Making Rock Cool Again: A Conversation with DOROTHY

DOROTHY © Kristin Cofer
DOROTHY © Kristin Cofer

Rock ’n’ roll will never die. It is a timeless genre built from the rebels and rule breakers of their generation. The Rolling Stones; Elvis Presley; The Beatles. What did all of these artists have in common? They did what no one else was doing, with the sole intent of creating music that caused their listeners to feel. Whether it be feelings of empowerment, relief, belonging, courage, or hope, these artists and their music ignited a flame in the masses.

The innovations made by the greats had the power to create lasting changes in mainstream music. They dared to make a statement.

Los Angeles-based group DOROTHY does just this. A rock band fronted by (and named after) powerhouse vocalist Dorothy Martin, DOROTHY includes drummer Zac Morris, guitarist Mark Jackson, and bassist Gregg Cash. They embody all of the qualities of southern rock in its most dangerous of forms. Imagine a Gin Wigmore-fronted Led Zeppelin: DOROTHY perform straight from the most clandestine corners of the soul, and it is quite evident that they put everything they’ve got into their songs.

Listen: “Wicked Ones” – DOROTHY

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In an age where feminism is the topic at large and women have begun to receive appreciation for all their significant contributions to society, this female-fronted rock group is yet another step towards progress. In the male-dominated music industry where superficiality sells records, femme fatale Dorothy Martin brings good looks and a powerful message to her fans. Substance first. It is important to rely on the qualities that define you as a person worth listening to.

Dorothy EP - Dorothy
Dorothy EP – Dorothy

Mainstream music has changed drastically since the reign of rock ’n’ roll. Today, rock ’n’ roll is regarded as “vintage.” It is not played on Top 40 radio or in mainstream media outlets. It is still ever-present, but it is not given nearly enough of the attention that it deserves.

DOROTHY certainly make a statement as the female-fronted group to give rock music the comeback it needs. Signed to Roc Nation, the label founded by Jay-Z himself – the king of mainstream media and the artist’s truest advocate – DOROTHY have discovered and earned their avenue to success, and an opportunity to bring rock ’n’ roll back into the spotlight.

We had the opportunity to Skype with Dorothy Martin about her personal life, her tour alongside Miguel, the juxtaposition of her band on the Roc Nation roster, and just how they are giving rock ’n’ roll its long-awaited comeback, a feat that they had never intended on doing. Here it is: Atwood Magazine’s exclusive interview with DOROTHY!

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DOROTHY © Kristin Cofer
DOROTHY © Kristin Cofer

A Conversation With DOROTHY

Atwood Magazine: I’m honored to be able to talk with you. When I was asked to cover an artist I really vibed with, I immediately said I needed to interview you guys, so thanks so much for agreeing to do this.

Dorothy: Oh awesome! Well it’s only me right now, the rest of the guys are sick from Japan.

Oh no worries, is that where you're calling from?

Dorothy: No, we just got back yesterday.

And you’re from southern California, correct?

Dorothy: Yes.

Ok awesome me too, I’m just here in New Orleans for school.

Dorothy: Ooh thats my favorite city!

Aw really? Actually, before I came to school here, when I was still in California, I saw you opened up for Miguel here on his Wildheart tour, and then as soon as I got here for school, you all played a few shows in Ventura and LA where I'm from and I was so bummed I couldn’t be there for those too.

Dorothy: Well, you’re not too far from Hollywood – we actually have a show there this Saturday the 19th. We’re playing the Swinghouse Studios Christmas Party, so bring whoever you like!

That’s so perfect, I’ll be home for the holiday break on Thursday, so I’ll be there. So, I just want to start off by asking, has music always been the goal for you?

Dorothy: Well yeah, when kids say like, “I wanna be a firefighter when I grow up,” I always wanted to be a singer.

And you couldn’t have known for sure that your music was going to take off like it did. With a look and a voice like yours, you could have easily taken the pop diva route. I mean, after all, LA is the place for that kind of music to take off. So why rock music?

Dorothy: Well, it’s funny you say that. I didn’t really choose rock music when I got in the studio with Mark (Jackson – guitar) and Ian (Scott – our production partner).  We just started writing whatever we felt to be as true to ourselves as possible. We didn’t really have an agenda; we just wanted to see where the music took us.  And it’s funny that you say pop and all that. I have really strong opinions about all that, and the reason I’m doing this and why I feel so honored to be doing this – I take a lot of pride in being a female who fronts a rock band in a male-dominated industry where women more often than not are seen as sex objects, portrayed strictly on sex appeal and their looks.  Which is fine, but there has to always be substance behind it, and for me that comes first.  And also, there are a lot of artists with good songs and a good production team around them, but not necessarily working on writing their songs, which for me is my goal – to be the best songwriter I can be and to communicate and connect with fans.  I just think a lot more girls should step up and not be afraid to be the captain of their own ship – which is something I never saw myself doing, yet here I am – and it’s just really empowering and gives me a lot of joy and hopefully inspires everyone else as well.

I take a lot of pride in being a female who fronts a rock band in a male-dominated industry where women more often than not are seen as sex objects, portrayed strictly on sex appeal and their looks

Oh of course, and a lot of bands out there are trying to bring rock 'n' roll back into the spotlight - what do you think it is about DOROTHY that allows you to become the group that’s actually doing it? Do you think it has to do a lot with the whole idea of empowerment and you captaining your own ship? I feel like people really resonate with that.

Dorothy: That could be part of it.  It’s funny that you say that we’re bringing rock and roll back.  A lot of people have been saying that.  That’s not something we ever claimed to be doing, but it’s very flattering to hear from people in general.  It’s never been gone, and music goes through waves and stages, and rock has never been dead, but you know, everything has its golden age.  But rock’s always there! Just because the radio or certain outlets are not pushing certain types of content doesn’t mean it’s not there.  As a fan, you get to go discover it and find it, and it’s so cool when you find something really new and interesting.  We didn’t really set out to do any of that.  Our stance has always been just to write good music.  And hopefully we’re doing that.  I’m always my worst critic and I’m always pushing myself to be a better songwriter, and I worked really hard to be what I hope is a good enough singer for this, but I wasn’t always.  And this is my passion and my dream.  You can do as much training as you want, but if your heart’s not in it, and you’re not passionate about it, then it doesn’t matter.  And that’s our number one priority – making good music and connecting with people.

And with the music that you write - is there anyone specifically you’re trying to reach out there?

Dorothy: Anyone and everyone!

Watch: “Raise Hell” – DOROTHY


Especially after seeing your Thanksgiving music video for “Raise Hell,” it seems like your music is just wild, and by the end of a show you just leave absolute chaos behind you. Is your music so far a pretty accurate representation of you as a person? Have you always been kind of a rule-breaker?

Dorothy: Yeah. Well. So I was always a difficult child. I never felt like I fit in, I was painfully shy and insecure, and blah blah blah whatever.  I was just rambunctious and my mom said I was always running around, but now that my job is to be in a rock band, it’s a perfect fit for me.  It’s really rewarding and fun.  I don’t think I would be able to sit still in a cubicle or take orders from someone else.  You know, I like being really creative and being in control – from designing album artwork to helping direct photo shoots – and the collaboration on the music video.  We worked with a really amazing talented group of students from USC and this girl Emma.  She was so cool, like if I had an idea and I’d be like, “Oh, you should take the cranberry sauce and make a mohawk.”  Like little things like that, it’s cool when someone allows you to throw your two cents in.  But yeah, it was really cool to work with them.

Is that how Thanksgiving dinner really was for you?

Dorothy: No, I had Friendsgiving with my best friend Grace and a really food friend of mine Efren Ramirez – he’s a very talented actor, he was in Napoleon Dynamite. *laughs* We were all running around in our onesies and I just found out Efren plays the violin so there he was in a unicorn onesie playing a violin, so yeah it was a very interesting Thanksgiving.

Who was he in Napoleon Dynamite?

Dorothy: He played Pedro! Vote for Pedro.

No… that is so funny.

Dorothy: He’s one of my dearest friends.

That’s honestly incredible. That’s one of those movies where people either don’t get it or it’s their absolute favorite, and my family and I absolutely love that movie so that’s so funny. So anyways, this year in music, a ton of great albums have been released. Are there any artists in particular that you’re currently listening to?

Dorothy: *sighs* You know, I listen to so much vintage music like the Bee Gees and AC/DC and whatever, but the Lazaretto album from Jack White was really good and they kicked ass on my birthday at Coachella, so that was a really good experience.  And as far as newer artists… This is always a really hard question because I’m always listening to older stuff.  I mean The Weeknd, duh.

Oh yeah of course, did you see them too at Coachella?

Dorothy: Yeah I caught like the first song and ran into his producer at an afterparty which was cool.  I didn’t actually get to meet Abel, but I really like that they’re paying respect to Michael Jackson.  He’s one of my all-time favorite artists, and that’s because his intention behind music was to change the world for good.  So I like when artists pay homage and respect to the greats that were huge influencers.  Lemme look at my Pandora and see what I got going on here… Hmm… newer artists – Francesco Yates has this really cool track.  I like the “Change the Channel” song and he’s working with Pharrell which is cool, I like him.  This is a hard question.  I listen to Sade and Salt-n-Pepa and Van Halen. Next question! *laughs*

Well, back to your music, for the EP that you released a couple months ago. If you had to choose one song on that for people to listen to, which one would it be?

Dorothy: Hmm… all of them, but –

No I seriously love all of them so much, but just by like a hair, “Wild Fire” would have to be my favorite.

Dorothy: It’s like a bluesy, cracked-out freight train hits you. I like that one a lot, and we don’t perform it nearly enough.  It’s very vocally challenging, but I’m up to the challenge.

Listen: “Wild Fire” – DOROTHY

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Yeah it’s crazy, it’s so cool.

Dorothy: I also really like “Gun in My Hand” because it’s really organic and we actually had someone come in and play harmonica.  It’s a different color than the rest of the music on this album that’s like a heavy punchy rock.  And then of course “Raise Hell,” our single.  I love that one.

It’s so good. That was actually the first song I heard from you when Miguel posted a picture of you guys from the tour. I was intrigued, so I looked up your music and became an instant fan after hearing that. Are there any particularly significant stories behind any of those songs on the album?

Dorothy: Well, “After Midnight” was our first rocky type song.  Mark, Ian, and I wrote this really dreamy type of song called “Gypsy Soul” that didn’t make the EP, but it felt very festival and alt-rock to us.  But “After Midnight” came out, and that was harder because the structure that we had at first wasn’t working, but then Ian changed one little thing and all of a sudden it had this melody that came to me right away.  Just him changing that one little thing opened this whole new song to us and it came out really fast and we pretty much had it done by that day.  The ones that have more stories are gonna be on the album.

Are you allowed to say when that’s coming out?

Dorothy: Definitely early next year! It’s about time!

Yeah, I cannot wait. And if there was one takeaway you want your fans to get after listening to your EP, what would that be?

Dorothy: I’d want them to feel pumped, you know? Like I just want them to feel good.  If that’s your workout mix, cool.  If that’s your road trip mix, cool.  We just want you to feel good and have a good time.

And if you could have this EP land in the lap of one person, dead or alive, who would you want it to be?

Dorothy: Oh mannnn, that’s a good question! The kid out there who needs it the most.  And that’s no name, no face.  Just the kid out there who it’s gonna change their life completely, and they might be going through something really bad, and this would inspire them to leave the town they’re in or the situation they’re in.  For example, women who don’t feel empowered that are in abusive relationships that need that extra “I can do this.  I can move past this and get out of this.”  That person is the person who needs it the most, and that’s who I would want to have it.

So, as for you being the only girl in a band with three men, what’s that like for you?

Dorothy: *laughs* They’re disgusting! It’s fun, too though.  I grew up an only child, so it’s like having a bunch of brothers, and Mark is like my older brother.  He always has my back.  There has not been a bar fight yet, but if there was, he’s like my guitar player/producer/bodyguard.

Would you be the one to start that bar fight?

Dorothy: Mmm.. who knows.  I’m a lover not a fighter.  Well, that’s not true.  I’m a warrior who’s a lover!

Ok, that’s fair, that’s fair. And back to what you were saying about Ian changing that one part of the song and the rest just coming to you - Did you have a lot of those conscious “Aha!” moments where you realize you know what you have to do and how to let your momentum carry yo, like, What we’re doing is awesome and people are gonna take this seriously.

Dorothy: Oh yeah, I don’t know if people will necessarily take us seriously.  I don’t know what their reaction is gonna be like, but we know when something feels right and when it feels good.  And when it’s forced and you’re overthinking it, that’s when I feel like the magic gets lost.  When it’s just an “Aha” moment, it feels very magical.  I have a really great mentor – her name is Linda Perry – she’s incredible.  She taught me never to second guess yourself, never to get in your own head too much.  Just let the music flow to you and through you.  It was a really amazing experience we had with her where we were writing a song and I went to Whole Foods to get a coffee, and I came back and they already had a song written.  It’s such a rockin’ song, we have to record it still.  It just felt so much fun, like she was just sitting over there bashing away at the drums, smiling and laughing.  The melody kinda came first, you’re just mumbling nonsense and then you can put lyrics to it later.  But yeah, those experiences are priceless and amazing and really connect you with other human beings. 

So are you constantly writing new music and sporadic ideas or do you and the band consciously set aside time and sit down and are like, It’s crunch time. We gotta crank out some new music by the end of the day.

Dorothy: Well, we do both. ‘Cause everyone has a life and a schedule, so whenever we are here, Mark and Ian and I are like, “When can we get in the studio?” And Linda is very busy obviously, but we always wanna write with each other.  Like I’ll be in the shower or brushing my teeth and I’ll be like “Oh!” with a new idea that comes to me and I’ll have to go write it down or tell someone.

Ok, now I have to ask. Because Miguel is my all time favorite male artist and I think it’s incredible you got to work together on the Wildheart tour. I mean there has to be some crazy stories from that tour.

Dorothy: Well actually, that was right around the time that I got sober.  And it’s hard at times, but I feel really good now. I wasn’t out partying and going out every single night, but we did have a lot of fun times, and Miguel’s great.

What was your favorite city on the tour?

Dorothy: New Orleans for sure.  I love the Southern Gothic style there and all of the haunted ghost stories of the city.  It was incredible.  And I loved the Chicago show.  That one would probably have to be my best performance.

And by the end of the tour, what was the first thing you guys did?

Dorothy: We were exhausted.  We all had a case of the post-tour blues so I just sat around and watched a lot of Netflix.  But now we’re in a really high place.  We just went to Japan with Skull Candy, and it was an incredible experience.  I’m just so happy to be a part of such a great company.  And I got to see Japan: I got the best sushi of my life, the people are so respectful, and the culture is amazing.  I got to see that temple where I wrote down some prayers and threw some coins into this area of the temple where you release your prayers.  I always seem to have these amazing spiritual experiences on tour or when I travel.

That’s seriously incredible you get to do that. I feel like a lot of these opportunities go along with the fact that you’ve recently signed to Roc Nation, but what I’m wondering is how does it work out with the sound that you’re going for and then being on a label where people see it as a label with a lot of the Top 40 radio pop and hip-hop artists. Do you feel like it’s a risk putting yourself and your music out there with the idea in mind that there may be some significant changes in your sound in order to be mainstream?

Dorothy: There’s not gonna be significant changes in our sound unless it comes from us.  It’s a company started by Jay-Z who is an artist himself, so it’s all about being for the artist.  They’ve been really cool.  I think the reason Jay said, “Get her ass in my office,” was because he liked what we were already doing, so if the day comes where I ever feel suffocated, we’ll know.

There’s not gonna be significant changes in our sound unless it comes from us…

I’m not a musician myself, but I’m in school learning about the business aspects of the music industry, and it sounds like it can be overwhelming at times - Is there anything that you wish you could change or you could not have to deal with?

Dorothy: I used to get really stressed out, and our team has found out ways to better communicate.  I have a manager, George, and our assistant, Scott, has helped with scheduling, and that’s just on my end.  Then we have Roc Nation and their marketing department and people who are always very receptive and responsive to anything we may need.  Once it’s time to pull the trigger on the album, really breaking into radio helps a lot.  And the industry’s always changing, like even one of the girls at Roc Nation is like, “Radio’s not what it used to be.”  But it just depends, we’ll see when we put this album out, and at the end of the day it’s up to the fans because our music is for the people.

How long have you been working on this album?

Dorothy: We pretty much worked on it all of last year.

Does it sound like your EP at all?

Dorothy: It sounds like the EP, but with other shades of the rainbow in there.  The album’s turned in, like we have plenty of songs, but we’re still writing.  I’m not gonna put it out until I feel like it’s a diamond.  I don’t want people to hear just two radio singles on there and a bunch of album fillers.  I want every song to be good.  This is how I felt about Maroon 5’s Songs about Jane.  I wanna feel like every song on this record has something for everyone.

There’s no doubt in my mind that this is just the start of an incredibly fun career and journey, so seriously thank you so much for taking the time to talk with me. I cannot wait to come see you at the show in LA on Saturday.

Dorothy: Anytime! And good luck in school, enjoy New Orleans!  We’ll stay in touch so that next time I’m there, we’ll meet up and go ghost-hunting!

Watch: “After Midnight” – DOROTHY


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