy [...] I went over about a year ago this past summer as part of the USC Pop study abroad program to this place called the Institute of Contemporary Music Performance. We were put into bands and I clicked with my band immediately. We all kind of became best friends within the first day and we started writing some really cool songs. [...] It was really fun to get their input because they have the same british influences and the same sound so I can really trust them with what kind of thing I’m looking for just because it’s ingrained in their culture. I’ve always loved it and then I started working with Fyfe and met Nigel, who is my manager out there now, and it all just sort of came together.
I’ve started to do a lot of that recently. I mean when I was in high school and my parents still paid for my clothes I sort of shopped wherever I wanted. I got my prom dress from the Betsey Johnson store. Love Betsey Johnson. She’s probably my favorite upscale clothing designer. Favorite jewelry designer is Tarina Tarantino. Not a big surprise there. But when I started buying all my own stuff and realized I needed a lot of different, really interesting outfits for all the things I’m doing. I shop a lot at Buffalo Exchange and places like that. Anywhere where it’s cheap. When I shop I like, shop. I go and I’m there for two hours and I comb through and look at every single piece. I’ll probably spend two hours and come out with five different things.
Kind of like a treasure hunt. A full out expedition.
Definitely. And I do the same thing with vinyl records and books. So whenever I’m in amoeba people will hate me because I”ll be in there for five hours. But it’s the same thing with clothes, I just have to really be on the search for things that are going to fit me really well. Not only in terms of my body but in terms of my aesthetic and with all the other stuff that’s going on in my wardrobe. It’s really an interesting tightrope walk to have a bunch of different really loud items in my wardrobe, to piece them together into something that’s cohesive. Especially now that I have pink hair, it takes everything and amps up the loudness. There are certain outfits that would look absolutely ridiculous if I wore them now so I have to downplay them because my hair is now like zany and I look like, I don’t know, if Florence Welch started doing a lot of acid.
Was it any other colors before?
It was just brown. That’s my natural hair color. I’d always wanted to dye it crazy colors. I’ve really come into my own spiritually over the past year [...] in terms of allowing my daily life to be filled with things that make me happy. Because if I can be sustainable and healthy mentally and within myself then I can generally be more productive. All of the other stuff falls into place if you just take care of yourself. It’s important to me to be happy with my everyday life and a part of that is looking at myself in the mirror and seeing that I have pink hair. Subtle like, well not subtle, but little changes you make make a big difference.
Definitely. I mean that’s what iconico style is all about as well. Your clothing, how you dress, how you dye your hair, that’s a performance in itself. It’s like childhood dress up just you’re no longer a child.
That’s a thread that runs through a lot of what I do [...] this essence of embracing a childlike wonder. It’s important to just plan and have fun. Even adulthood should not be beyond that because there’s something missing in your life if you don’t just goof around and have fun and be bombastic and wild somethings.
A lot of the best creative work comes from taking that “adult” filter off.
And I mean, you seem like when you’re performing you’re having a lot of fun.
Oh totally. It’s a blast. I love a good gig. There’s nothing better than a good gig.
Do you have a favorite one?
Oh my God, that’s a difficult question. There are some that I feel like I performed at really well and there are other ones where I had an amazing experience with the audience. A performance that was very well received was when I first played at Femme Fest. It just was a really fun show that went really well. They put me right before the headliner who was flown in from New York, so that kind of felt good to be just a local act that was in an all day festival line up that was put right before the festival headliner. And my band was really stacked. I called the best guys in town for that gig [...] Probably the best gig experience I’ve ever had was actually just earlier this month when we had that party at the Free Gumbo house [...] Most of my set was cover songs which is not something I thought I would really thoroughly enjoy but like I hand-picked them and I picked them with my band. I sent them a list of 10 or 20 songs I wanted to cover and they voted from there and we ended up with a list of songs that everyone in the band really likes and they were all really stoked to play.
I’m so glad Rock Lobster made the list. I’ve never seen anyone cover a B-52’s song and I was like, oh my god she’s the perfect person to be covering this song.
Hell yeah. I was so happy to be covering Rock Lobster and I’d been wanting to for a year but I’d never had the opportunity to really just go for it. We did Closer by Nine Inch Nails, which was hilarious and really fun, especially being half naked and covered in ridiculous body paint and like this crazy super Burning Man looking shawl.
What does the future have in store?
Well I’m moving to London and I’m sort of on the train to being more legit. I still feel like I’ll have a DIY air to everything I do because I just like being really hands on in all of the elements that I do. But you know having a manager that [..] has a bunch of connections and is like, oh yeah let me put you on a festival in Croatia. I’m just like, okay, yeah [...Making Dolly Spectra] not only a personal artistic project but also a viable business, so I can keep doing it full time, is a really big step for me. I’m also going to keep writing with Fyfe. And I’m starting up the UK Free Gumbo branch [...] I’m hoping to eventually get a warehouse space in Shoreditch and throw a bunch of crazy parties there. Yeah, I don’t know exactly what the future will unfold but I feel like Bowie put it best when he said at one point, I don’t know exactly where I’m going from here but I promise it won’t be boring. That’s kind of also what I’m getting at. I’m stoked because it’s all really fun and I’m glad I can keep doing it.
Awesome, well thank you so much for taking the time to talk with me. It definitely sounds like you're headed in an exciting direction. I expect nothing boring from you. And if I ever find enough money for a plane ticket to Europe I plan on crashing one of those warehouse parties.