‘Everyone’s secretly freaking out’ – Dorcha In Conversation

‘Everyone’s secretly freaking out’ – Dorcha In Conversation

Have you been wondering what to come as? The question is posed by the first track on Honey Badger, the new album by Birmingham’s Dorcha, out this Friday on Box Records. Following the nightmarish exploits of an introverted brain at an outlandish party, the album is a fleeting, anxiety drenched sprint across multiple genres – disco, grunge, pysch and jazz lunge at us from the darkness, often in the space of a single chorus – while mock operatic vocals jostle against jittery hep-cat poetry.

Weaving from room to room is the titular Mellivora capensis, a totemic emodiment of the the undercurrent of creeping, wobbling mania inside us all – the unknown part of us that sometimes seems to be pulling the strings. Whether you’re always in the kitchen or crying on the stairs, Honey Badger is the crucial party sound of 2020.

Recorded at Geoff Barrow‘s (Beak>, Portishead) Invada Studios in Bristol, the album, accompanied by a feature length art movie and Honey Badger arcade gameis astonishingly rich – an aural feast that leaves the listener reeling.

After a bit of a false start by e-mail, GiitTV  spoke to three of the band’s five members via the magic of Zoom to see if we could make sense of it. Anna Palmer (vocals, bass) and Meesha Fones (guitars, synth, bass, ‘bit of everything, really’) are in one place and Beth Bellis (violin, backing vocals) is in another.

CB: How are you all doing? Are you all in Birmingham?

Anna: I’m not at the moment. Me and Meesh are on a residency in Manchester at the Islington Mill. We’ve got a lovely table set-up at the moment. I don’t know if I can show you without breaking everything. Can you see?

CB: Yeah.

Anna: This is the breakfast table… (it is invisible under a blanket of electronic music equipment). We don’t need to eat.

CB: Eat music.

Anna: Yeah, for breakfast!

CB: So last week I was chatting to Beth by email but we hadn’t got as far as talking about the film so I wanted to start off by asking you a little bit about that. (Meesha appears beside Anna) Hello Meesha!

Meesha: Hello Colin! Good morning.

CB: The film sounds very ambitious. There are a lot of artists involved, right? Can you tell us about it?

Anna: Yeah, we always shoot high! We started off planning a live visual show. Then obviously we couldn’t do that so we thought, let’s put a bit more into the visual side of the album. So we’re working with our pals Brid and Stu from the band Matters. Beth made this great Pinterest board for every track and Brid added to that as well, so we’ve been sending that to our collaborators, along with lyrics and music, and asking them to respond. And then Brid and Stu are kind of piecing it all together for us. So it’s definitely not a narrative or anything like that. It’s not one person creating a feature length film for us. It’s multiple collaborators forming this patchwork quilt.

Beth: It’s worked out quite well because everybody’s coming back with completely different stuff but it seems to still be linked in a through theme. It reflects each track’s character quite nicely.

Anna: And we’ve learned over the years that if we find people that who do really cool work it’s great to just say, right, you run with this. And then more often than not when people are given that freedom they come back with awesome stuff so…

CB: How is it going to be available? Are you streaming it or what’s the plan?

Anna: Well before this all kicked off again we were talking about screening it in real life as well as an online event. But the way things are looking it’s most likely just going to be an online streamed event towards the end of this year. That’s not not to say we can’t do it in real life like when things are less of a headache. But we’re definitely gonna release a lot of the videos more widely because we want to show off our collaborators. I guess we’ll probably do it over time over the next year.

CB: I loved the the video for ‘Monkey Dust’.

Anna: That’s by IMPA TV who are actually where we are now at the Islington Mill. They live just across the way so we’re gonna see them this week.

Meesha: They’re offering a lovely massage.

Anna: Oh yeah, they’re offering massages! We’ve been seeing these posters around the Islington Mill from Isadora…

Beth: Meesh! Your dream is coming true! (Laughter) She’s been saying for the last couple of weeks, ‘I just need a massage’.

Anna: I had a text yesterday, like an ominous text, ‘so about these massages…’

Beth: (Comedy sleaze) Remember us from the video? Do you wanna massage us?

Anna: (Comedy begging) Yes please… (Laughs)

The other video that we just put out, ‘Last Minute’, that was a real punt on Beth’s part, because we found this guy Eric Tobua on Instagram and Beth was so nervous…

Beth: I was so nervous, because I had such a crush on his art stuff. But because he’s in Bangkok, in a different time zone, it was a real back and forth kind of thing, but it turned out it was totally worth it.

Anna: I’ve realised that’s that’s one of the good things about social media. Because I’ve always been a bit of a philistine about it.

Beth: I think we all have. But for this project and finding people, it’s like, thank god.

Anna: That a guy from Bangkok, who we’d never have never met otherwise has made a beautiful video for us – and he’s making another now – so that was a great, great shout out on Beth’s part.

CB: I don’t like asking people what the songs are about, because I get that it’s often a bit more complicated than that, but some of the songs on there, like ‘Bruiser’ and ‘Lizard’, are so vivid and they’re like these kind of weird Covid nightmares… is there any way you can elucidate what they’re about or how to approach them as listeners?

Anna: It’s weird you know, since listening to it post all of this, some of it does sound like it’s a response to being inside and trapped in your own brain. But actually that was all written before this happened – we’ve been trapped for a long time!

So yeah, we’ve talked a little about a bit about the kind of general thing of it being a bit of a journey of an introvert trying to navigate a lot of crazy social situations and how surreal everything becomes when you kind of have…

Beth: It’s not even just an introvert is it? It’s like everybody really. Everyone’s secretly freaking out. I think that was when we were trying to answer your questions by email, Colin, I was like, there’s so much to say! (Laughs) I was like what, we’re all, oh… it was like… yeah…

CB: Well, you only have to tell me like one bit of it and then you save the next bit for the next interview and it keeps everyone happy.

(Laughter)

Beth: It’s the journey of anybody who’s secretly having a bit of a meltdown.

Dorcha (L-R Meesha Fones, Euan Palmer, Beth Bellis, Stella Roberts and Anna Palmer – photo credit: Sam Wood)

CB: Are any of the songs about people you know?

Anna: Well, there’s some stories in there. I mean ‘Bruiser’ was originally about a dog attack but then it turned into something about how we judge and stereotype one another all the time. And then ‘Lizard’ is something a bit more elusive, a bit more shrouded in mystery, but kind of about sexuality.

Meesha: ‘Monkey Dust’, wasn’t it about the drug?

Anna: ‘Monkey Dust’ was inspired by a news article which popped up when I was writing the lyrics. I’ve realized now how much stuff is based on things that were in the media and stuff like that. So yeah, there was this street drug called monkey dust that was giving people superhuman strength…

Meesha: And spice.

Anna: Yeah, it was quite dark really, but I just thought what a ridiculous name for something that is really quite dark. So that kind of fitted the the line the lyrics were going down, which seemed to be about trying to find some inner strength in social situations when you just can’t find any words.

So yeah, there’s some that are about characters and people. But I purposely try to put a lot of ambiguity in it, because I don’t want to force too much meaning into it. I try to avoid being earnest as much as possible.

CB: Do you write all the lyrics, Anna, or is is a group effort?

Anna: I wrote the lyrics for most of it. Me and Beth worked together on ‘Hose’, which is just towards the end of the album but the other lyrics, yeah, I did the lyrics for the other stuff. It was fun working together on a track.

Beth: Particularly because neither of us knew what either one was writing about so eventually there was a big culmination and we were both like, ‘So what’s the crack with this one?’ In a very disparate way it made sense to us, but then when we came to trying to explain it was like… ‘Oh.’

Anna: It is what it is what it is what it is…

CB: Talking of ‘Hose’, the last few tracks in the album have this sort of morning after kind of feel to them?

Anna: (Fist pumps and excited shouting) Oh yes! Yes, Colin! That was intentional.

CB: So it becomes more reflective? And that’s part of the journey?

Anna: Yeah, definitely. It’s kind of shifted into three sections really. There’s the psych section at the start, which is a bit more psych and proggy. Then we get to like a mad disco weirdness in the centre and then it’s meant to fall away into this more dark, grungier thing.

Beth: Originally we were talking about doing three whole albums to illustrate each section, but once we started getting in the headspace of it all, it distilled itself into just one record.

Meesha: When we recorded and finished the album I still thought we were doing two other parts. So I was like fuck’s sake, c’mon, let’s go.

Beth: It just kind of went like this (makes squooshing noise) and when we finished recording there was still this idea, like, well when are we going to do the next one? And then actually it’s only coming back to it and listening to it now that I’m like, oh, it’s just a tiny, potted version of those three things! Yeah I’m with Meesh, I hadn’t really realized that’s what we’d done, completely unintentionally.

CB: It’s very cinematic as well, there’s a sort of three-act structure. It’s clever.

Anna: (chuckling) Yeah, we totally meant it all.

CB: I had a natural history question, because I happen to like honey badgers. The honey badger is a very interesting creature. It’s famously quite disgusting and savage, but also smart, resourceful, resilient… its blood is resistant to poisons and toxins and things like that. It sounded from the answers you emailed me that you see the honey badger in your songs as a bit of a villainous character. Is it a bit more complicated than that?

Beth: That’s why it was hard to answer – because it is more complicated. Across the album, the honey badger came to represent this weird, lurking character. You know that impulsive feeling you get sometimes? It’s not always necessarily bad – the thing that pushes you over the edge might push you into staying somewhere or talking to somebody that you’re quite scared of. It’s not necessarily a bad thing, but the very nature of having an unknown thing in your brain pulling the strings… and it’s an unknown quantity, which I guess makes it a bit more sinister, but as it’s part of everything and in everybody’s heads it can’t really be that sinister.

Anna: I think that’s the thing. The idea with the honey badger is that it’s a bit of a dark undercurrent in all of us, and actually that embracing the chaos and embracing that side of you is much more healthy than shunning it.

Beth: Also depending what you’re experiencing at the time, sometimes a different part of you has more control. Like, if you experience something really traumatic then it might be that it comes out to fight and push you through it.

Anna: Also, just the name honey badger is such a bittersweet juxtaposition because it sounds so cute and sweet but it’s really this vicious thing. It’s like Jekyll and Hyde.

Beth: Have you seen the film? I hadn’t seen it but when Brid was making the teaser for the album, she sent it to us. It’s called it Stoffel or something? Have you seen that clip of Stoffel the honey badger, Colin?

CB: In the South African zoo?

Beth, Anna and Meesh: (cheering) Yeah!

Beth: We’d never seen it, and Brid was like, ‘Woah! Stoffel!’ and we thought she was just was having a moment, but we watched it and it was like, wooooooah! and the honey badger just expanded even more because he’s a genius.

Anna: It’s becoming quite a pop culture reference now because there was that that funny YouTube video as well a while ago. It’s seeping into the collective consciousness! The honey badger!

CB: Rightly so. It’s a magnificent beast. Talking of magnificent beasts, what it’s like working at Invada Studios? You told me in your email that there’s a lot of equipment there…

Anna: Yes.

CB: This is for the equipment nerds…

Anna: That’s a curveball!

CB: What was your favorite toy there?

Meesha: Well, I’m going to answer this one. There’s a specific delay pedal that’s in a Portishead track that goes ‘da dum, ctsh, da da da da da da boom, ctsh, da da da’, and it delays the snare and bass drum at this weird timing. And that pedal had a little, tiny handle, just on the right of it, and it moved just so, it was just beautiful. So I used it through the guitar and you could get these weird effects on it, but unfortunately I didn’t get to use it on the album. But it was the best thing there! (Laughs)

Beth: I was just gonna say, Meesh, I don’t remember this!

Meesha: I did use it on one track, but (sadly) decided it’s not relevant.

(More laughter)

Anna: So it had a tiny little knob?

Meesha: It had a knob on, a little handle that Geoff put on it. It was really well made.

Anna: There was the slap delay thing? That we had on?

Meesha: Oh no, the rotary speaker.

Anna: The rotary speaker. We had the culture vulture effect going on a lot of things, and we had the Juno synth. That was a lot of fun. And the the Siel synthesizer was a real big, big one. Stella used the Phillips organ in there as well quite a bit. That was on ‘Honey Badger‘ I think. That was a beautiful sounding thing. Stella, our synth player, at one point she had an arc of keyboards around her.

Beth: It definitely got to the point where they all sounded so great, it was like, right, now play it on this one!

Anna: The whole song again but on that one!

Beth: Why can’t you do it on both!

CB: The production was like one of the first things that hit me, listening to that opening track. The way you have that false start and then it kind of explodes. And it’s like that throughout. It’s really really incredible what you accomplished with that.

Beth: That you’ve said that is really great because actually, there was a lot of trial and error getting that feel.

Meesha: Also, the great thing about Invada Studio is that it’s got this amazing control room where you sit in the seats at the top and you literally feel like you’re in a spaceship. It’s a vibe.

Anna: And you used a new Moog, didn’t you? That had just arrived for Geoff. He hadn’t even used it yet. He was like, ‘Oh you’re using my Moog then?’

(Laughter)

Anna: Not sorry.

It’s a magical place and it was great because we went down with our friend Luke Morrish-Thomas who produced the album, who we’ve worked closely with for years. But we also had Stu Matthews, the in-house engineer at Invada, so it was nice to have the two working together, because he obviously knew the studio inside and out and if we were asking, ‘We kind of want to do this’, he’d just like pull out the goods and be like, ‘All right, well you need to plug this into this’.

Meesha: And he’s so calm. Just like… yoga.

Anna: He’s so level-headed.

Beth: We’d be going like AAAAAAAAAAAH! about stuff and Luke would be shouting, ‘Just get in there and do it!’ and we’d be like ‘Stu, what shall we do?’

Anna: And he’d go, ‘Well I think…’

Beth: And it would always be correct! What a guy.

CB: I also wanted to ask about Box Records. How’s it been working with Matt Baty (from Pigs x7, also mysterious pop svengali and label boss) at Box?

Beth: He’s also brilliant! We’ve been so lucky that all these lovely people have emerged helping us.

Anna: Matt’s a guiding hand through everything. He knows what he’s doing and he’s been really supportive from day one. I think he saw us play at Supersonic Festival back in 2017 and he emailed us after the weekend and was like ‘I really want to work with you when are you next putting something out?’ (Laughter)

Beth: We like, oh 2018, don’t you worry! Here we are 2020. Thank you very much.

Anna: He did do the ‘Bruiser‘ single back in 2018. But yeah, it was a long time coming. He’s been mega supportive. He’s fronted the cost of getting vinyl done for us. He’s just done a lot. And also hooked us up with with some great people helping us to try and get some of this stuff heard. So yeah he’s been great. He’s just really supportive of the music scene in general and we need more people like him.

CB: There’s such a great roster of bands at Box. It’s really distinctive. So when was Honey Badger recorded?

Anna: Last year. We did a few days in February in Invada, and then we didn’t go back again until the summer we because we did our first tour in Europe. We went to Italy to really hone the new stuff live. That’s something that we wanted from this album. We wanted to have played it live a few times before we recorded it. So it would have a live energy.

And that was great because in Italy it’s not the classic three band bill, 30 to 40 minute set and you’re off – no – you’re the band for the night and you’ve got to play for like an hour and a half. And we didn’t know that until we got there! So we were like, ‘Oh shit!’

So we were whacking out the whole back catalogue and all the new stuff, and it meant we had to get really tight as a band. By the time we went back into the studio we were more confident with the songs and the process became easier. We even redid things that we’d recorded earlier.

Beth: Yeah, we went back and we were like (makes sound of crushing disappointment expressed as physical pain). You know? We had to reassess what we’d done already…

Anna: We still kept a couple of them, but we rerecorded ‘Lizard’ and a few other things. Then that August we were back at Invada in dribs and drabs. Then did some recording in Birmingham with the string quartet and then it was mixing. And the mixing process took a bit quite a bit of time.

Beth: It took 12 years! 12 long years!

(Laughter)

Anna: Then it was ready to go in the first part of this year, but obviously things got halted. In a way it’s been a blessing in disguise. I don’t know how the hell we’d have done all the things were planning to do before lockdown. It’s just mad when you think about the pace of life before all of this. So yeah, that’s how it was recorded.

CB: What’s the Dorcha live show like? Are you introverts backstage and then it all comes out?

Meesha: I can’t remember.

Anna: I do find that we all let loose a bit on stage. Personally I feel a lot more confident on stage than I do speaking to a room full of people. I think you tend to find that with musicians, that they can be quite introverted actually, but then on stage you wouldn’t know. I think our live shows always change though, don’t they?

Meesha: It depends what kind of mood we’re in. Like, if we’re really tired and frustrated then we have to gain this energy, which usually makes it better.

Beth: Then we play a lot more like wildly, I think.

Meesha: You get that weird thing where you build yourself up for a gig then you come off stage and forget how to talk to the audience and you’re like, oh shit, please, just let me be alone for like an hour or two.

Beth: And unfortunately that’s the time everyone’s like, ‘Let’s let’s have a drink! Let’s do this! Let’s chat about that!’ and all of us are a bit like, okaaaaaay, you know, merging with the walls.

Meesha: Because when gig life becomes your social life, then you’re kind of like, oh fuck… you’ve fucked it.

Anna: Yeah, that’s it. Just don’t know what to do now. How do we talk to people without some feedback in the corner?

(Laughter)

Dorcha (photo credit: Sam Wood)

CB: It is weird not going to gigs anymore. That used to be the entirety of my social life and now I just meet people in parks like some sort of cold war spy or something.

Meesha: Yeah, that’s my kind of existence. Pretending to be a spy in the park! In the bushes!

CB: With a newspaper with eye holes cut into it.

(Laughter)

Meesha: Oh, Covid.

CB: Last few questions. Do you have any party tips?

Anna: I don’t know if I’m allowed to say some of mine because I work in education.

Meesha: I’ve got a party tip.

Anna: Go on.

Meesha: I don’t know.

(Laughs)

Anna: I think the key is to go round bit by bit and then do something outrageous once you’ve got the power to…

Beth: I’m not sure about that.

Meesha: It needs a playlist. If it’s not a decent playlist… if you keep it to seventies, eighties, nineties electronic music then you’re gonna be dancing all night.

Anna: I’ve got a plan! (Disappears)

Beth: Then the dance floor becomes like a bit of a a place you can hide. If the music is good enough you could just hide on the dance floor all night if you’re feeling a bit weird about everything else.

Anna: (Returns) Yeah we’ve got a party tip! Buy one of these.

CB: What is this?

Anna: Pocket operator.

Beth: Oh yeah, they’re great.

Anna: Buy one of those. For hours of unadulterated fun.

(Laughter)

It’s all you need. Plug it into a speaker and you’ve got it. You’ve got a rave.

Meesha: So basically, Colin, we party on our own. We don’t party with others.

CB: Do you have a lockdown reading list and what’s on it?

Beth: No. I have a huge pile of books to get through, but I’m not doing very well at the minute.

Meesha: I’ve got a jigsaw I’m really into, but I’m not reading right now.

CB: A lot of people say like it’s hard to concentrate at the moment.

Anna: I’ve realised that I haven’t really read much Margaret Atwood, so I’ve been reading some of hers. And then I want to read more of… what’s he called now? He wrote For the Good Times?

Meesha: There’s a bird there. A magpie. I’m gonna look at it.

Anna: Do you know who I mean, Colin? Have you heard of For the Good Times? About the troubles? This is Memorial Device, he wrote as well, which is about the weird experimental music scene in Ireland. They’re great books.

CB: (googles quickly) David Keenan?

Anna: That’s it. I want to read more of his stuff. Because those two books have been great.

CB: If you could be any animal what would you choose?

(Dorcha ponder)

Meesha: I feel like I thought about this the other day and for the first time I had an answer and now it’s gone. So this is quite frustrating.

Beth: Is the question in the world as it stands or in a lovely world where every everything’s a bit better?

CB: You may interpret it freely.

Beth: As things stand I don’t want to be any animal. We’re screwing everything over, aren’t we? I think if you’re any other animal apart from a human – and even if you’re a human you’re quite screwed – but if you’re any other animal there’s definitely…

Anna: No, I want to be a puma, because they’re so elusive.

Beth: You’re gonna get poached!

Anna: But pumas are really hard to find, right?

Beth: Yeah, because they’ve all been bloody poached! Nah, you’re right, they are quite elusive.

Anna: Or a whale – no, wait! I wanna be an octopus!

Beth: That’s a great one, Anna!

Meesha: Have you seen the mukbang videos?

Anna: Eating them live? Aw, fuck’s sake.

Meesha: You’d get mukbanged to death.

Beth: This is what I’m saying. Like the question is hard because I’d like to live so bad.

Anna: I’d like to experience living under the sea and the sensory world of an octopus because that would be a mad trip.

Beth: Aren’t they technically aliens? I think there was a thing, wasn’t there? That their genetics are so different that they’re aliens?

Anna: They’re so clever. They’re super intelligent. I want to know what’s going on behind those eyes.

CB: You know they have taste buds all over the their bodies?

Anna: Yeah.

Beth: (Incredulous) They have what?

CB: They have taste buds all over their bodies. They can taste everything that they touch, everything around them…

Beth: That’s cool, isn’t it? Me and Meesha should stop straining so hard.

Meesha: We’re overthinking it! I’m like I don’t wannna be an animal, I wanna be a spirit! I’m gonna be my own spirit animal right now!

(Laughter)

CB: Meesha, if you remember what you thought of the other day you can email me the answer.

Anna: She’s gonna have the thousand mile stare all day now…

Honey Badger by Dorcha is out on 6 November on Box Records.

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