"Music," Duncan says, is "a journey of continual discovery. There’s no linearity to what I do. And I love it for that reason." Last month saw the release of Doll's debut EP, Hurricane, written in an East Village apartment in NYC, a catalyst for the songs that came through on this record, "it's where I lived when I was young with my family. I’d become very stuck in my surroundings at home in the UK and I think creating this EP saved me in a way," Duncan says, of finding her muses, and bringing them out, across the water. We caught up with Doll to talk about how she got started on this path, her earliest and fondest musical memories and her new EP, Hurricane.
AHC: What has this journey in music, so far, been like for you, the highs and the lows, and what life lessons do you feel you've picked up along the way?
Doll: It’s a journey of continual discovery for me. There’s no linearity to what I do. And I love it for that reason. Music was never something I thought I would pursue when I was at school. It never felt like a realistic option, so I focused on other subjects. But then I dropped out of University and ended up making it my life ambition! So life never quite rolls out the way we think it might. If I’ve learned anything from the journey so far, it’s that we should never give up when we think we’ve hit bottom, because it never lasts. There will always be a high that comes later and beats it ten times over.
AHC: What first drew you to music and what was your early musical environment like growing up? Were there pivotal songs for you then that just floored you the moment you heard them?
Doll: Music was never really a big thing in my family growing up. I was a bit of a loner in that sense. My Dad is a fan of classical music and would listen in the car. My Mum doesn’t really listen to music. However she is a big fan of musicals. From a really young age she had me watching movies from the 30s and 40s with Judy Garland, Fred Astiare and Shirley Temple. I started singing their songs and mimicking them, dancing around the house. You couldn’t stop me singing ‘Easter Parade’ or ‘Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas’. Also my grandfather was a huge Frank Sinatra fan. He had it playing when we would go to visit.
AHC: Do you remember the first song that you ever wrote or played? Or that first moment when you picked up a pen and realized that you could create whole worlds just by putting it to paper?
Doll: The first song I wrote on piano, I called Boogie Woogie. I was 9 years old, and the lyrics went “boogie woogie woogie woogie till you drop, all the whole night through. Boogie woogie woogie woogie till you drop, may I dance with you?” It’s still probably one of the greatest things I’ve written.
AHC: Which musicians have you learned the most from? Or writers, artists, filmmakers, teachers/mentors etc?
Doll: I think I’m constantly learning from other musicians. There isn’t one person or people in particular. I learn a lot from the musicians that play with me on stage. Also the musicians I meet at gigs or travelling. And of course I’ve absorbed a lot from the artists whose music has most shaped my own – Fiona Apple, Alicia Keys, John Mayer.
My grandmother was the first person to ever tell me “you can do anything you set your mind to”. Even after passing she is one of my greatest mentors. She also believed a lot in my music. And at school I think my art teachers were inspiring to me. I wasn’t the most talented, nor the most creative, but having the art department was a very nurturing escape. I was tapping into something not fully realised yet.
AHC: What do you think makes for a good song, as you're writing and composing, is there a sudden moment when you know you've found the right mix, that perfect angle of light, so to speak?
Doll: I find usually the greatest songs come in a very unplanned way. And when they do, I get a feeling of euphoria spread through my body. You just know you’ve hit it right on. But to get there, I really have to let go. When my brain gets too busy I can’t detangle or filter my thoughts. Overthinking is the biggest obstacle for any emotion trying to get out. I also find that big life shifts are great for songwriting. I love travelling too because I immediately gain new perspective on things. I do a lot of walking when I travel and it’s a great time to reflect but also to really open my eyes to what’s going on around me. It reveals a lot that I maybe hadn’t noticed before.
AHC: Do you consider music to be a type of healing art, the perfect vehicle through which to translate a feeling, a state of rupture/rapture, hope lost and regained? Does the writing and creating of the song save you in the kinds of ways that it saves us, the listener?
Doll: It is definitely healing. No doubt about it. I remember an interview I watched with Fiona Apple where she said she could only write music when there was something she desperately needed to say. I think I’m the same in some ways. I can’t write all the time, but when I do I can be very prolific and I can physically feel a lightness in myself, a huge pressure lifted off. But there are also those moments where nothing is coming out as I mentioned in the previous question, and that can be painfully frustrating. ‘Grenade’ on my EP, Hurricane, is about just that.
AHC: What are your fondest musical memories? In your house? In your neighborhood or town? On-tour, on-the-road?
Doll: Some of my favourite memories are from when I was very small. I remember family trips in the car when I was only 4 or 5, and I would be singing the whole way, songs from musicals or things made up in my head. My brother could not stop complaining to my parents that I never stop singing. I really couldn’t help myself. Another memory is dancing around on this big rug in my grandmother’s bedroom. There was some old music show that she would sometimes have playing on the TV where they had singers perform. I danced on this rug and the music played, and it was just such a happy time. I think my love for music started very very young.
AHC: Do you have any words of advice for other musicians and singer-songwriters out there who are just starting out and trying to find their voice and their way in this world? What are the kinds of things that you tell yourself when you begin to have doubts or are struggling with the creative process?
Doll: I’m not sure I’m in a position to give any advice to anyone, but perseverance I think applies to us all. Change happens when we least expect it. When I begin to have doubts, I’ll tell myself to try relax a little. It’s not an easy thing to do. Fear and doubt can be extremely paralysing. I’ll attempt to shift perspective and loosen up, remember what really matters, and stop trying so hard to get it right all the time. The actor Bill Murry said something I love, that you can do the very best you can when you’re very relaxed. I think that’s true to life.
AHC: Could you talk some about your debut EP Hurricane? How long did it take you to write and conceive this album and to bring it out into the world?
Doll: I wrote it in New York where I lived when I was young with my family. I’d become very stuck in my surroundings at home in the UK and I think creating this EP saved me in a way. Going back to New York was the best thing I could have done. It took maybe about a year to create from start to finish, but it’s a collection of thoughts and reflections that span a much longer period. Making it was a very big learning experience and going back to a previous question, also a very healing one!
To stream/purchase Hurricane, visit dollduncan.bandcamp.com/releases
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