The more they resist classification, the more One-Eyed Doll seem to be appreciated. Singer/songwriter/guitarist Kimberly Freeman and producer/multi-instrumentalist Jason Rufuss Sewell have dabbled in punk, blues, metal, folk, electronica, and country. In 2011, the Austin-based duo set out for California for a recording session at the studio of veteran producer Sylvia Massy. They far surpassed their starting goal of six songs, and the subsequent record, 2012’s Dirty, was only the beginning. The release date for their next album, Committed, has yet to be determined, though they currently have more than enough to keep busy with as they set out on a tour with Otep.
In the interview below, Freeman and Sewell talk with the Aquarian about the differences between Dirty and Committed, the band’s approach to recording albums, and their unique sound.
How would you describe the different vibes of Committed vs. Dirty?
Kimberly Freeman: Well, Committed is the manic and Dirty is the depressive. So it’s basically a bipolar mash-up.
So they have to be taken together?
KF: Well, they balance each other out pretty well. I would recommend listening to them together. But Dirty is a lot more bluesy and it’s a lot more of our ‘70s rock influences. And Committed is more of the happy-go-lucky, silly One-Eyed Doll stuff that we’re typically known for. It’s like what you would probably expect to hear on the radio from One-Eyed Doll is the Committed stuff. Super shiny and rainbow-y bright. And Dirty is just dark and muddy—not muddy-sounding, but just dirty, it’s darker.
For these albums, you recorded both new songs and tracks that were already on previous albums. Why did you choose these particular songs to re-record?
KF: A lot of the songs that we redid are songs that we recorded kind of early on, like the Hole album and Monster. And they’re songs that I play live so much that they’ve kind of been developed and improved over the years, and they’ve just gotten louder and bigger and crazier. I wanted to have something that reflected more of what the live show feels like. And the way that we recorded Dirty was really more like the live show setting—we were in a room, playing guitar and drums together—really not your typical studio set-up. So it was really a lot more natural-sounding than we had done it before.
How do you think your approach to recording albums has changed over the years?
KF: When I first started recording, I was super scared and I didn’t know Jason yet. He was this scary mean-looking producer guy, and I wasn’t quite sure of myself yet as a musician or as a singer. I think that over the years, my confidence has grown, in working with Jason particularly, because he’s so encouraging and now we’ve done so many albums together that I feel a lot more natural in the studio than I was before, and I feel a lot more free to express myself. And that’s another reason that we redid those songs, because I felt like I could portray them more truthfully these days, with more confidence. That’s on my side of things, on the songwriter side.
Jason Sewell: Those are some of my favorite songs, the ones that we’ve redone. And they were originally recorded in my bedroom. Just a local, smalltime recording session, so when we had the opportunity to go to this legendary studio with this legendary producer [Sylvia Massy] and all of this amazing equipment, I think we both just really wanted to take some of our favorite songs and do them the right way.
Are there any elements of your music that you feel are often overlooked?
KF: Right now, our fans are pretty appreciative, and they actually surprise me all the time with how much they notice about the music. I think one thing that any singer-songwriter will tell you is that people tend to miss the point sometimes, and don’t see metaphor where there is metaphor. So, some of the figurative writing that I do goes over people’s heads a little bit, and they take it literally and, you know, people get offended by things. But, you know, any artist would tell you that being offensive is part of the process (laughs).
JS: I think that there’s an opposite reaction sometimes that I get. I kind of don’t expect people to pick up on things, and then they do and it really surprises me (laughs). We do a lot of things that I think are a little taboo, like being a punk/rock/metal-type band and then doing an electronic album. I kind of assumed that everyone would just hate us after that. But, surprisingly, a lot of people list those songs as some of their favorites of our songs. So, I’m encouraged by how open and supporting our fans are of everything that we do.
KF: Yeah, they kind of never know what to expect from us, ‘cause they know that we’re just going to do whatever we want, and not necessarily what they want (laughs). So, as an overall thing, they’ve become very open-minded.
That’s how you get ahead, isn’t it?
JS: It could be. A band like AC/DC can make very similar-sounding albums every time and everyone loves it for decades, you know.
KF: Honestly, we’d probably make more money if we just did the same thing over and over again because that’s the formula, you know, for rock bands to be successful. But we’re not really into formulas, we’re just into making music that we love, and sharing it with the world. I mean, we make music that we’re pretty sure that nobody else but us will like.
JS: We have some particularly strange things coming out.
KF: And it’s all coming out! And people can support it or not. And we’re really grateful for the people who do, but that’s not why. It’s nice to get that support, but it’s definitely not the formula for success.
JS: Yeah, most people don’t say something like this, but every once in a while you’ll see something that’s like, “Oh, One-Eyed Doll sold out! They made an electronic album!” And it’s like, “No, that’s the opposite of selling out.” (Laughs)
KF: We know this isn’t going to sell but we did it anyway! (Laughs)
What do you think of that assumption that electronic music is automatically “selling out?” Is it just because it’s not a “real person” playing?
KF: I understand why some people think that because they automatically catalogue electronic music with mainstream pop, because it’s kind of the same genre. So they automatically think of… I’m not going to name any names, but whatever the big pop stars are lately.
But the thing about the electronic album [Into Outer Space] is that my goal with this was to create really, really, really awesome pop/electronic music with intelligent lyrics. Because I don’t think that’s done a whole lot. I think Björk is amazing at it, there have been a lot of artists who have done pretty well, but you don’t hear it a whole lot. That was kind of the goal of that. That album is very meaning-intensive. And it’s a musical gem. You know, Jason played pretty much everything on that album.
JS: You mentioned, you know, that there wasn’t humans, but…
KF: Well, he is a drummer, so, not human…
JS: Right. (Laughs) But I actually played the keyboard parts with my fingers, and a lot of the drums I played on an electronic drum kit. It’s really still performance-based, rather than, like, clicking a mouse around.
KF: Yeah, it’s a lot more natural than you would think. We stay true to that for sure.
You have a reputation for a strong DIY approach to making music and involvement with fans. What do you think are the biggest benefits of this outlook?
KF: Honestly, I’ve done it so long just because I had to, because I didn’t have support for a long time. So it came naturally, I did what I had to do, and the payoff has been a very loyal fanbase who really feels like their active support makes a difference, because it really does. It’s fan-funded, that’s what it comes down to. Every download is a drop of gas in our gas tank.
And, of course, we’re running our own business, it’s just been really amazing to watch it grow and to know that every little bit of success that we have and that we will have has been from our hard work. And, you know, along the way we’ve gotten support from some really amazing people like Artix Entertainment [AdventureQuest Worlds, the video games that we’ve done with him] and Sylvia, and some others. It’s just been so rewarding, and I’m grateful for the process, even though it’s been a lot of hard knocks along the way that some other bands don’t have to go through, and that other bands go through for their whole careers. It makes me really grateful for everything we have.
JS: I really feel like we’re all on one team, not an “us and them” thing. One-Eyed Doll and One-Eyed Doll fans, we’re all together doing this one thing. Basically enabling us to all get in the same room in different cities across the country and hang out and party and have a good time and play music and, you know, dance together, and Kimberly can jump in the audience and mosh with everyone.
KF: Yeah, it’s just an honor to be able to do that. Like, that people actually will support me wanting to flail around on stage and record music with Jason… it’s just really neat.
JS: And it’s really cool to go to just every city in the whole country, and there’s somebody that we talk to on Facebook and recognize their face, and, you know, to get there and know that we’re all doing this thing together.
KF: Yep. Kind of family.
One-Eyed Doll will perform with Otep and Picture Me Broken at The Studio At Webster Hall on Sunday, March 31. Committed is due out later this year. For more information, go to oneeyeddoll.com.