Featured Artist: DOLLS + Fauxplay
May 20, 2016
We caught up with DOLLS - aka Nikki Milovanovic - to talk about her new album, life as an independent artist and meeting musical collaborators on Tinder.
DOLLS was born in 2009 as the irreverent by-product of a commercial pop career that was delivering hit singles across Canada, but not quite providing the appropriate outlet for all the darkness, diamond shards and sugar-free champagne that singer-songwriter Nikki Milovanovic was keen to expose.
Following two successful singles on a major label, the release of an EP, and supporting Flo Rida whilst leading the pop/hip hop group The Royal Society, DOLLS left the red carpet and relocated to London in favour of going independent - self-releasing her first solo album, 2013’s Secret Sulk through Ditto Music, who also helped her set up her own label, LOVE DESTRUCTRIX.
She has since released singles Limited LTD and Pedestal and been heard by international audiences on Rimmel London’s Moisture Renew lipstick advert, before last year joining forces with London dance producer Fauxplay (they met rather unconventionally, as documented by Ditto Music’s blog - using Tinder) to deliver 2015’s explosive Just Stop - which she described as a return to the female-fronted ‘fuck you’ anthems of the 90’s.
The two solo artists’ collaboration has since cooked up a synthpop storm; documenting incredible journeys through dark déja-vu landscapes of neon-lit late nights, making sulky sugar-coated slaps at less-than lovers, and forging fiercely iconic melodies. The duo’s début album EAT IT UP showcases a signature sound blending glitched-out beats, snarky synths, and clever lyricism delivered by bitter bubblegum pop vocals in sensual purrs that are exactly as delicious as they sound.
Tell us about yourself and your music! How would you describe your sound?
I had originally found the DOLLS + Fauxplay sound difficult to explain; I’d previously said the vibe was like mashing up the museum scene from the ‘89 Batman with a French film noir culminating in a bonfire of old love letters, accented by exploding bottles of Chanel no. 5 - which was insane, but also fairly accurate. Since then, our work has become more refined and the resulting album more cohesive while still retaining its beautiful chaos.
This is probably stating the obvious, but I feel like there’s a massive difference between an album and just a bunch of tracks bundled together. An EP is like, “here’s a track, here’s a track, here’s another track - they are so catchy, right;” and many albums inadvertently wind up being an extension of that - my first album included. The difference for me is the artist’s ability to convey a storyline rather than a Choose Your Own Adventure - which isn’t always easy to do given the current appetite for rapid-release entertainment that blows up one minute and we’re bored of the next.
So you’d say being independent is the best thing for an artist, in appose to being signed to a label?
There is a lot of pressure on mainstream artists to release hit after hit echoing previous material, which results in a lot of homogenous fast-food singles that are virtually indistinguishable from each other, and burnt-out, bored artists. I wanted to make fun filthy pop music, but pop music that wasn’t fluffy and inconsequential, which, #SorryNotSorry, a lot of shit out there is, and a lot of artists are encouraged to continue making it because of broader appeal and labels being desperate for something that sells more than Frozen.
I sound so bitter but I’m actually saying all of this with a really super adorable smile on - I’m delighted to not have anyone to report to and to release material that would never get greenlit unless it was accompanied by the strategic release of a sex tape! Imagine me blowing kisses right now.
You’re releasing your new album EAT IT UP through Ditto, which drops on Friday 20th May. What’s the story behind it?
EAT IT UP definitely has a story - it’s a record that grows up track by track. Always Waiting kicks off with a very ‘thanks-for-last-night-in-Paris’ hangover vibe and is the only track that showcases a passivity of waiting, even when accompanied by threats of arson. There is a distinctive change from track to track, as though decisions are being formed and rules are being broken, until the title track hits and we are not in Kansas anymore. Eat It Up is really the point where, for me, it becomes a sweet little slap in the face to the contrast between the real and the fake that we’re all living with - like these perfectly airbrushed Instagram lives versus their realities, and isn’t it all just so fucking fabulous - click LIKE!
It’s no coincidence that the title track is the only one on the album with explicit lyrics, which are also the hook, so I get to shout it out like 10 times - it's a backlash at the fact that on a major label they’d lose their minds if I put this forward because it wouldn’t get any airplay, so "there’s NO WAY you’re making this the title track." I don’t expect people outside the music business to get that and it probably doesn’t sound all that controversial, but in my experience of making commercial pop it’s like, ‘be as risqué as possible while never overtly being offensive;’ and so to me, getting to shout ‘fucking fab’ on repeat is super-cathartic while simultaneously rejoicing in never being obligated to give any more fucks.
We’re loving the first single In Control - what was your inspiration for it?
In Control has gotten a lot of attention in advance of the album’s release, and it’s really contradictory - like a gritty, but blasé kind of true love - the kind of track you’d imagine Amazing Amy from Gone Girl coming out with. The concept of wanting someone but equally wanting them ‘to pay’ for mistreating you is something I think many people can relate to, but few will admit. Most of the madness that accompanies falling in love is down to power games, playing unfairly and secret plotting, but those exact same things often drive desire and can be quite seductive. I wanted the video to reflect that contradiction while also playing up the ‘multiple-personality’ element of the person you love also being the one who’s most capable of causing your destruction - through the medium of romance.
The original idea I had in art directing the video was to show the glamourous unglamourousness behind the glossy vocals. Making EAT IT UP has been a complete labour of love; we had no budget and no financial backing, so, naturally, it seemed ideal to make In Control the first video where I’ve intentionally presented an ‘unstyled’ DOLLS - pincurls are normally fluffed into voluminous Veronica Lake waves, and despite the wet-look lycra, I’m wearing a homemade skirt and ripped tank top. I shot and edited it, and wanted the styling to echo the ‘penniless artist’ reality instead of aiming to fake like we’d had a huge budget, and in doing so it also presents a secret glimpse of the real - behind the fantasy relationship, just like how in displaying maliciousness and making someone you love pay, you’re exposed.
This whole album is about self-inflicted exposure and showing off the hesitation marks. It’s fucked up, but it’s delicious.
You originally met your collaborator Fauxplay through Tinder; was that a weird experience?
I was way less freaked out by meeting through Tinder than by the prospect of meeting a potential collaborator. I mean, you can just leave a bad date, but collabo can be like handcuffing yourself to someone who drives you all the wrong crazy - which is a billion times more soul-destroying than a five-week fling with an emotionally-stunted investment banker. Going into a collaboration but retaining your status as a solo artist is a bit weird for people, because they’re used to bands and groups and so on, but there’s so much both of us want to do in so many genres, it’s like “I can’t be your forever, but let’s bash this out and see what happens.” …..I literally this second realised that maybe I am doing a subliminal dating-to-music crossover - someone fetch Freud, have him confer with my Medium and get back to me through Tarot!
After leading pop group The Royal Society to commercial success in Canada, then relaunching as a solo artist in London in 2012, how was the process of easing back into a partnership?
I always prefer an ‘it’s complicated’ status! Having been solo for so long, we both had our own way of doing things. I was prepped for a proper power struggle, but it wound up being more chilled than I expected – as chilled as one can be when sprinting back and forth between writing, recording vocals, vibing, bitching, changing arrangements. When we finished Just Stop it was like, ‘oh, it wasn’t that scary, and it’s kind of amazing. Let’s do more. THE PEOPLE NEED AN ALBUM!’ Essentially I feel like a Filthpop missionary who’s just done something really generous that benefits everyone. Are you visualising the nail-painting emoji? Perfect.
DOLLS + Fauxplay’s new album EAT IT UP is available now on iTunes, Tidal, Google Play, Amazon, Deezer, Rdio, eMusic, Spotify, Shazam, 7Digital and other leading music stores.
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