INTERVIEW: Doll Factory

By Kim Mercil with an Introduction By Mike Ventarola

Chain Border

Doll FactoryIt seems like only yesterday when Doll Factory came aboard the Hidden Sanctuary to showcase their music to the Internet world. This Seattle based duo made it clear from the outset that they weren't sitting still while waiting for opportunity to knock. Instead, they thrust themselves into the creation process to write inspired songs, all while finding and creating their own opportunity in this tough arena called the "music business." Doll Factory worked diligently on a number of remix projects for other bands which prompted them to be included on a multitude of compilation appearance in the US and abroad, furthering their exposure and popularity to all parts of the world.

Recently signed to the Neue Ästhetik label, Garrick Antikajian and Chris Roy, a.k.a. Doll Factory, launched their freshman release, Weightless, with a full blending of their diverse musical tastes and inspirations. From the opening track We Are The Hollow Men, inspired by the T.S. Elliot poem The Hollow Men, to the final cover track of Britney Spears' hit Baby One More Time, the band demonstrates that they are able to surpass the typical guitar and sample-laden approach currently overrunning much of the industrial underground to provide sound that is fresh and new while still being infectious.

WeightlessAn additional feature of this new release is the hard edged synth-pop club hit Tin Girl as well as the crunchy guitar-laden beats of Stand And Fight and Re/z/onator. Doll Factory makes full use of mixing in catchy synthpop keyboards, industrial flavorings and hypnotically danceable bass lines, clearly making Weightless a must have album for fans of industrial, electronica and darkwave music.

KM: You both started your musical training early on, Garrick you started piano lessons in second grade and Chris started in the third grade playing violin. Was this of your own choice or did your parents have an influence over this?

Garrick: My parents both played Mom classical piano and my Dad flamenco guitar, but it was the furthest thing from my mind at the time. It took years for me to appreciate it.

Chris: I wouldn't really say my parents influenced my involvement in music either way. In elementary school, the local youth orchestra came and played at our school one day and by that night I was begging for cello or violin lessons. Later I got into guitar, keyboards and other instruments, but none of it involved any pressure or expectations from parents; the response ranged from indifference, to being supportive emotionally or financially, to "turn down that infernal noise!"

KM: Both of you have been creating music together for the last twelve years. What factors in your working relationship do you feel kept you together for so long?

Garrick: In a way we grew up together musically speaking, influencing each other's tastes, skills, working styles and ultimate goals along the way. Any differences we may have seem to compliment each other and over time we've developed an understanding and acceptance for what the other is trying to do. We also have complete faith in each others' abilities. I don't think either of us would feel comfortable giving up half of the creative control to another person if we no longer worked together.

KM: What do you think are the preconceptions that some people have of industrial and electronica music? In what way's does Doll Factory's sound differ?

Garrick: So many things are considered a sub-category of industrial and electronica that it's really hard to predict what any one person's preconceptions would be. As far as Doll Factory goes, I wouldn't presume to say that our sound is particularly unique, though I'd certainly like it to be. But if it is, it's probably due to a number of factors. We both can play multiple instruments. We've spent years in bands without the use of sequencers - learning performing, songwriting and arranging from a very different perspective. We both love technology and what it has to offer as a tool in making music, but we also try to be artful and creative in the use of that technology.

Chris: I'd agree that what gets called "industrial" and "electronica" is such a big umbrella and any definition has shifted and adapted so much to suit people's needs for identity over the years that it's almost arbitrary. In the mid-1990's bands were doing what was essentially hard rock with the occasional movie sample or drum-machine kick drum sound, and that got called "industrial." Many bands that I hear being labeled "industrial" in the past few years would have just been called "house music" or "synthpop" not long ago. Maybe it has as much to do with what clothes a band wears as anything. Would people call us "glam", "techno", or "punk" if we played the same music while wearing different outfits?

Doll Factory LiveI don't mind being called "industrial," "electronica," or what-have-you, but then it becomes a matter of "OK, sure, we're industrial, but with this orchestral sound on a lot of songs, and this Eastern-sounding bit here, and some glitchy-minimalist-electronica stuff, and, and..." Hopefully that means we're "hard to pigeonhole" and not just wishy-washy. We didn't sit down one day and say "let's start an INDUSTRIAL are the things we are and are not allowed to do." If I ever have a conscious thought process about what stylistic elements or instrumentation to use when I'm writing, it's more about trying ideas or combinations that don't seem like they should work or are unlikely choices - a lot of the time I'll try to think of what would be the *least* likely instrumentation or part to use with what I've already come up with.

As far as "Doll Factory's sound" and what sets us apart, I think that mainly comes from our background and our approach to music - I'd hazard to guess that we're coming from almost more of an "orchestral arranging" mindset, as opposed to a "traditional rock band" mindset. I'd probably be considered "Doll Factory's guitarist," and Garrick would be considered the better "keyboard player," but we don't approach writing or arranging in a "Whoa! I'm the guitarist in a rock band! Check out this riff I came up with and write a song around it, dude!" It's more a matter of "this song could use some sort of guitar rhythm here" or "should this bass part be a synth bass or a bass guitar?" I think we come up with different kinds of ideas that way, by, in effect, putting the song's "ego" above our own.

We also extend that "orchestral arranging mindset" to the point that I think we don't feel obligated to stick to certain expected combinations of instruments and use a lot more actual symphonic/orchestral sounds and instrumentation than is common, combining the electronic or "rock" elements in the arrangements with things like acoustic violin parts, hand drums, a toy bamboo flute, whatever. When we were outside taking a break during recording one of the songs on the new CD, there was a bent piece of metal out in the street (we still don't know what it used to be; it looks like a stainless-steel industrial serving tray that got hit by a bus) that made a cool sound every time cars would go by and run over it, so we went and grabbed it and it ended up being a "percussion instrument" on another song. The Baby One More Time cover on the new CD has us "playing" the washer and dryer in my basement with drumsticks, instead of a hi-hat part. We really don't have egos as instrumentalists, or about particular instruments, so whatever we can find that makes a sound that works with whatever song we're working on, we use.

KM: What direction do you feel electronic and industrial music will be taking in the future?

Garrick: I don't know. I'm a terrible judge of what trends are going to catch on. I just know what sounds and styles tend to catch my ear and what I'd like to see more of.

Chris: I'm not sure if I care. My favorite bands tend to do their own thing regardless of whatever's "the trend" at the time and if anything, that's what makes them stand out.

KM: With your first project Crown of Thorns, why did you decide to record concept material?

Garrick: It was for a few reasons. We really had no idea what we were doing early on and had minimal gear, so we spent our time making recordings on a borrowed 4-track recorder for fun, learning how to write songs in the process. Since we weren't technically a band and had no way of releasing our recordings, taking on literary sources as a starting point helped provide a much needed challenge and direction to what we were doing. That, and the added bonus of getting school credit for our efforts.

KM: When working under the name Guernica, why did you feel by going North to Seattle would benefit you musically?

Chris: I moved to Seattle because we had been up several times before to see touring acts (Siouxsie and the Banshees, David Bowie, etc.) that didn't come to our hometown, and really liked the place to the point where I'd make excuses to stay a little longer each time and eventually just moved here.

Garrick: It wasn't so much that it was Seattle, since Guernica didn't fit in with the grunge scene which was still dominating at the time, as much as it was that we were limited by a home town that had little to offer anyone other than bar-blues bands, college rock bands and Deadheads.

Chris: True - when we were in Eugene as Guernica, we were the one "Goth" band in town and there was another band called Fathom that was the only "industrial" band in town. It was pretty funny. But yeah, I guess it was more to be in a town that wasn't so small you had to drive at least three hours if you wanted to go out dancing or see a concert.

Doll Factory LiveKM: Garrick, why did you go to Los Angeles?

Garrick: I had left Guernica to work on more industrial music on my own by the time Chris and the rest of the band made the move to Seattle. Opportunities led me to the LA area, but after a year I was ready to get out of the desert and Chris suggested I move to Seattle. Guernica had split up and both Chris and I were looking for someone to collaborate with and we discovered that we were both doing similar types of music at the time, so it only made sense for us to start working together again.

KM: Why did you choose to cover Marilyn Manson's Lunch Box and Britney Spear's Baby One More Time for two different compilations?

Garrick: Cleopatra Records approached us about doing a track for their Manson tribute album. We wanted to choose a song that was a little more obscure and Chris had some ideas for how we might do Lunch Box so we went with it. Baby One More Time was our offering for the Teen Feeding Frenzy album on Irregular Records, which was essentially bands doing covers of teen pop songs. We threw some ideas around, but Chris had his heart set on either Menudo or Britney Spears, and Britney won out.

Chris: Both of those covers I'd say were done very tongue-in-cheek, so my answer is "for fun!" We did a weird drum'n'bass/orchestra-and-harpsichord take on the Marilyn Manson cover and I thought it would be funny to have a relatively new band like us singing "when I grow up, I wanna be / a big rock and roll star." The Britney cover uses the arrangement and sampled BDSM-movie soundbites to turn the meaning of the lyrics upside-down, so it's literally "hit me one more time." It's also really fun to take a song and completely change the arrangement and see what happens - it's kind of scary how well a well-crafted pop song still works when translated into other styles. Maybe both of those are too subtle for people to get the humor in us doing them, but hopefully there's enough there musically that we still did an interesting take on the songs that people will find interesting even if they don't get the dry humor.

KM: What is the reason for not wanting to reissue your Premonition EP?

Garrick: We just didn't have the resources to release it ourselves, so we put the songs up on and they kind of took off and got us some attention. Neue Asthetik found our MP3 site, asked us to send them a copy, liked what they heard and signed before we knew it we were focusing on making the new album. In the meantime, several of the songs off of it found their way onto compilations which was satisfying, though I'd still love to see it officially released at some point. We'll just have to wait and see.

Chris: I think it might be fun to officially reissue it, maybe a few years from now, as a look back at where we started, but right now we've already moved on quite a bit from where we were when we recorded that and I'd rather focus on "what we're going to do next" than "what we did a couple years ago."

KM: With your new CD Weightless, why did you go for a more electronic sound than an industrial one?

Chris: Um...'cause we could afford better keyboards?

Garrick: We both listen to such a wide variety of music that it all blurs together. Electronica is a big part of that, so naturally it finds its way into what we're doing. It just happened that it was more prominent on this album for various reasons. But it's never really a conscious thing, so there's no telling what the next album will be like.

Chris: OK, fine, be serious. I guess I'd call it a "natural evolution" since it wasn't a planned thing. But yeah, both of us lately probably listen to a lot more things like Underworld, Bjork and the like than "industrial" music so that probably is an influence. We hadn't previously explored as much in the way of more electronic, or purely electronic, arrangements and I think we feel more of a freedom to do that now than we have in the past if that's what a particular song calls for. I wouldn't blink at us doing a song that had no electronics at all, or all acoustic instruments if we felt like it. Synthesizers and samplers can do a lot of things, and have such a huge palette of sounds that I think it would be a mistake of us to try to avoid using them, or worry about using them too much. On a few of the songs on Weightless we even tried to add guitars, but some of the songs just worked better without so we left them the way they were. Again, it's more about what the song calls for than anything and we're not going to sit around worrying, "I dunno...that song might be too electronic, we're supposed to be industrial..."

KM: The second track off your debut CD Weightless, Tin girl-Tin love, has a very hypnotic beginning compared to the driving electro-industrial beat of the rest of the track. How did the intro to this track evolve?

Garrick: That track started out of lyrics I wrote one night. Generally we start with music and the words come later, but for this album a lot of those traditions were broken. I really liked the lyrics, but I had trouble finding a home for them musically speaking. Everything I was doing was just too busy and complicated structurally. Finally, I came up with a bassline and beat that seemed to really drive the song and fit naturally with the rhythm of the lyrics. I added layers of additional parts which made the initial foundation more interesting, and laid those elements out into a complete song with each one coming in and dropping out at different points. A couple of those parts worked nicely as an intro, though they appear here and there throughout the song as well.

KM: What exactly is a Tin girl-Tin love?

Garrick: When I write lyrics, I rarely write about anything in particular. I like the way words work together and take on different meanings in different contexts or how they create a sense or an image of something bigger rather than any literal meaning they may have. Often, I'll have a concept of what general idea I'm trying to convey, or there might be a few underlying themes, but these are all more emotional and abstract and the individual words and phrases don't necessarily mean anything outside of that. On a whole, I could tell you what the song Tin Girl-Tin Love is probably about, but I won't.

Chris: All rumors about Garrick and an electric can opener are patently false.

KM: What do you want to accomplish for Doll Factory in the future as well as your debut full length Weightless?

Garrick: I'd just like to keep making the kind of music that I find personally fulfilling. If it gets released to a bigger and bigger audience then all the better as long as the enjoyment doesn't fade in the process. My biggest fear is to do something uninspired...and if it stops being fun there's no point in it for me.

Chris: In an artistic sense, accomplishing something consists of recording a CD, the actual onstage performance part of music-making or the art part of us doing our own cover art, flyers, and graphics. Then there's the "accomplishing" element of trying to make a career out of that, wanting to expand your audience, trying to play more and bigger shows or sell more albums - what most people would define as success. While the "making stuff" idea of accomplishing something is a lot more meaningful than the "selling stuff" part, I definitely wouldn't complain if I could quit my day job without compromising the artistic part.

KM: Who do you feel is the utmost influential person to your musical careers?

Garrick: Well, we influence each other as much as anything. There have also been some personal heroes over the years, both individuals and bands, that have had a big impact on our philosophies and ideologies when it comes to the creative process and how we deal with the business side of making music.

Chris: It's a cliché, but what happens to our musical career is up to us more than anyone.

KM: By joining The Hidden Sanctuary and Neue Asthetik Multimedia, how do you feel this has/will benefit Doll Factory in the long run?

Chris: Hidden Sanctuary is basically a coalition-of-sorts of a bunch of bands we like, including Judith, This Ascension and a whole bunch of others who've come together along with Mike V., who does a lot of promotion and fanzine writing, to share promotional resources and ideas. Between that and joining Neue Ästhetik (the New York-based label and home of Doll Factory, Judith, The Shroud, and others), the benefit of both is to combine resources and expand the ability to get the music out to a wider audience than we'd be able to on our own.

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