Artist Interview: Nicole Dollanganger Edit
Posted on: October 20, 2015
By: Anne Alexander
You might not know her name yet, but that’s soon to change. Nicole Dollanganger is the 24-year-old Canuck who set Grimes’ musical heart ablaze and is the very first signee to Boucher’s brand spankin’ new label Eerie Organization. As a matter of fact she’s the very reason behind the label’s creation. Boucher told Billboard in late August she created Eerie because she felt it was “a crime against humanity for this music not to be heard.” Big praise coming from one of the biggest successes in the indie music world in the past decade. Knowing what we do about Grimes’ sound, the relationship seems nearly inevitable. Dollanganger’s polished, airy, and macabre sound is a glove on Boucher’s practiced hand, and she’ll be joining the mercurial popstress on stage opening for Lana Del Rey on select dates during her Endless Summer tour. Thanks to Eerie Organization you too can hear that very music which was just released in the form of a full length Dollanganger is calling Natural Born Losers.
Beyond the music Dollanganger is an enigmatic young creative who’s firmly planted in the digital realm, with an internet presence that’s all but been perfected showcasing her own drawings, morbid stills and low-fi photos. And yet she still cites her family and hometown as having influenced her art greatly. Right now she’s focused on imbuing her work with visuals to enhance the experience of consuming her sound.
I recently caught up with her to chat a bit about her influences, the relationship she has with Eerie and some of her other passions.
Audio Femme: So I see you’re from Stouffville, Ontario. Where exactly is that and what’s it known for?
Nicole Dollanganger: Stouffville is about an hour from the city of Toronto, right in the downtown area. It’s not too far. It would be known for being a bit of a farming community. We have a strawberry festival; I guess that’s the other thing.
AF: When you’re writing music do you think about how you want it be consumed or is an exercise solely in creation and catharsis?
ND: It’s definitely more of an exercise in creation. Initially my thoughts are with making it and only after it’s done do I sort of wonder about releasing it and all of that.
AF: I know your parents are both doll collectors and that that imagery has factored into your art and music. What’s your relationship to the dolls now and what do they signify for you?
ND: Dolls are a big deal to me. I love all different kinds, but especially the ones that I began collecting through my mom. I love the history behind them, dolls especially from the 20’s to 50’s were so delicate, a lot of them were made out of chalk. For them to have survived to this time means that someone loved them and cared about them enough to see that they are here now. I always feel like they come with a deep loving history. The first item ever that I was given was a doll and I still have it. I have a lot of sentimental history with that doll. I always find it kind of weird when people say they’re scared of dolls because I just think there’s like nothing less scary than an object that was made for a kid to take care of, you know?
AF: What’s your relation and fascination with the macabre?
ND: My dad always says it’s the way I’ve always been. Even as a child it was always the horror cartoons I wanted to watch. I guess I was always inclined. I’ve been interested in exploring things that scare me forever, because it makes it less scary to face head on and to try and understand it rather than to put my back to it.
AF: How does your internet persona translate to you in real life?
ND: Sometimes well and sometimes not. I do think that there is a lost in translation nature to it, especially if you’re speaking to someone or getting a question online. At least with me I’m a bit paranoid so I often misinterpret tone or I think someone is meaning something some way and they probably don’t. I’ve kind of struggled with that. But in other respects it’s really fun to be able to explore things without feeling like you have to. It’s a really creative world where you can surround yourself with the things that interest you and you can kind of create something new by putting them all together, and that really helps to storyboard and to create concepts based on art you like.
AF: Where did you draw inspiration for this album?
ND: With this record I was drawing it off a lot from the town that I grew up in, I also spent a lot of my childhood in Florida and that was a huge influence. I didn’t have the best high school experience and I’ve struggled with that. I’ve also felt that a lot of the people that I’m closest to also struggled, and we all came into ourselves post high school. I was kind of rolling of that past and present and the different selves. It’s also where the name itself comes from, like loser is one of the easiest things that someone can call another person as an insult, and I want to almost reclaim it as a positive thing. It was almost like an homage to a lot of really amazing, fascinating people that I know who were the losers of high school. Essentially it’s a sentimental album a lot about the past.
AF: Your music has a very specific visual aesthetic approach – beyond the obvious sonic one – can you touch on how you approach those visuals and what inspires them.
ND: I usually see things, like a song, kind of visually as I’m writing the lyrics. And I read them over or I listen to a freestyled recording and I usually get strong visuals, or even just strong colors and sometimes they’re not the right colors. I know that sounds kinda wonky, but I’ll listen to a song and if I was seeing pink in my head and it’s feeling more like an orange I know that I’ve got to change something. It’s almost more of a visual thing that dictates the direction the song goes. When working with other people I’ve found that it’s easiest to describe what I’m going for with visuals rather than sound because I’m not a trained musician so I really struggle sometimes to vocalize what I’m after.
AF: I know you also create comic books, can you talk about that a bit?
ND: I’ve always liked to draw, but I’m not the best, so for me I avoid realistic drawings. I recently just put out like a comic/zine and I pretty much tried to form a narrative around images that I really just wanted to draw and I created this story around a few specific images that I saw. It was really fun because it was the first time I’ve finished a visual art, hand drawn thing, ever. Normally I get halfway through a sketchbook and give up. This the first thing that I can say I finally completed and that felt really good.
AF: I’m sure you’ve been asked a bunch, but how does it feel to be the first artist signed to Grimes’ Eerie Organization?
ND: Amazing. So wonderful. Claire and James (Brooks – formerly of Elite Gymnastics) are living angels. It’s been a surreal dream ever since it happened. I mean it’s two people that I really admire and respect and that I’m a huge fan of their creative work, so to have them be supportive of mine is incredible in and of itself. But then you’ve also got two people who are really smart, they really know the industry and they’re very interested in helping other musicians that they believe in.
AF: With the album out next month what comes next for you?
ND: The tour’s gonna happen. And then I would love to explore being more able to create videos and visuals to go with the songs. I’ve always felt like the idea’s never been fully baked to an extent so the idea of being able to create things that are 100% what I initially saw is a really exciting prospect. I’m also just so excited to write again.