Front woman Dorothy Martin talks to V about her new album, kicking it with Rihanna, and the state of rock and roll
Front woman Dorothy Martin talks to V about her new album, kicking it with Rihanna, and the state of rock and roll
Text: MATHIAS ROSENZWEIG
You’ve heard it before and you’ll hear it again—rock and roll is dead. According to diehards, the genre petered out after the ‘80s, only to be revived by Nirvana and then die out again before the turn of the century. L.A.-based four piece DOROTHY took this loss as a personal challenge. The band’s namesake and lead singer, Dorothy Martin, has the vocal intensity of Janis Joplin, but remains silkier and unflawed in her boisterous delivery. Typically donning a fur coat, bright red lips and a tattered vintage tee, she’s teaching a whole new generation about the spirit of sex, drugs, and rock and roll—actually embodying these elements rather than her peers, who mimic them. Martin’s band mates, who all sport lengthy beards and thick manes of hair, orchestrate the hefty guitar rifts, pulsing baselines and jolting percussion that command listeners to hone in. Strangely, while rock music fits Martin like a glove, it wasn’t always her intention to gain comparisons to the likes of Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath. Nor did she plan on getting signed to Jay Z’s Roc Nation, a label whose roster is better known for hip hop and pop icons like Rita Ora and Alicia Keys than rock bands. These were just added bonuses.
Today, the quartet is dropping their debut album, dryly titled ROCKISDEAD. The release follows the band’s rapid momentum, which they built by touring with Miguel, getting play on the radio, and attracting critical acclaim from within the music industry. DOROTHY is the raw, unadulterated answer to the sugary sweet, overproduced hip-hop that over-saturates the current music scene. Read our interview with Martin below.
In terms of music, what were you up to before forming this band?
I had actually left the industry for a while and gotten into a relationship. I tried my hand at pop and worked with a couple of producers, but nothing really congealed. I'd also gotten into extra work in film and television, so that's something that I'm going to revisit. I like to have a hand in creating the music videos, directing or writing the treatments. So I took a break and then I came back. I got in contact with [my manager] and that started everything. He put me in touch with Mark [Jackson] and Ian [Scott], and that's when we started writing together. When we found this heavier sound, we decided that we should form a band around it.
Is hard rock the genre you originally envisioned yourself exploring?
I did not expect it. I mean, I'm a rocker at heart. I grew up on Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd, the actual vinyl records that my dad left me, and that I still have until this day. I've always been very, very attracted to that genre. But I love all types of music. It kind of wasn't thought out—it just sort of happened. So I feel like, when something is supposed to be expressed, it just finds a way out, and it happens naturally. The music that we were writing together, Mark, Ian and I, just complimented my voice and gave me the strength I needed to express myself. I love pop, but I just don't feel like that's who I really am. I feel like what we're doing is true to myself.
You titled your album ROCKISDEAD. I’m assuming the irony is intentional?
The album title is completely tongue-in-cheek. Because you know, when people say, "Rock is dead," I don't know where that even came from. I think it was just frustrated music people. Clearly, people were saying "rock is dead" and then Nirvana came along and kind of kicked everyone in the nuts. So they're one of my favorite bands of all time. I grew up on that in high school. I'm a '90s kid, you know. That was the whole point behind the album title. It was just to be a little funny.
I guess what I'm most attracted to [with rock music] is how real it is. You can feel the music. I work with Linda Perry, and she's an amazing mentor. She's like, "Music has kind of lost its soul." And I think it's partly due to technology over the years and partly...I'm not going to hate on the DJ movement, but music does go in waves. I feel like it had this very electonic moment, and it's time for something a little more explosive and raw. It's hard to deliver that well because you have so much room for error when it's so live and so raw. It's not programmed; it's not so boxed. So that is a dangerous and fun feeling and we've gotten to a place with our band where I feel like we're pretty tight with each other so we play off of each other really well. I feel like each member brings a certain type of energy to the live show, so it's like we just got the formula right. But we weren't trying to get the formula right. It just happened. We all love music and we all have a lot of pent up frustration.
Does it make you feel nervous to share you feelings and vulnerabilities with the world through your lyrics?
It can be so terrifying that sometimes I can't even sing. I mean, I've had meltdowns in the studio, just full on emotional meltdowns because we tapped into feelings that I haven't felt or acknowledged were there for years. You know, painful things that I wasn't ready to talk about. But for some reason, music has this amazing power to heal you and it just pulls all this shit out. It's like therapy. It's really the only therapy that's ever helped me in any way. It's the only thing that's kept my head above water. Like I don't know what I'd be doing. I struggle with addiction and alcohol issues and I talk about it freely, and I know that if I mess that up, I won't have anything. And that's what keeps me going. So it's this amazing outlet and it's very, very powerful. And, you know, you don't realize how many walls you build up and you don't realize how much you deny yourself, so when you're sitting down and you're getting really honest with yourself, it can be scary to feel all those feelings when they come pouring out. That's what's so amazing about it. And you let it go and lose all control. When you don't tap into those things is when you're not being authentic and not being real. And it's nobody's fault, it's just sometimes you can't or you're not ready—it's just not the time to touch those areas of yourself [laughs]. That sounded sexual.
Sometimes it comes out and it just kicks you in the stomach, you know, roundhouses you out of nowhere, and you're like where are these feelings coming from? You know, there was a song that we never released that I'm considering releasing. It was one of the first songs where I really felt a lot of pain, even though it's more of a poppy, alt-rock song. We might reproduce it, but Ian looked at me and was like, "You've got a pain in your voice." I said, "I know. I didn't know that was in there." I'm always happy so...well, I'm either happy or I'm pissed off. There's no in between. So it was in there. I've been able to learn a lot about myself through the creative process.
A lot of people think big artists like Rihanna write their own songs. But you actually do write all of your own music, as well as music for other people. Do you think this differentiation is a big deal?
Speaking of Rihanna, I think she's an amazing artist. She's one of my favorites. Actually, I think she's totally badass and a pleasure to be around. I don't know what she had to do with her last album, how much writing she's done, but I don't think it matters because she's pulling it off so beautifully, and I think ANTI is amazing. I can speak on that and I know for a fact that it does come from a personal place for her. I actually got the pleasure of sitting in on some sessions for her and she came in and there were a couple tracks I got to listen to, and I think they just decided to go another direction with her album. So some of the songs I heard and what she released just sound completely different. They decided to go another way. This is a while ago, maybe over a year ago. I've gotten to kick it with RiRi a few times and she's very cool. She comes in and she's very personable. She's a true artist and she's a beast of a performer. And if you listen to her lyrics—not to make this interview about her because I know you're trying to get to know me—but if you listen to her lyrics, she's just now talking about some of her pain. That's how hard it can be. It might take a few years to tap into those experiences.
How did you end up getting signed by her label, ROC NATION?
Well Jay Brown, who manages Rihanna, had a meeting with George, my manager. We had shot a video that was just a rehearsal. We shot it on like a Canon 5d with a spotlight and edited it in iMovie and synced it with the music. [George] went in to talk to them about collaborating or working together and then he showed Jay Brown the video and he was like, "Oh this song is tight. I want it for Rihanna." This is all true. So he goes in and wants "After Midnight" for Rihanna. So I'm eating breakfast and George calls me asking what I'm doing. He said, "Jay Brown wants to offer you a publishing deal. He really likes the song and he wants you to write for her.”
So I go in and have a meeting with him. And I'm super nervous. Like, of course I'm super nervous. I hadn’t really sat down with a lot of industry people of this caliber ever. So I'm sitting there like, "What am I doing here?" He offered me a publishing deal and I thought, "I could use the money for sure." I definitely wanted to collaborate and write with some of their artists while working on my own stuff, and I had no idea what was going to happen. When I walked in and sat down with Jay, it didn't feel like I was sitting with a suit. It felt like somebody who cared about artists and music. It was sort of like, you know, Jay Z is an artist as well, and they're really close. Everyone feels like family there, and they feel very real. And they let the artists be who they are. It's not like they're trying to formulate or change you. Very shortly after that, Jay was like, "We want to sign you as an artist, too." So it just all kind of fell into one package. And Rihanna liked the song. It was all a huge compliment.
What would make you feel like this album was a success?
I feel like it already is a success. It really hit me when we went to New York. People are taking notice and telling you to your face, and the band is making money and making a living. My guitar player gave me a reality check the other day. He was like, "Yo, you need to go sign posters. Do you know how many people would kill to do that?" Not that I was complaining about it. But he just kind of gave me this reality check. We've gotten to a level where now we can just keep making the art that we're making, and we're getting recognized for it and getting tours. I mean, it's pretty awesome. Award shows and all that in the future, that's all great, but as long as fans are coming to shows…like we sold out The Echo when we came home. We sold it out and that's amazing. Sometimes LA is too cool for school. Sometimes the people that come out for shows, they don't really get into it, and they're just too cool for school. I don't know what it is about Los Angeles or Hollywood, but that's how it. But these people were head banging and singing the lyrics, screaming them at us. I've never seen that before at any of our shows. So I was like, "Ok, there's been a turning point. I think people are starting to get it." But I think we just want to continue down this path. I already feel successful and I'm very excited for these tours that we're about to go on.
We had a family come up to us on tour, and I believe the kid had a severe case of autism. And the mom pulled Zack aside and was like, "He doesn't interact with anybody. He doesn’t do anything, he doesn't talk. And he was watching your guys' music video and watching you play drums, and he started stomping his feet.” And I almost started crying, because it's such an incredible story. He started responding to the music. To have somebody come up to you and tell you that, it shows you how powerful it really is and why we do it.