Q&A WITH DOLLS
By: Fridae Mattas
Amidst the whirlwind of press for her new album “Secret Sulk”, Nikki of Dolls (You may know her as Nikki Awesome.) had a few minutes to catch up and share some of her life.
Fridae: Hello, Hello! It has been awhile since we hijacked a ballroom, how are you?
DOLLS – Nikki: OMG I almost forgot about ballroom-hijacking. I mean, nowadays they just give themselves up. It’s been a while!
Fridae: What has been going on in Awesome land since we last chatted a few years back?
DOLLS – Nikki: So much. I’ve pretty much left the ‘Nikki Awesome’ thing behind (DOLLS website launching soon, but won’t change my Facebook fan page), relocated to the UK (three grey and glorious years this summer), learned how to produce my own music, have thrown myself about traveling, meet/greeting some of my favourite artists and making ridiculous videos. Basically, I’ve spent the last three years regaining control of my art and having FUN again after leaving the major label game, which has definitely been a good move.
Fridae: How was Dolls created? If you could tell the world and myself a little more background information on the history of Dolls.
DOLLS – Nikki: DOLLS was initially an outlet for me to create music with a darker overall sound which wasn’t really compatible with The Royal Society’s. I always listened to synth-heavy music with a dirty, raw vibe, like Nine Inch Nails, Gary Numan, Depeche Mode, and Joy Division/New Order. I also really love some of the pop artists of the 80’s like Tears for Fears, Pet Shop Boys and Men Without Hats, all acts that had depth in their lyricism as well as wicked synth lines. I found that many mainstream artists were not into that style when I was last living in North America. There weren’t many artists making a crossover between ‘alternative’ and ‘synthpop,’ coming from a commercial pop background (though some were crossing over the other way). I’ve always written all my own lyrics and melodies, played guitar and keys, but I felt despite that, I was limited to one style of music by virtue of having had a hit in that genre and lacking the resources to produce music on my own. Even though The Royal Society’s fans were wonderful and the media outlets were amazing in supporting the project, the club scene was feeling a little superficial to me. After losing several years worth of work to a series of heavily political power plays (in case you ever wondered why there wasn’t a Royal Society album), I began learning production in order to make the music I wanted, so as not to have to take direction from people who didn’t get me as an artist. It wasn’t the easiest transition and I probably burned some bridges, but ultimately I feel more empowered and happier doing what I want to do, and if people don’t ‘get it’ I don’t have to answer to anyone.
Fridae: Good for you! It’s seems like every artist comes to learn in their own time, that the only person who can truly relay your vision is you.
Fridae: How did you come up with the new records title?
DOLLS – Nikki: It was little bit of a joke at my own expense. I felt like in writing the material for DOLLS, people saw me as being a bit of a ‘poor little bitch girl,’ biting the hand that had fed me. Because the songs were a lot more angry, less commercially friendly, and openly bitter about things that usually get hushed up. Dolls music is a total contrast to The Royal Society vibe which is all “let’s party, everything’s rad.”. I wrote so many songs over the last three years that chronicled some experiences pretty viciously, and it turned out that after incessant (often unsolicited) input from everyone else I was (un)surprisingly kind of pissed off. Making Secret Sulk the album’s title seemed appropriate in the sense that everything I did musically and the way I did it was otherwise so atypical and ‘inappropriate’.
Fridae: Did you work with someone on the new album or did you create everything yourself?
DOLLS – Nikki: Millions of hours alone in my bedroom. I didn’t have any previous experience with production outside of being in-studio, so it’s been an insanely huge learning curve, which is obviously not yet complete. The new (unreleased) stuff is a lot more refined in terms of sound quality (since I have upgraded my equipment) but it’s still DOLLS: dark cynical synth/wave with pop vocals.
DOLLS – Nikki: It’s no secret that the whole music industry is upside down. Everybody’s looking to sign the prepackaged ‘next big thing,’ so I’d say it’s pretty rare to be invited in to hear the ‘flaws’ and outtakes from the onset, especially from someone who was formerly perceived as being the prepackaged ‘thing’ . DOLLS is the evolution of an artist, not the ‘delivery of a product.’ In my opinion, flaws are what resonate with people and give the audience something real to connect with. The pitch-perfect image airbrushing that has become par for the course is not what I want to buy into or sell anymore. Imperfections have always intrigued me; whether it was hearing a wrong note, a crack in the vocal performance – those kinds of things are so smoothed-out these days that I feel it’s tremendously different to allow fans in on a project’s development. Not just delivering a polished focus group-approved sound or image, which means releasing material that hasn’t been over-refined. Which is unconventional in the current system. I’ve chosen to work outside the model of recent tradition, and I will make mistakes, backtrack, change things around, have opinions that will piss people off. It’s more interesting (to me) to throw down total chaos rather than play a formulaic game, shuffling alongside everyone else, everyone crossing their fingers for a major to pick it up. Getting signed doesn’t always benefit an artist, more often than not it just brings in a bunch of watered-down opinions on how you can best sell your music like it’s a breakfast cereal.
Fridae: Are you planning on hitting the road anytime soon?
DOLLS – Nikki: Definitely, but nothing’s set in stone yet. I’ve had interest in the UK and Europe, but because I don’t have label support it’s a bigger deal to commit to touring, so I’m still working out the bugs and deciding who I want to work with for the live show.
Fridae: If you could work with any artist in the music world today who would you choose?
DOLLS – Nikki: Trent Reznor, David Bowie or David Lynch. I feel like they should come as a package-deal, just so I don’t have to hurt anyone’s feelings.
Fridae: Are there any other projects in the works?
DOLLS – Nikki: At the moment DOLLS is pretty all-consuming and there’s some deadly business waiting in the wings, but it’s all hush-hush, innit! I’m just releasing my first collaboration with a Canadian artist since 2010 (On Your Lips with Toronto electro artist COINS), and have been talking with another UK indie artist (Magpies and Vagabonds) about a new concept project. He also did the Dustcover Mix of NOW NOW. Both tracks are on my Bandcamp and Soundcloud accounts for free download.
Fridae: Whose music are you playing on repeat right now that you could not possibly live without?
DOLLS – Nikki: I really like Miike Snow, Das Racist, HURTS and Paloma Faith. I’m pretty shit at listening to new music, so I go through phases of not knowing about anything new and just snuggling into old faves, followed by frenzied accumulation of Spotify playlists. I feel like not buying physical copies of albums combined with being so obsessive about learning production has changed the way I consume music; it’s like the line in Amadeus, about how sometimes there are just too many notes. When I (n)ever have spare time, I prefer to see plays, go to galleries, read.. Whatevs.
Fridae: Words of wisdom for aspiring artists….?
DOLLS – Nikki: Probably not to take anyone’s advice. Nobody else knows how to develop your art better, and letting them try, almost invariably leaves you disappointed or risking relationships to maintain the integrity of your ideas.
Fridae: Where can people find your music?
DOLLS – Nikki: DOLLS’ Secret Sulk is available for free on my Soundcloud account (http://soundcloud.com/dollsxx/sets/secret_sulk) and if people like it, it would be fantastic if they want to purchase it for whatever they think works; I’m asking for £5.00 on Bandcamp (http://dollsxx.bandcamp.com), which allows me to continue to make music and develop the project.
Fridae: Are there any last words you would like to share with the world?
DOLLS – Nikki: “She probably had it coming.”
Fridae: LOL!! Thank you so much Mizz Nikki Dolls!