Simultaneously, the band started to be under a lot of strain. We knew it, and everyone around us was seeing red flags all around us. “You guys need to take a break. You’ve been on tour with each other 24/7 for four years. Just stop and do something else.” So it made perfect sense to me that this would be the time to do the solo project. When Ben offered to produce it, the stars just aligned. Any material that I had stashed plus a handful of new songs I had recently written were considered for the record. And I’m still working on it. I mean, the album’s not even half finished. I’m still writing new material and tweaking. As with every single project in my life, what was just going to be a simple album of quiet piano ballads has expanded into a complete explosion. Also, very in keeping with every project I’ve ever done, I’m finding that I want to get everybody involved. I’ve got my friends from all different bands doing things.
The range is cool. Zoë Keating from Rasputina played a bunch of cello. She slayed. And I’ve got some drums on there from Doni Schroader, who I know from . . . And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead. And then Ben’s bass player Jared Reynolds. Robyn Hitchcock is going to play slide guitar on a song. And I’ve got accordion and bass clarinet and the list is growing by the day. Ben plays too. Mostly we’ve been having fun with keyboards. He had this manic attack where he bought all these keyboards on eBay. It’s all this ’80s weird retro stuff that sounds really good on some of the songs.
After all that’s happened over the past year, do you still feel like a Boston band?
I think if a band still lives in town, then they’re a local band. And we’ve continued to do shit in town. I think it’s more a question of, wherever I am, I’m going to be doing shit. And if I’m in Boston, which is where I live, I’m going to do shit in Boston. And there is a difference between that and saying “I think it’s really important to give back to the community.” Because that’s not what really motivates me. What motivates me is just liking to do things in the place that I’m in and liking the immediate effects that it has on my life and the lives of those around me.
Coming out of left field, playing drag bars, wearing make-up and all that, did you ever feel like part of a particular local scene?
If you do hang out at the Middle East every night, and you play in a really rock with a “w” band, then you’re going to be playing with a lot of the same bands on the same bills as part of a scene. With the Dresden Dolls, we don’t play just one kind of song. If every song were like “Coin Operated Boy” and that sort of campy cabaret style, we’d be stuck playing in drag clubs. But it really comes down to the flexibility of the music itself. I think what’s interesting is that after all these years of the band being around, people fail to recognize that fundamentally we’re a rock band, and that most of the music is rock music played with piano and drums. But it could just as easily be arranged for guitar and bass because they’re basically just three-chord songs. Or five chords if you add the bridge. But because we’ve dressed it up differently, the emotional effect that it has on people is enormous. That’s what happens when you put make-up on and put it in a theatrical context, which we don’t even really do a lot of.
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