INTERVIEW: Fear of Dolls

By Jett Black

Chain Border

Fear of DollsDescribe some of the creative techniques used to achieve specific aspects of Fear of Dolls recordings. Describe some of the processes involved in composing and evolving soundscapes.

The techniques as well as the songwriting process in this band has much to do with going to extremes. I'm the kind of person that, when I get, let's say, a new FX peddle, the first thing I do is see what it sounds like with all the settings turned up to maximum. That kind of attitude works its way, if I can help it, into many aspects of writing and recording. Trying extreme FX and a general experimental attitude. From there it's just a matter of listening to what the sound does, on it's own, and working with that, letting the sound evolve naturally. On our CD, we did things like shaking prayer beads with lots of reverb put on it, recording the sound of an old organ warming up, used violin bows on the cymbals, and used a backwards vocal loop. These are the kinds of things we'll be doing more of in the future - using non-instruments and using musical instruments in ways that they were not necessarily meant to be used.

How do environmental and social stimuli of Seattle influence the developments of Fear of Dolls compositions?

The location doesn't really affect me much. I don't think it really matters where you are when you create, unless you want it to. When I create, I'm in a certain place in my head, so where I am in reality makes little or no difference. On a larger scale, there seems to be very few people in this area of the world that I click with creatively, so in that sense it affects me very negatively; it takes usually about 6 to 9 months to replace a member, and it can be hard to keep up the inspiration sometimes.

What changes in the music industry have caught your attention most during the '90s?

Obviously the Internet. I don't think this will make things change as much as people expect, but it has helped out the lesser known bands like us quite a bit. I don't pay that much attention to 'the industry.' I make music because I want to or feel like I have to, not to be part of the industry necessarily. So no matter what happens in that field, I don't feel like it has to affect me at all.

When not completely focused upon Fear of Dolls, what do you do to support yourself?

I work for a library system doing computer 'stuff.' I've always thought about doing other art forms, but right now it's just music. I don't have the time, money or talent for anything else right now.

In what ways will Fear of Dolls live performances differ from its recordings?

Usually nothing is specifically planned to be different, but it often comes out that way, it all depends on the energy of the performance at that moment, and all the factors and moods that make up that moment. Things tend to be, on a good night, a little crazier than the recordings, a bit more intense, so that the feeling created is much bigger than the sum of those involved, so that we're not quite in control of what's happening. There are no 'theatrics' or visuals to speak of - I like to think that the music speaks for itself.

Who are current members of Fear of Dolls, and what roles does each perform?

Me (Greg) on guitar with occasional drum machine sounds, violin, xylophone, maybe some kind of vocals. Also Shaun Richards on drums and percussion.

Please describe the themes employed on recordings by Fear of Dolls.

As far as the lyrics, you'd have to ask the 2 singers we've had, who are no longer around. The only 'real' recording worth mentioning is our recent debut CD, When The Organ Played At Twilight. There really isn't a central theme to the whole thing, maybe just a vague one, a sort of opening statement of sorts, laying down the track for the basis of what this band is about.

How do you relate with the music created for Fear of Dolls?

This is a good question, but I'm not sure that I can answer it. I guess it's personal and esoteric, not in the sense that it's some kind of ugly secret or anything, but I don't know really how to explain it. The music is a combination of pre-conceived ideas and focused/specific desires, along with a sort of controlled experiment, an on-going shifting discovery, and a what's-going-to-happen-next attitude, the creation of an unpredictable situation.

What would you like to accomplish through Fear of Dolls into the dawning of the new millennium?

To get closer to what it is that I really want to do musically, to be more extroverted musically and exploit all types of irrational and absurd ideas.

BandWhat other recordings, outside of Fear of Dolls, have been released by its band members?

I was in a band called Ninth Circle, we did a record for Ivy Records. I've been a guest on several CDs - Black Atmosphere, Shadowlight, and most recently Pfrenz-C. Megan recently recorded vocals for Hector Zazou that might be used on his next album.

What other side projects are currently being developed?

Nothing that I know of. There's always things on the sidelines, but I don't like to mention things unless I know they will happen for sure.

What will you entitle the next release by Fear of Dolls, and when will it be available?

That's far too early to tell since at the moment I'm trying to piece it all back together. But we do have several songs in the works, and I still have a ton of inspiration just waiting to be recorded.

Who will be distributing your next releases?

More than likely ourselves. No one has approached us yet, and I don't expect that they will any time soon, nor would I bother with most tiny labels, as I don't think they would be able to do much more than we can ourselves.

Where else might readers find releases by Fear of Dolls available for purchase?

Thru Middle Pillar distribution, and maybe thru Amazon.com in the near future.

What are you looking for now in terms of new musical influences?

I decided to look for a keyboard player/sound manipulator - I think that would suit us better. I think we're going to try to get away from the typical bass-guitar-with-kick-drum sort of R&B/rock and roll rhythm section. I want to sound more like a cross between an avant-garde noise band or sound-as-art or what ever you want to call it, and a some-what gritty post-punk folk-rock band. Hmmm no wonder I keep referring to the Swans and The Velvet Underground.

Which Live shows have you seen during the past year that impressed you the most?

I don't think I saw too many bands last year, none that really impressed me anyway. Other than The Angels of Light, which was quite inspiring, not as intense as the Swans a few years back, which was probably the most inspirational show I've ever seen in my life.

Backing up to now, what motivates you to continue performing and recording music as Fear of Dolls now?

Ideas. Desires. I need to do it for some god-awful reason. It's always sort of a struggle to do it for me - I'm always contemplating why and is it worth it, etc. All the effort, so little reward or recognition, and the whole struggle with trying to be original and not sound pretentious or just plain bad, or being misunderstood and just making a fool of myself. But I need to do it. I have dreams and ideas in my head of things I want to express, and If I don't have that goal, the ideas don't go away, they just burn inside me and drive me crazy. And that's all happening at any given moment, even when I'm working by myself, or without a full band, not to mention the potential of what else can happen when there's more creative people involved almost too much.

Looking back, what mile-stones have been most notable for Fear of Dolls?

The last line up was the best so far, and we were just starting to achieve what I felt could have been a really good thing. Not really what's on the CD, but after that, unfortunately. We did a couple of shows that really felt purposeful, and this has given me a new perspective of what we're doing. It's like I've finally discovered what it is I've been trying to get to all along - it's hard to explain - I could describe it as trying to create the shortest distance possible between emotion and expression that goes on in your head, and the sound that's coming out and filling the room.

The BandLet's say it happens, you 'make it BIG' and retain complete control of your own music even, what then? How would you describe your music, and your motivation to continue as Fear of Dolls?

That would be wonderful. For me, there are a million things I'd love to do, many that would require a lot of money and resources, etc. Recording an album in a church, recording at a film studio (where they typically have around 100 tracks and sound FX engineers, etc.), using orchestras, and so on. There's really no end in sight - I'd have no problem continuing on. Although it is dangerous to get too used to being spoiled, and then not be able to make music with just vocals and a guitar. You'd have to keep your perspective on why you do it in the first place.

Could you illuminate any significant details that may have influenced the development of sadness in your music?

Aside from being truly depressed and almost suicidal for much of my younger days, I don't know that for me personally there's any real reason specifically for 'sadness' - I do resent the world and society and most people in general, but then I don't think the music is really about social politics or even personal events. I'm not full of angst or hate. I don't really plan on the music being 'sad' or 'dark,' but that's just the way most of it turns out I guess. Of course, it doesn't help that most people are already expecting that, so I do think most things are biased to begin with, since most people make assumptions and associations with labels and genres and so on. For instance, there are rolling stones records that I think are darker than many 'darkwave' bands I've heard, but it all depends on what you mean by dark I guess. So if you handed a Stones record to a 'darkwaver' they already have a pre-conception of how 'not-dark' it's going to be, regardless of the actual music. And ironically, most Cure and Peter Murphy songs now days tend to be fairly 'bright,' or at least not at all depressing or macabre. It's all relative.

What new opportunities would you seek and develop to advance the music of Fear of Dolls?

Like I said, I'm looking for a synth player/sound manipulator. I think this will take us in a new direction that we haven't played with yet. I'm always looking for new sounds. It's always the weird things that I look for. Someday I'd like to get a tympani drum or something even bigger if there is such a thing

Any re-mixes from previous releases?

I don't plan on ever making any remixes.

What changes have been made in Fear of Dolls during the last year?

Joel and Megan (Violet) quit. They have a new project called The Bride Ship. This and the CD being out have of course changed the whole position of the band, at least for the 2 of us involved.

What songs have been in development since last year?

More noisy, gritty, intense, wall of sound types of songs, more droning and repetitive pieces, loud rhythmic pulses, as well as the usual allotment of strange/psychedelic craziness.

Considering other musicians with which you have performed in the past. What experiences seem most memorable for you and what have you been able to draw out of those experiences and into Fear of Dolls?

We really don't seem to fit all that well with any other local bands, so we haven't really drawn from any sort of collective influence. Or do you mean people I've personally played with before forming this band? Either way, the answer is about the same. Although, anytime I've played with others, either in another band, or just a get together with one or more people for no particular purpose, the best times are when there's no direction and things end up in a long tribal hypnotic trance-chaos state. That's when you realize how powerful music can be.

Where will you be traveling during the course of your next tour?

There are no tours planned. If we ever toured, Europe would probably be the place for us. Even more expensive to get there, but I don't know that we'll ever have enough of a response in the states for it to be worthwhile touring.

What gear are you using to develop music for Fear of Dolls?

A couple years ago I acquired a digital delay unit with an 8 second sampling capability which can be played backwards. This is just the thing for me. Real time backwards guitar sounds played live on stage. I now also have a tabla, a xylophone, and an old toy keyboard, as well as the previous things that we've occasionally used before - drum machine, a few odd percussive pieces, almost literally every type of FX peddle, violin, music boxes. I just got a music box that's broken, so it makes a weird scraping sound where there should be a note - it's like it was made just for me.

Which songs required more significant development in production?

Bleeding On Her Wings took a lot of work, but that was more in the performance than the production. Persephone Is Scratching also needed quite a bit added to it to make it not sound empty. It had such a thin sound otherwise and just didn't sound very unique or 'fear of dolls'-ish. We added second vocals, second guitar, an organ, extra percussion, etc.

Which musicians have won your admiration in the music industry and why?

I try not to make heroes out of anyone. I guess Joy Division was a great band in that they sort of defied definition, and never really did interviews or did anything in particular to cater to anyone, or a certain crowd or scene or audience, or any sort of business or company or industry. They just silently did what they did.

What are you looking for in terms of musical styles and influences now?

I think lately I've been interested more in minimalism, weather it's droning and hypnotic, or musical. Simple melodies and beats or rhythms that serve a simple and direct purpose. And I still want to explore more absurd ideas, slowing things down and speeding them up in the studio recording process, using more cliché ideas like lullabies and nursery rhymes and juxtaposing that with abrasive rock music and so on.

What new goals will you focus upon now?

The main focus now is the music. It always has been, but every time a line-up falls apart, it's because the music isn't working, people we're not 'clicking.' So I see it as an opportunity to get back to what the music should have been all along.

What more would you like to share with our readers?

Just to say that our music is not meant for everyone. It's personal and I'm not going to cry if no one likes it.

How can music enthusiasts best contact Fear of Dolls for more information?

Through our web site and thru email, or at a show in Seattle.

What other resources might be available for avid readers?

We do have songs available at mp3.com.

Editor's Note: Fear of Dolls' Why The Organ Played At Twilight was reviewed by Mike V. in Legends #98!

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