If you haven’t heard of Nikki Awesome or DOLLS, it’s time to get educated. This is a girl and singer with SERIOUS charisma, who will, musically-wise: KNOCK YOUR SOCKS OFF (seriously, I can’t stop playing ‘Erase You’ on repeat from her latest album, Secret Sulk). After grabbing the chance to interview the up-and-coming star, it was with much anticipation that I read through her answers, and BOY did I laugh my pants off – because, if you didn’t know it yet, Nikki Awesome of DOLLS is one hilarious, cool girl. Refreshingly honest, coolly succinct in her answers and all-round awesome, this is a musician who makes for one brilliant interviewee…
Q1. Has it always been music?
A.’I was always into music and putting on shows; while other kids had lemonade stands I was choreographing lip synch routines to Madonna songs, spending hours ambitiously crayoning out hundreds of tickets, which I then (somewhat embarrassingly) tried to sell. If my parents had guests over I used to take the opportunity to perform for them, ambushing an audience by coming downstairs with my fringe dyed blue, wearing a tutu and banging stuff out on a keyboard. Somewhere there are tapes of me ‘hosting a radio show’ and singing Bowie’s Modern Love and Frankie Goes To Hollywood’s RELAX, so I guess it was, though I never had that fantasy of playing for crowds the way other people do.’
Q2. Tell us a little about your background and where you grew up – what were the bands and types of music that inspired you when you were younger?
A.’I grew up in Toronto, Canada and later to the suburbs, where I attended a performing-arts school and instantly became ‘the weird girl’ because everyone’s style there was very homogenous – I remember they all had matching tracksuits and notebooks, whereas I would go through a grunge princess phase one week and try candy-raver the next, so I don’t think anyone quite knew what to make of me. As an only child I spent a lot of time alone, usually brooding angstfully in my bedroom and playing guitar along to old records. My musical taste was shaped as much by Nirvana, Hole and Nine Inch Nails as it was by Salt-n-Pepa and Madonna. I loved Pulp, No Doubt, The Pixies, Daft Punk, and pretty much anything else I could get my hands on or could record off the radio, which I later wrote songs about. I stole records from my parent’s basement and loved Talking Heads, Bowie and Men Without Hats, but when I got into New Order and The Human League I felt really connected to a sound.’
Q3. How did DOLLS come about?
A.’I started DOLLS when I was still in The Royal Society (the pop group I headed in Canada) wanting to make tracks that were deemed less consumer-friendly. What I was writing and experiencing was really disconnected from what I was portraying in the group, so although we had a couple national hits, I needed another outlet. I’d played guitar and keys since I was a kid, but didn’t know anything about how to record except the bits and pieces I’d picked up in studio. I started writing the first DOLLS demos (loads of which are part of SECRET SULK) by tapping out the instrumentals on the keys of my computer and recording and re-recording vocals by singing at the computer – with no microphone. It sounds insane to me now, but when I first demoed stuff for The Royal Society I’d played my shitty little Yamaha keyboard through a Roland Cube amp while singing into my Motorola RAZR – they were all recorded like that. It actually wasn’t until last year that I even got a proper keyboard or mic.’
Q4. Why the name DOLLS?
A.’I’m forever accused of having multiple personalities, and the music I write is so erratically different from one song to the next, so initially DOLLS was this fantasy concept project; loads of different versions of me factory-pressed and churned out on an assembly line. I loved the campiness of Valley Of The Dolls, and was attracted to the prescription pill connotations associated with the word – there’s something very Alice In Wonderland about prescription pills, ‘this one makes you larger’ and all that – I used to collect old half-finished bottles of expired pills and just play with them (there are photos). I love the contrast of it being this pretty, sweet term of endearment juxtaposed with the danger element, which is a nod to the fact that my music sounds innocent bubblegum but can veer off into something quite dark and sadistic.’
Q5. Describe the kind of sound DOLLS brings to listeners?
A. ‘It’s like the synthpop stepchild of Depeche Mode, New Order and Madonna. London’s Hoxton Amp recently reviewed me and called it ‘fairytale smut’ which I loved, and I’ve often said it’s like Nine Inch Nails banging Madonna in the David Lynch motel.’
Q6. Who inspires you now?
A.’I’m really inspired by other artists who make bold choices and go against the norm. David Lynch, David Bowie, Trent Reznor, Lou Reed and Madonna have all influenced me, but I try to find inspiration from other eras to avoid nicking someone’s vibe entirely. I’ve always been really into the style of the 1930’s and 40’s, (Joan Crawford in Mildred Pierce, Bette Davis in All About Eve) but sort of remixed with rubber, splashes of neon and some industrial hardware; I suppose I am really hideously 80’s at heart.’
Q7. What’s your style like? Describe it by celebrity references…
Q.’Joan Crawford meets Judy Jetson.’
Q8. Who are your ultimate style icons?
A.’Anna Dello Russo and Karl Lagerfeld are pretty consistently incredible – Anna for her consistent evolution and willingness to be playful, and Karl who turns out pure genius time after time but remains constant to his style.To me, what makes a style icon is the ongoing commitment to be daring regardless of the looks one may receive for being ahead of one’s time, coupled with the ability to laugh off the critics. I mean, really, I love fashion, but sometimes people are soooo serious about it, it’s nice every once in a while to just wear something because you felt like inhabiting the role that garment gives you – for example, I went to Dorsia on my birthday in a dominatrix’s getup with a Clockwork Orange lash feature and a dog dollar under a lilac motorcycle jacket. I got loads of attention from people who were like, “what the hell are you wearing,” but I was adamant that on my birthday I was going to dress exactly to my mood – regardless of whether it would ‘blend in.’ I don’t tend to blend well.’
Q9. If you had all the money in the world what designer labels would you fill your wardrobe with?
A.’Gaultier, Gucci, Fendi, Rick Owens, Chanel and YSL (I refuse to say Saint Laurent. It’s practically blasphemous).’
Q10. What’s your favourite trend this season? Or do you not follow the trends?
A.’I love the brightly coloured pattered silk trousers thing – I bought some incredible high-waited fuchsia silk YSL trousers from Lovely’s Vintage recently. I’m also loving pearls, but have been for a while now – I just bought 30 metres of fake pearls for a costume I’m determined to make, but without my favourite designer-friend Jane Haselgrove (who made all my custom pieces in The Royal Society) it’s a lot more difficult, as I tend to be rather slapdash about things, and just throw things together while Tim Gunn shakes his head, disappointed from the sidelines. I always pick up ELLE Collections for inspiration, the fact that it’s basically a seasonal encyclopedia is helpful, and then I just mix it up to create my own take on the trends. If you’ve been a style-whore for long enough you usually have something that will work or option B is just to fuck the trends off completely, wear whatever you want and tell people it’s huge in Milan.’
Q11. Fendi or Chanel?
A.’I’d rather tear my arm off than decide. What kind of world would make you pick?’
Q12. Maison Martin Margiela or Celine?
A.’Since you’re forcing my hand here, I’ll take Celine, though I am not at all happy about their footwear trends at the moment.’
Q13. Heels or flats?
A.’I just counted 30 pairs of heels and five pairs of flats (two of which are trainers so they don’t count and one pair are Uggs, so they really don’t count); also I threw out 26 pairs recently, and the others are all on Asos Marketplace, so that’s basically me admitting to being a completely insane hoarder. I’m like a crazy shoe lady. They’ll find me eating frosting from the can, holed up with 40 pairs of Miu Miu wedges. Madness.’
Q14.Stage style – do you like to vamp it up when you perform?
A.’Oh, just a bit. I have to have a whole separate wardrobe for my costumes – which is also kind of beyond ridiculous because none of them have much to them. I was always reprimanded at jobs because I was perpetually dressed for a cocktail party, so it’s wound up making me pursue and adore a more fantasy-inspired aesthetic onstage; but don’t look for me in any meat dresses or anything. I’m less about making political statements with my clothing and more about fulfilling personal ambitions of creating Marie-Antoinette-meets-Robin-Hood-sans-pants. In North America trousers are called pants, so I used to call my stage style ‘no pants chic,’ but it seems to have different connotations in the UK… I’ve yet to work out whether it’s a good or a bad thing. Definitely a good bad-girl thing!’
Q15. If you could have dinner with any three people in the world (dead or alive) who would it be?
A.’The hardest part of this question is I find myself trying to think of who’d be a good match – like managing inviting those friends who can’t hang out with any of your other friends, and therefore ruin the entire evening. I think it would have been brilliant to have met Marilyn Monroe, as she seems like a good time. I’ll add Oscar Wilde and Dennis Hopper, and we’re only having Champagne and Walker’s Ready Salted.’
Q16. What three items would you take to a desert island?
A.’Because naturally I would have wicked survival skills and not need any kind of axe or anything to build my fabulous Swiss Family Robinson treehouse, I’m just going to focus on the necessities: enough camouflage-printed silk to kit out a wardrobe based entirely on the Destiny’s Child’s SURVIVOR video, Tom Hardy and the complete works of William Shakespeare.’
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