For an artist like Dorothy Martin, whose latest album, 28 Days In The Valley, is a to-the-bone rawness synchronized to bluesy psychedelic swirls of grungy guitars and naked emotional exasperations, being honest is what makes a song real. It may be a fictionalized truth in some cases but it’s a truth nonetheless and someone somewhere has gone through that experience. With her raspy vocals, getting down in the dirtier corners of her psyche was something she especially sought when writing the songs that ended up on her Linda Perry produced album released back in March.
Considering she found herself on Rolling Stone’s hot list of new artists in 2014 following her first EP, Dorothy has become soul sisters with Lzzy Hale, record company cohorts with Rihanna and beloved by many in and out of the industry. A fan, Keith from New Orleans, recently told me that, “Having gone through everything with losing my brother, Dorothy’s music has been part of my mental recovery.” And that’s what Dorothy’s music does – it not only touches a painful nerve, it soothes it and opens it up to feel again.
Her first full-length studio album, Rockisdead, came out two years later, in 2016, sealing her reputation as a kick-ass rocker. But Dorothy wanted to dig a little deeper and called upon her musical mentor Linda Perry to help her find the roots of her emotional volcanos. The fruits of their labor bursts open on such songs as “We Are STAARS,” “Flawless,” “Ain’t Our Time To Die” and “Mountain;” as well as on songs she created with her band – “Philadelphia” and “Freedom.”
With a new tour looming on the horizon with Greta Van Fleet, Glide caught up with the singer during a stop in Spokane, where she was performing with her band Dorothy – guitarists Eli Wulfmeier and Owen Barry, bass player Eliot Lorango and drummer Jason Ganberg. With the air a little smoky, Dorothy was taking it all in stride: “It’s super dry and smoky and it’s not good for having a good hair day, I can tell you that, but sometimes the smoke can make your voice sound good.” (laughs)
Your latest record, 28 Days In The Valley, came out in the spring. Since you’ve been playing some of these songs for a while now, are you still happy with them or have you noticed little things you want to change?
I love playing the new record and if we get kind of bored playing the same set, we have plenty of songs to kind of swap around. We’d be like, oh we haven’t played “Mountain,” so let’s play that one cause we haven’t played that one in a while. And that’s fun. I really love the more down tempo chill songs like “Philadelphia.” They are a lot of fun to play live.
But as with any music that you write, the more you play it live the more it kind of takes on a personality of it’s own and you start to get to know the song a little better. When we wrote everything and tracked it, it kind of all happened really fast and since then we’ve been playing these songs, I would say, close to a year now. I think things differently and sometimes I change the words. We get to know the songs on a more intimate level and they do change over time, which is part of playing it live, that element of surprise and live energy. I love it.
Some people want to hear it exactly as it’s on the record and some people love when there’s changes
Right, we’re just putting our heart and soul into playing the songs. Yeah, some people do want to hear it [album version] because it’s familiar and they’re comfortable with it and they know it this way. I do understand that cause sometimes I’ve seen bands and artists live where they are going completely off tangent with a song and I’m like, that’s not how it goes (laughs). So we kind of try to not do that too much but with live, anything can happen. It’s a rock show!
When you were writing the songs for this album, what was most on your mind?
You know, the main thing that was on my mind when writing the record was to just be honest and write good songs. I got to work with Linda Perry and it was like the mentorship of a lifetime for me. She really put me more in touch with my feelings and with my truth and I wanted to just write good songs. Sometimes they are like made-up stories and sometimes they are very personal. It just depends on where the song comes from that day. It’s kind of hard to explain how songs are even written, but I just write in a very intuitive fashion where I feel something and if the words start coming to me then I write them down as fast as I can. That’s how we wrote “Flawless” and “We Are STAARS.” It was almost like a channeling session and the lyrics were just popping into my head one after the other. I love when that happens and that’s like pure inspiration, you know, that’s where that comes from. I think the more you do that, the more centered you are, and in a safe creative space it allows for songs like that to be born and we had that with Linda and I’m beyond grateful for this record. I think it’s great.
I don’t know why but I can say that we have very similar energy, we have a lot in common and have a lot of similarities that I noticed and I intuitively just wanted to work with her. So I followed my heart and it turned out really well.
Which song would you say changed the most from it’s original conception to it’s final recorded version?
That’s a really good question and I think all of them. Most of the songs, not all of them, but most of them start off in kind of an acoustic songwriter fashion. So you watch them evolve from just the song structure to what kind of guitar tones are we using, what kind of bass amp are we going to use, what’s the drum pattern; because the band, they are such great musicians that they were basically able to create any sound we wanted and we wanted this sixties, freedom movement, flower child, stoner, psychedelic sound. So we played on pretty much nothing but vintage gear. I sang on some amazing microphones. So all the songs really did change a lot from their inception to their completion.
The title track is this very short, almost David Lynch-ian moody piece of music.
“28 Days In The Valley” is like a movie intermission. You know, the whole record feels really cinematic to me in a way and that song, we needed to fill the space on the record and Linda had this cool, almost Tarantino type vibe, instrumental idea and it was like a nice little weird break. I just thought it was interesting and I think one day we could definitely turn it into a full song. We just wanted to be a little theatrical. I’m a very visual person. If someone goes to me, “I said this to you last week, do you remember?” I’m like, no I don’t. But if somebody sends me a photograph or an email that I’ve read with my eyes, it’ll kind of cement itself in my mind. So I’m a very visual person and I think I write visually.
What can you tell us about the song “Who Do You Love”
We actually wrote that song with like a film idea in mind. The song is actually about Charles Manson, for some reason, and then I kind of like realized, well, I could be talking about an ex-boyfriend of mine or whatever. So it’s still personal but we wanted to tell a story. It was just more about the sounds, really, for that song.
And what about “Ain’t Our Time To Die”
That’s a really hopeful song. It’s about not giving up and even though the world seems a little crazy right now, we wanted to bring a message of hope to people and make them feel, you know, hopeful. And it’s personal too in the sense of I’m talking about my own personal struggles and how I might have felt powerless and whatnot but then not giving up and expecting a positive outcome.
When you were growing up, were you more ballsy and bossy or quiet and introverted – because you have such confidence onstage and didn’t know if that was an acquired ability?
I was very insecure, and I still am to a certain degree. You know, I’m a human being, there are a lot of layers, just like in all of us. But man, I was a weird kid. Like, one thing I deal with in alcoholism, and I talk about it very openly now I’ve gotten to the point in my life where I am really enjoying my sobriety, but not knowing that as a kid can make you feel really isolated and different from everyone. One thing I hear from other alcoholics a lot, because I talk to many of them, is how isolated and different and apart they feel from everyone else. And that was definitely me. I mean, I was terrified of talking to people. I wouldn’t go out of my way to make friends. I wasn’t social. I’m really awkward in social situations on the inside even if I hide it well. So I would just read a lot of books. I would rather get lost in book land than be social. And it’s crazy to me that I’m super-comfortable now, that I don’t get stage fright at all. I mean, I was very nervous in the beginning and now it’s so much fun and I get real excited; but it is just wild to me that I’m onstage with a rock band playing in front of thousands of people (laughs). It’s really mind-blowing.
How did you get yourself up on a stage if you were so scared to death?
Whiskey. But also, this is something that I’ve been driven to do my whole life and I think I got kind of a late start and that’s okay. I think everyone blooms at their own pace and when they are really supposed to. They say, like, the timing is not really in your hands so when things kind of start rolling and picking up momentum, it’s really nice. So yeah, it’s always something that I’ve been driven to do. I love to sing and even more than that I love to write.
When did you start writing songs?
I was actually a teenager but I think me loving books and reading has a lot to do with that. I would write poetry and stuff. I wasn’t really ever any good at writing like long stories or anything like that, fiction. I don’t even have the patience to sit down and try to do that so writing a song to me is wonderful because it’s writing literature but also it’s more dimensional than that because of the music and the emotion and the interpretation with your voice and other people collaborating and being involved and you create this piece of art that is not really tangible but everybody can feel it and it changes their lives. It’s a really special thing to be part of.
What kind of books did you fall into in those awkward younger years?
I read whatever I could get my hands on really. I read like every Goosebumps book there ever was and poetry books and then the books they’d give us in school – I’d probably finish them the same day. I remember when I was a kid a couple of my favorites were The Witch Of Blackbird Pond and the CS Lewis books were great, The Hobbit, The Lord Of The Rings, all that stuff. Anything that was fantasy that took me away from reality, which is also another very common trait among us alcoholic people, is just wanting to escape – and not just us but a lot of people. They just want to escape because sometimes they can’t really cope with whatever is going on around them. So that was like a way for me to kind of escape into my own world.
When you are writing a song that is very emotionally strong, when they are coming out of you, do you feel it physically?
Yeah, I do. Sometimes it’ll bring up buried emotions that have not been dealt with so when they say that music is therapy, it’s very true. Sometimes you don’t know where it’s coming from and sometimes you know exactly where it’s coming from, you feel the emotion and you release it and it’s like it was lifted, like the trauma of the experience or the pain that you were carrying around is kind of lifted and taken out of your body.
To you, what is the most important lyric on 28 Days In The Valley?
The most important lyric to me is, “We need love.” This is very true. I think it’s a very honest reflection of the current time and of humanity as a whole since the dawn of time. I think people are living for the very fear-based place of lower energies that are not serving them. And I think that once they start waking up and realizing that we are not different, we’re all human beings and anything good that’s happened in my life has been a result of being of service and helping others and that’s a direct action of living for love. That’s where I think we’re headed and I would like to help encourage that if I can. That’s where that song comes from, definitely, and I think that’s the most important lyric.
Did you have a lot of songs when you went into 28 Days In The Valley?
Not as many as you’d think. There might be like five, and I don’t even want to call them throwaways, but just songs that didn’t really fit the vibe of the album. They are good songs but they just didn’t fit with 28 Days In The Valley, which has a very distinct sound and picture/illustration and it captured a moment in time. I think on the next record we might take some more time and write a ton but who knows, with this group of guys, it’s just always fun and inspired and we’re constantly like, “Oh I have an idea!” Everyone is really involved in the writing.
So you are one who constantly writes
Yeah, especially with this band. Eli Wulfmeier and I will kind of go off and get out the acoustic guitar. We’re kind of like the Buckingham-Nicks of the group and then the band, they’ll just start riffing at soundcheck. We have about ten new song ideas now, just from this tour, new songs that we’re excited to work on.
Who was the first real rock star you ever met?
I would say Slash from Guns N Roses. First true rock star. And then from there I’ve met a lot of people. It’s been great.
For you, what was your first I can’t believe I’m here moment?
I guess it would be the day I got signed and I was in the Roc Nation office. And then very shortly after that, I was in the studio with Rihanna and she was just wonderfully welcoming and warm and funny and we were drinking whiskey together. It was like a writing session and I was like sitting there thinking, holy shit, I’m drinking whiskey with Rihanna. That’s pretty cool (laughs). You don’t realize, cause you see these people in the media but they are real and when you meet them in person, it’s a little bit of a shock to some people. But she is really cool and I’ve hung out with her a couple of times and since then it’s kind of sort of become the norm of like, these are my peers and I’m hanging out with musicians and artists and it’s been really fun and wild and I have a lot of stories (laughs).
Everything. Her music was so uplifting and inspiring and her voice was so iconic. She’s one of my favorite female singers of all time. I would set my alarm on my phone to “Angel,” which is such a beautiful song. She was a big influence on me and I’m sad that she’s passed but also it’s good that she’s not suffering.
You’re going to be starting a new tour with Greta Van Fleet in a few weeks
Yeah, I think it’s pretty much all of September. It starts on the 7th at the Paramount Theatre in Seattle, so we’re coming back up to Washington pretty soon again, and then it’s about a month long and we’re looking forward to it. We’ve done a tour with them once already this year and it’s just like the continuation.
You are such a champion and supporter of all people no matter how different or alike we all are, and you talk about it from the stage. How do you as an artist make your music into such a uniting event for everyone?
It wasn’t always that way. I think for me, my own personal journey of recovery is what really opened the floodgates for that. I realized that if I’m up here I better be making a difference and making people feel good and being inspirational, if I can. So it comes with the territory of when you step into your light, I guess, that it kind of permeates and it becomes bigger than you. I put my recovery first and then everything comes after that, or I do my best to. I’m human. So if there is someone that needs help and if there is an opportunity for me to be of service, I try to actually live my life with those principals that way. I live my life that way first. And when I’m onstage talking about it, sometimes I’m not really thinking, I’m just kind of speaking from the heart. If it feels forced, I try not to do it cause I don’t want to get preachy or anything. But I had to come into my own personal journey to where I’m like, oh, this makes sense and this is a great way to use music.
Live photographs by Jennifer Devereaux