An Interview with One-Eyed Doll: Trick Or Treat

Ghosts, witches, monsters, and serial killers—what more would you need to prepare for the haunting season? From tongue-in-cheek songs about dating vampires to an entire album dedicated to the Salem Witch Hysteria, the members of One-Eyed Doll are heading our way to put us in the mood for a rockin’ month of horror. And, as someone who lives in a perpetual Halloween, I’m ready to break out the pumpkin coffee and decorate while grooving to these creepily adorable rockers.

Known for her weird hats and electrifying performances, Kimberly (guitars/vocals) and her partner-in-crime, Junior (drums), are packing their props and instruments—ready to set out on a country-wide Halloween tour. One-Eyed Doll has captured the hearts of various groups from Goths to punks to those who just love that macabre and humor potion.

Think Tim Burton’s whimsical worlds, only with Michael Myers and a few other favorite horror movie murderers thrown into the mix. And while speaking with Kimberly and Junior, they explained how they create that perfect brew of horror and humor that fills that Halloween-depraved place in our hearts during the rest of the year.

Your Halloween tour starts off on September 18, right? How’ve you been preparing?

Junior Sewell: Well—

Kimberly Freeman: We do a rock squat!

JS: Well, we have to do a lot of promotion on Facebook and stuff like that and basically…

KF: I built an entirely new website to sell tickets actually, because this tour in particular, we’re selling the tickets to the shows directly to the fans. Generally, when you go to a show and you pay, the ticket covers the show. That’s the money that the venue is making for the show and then they might pay the band a certain amount or fee for their performance. But it’s not like we’re making any money off of the tickets, but we just want to make sure that the fans have access to the shows. Sometimes it’s really hard to find the tickets to the show that you wanna go to. There are all of these different websites that sell them and it’s hard to know what’s legit. So, we just put it all on our website, you can buy them directly from us, it’s really simple… But I’ve been working a lot on that. And I had to build an entire new site in order to deal with tickets, so I’ve been really, really busy with that. And then I also design all of the merchandise and so, lots and lots of graphic design… And promotions and press and all that kind of stuff. And! And rehearsals (laughs).

JS: I think we’ve had two so far.

KF: Yeah, yeah—so we’re getting started on rehearsals and yeah! Getting all of our gear lined up and it’s just kind of like 24 hours a day at this point until we leave for tour. Because we don’t have people doing that kind of stuff for us. We do all of that work ourselves (laughs).

Wow. No time for sleep there, I guess. You make the merch, design the website, write the songs—honestly, how do you manage it all?

KF: Yeah! I don’t know. I think it’s like this: when you have a job, you work your job, and then you go home, and you have the rest of the day off. And you might have one or two days off in a week. But when you’re running your own business, it’s just all encompassing. So, I’ll be up at 3 a.m. doing art—our web design, our graphic design, or other stuff. Whatever it is that we need to do. And I’m not gonna let myself go to sleep until I accomplish the task. So, it’s just the difference between having a job and running your own business. When you’re doing it yourself, there’s nobody else who’s gonna pick up the slack for you. You just gotta do it all no matter what it takes and everything else comes second, like a social life and things like that… So, you know, I just kind of spend my whole time working! And when I’m not doing that, I’m writing songs. The actual music part of all of this is my leisure. That’s the fun part.

I’d hope that’s the fun part!

KF: Yeah! That’s the reward for all of the work, is being able to do music (laughs). It’s funny, because you’d think it’d be the opposite, right? But somehow, we have lots and lots of music to show for it. I think, as much as we work, just any relaxation time, we’re making more music—we’re hungry for it.

Do you have any songs that are brewing right now?

KF: Oh yeah. Lots and lots of new songs. I guess I’ve been writing a lot on piano lately.

That’s interesting… And you didn’t grow up wanting to be a musician. You were more into philanthropy—until you realized you liked performing when you were in China. You guys are so good; did you have any prior experience in music?

KF: I went to a religious high school and there was a choir and I was in the choir, so I think that was probably my first experience with music. Just being in the choir. And we’d sing hymns… And actually, it’s kind of interesting. My choir teacher was about the age where she experienced a lot of the cool ‘20s, ‘30s, ‘40s music and she threw in some of that stuff. So I think that probably had a lot of influence on me. I was just remembering it the other day—you know, like Andrews Sisters kind of stuff. I guess she was my doorway to that. But yeah! My first music experience was a mixture of that style and choral, religious music in the choir. And I never really thought about it. I just took choir because it was the elective that I needed and I didn’t really focus on it or, I didn’t really think it was my thing. But it was a nice break from the day. Studying and all that. Especially where I was going to school, I had to be constantly memorizing the Bible, so it was nice to get away from that a little bit. But I did enjoy it and I started singing years later when I lived in China and then when I got back to the U.S., I started figuring out how to perform. Playing open-mic night and stuff like that and then I got more into it. You’re probably the first person that I told that stuff to.

That’s so sweet—I had a similar experience, so I get it. How did you get to play guitar and piano?

KF: Ah! Cool! And, well, I had a few months of piano lessons when I was a kid, but they canceled it (laughs) because I didn’t practice correctly. I guess I was a songwriter from the beginning because what I would do was, I would go to my lessons at this lady’s house—another churchmouse—and she would teach me the little things out of the book like, “Jesus Loves Me” or whatever. And I would go home and wait for everybody to leave and write music on the piano. And I would just have all of this stuff. It was kind of my way of venting and expressing, but I had these entire pieces that I had written that I never showed to anyone. And then I would get in trouble because I would come back and hadn’t practiced anything that she had told me and then I’d be like, “Oh, but I wrote this song, wanna hear it?” And she’d say, “No! That’s not what I told you to do!” And then I would get in trouble, but they ended up canceling the lessons on me because I guess they figured I wasn’t interested or something. And then I would never show anybody what I had written because any time I brought it up, I would get in trouble[…]

Aw. But I’m glad it’s out there now—I’m especially excited about your newest album, Witches. Where did the idea for that album come from?

KF: It’s funny because I had never really learned much about the Salem Witchcraft Hysteria. Obviously, that’s not something they would’ve taught me in my school because it’s not a positive nod to religion. It’s a pretty horrible, gruesome story about religious oppression and what it can do to people and how it can drive people to massacres. But yeah, they didn’t teach me that in school. And over the years, I saw Halloween movies about Salem and witches and all that. But I never really listened to it. And then at about the same time I was writing new music with Jason, we were doing all of this acoustic stuff in the forest, I came across—I don’t remember how—the story of Mary Easty, who was one of the people who was executed for witchcraft in 1692 in Salem. I kind of fell in love with her story and I was surprised that it wasn’t something I had heard before. And the more I researched, the more I wanted to know. And I wrote a song for her called “A Rope For Mary” and that was just a dedication to what she’d gone through. Just something to see through her perspective. But I couldn’t stop there. I just read more and more and more and I kind of get obsessive about these kinds of things sometimes, but I just spent a bunch of time researching the Salem witchcraft hysteria and the different people involved and man, it was fascinating! And the more I read, the more I wrote. I was just compelled to write more and more and it kind of just became this piece. It wrote out like one song—the whole album, if you listen to it from front to back, it sounds like just one song. It’s like a play or something.

Yes! It reminds me of a musical. And you mentioned before that you and Junior were out together writing. Do you guys usually collaborate?

JS: Usually Kimberly writes the songs like the music and the lyrics and then I come in afterwards and sort of produce the songs which includes being like, “Hey! Maybe you should put a bridge in that part,” or something like that.

KF: We usually collaborate.

JS: Yeah. This album I had a little bit more input in the music. If you heard “Prayer,” I wrote that little mandolin riff on there. And then this album has a lot of acoustic instruments on it. And that what we were… We were jamming in the Redwoods on a banjo and mandolin; it was just really cool using that, instead of our typical jamming on drums and an electric guitar.

KF: Yeah, music comes from so many different kinds of places and picking up an instrument that’s not traditional to the kind of music we usually make. It’s really inspiring. Because you just play in a different way and different melodies come out. But that’s kind of where Witches came from. And another album that came from mostly acoustic instruments was actually Break. Like, those songs are mostly acoustic guitar songs from my singer/songwriter days (laughs) and then we just made them into One-Eyed Doll songs. So, we had a similar thing with Witches, but we used a lot more of a variety of acoustic instruments in the writing of that. And we didn’t even know that we were writing an album at the time, we were just taking some time off. We lived in the bus at the time. For a long time, we’ve been touring and then between tours, we’ll just live in our tour bus in a parking lot, or wherever we can park it. And we found a sweet deal in the Redwoods so we took advantage and parked it there.

JS: Yeah, in the campground.

KF: For one month. They allowed us to stay for one month and that was it! But yeah, it was amazing. I grew up and I lived most of my live in the Northwest and the Redwoods are so special to me. They’re so inspiring and so, the music that we wrote for Witches, most of it was written there. And then we were living next to a junkyard in Northern Cali, which is where I discovered the story of Mary Easty and then the lyrics came and they fit really well in with the music.

Jamming in the woods! Perfect for that album. But going back to the fact that you make your own merch, I noticed that you have a few Edgar Allan Poe-inspired necklaces for sale. Have you considered writing a song based on his life, or stories? Maybe a record?

KF: Oh definitely. I’m sure that that’s going to happen.

Good! I absolutely love his work!

KF: I’m very inspired by him. I’ve been a fan since I was a little girl, so…

Awesome! I’ll be on the lookout.

KF: Aw! I’ll be thinking about you when I write it!

Yes! I feel special! So, since the tour is coming up, do you have a particular setlist?

KF: Yes (laughs)! And no, we’re kind of figuring it out a little bit now and we’re pretty liberal about our sets. A lot of times, we’ll come on a tour prepared with 20 songs, knowing that we’ll probably only be able to play nine or 10, but… We just enjoy all of them so much. But we’re kind of at a point now where we have so many songs that people know about, but we have tons of songs that people don’t know about. I think there are more than the ones that are out now. But it kinda makes it hard! It’s hard to decide what to play… I tend to gear more towards the more crowd interactive songs when on tour, which is why I play “Be My Friend” almost every single time because it’s a sing-along! And then we can get everybody singing along and it’s really fun! And I have my favorites, but I think we’re gonna do more new material than on the last tour. I think! We’ll see how it works out. We’re working on it right now… It’s a maybe, but we’re hoping for more new material than last time.

Awesome! New songs to learn. And I heard you used to switch things up on Junior while on stage—like change a lineup or play something totally different. Do you still do that?

KF: Ah, a lot of times, we go by feel. So, it’s like, whatever I feel, that’s what I decide to do next.

JS: Lately, we have been writing a list, but I don’t put a lot of trust in that. Sometimes, she’ll just start playing something else, so I really have to be on my toes. It’s like, “I don’t know, is she really gonna play that next song? Nope. Okay. Gonna play that song instead.”

KF: Yah! It’s like energy and vibes in the crowd… Well, okay. It really comes down to what I feel like doing. Like, “Oh, I really wanna play ‘Plumes Of Death’ next, so we will.” And a lot of times when people shout out, “Oh! Play ‘Monster,’” I’m not gonna do it if we hadn’t practiced it because we may screw it up! Sometimes I do, but it’s usually regretful. But I mean, really, there’ve been some doozies with that. But sometimes it goes really well and sometimes I’m like, “Wow, we shouldn’t have done that!” But yeah, it depends on my whim. But that’s based on how the crowd is interacting. You know, if it’s a really dancey crowd, then we’ll throw in some more dancey stuff. It’s different every night. And the last tour, I did start writing down a basic setlist because we’re bringing out friends to help us with the production. Like our friend Eric is on lights. So, he’s up there with his light board, pushing the buttons and making different lights go on according to what’s happening. I know it probably messes him up when I go off a little bit but, I’ve been trying to stick to the list a little bit more, but I’m not very good at it.

Hey, it keeps everyone guessing and surprised. What’ll you do once this tour is over?

KF: We’ll be working on the next album!

I’m dying to know what it is, but I don’t think you can tell me.

KF: (Laughs) Nope! But it’s still in the works. We’ve got stuff already recorded for it but we’re gonna be working it out and getting that ready for the next release and that’s going to be mostly what we’re doing with our lives.


Catch One-Eyed Doll on Oct. 4 as they roll into Webster Hall. Their new album, Witches, is available now. For more information, visit their site: