T BEGINS with a frantic drumbeat and squall of feedback, before the distorted guitars kick with a punk style descending chord riff, and a voice sings in a melody worthy of a fifties and sixties girl groups: “You look at me as if I’m some drama queen...”
This is ‘Small Pony’, the opener to Dott’s debut album Swoon, and once the vocal harmonies kick in half way through, it has, in 90 seconds, not only provided an energetic start, but laid out the template for the definitive Dott sound - fast, highly melodic, pure pop, drenched in vocal harmonies, but with a punk/garage rock grit and edge that comes from the unapologetically heavy guitars.
Swoon is arguably the most anticipated album from a Galway band this year and does not disappoint, building and improving vastly on the potential of the quartet’s EP Button. Catchy and accessible, yet clever and substantial, this music is both fun and intelligent.
Dott - Anna McCarthy (songwriter/vocals/guitar ), Laura Finnegan (bass/vocals ), Miriam Donohue (guitar/vocals ), Tony Higgins (drums ) - will launch Swoon (Graveface Records ) with a show in the Róisín Dubh on Saturday November 9 at 9pm.
Following the melody
When Anna started Dott in 2012 she was determined to explore the sounds and forms that originally excited her about music and songwriting in the first place - notably melody and vocal harmony.
Anna originally came to attention as leader of heavy grunge/punk/hard rock band Blasterbra. Although the quartet impressed, Anna was left creatively unsatisfied.
“In Blasterbra I was putting myself under pressure to sound like a certain thing and fit the songs into a certain mould,” Anna tells me during our Monday afternoon interview. “In Dott it’s much easier to write than for any other band I’ve been in. I’m under no pressure to sound like anything else. For me, when writing, it starts with a melody and I take it from there. I’ve been writing this way for two years and it’s getting more formed and confident.”
Hearing a melody and having the freedom to chase it and see where it goes - in a sense doing what comes naturally to her as a songwriter - has resulted in the strongest set of songs Anna has yet written, and in Swoon, her and Dott’s most confident and assured work to date.
“When writing I start with a melody and as soon as I hear one, I start to hear others that could fit with it,” Anna says. “I record them on Garageband and there is the option to put harmonies on top of stuff so I tend to go a bit crazy.”
And the heavy guitar? “I love heavy guitar!” says Anna. “When we were recording the album we got much heavier. The producer Fiachra McCarthy [no relation] said if you want a big sound you have to beef up the guitar and make it louder. So it’s still pop, but with an abrasive sound.”
Anna is first to admit Dott is not a ‘one woman show’. She may be the songwriter but Laura, Miriam, and Tony are not there to just make up the numbers. Tony’s drumming provides the solid, assured, rhythm underpinning the songs, while Miriam’s guitar work adds colour and texture.
“I’m not a confident guitar player,” Anna admits. “I don’t think about playing solos or lines, so it’s always exciting to see what Miriam will come up with as she’s a terrific guitarist. That’s why I wanted her in the band.”
It is also fair to say that were it not for Laura, Swoon’s highlight, the emotion drenched, dense sounding shoegaze of ‘Talk To You’, might never have taken the shape it did or perhaps even appeared on the album.
“I recorded a demo of it and played it to the band and said ‘I’m not sure if I like it’,” Anna says. “We played it at a few gigs then put it away, but Laura said ‘I love it!’ and she wrote a bass line for the song that I really liked. Laura was insistent on putting it on the album.”
Laura’s insistance paid off and the band decided to include ‘Talk To You’ on Swoon, but its evolution was not over yet.
“We put the mics for the drums outside the studio and that gave the drum sound this lovely natural reverb,” says Anna, “and when I was recording my guitar part, I let this one note ring out into feedback and Fiachra suggested we play around with that as part of the song. Eventually it was mixed into the background and I love how it all came together. It’s not a typical Dott song, it’s much darker than what we usually do.”
With a little help from my friends
Swoon boasts an eye catching cover of a girl, against a crimson background and pointillist dots (appropriately ) wearing a wolf mask. The painting is by Galway based Swedish artist Cecilia Danell and is based on her self portrait Steppenwolf. However in this version, the artist has replaced her own red hair with brunette tones of Dott’s female members.
“Cecilia and I have worked together on various art projects over the past three and a half years,” says Anna. “So I knew I wanted her to do the album. She did the visuals and lighting for our first gig and was in the video for ‘Let’s Do It’. I had seen the self-portrait and emailed Cecelia asking her if I could talk to her about doing a cover. I turned up at her studio the next day and she had the painting done! She is such an amazing artist and it’s an honour to have her work on the album.”
The album work has been available to view on Dott’s Bandcamp page and has attracted some interesting speculation. “People say ‘Oh is it a girl with something to hide?’” says Anna. “I wasn’t thinking about that. I just wanted to use Cecilia’s artwork.”
Swoon is being released on US indie label Graveface Records. How did the association come about?
“Out of the blue!” Anna declares. “We got an email from Graveface saying they had heard our EP and were interested in doing something in America with us.”
This led to Button, originally a download only release, being released on coloured vinyl. Now comes the Dott album. The help of a label is proving Dott with invaluable inroads into the States as they will be part of a tour there in the New Year that will take in the prestigious South By Southwest Festival in Texas.
Never content to let the grass grow, Anna and Co have also recorded a number of new songs which are likely to be released, possibly as a second EP, next summer. “Or we might just go with a second album!” says Anna. “Our sound is changing again, so it’s great to have Swoon out now as a record of our sound at this point.”
Swoon will be available on CD and vinyl at the Róisín Dubh show. The album will be available to download from December 3. ‘Small Pony’ and ‘Start All Over’ from the album can be listened to at dottmusic.bandcamp.com