Soviet Dolls is a cool cocktail: two parts rocker, one part young lady who makes YouTube videos. It's a delicious meld of synthetic pop served over organic rocks. But it's not the aural wrestling match you'd expect. The synthetics are roughed up nicely by the analogue, and the rock is made more accessible by the synth-pop technology and know-how. The resulting sound is slick and quick with a substantial, almost indie-rock kick and alternative darkness. Though this sound careens with a progressive texture and beauty, it's nothing scary or new — except maybe to the band itself, as it leaves the comfort of previous rock endeavors for the unchartered territories of the digital realm. It rocks, comrade.
The band has already released one self-produced, six-song CD and it continues to experiment in the studio and find its place on stage. The trio — Matt Cavallaro, synth and guitar; Stephen Quinn, bass and vocals (he and Cavallaro previously played in the rock outfit Merlot); and 18-year-old chanteuse Hannah Gouldrick, vocals; — sat down to talk about it. An edited transcript of the conversation appears below.
CITY: So you guys come from a rock 'n' roll background. What gives?
Stephen Quinn: It was totally different than this. This is actually a new universe for us, which is cool, because when you get older and you're doing music, you sometimes stick to your roots. We started this thing to get out of our comfort zone and it's been a real cool experience.
Did it feel strange or alien?
Matt Cavallaro: Not at all. Steve and I always shared a love for electronic music.
What precipitated the plunge?
Cavallaro: A big part is the simple advances in technology, where you can have a midi or a computer and write a really legit-sounding song. Before it was two guitar players, a bass player, and a drummer and that's what you were working with. With this, the sky's the limit. We can write what we want, we can do what we want, we can expand.
But Soviet Dolls isn't purely an electronic entity.
Cavallaro: When we recorded in the studio we tried to use as many organic instruments as we possibly could. We did use our share of software, but we also used real piano. It sounds better. And recording electronic stuff and using the software was totally new to us. Before when we went into the studio we were mic'd up and played.
How do you maintain your organic quality in a non-analogue setting?
Quinn: I think a lot of techno is intentionally robotic sounding. For us it's a blend of both. There are a lot of things in electronic music that I don't hear and would like to hear — grittier drum sounds, stuff that went the way of the dinosaurs after the 90's, that can really be well-integrated with modern stuff and give it a kind of edge, give it more of an identity. If you play a track and you have a kit sound and you really like it, and you add some dirt to it, make it sound a little bit trashy, and you throw it over something really pretty. That contrast — often it seems it's either all or nothing — it's either rugged or really pristine sounding...
So it's an unlimited palette?
Quinn: That's the attraction for me. It opens up all these doors instead of, "You've got five instruments, do it." When you have a palette like this you start using things you never thought you'd use in a song.
What's your musical background?
Hannah Gouldrick: I don't really have a musical background. My family isn't that musically inclined, you could say.
Quinn: We saw her on YouTube doing cover songs. I was amazed at the fact she knew Jeff Buckley.
Cavallaro: There was an old soul in there.
Quinn: When I was a teenager, I was a total fuck up, doing whatever I wanted. It was nice to be surprised and see someone that was really into it.
What do you veterans have to offer?
Gouldrick: The transition from the studio to the stage, the live aspect, learning how to use my voice. I'm not shy.
Cavallaro: She's just a little green.
Why a female singer?
Cavallaro: I tried to do a vocal when we first started this project and it just didn't fit. The gritty rock vocal didn't sit well.
Quinn: Matt and I are like babes in the woods here. We don't know what is the best way to get everything out and get your point across and sound right. It's coming together and it's exciting. It's humbling, too.
When can we expect a record?
Cavallaro: We've just been so immersed in getting the live thing out. With rock music you almost don't want it to sound like the record.
Quinn: Right now the challenge is blending both. You're basically painting a road map before you get up there, then you're playing the roadmap. We're trying to find the malleable aspects of the tracks live.
Were people that know you as rockers surprised with this direction?
Quinn: They were expecting a rock record. They weren't expecting this. I don't know if that's good or bad.