A Canadian girl with a smart synthpop sound, a strong DIY ethos, and a nod and a wink to Rimmel London
Dolls’ theatrical synthpop is influenced by Depeche Mode, New Order, Nine Inch Nails and 80s Madonna, combined with huge “talent crushes” on Prince, Kate Bush and The Cure, plus a visual style drawn from the films of David Lynch. Originally from Toronto and now living in London, she arrived in the UK having notched up two Top 20 singles in Canada as the singer of electronic trio The Royal Society. She released her debut album as Dolls, the self-produced ‘Secret Sulk’, in early 2013. It was, somewhat ironically, the by-product of a technology failure.
“I moved to London to start learning production and released the first album after a hard drive crash,” she explains. “Since I’d already walked away from two years of work in Canada, when the HD died I decided to put out the tracks regardless of them being in various states. So the initial ethos was very ‘fuck it’ and I guess I’ve just evolved it from there.”
In terms of both her look and her sound, it’s clear that Dolls is a glamour puss, so it’s unsurprising to learn that she soundtracked and appeared in a cosmetics advert for Rimmel London. However, unlike one or two other female synth artists with a strong visual flair, Dolls isn’t the puppet of some electro svengali working the controls in the background and she is deeply proud of the fact that she has complete control over all aspects of her music. Following on from ‘Secret Sulk’, she has recently released a single, ‘Limited Ltd’, which was the track featured on the Electronic Sound Wall.
“My tracks always start from a mood translated into synth,” she says. “Until the last year, I’d just bashed whatever sounded OK into Logic fairly intuitively, but it was an annoyingly unreliable way to work. I’d finish something and be like, ‘I have no idea how I got this result and can’t recreate it’. So I spent the last year eating up tutorials and learning by experimenting, which is reflected in ‘Limited Ltd’ and on my upcoming EP.
“Finally performing the material that I wrote 100 per cent myself was big for me, since I didn’t know how it would be received. The UK and European audiences have been much more receptive to experimental synthpop and the blogs who’ve given me love have been incredible. They’ve managed to repackage my project in concise and articulate terms, like ‘fairytale smut’. I’m like, ‘GOD, why didn’t I think of that? Can I steal that?’. Singing on the Rimmel advert was pretty cute too.”
The way Dolls operates seems almost like a reaction against an industry that expects new artists to happily hand off responsibility for their music to other people. She agrees with this assessment.
“Having previously released music that was glossed up by ‘proper’ producers, suddenly I was doing the exact opposite to everything they’d preached. The combination of total freedom and no real framework for the business side meant I went through a phase of saying yes to everything, which led to some avoidable bullshit, but taught me a lot in a relatively short amount of time. The princess in me was used to having other people to do the legwork of booking, promotions and management, so it was humbling to start from scratch and DIY it, but also an opportunity to prove myself and see different sides of the industry.”
Dolls’ future plans include finishing off her new EP, playing more live shows and connecting with other artists for collaborations, while continuing to take part in photo and video shoots.
“I’m also hoping to incorporate more theatrical elements into my live show,” she adds. “And that should be a thrilling alternative to staring at a Logic session for 10,000 hours!”