VOCALS & GUITAR
British indie/alternative/folk artist Dolly Mavies released her critically acclaimed debut album The Calm & The Storm April 2023. The album is an infectious mix of Alternative Indie, and Folk Rock, capturing the energy of her outstanding live performance. The Calm & The Storm is about the highs and lows of life, the hardship we experience, the all consuming love, and the fallout. It's about standing up for yourself, fighting your corner and not letting the man get you down.
Mavies' songs have a real depth and maturity which make them feel like they have been around for years. They evoke feelings of the 70s and 80s with that classic rock feel, songs with a core, substance, and catchy hooks. Likened often to Joni Mitchell, Florence Welch, Fleetwood Mac, and Gabrielle Aplin, Mavies' blurs eras, genres, and is definitely an artist with integrity and something to say.
Indie/folk singer-songwriter Dolly Mavies must rank as one of the most talented performers within the Shire, here with debut album. Original playing solo with a guitar, she now has a full band backing her. ‘Drawing Circles’ draws heavily on Adele, which is not a bad thing, her haunting and slight wispy delivery provides real power and interest marking her apart. A highlight is the previous single ‘Forgive & Forget’ with its country tinged vocals and the piano backed elements making this a chart bothering folk, rock, pop tune in an ideal world. ‘The Rain’ could be from a Holly Humberstone and Florence collaboration. Many of the tunes are heartfelt but sang and played with optimism and hope and this has to be the most impressive and high-quality debut album from a local star that I’ve listened to in a long time. If we have a scoring system it’d get 10/10. Go buy it. Go watch her live. “Make her a superstar. Please.”
Oxford, UK singer-songwriter, Dolly Mavies, set the indie anthem bar impossibly high with her latest single, I’m All Sugar, which surges with the same rhythmic and vocal energy of Somebody to Love by Boogie Pimps in spite of the folky flavour. Taken from her debut album, The Calm & The Storm, the stellar single from the artist who takes influence from the likes of Patti Smith, The National and Daughter, created a uniquely exhilarating listening experience that makes no bones about pulling you through an ardently visceral arrangement where a curveball lies on the edge of every progression. If Dolly Mavies isn’t as big as Mumford & Sons by the end of the year, someone may as well scorch the earth of the music industry so we can start again. It’s punk as fuck, yet, Mavies still maintains that ever-addictive girl-next-door appeal.
“I WOULD SAY ON THE whole I am always very calm; it makes way when a storm is needed.” SO SAYS DOLLY MAVIES when Nightshift asks her how much her new album title, ‘The Calm & The Storm’, reflects her own personality. We did tend to imagine Dolly is more of the former given the serenity that pervades much of her music: reflective, emotional, almost hymnal at times. In fact, every year Dolly plays a show at her local church and it’s fair to say her music is more New Testament than Old. Musically she draws inspiration from the likes of Fleetwood Mac, Daughter, Edie Brickell, Everything But The Girl and Tanya Donnelly, a sublime set of artists who all mange to draw the storm out of calm in their music. ‘THE CALM & THE STORM’ is Dolly’s debut album and the culmination of eight years of writing and performing; as such it’s a hugely assured set of songs which Dolly herself describes as about “heartbreak to hardship, love to loss, and everything in between.” Those eight years have seen Dolly playing around the UK, including myriad festival appearances and supports to some huge names. Along the way she’s drawn praise from the likes of Bob Harris and Tom Robinson as well as building a loyal local fanbase. BORN MOLLY DAVIES, Dolly – her adopted stage name – grew up in rural Oxfordshire and began writing songs at an early age. “Since I was small I loved music,” she says, “I loved singing, melodies, writing, poetry and songs. I have stumbled across little – emphasis on little! – songs I wrote when I was about six years old. It was always a secret though, I never wanted anyone to know, and absolutely dreaded the idea of someone actually asking me to sing! I loved the Spice Girls growing up, and I used to listen to Toni Braxton on repeat as a child, which looking back is kind of hilarious, but I think genuinely helped me to sing. My dad plays the guitar, my nana was musical, and my family used to sing all the time in the house, making up songs, or just singing along to our favourite songs in the kitchen. When I was about eight I joined the guitar club in school and used my nan’s classical guitar, when all the other kids had children’s sized guitars; safe to say it was really hard and didn’t spur me on. But I kept singing and writing; I was always writing songs, poems. I felt like I needed to keep exploring words and finding new meanings. I then asked my dad to teach me a few chords on the guitar as I got a bit older, and then taught myself to play and added the words I’d been writing and created some songs. It was only when I was about to leave sixth form did I think to myself ‘now I really need to just go for it and perform, If I don’t do it now, I never will’ – so I stood in front of my whole school and played ‘Someone Like You’ by Kings of Leon, and as they say, the rest is history. “I have such a broad music taste and have been influenced by so many things, I am a huge fan of Patti Smith and the 70s punk era; I love bands like The National and Daughter, The Districts, and the gorgeous tones of Gregory Alan Isakov. Growing up, one of my brothers listened to a lot of rap, r’n’b, heavy metal and rock music, whereas my other brother loved Wham!, so nothing was off the table, and for me, as long as a song has feeling, and a real message, what’s not to love.” Growing up in rural Oxfordshire, how did Dolly view the Oxford music scene and how has the reality compared with that early impression now that she’s an established part of it? “I think there weren’t a lot of opportunities growing up; I mean, I’m not sure it’s any better now. Over the years I have played across the country and all over Oxfordshire and made friends and connections, and ended up bringing together a band, so that has been really positive. I think the Oxford music scene is very eclectic and there is a great mix of sounds.” EVEN EARLY ON IN HER fledgling career, Dolly played some seriously prestige shows, supporting the likes of Rae Morris and Vesperteen; how did gigs like that and early festival shows at Cornbury, Truck, Pub in the Park etc. shape her – those were big crowds to be learning her trade in front of. “I love performing, whether it’s a tiny show, or supporting a big name, or to a huge crowd of people. The most important thing is to remember to enjoy it, and I think sometimes with the bigger shows you can really focus on playing great and putting on a good show, so you forget you’re in the show! “Supporting Vesperteen was one of my favourite gigs I’ve played, it was at the Courtyard in London to a room full of teenagers, and when they are into something, they’re the best. My favourite show we’ve played may be at Truck Festival, or one of the Pub in the Park shows, where the stage was huge, the sound was incredible, and we had a brilliant audience too. We have loved playing at Cornbury as it is only a stone’s throw away from home, and lots of friends and family can come along and see us.” Dolly has also supported Mel C, Gabrielle, Beverley Knight, Coasts and Tom Robinson along the way; did any of those acts particularly affect or inspire her? “It is amazing to be put on the same line up with any incredible artists, but supporting Mel C didn’t feel real! If you’d told me when I was small that I would have been doing that one day – and Gabrielle, I used to listen to her album on repeat – I would never have believed you! I think it is always so inspiring to watch other artists, and see how they craft their show, their stage banter, and performance. It was brilliant to open for Tom Robinson on the opening night of his solo acoustic tour, and the first performance at Drapers Hall in Coventry since it reopened. I take inspiration from those everyday and have to remind myself that these moments are real, and to enjoy them in that moment.” WHEN WE FIRST SAW Dolly play live, back in 2018, it was just her, plus her partner Adrian Banks (who also plays in local indie stars Zurich) on bass. These days she has a full band behind her. Particularly given the nature of her music, which is often minimalist, how has that changed the nature of her writing and performing? “For many years it was just me and my guitar, which was great, it meant I could easily travel and play loads of gigs, but now I have the whole band with me it’s on a whole other level. It is brilliant to play alongside such brilliant musicians, and also to have a group of friends on the journey with you makes it all the more worthwhile. Adrian and I have been writing together for a while; he’s a brilliant composer and I think our styles and influences blend really well, so that we are on the same wavelength which definitely helps.” Despite that your music is very stripped back and emotionally upfront – how hard is it to bare your doubts, fears, heartache etc for an audience? Is it all from personal experience and perspective or do you every play a character in songs? “I have always written songs because I have had something to say, or a thought or a feeling. I don’t try and write to a script or create something for the sake of it. I feel that way things can create their own organic path and then the songs have their own meaning. I write from personal experience, and about the lives of the people I love, friends, family, and whatever life throws at me. I think it can be hard to write a song and then listen back to it and go ‘oh, that’s what that’s all about’ but by the time you share it with other people, you’ve already worked through it.” Fans will get a chance to see Dolly Mavis in full band mode at The Bullingdon on the 7th April when she launches ‘The Calm & The Storm’. She’ll be joined by fellow local singer-songwriter Joely, who was also her support at that first show we saw her at. Is she a local artist Dolly has particular affinity for? “I think Joely is absolutely fantastic. She has such an organic sound and beautiful voice, and I love her songs, so it’s always wonderful to share the bill. There are so many local bands it’s hard to name them all; I think Nina Jade is a phenomenal vocalist and Megzz just goes from strength to strength. Of course I am a big fan of Zurich and the brilliant Quartermelon who will also be supporting us at our release show at The Bullingdon.” MOVING ONTO THE ALBUM itself, ‘The Calm & The Storm’ brings together songs that have been written over a long period of time. “We have been recording the album for a year, and have written songs for the album for many years before that. It is a collection of songs looking at life, love, hardship, loss, defiance, and integrity, and I can’t wait for people to hear them. The album includes some of the previously released singles but re-worked to be bigger and better. We have spent a long time crafting the songs, so they sound more polished and full and I think we have managed to capture that big sound on the album.” ‘The Calm & The Storm’ suggests emotional conflict and contrasts. “’The Calm & The Storm’ symbolises the juxtapositions of life. You can be super happy and sad, in love with a broken heart, living whilst dying, and everything else in-between. It’s a never-ending cycle and life is full of ups and downs. The songs mimic this in both their style and substance. ‘Spaghetti’ and ‘Drown Me Out’ are about defiance, defending what’s right and standing up for yourself, whereas songs like ‘Silhouette’ and ‘Drawing Circles’ are sombre and reflective.” Talking of juxtapositions, there’s an edge of bitterness and some musical turmoil in recent single ‘I’m All Sugar’, despite its title. “‘I’m All Sugar’ is about the lives that we portray: these days, you can be who you make yourself online, and there is a tendency for people to compare themselves to these unrealistic expectations, and for others to throw in their two cents. People can be two faced, people can mean well but say the wrong thing; at the end of the day we are all the same just in different circumstances, and that can hugely impact how we face life.” You describe the song ‘Drown Me Out’ being about defiance; is that political or personal? It seems to lyrically straddle the line. “I wrote ‘Drown Me Out’ when the world was going mad: Brexit, Trump, you name it! It is a mixture of the two. The song is about standing up for yourself, and not being pushed aside, whether that’s on a small or large scale. It’s a reminder to use your voice and speak up and speak out to injustice.” ‘Wait For Me’ is the big, epic banger to close the album; was it important to close with something musically euphoric? “’Wait For Me’ is a song from my very first EP; in my head it always sounded huge and epic, and I am so pleased that now I have the band alongside me, we can turn that idea into reality. The song is reflective and is almost an internal monologue trying to figure out what to do with yourself, how to move forward, how to stop negative thoughts and to remind yourself to take a second, breathe in, breathe out, and look at things differently. I think I always envisaged it as the closer on the album. I love how it builds like a huge wave crash and then finishes like waves lapping at the shore.” There’s always been something of a hymnal quality to your songs and every Christmas you play as Dolly & The Ivys at Deddington Church; do you draw inspiration from devotional music. “To be honest no, not really. I did used to love singing songs in the church when I was growing up, but I think that is because a big chorus of people always sounds beautiful in a church. The Christmas show is my favourite show of the year, and I get to invite artists I’ve met in the year, or locally, to come along and play for an attentive listening crowd. I think churches have such a magical quality and charm, and of course, you’ve gotta love church reverb! It really is a Christmas treat, I would highly recommend it... 16th December at Deddington Church, save the date.” ONE OF DOLLY’S EARLIEST singles, and still a favourite here at Nightshift but not included on the new album is the gorgeous ‘My Buoy’; when we first reviewed it we pictured Dolly adrift and alone on a boat, meanwhile ‘Reflection’, which is on the album, finds her singing “I dreamed we could sail the world”; could Dolly imagine sailing away from it all to shores unknown, and if so, what home comforts would she take with her? “I feel like family is what makes anywhere home, so as long as I could bundle them all in with me, I’d happily sail anywhere!” And finally, Fleetwood Mac being a major influence on Dolly, notably on songs like ‘Forgive & Forget’ and ‘Drown Me Out’, is it all cocaine-fuelled tantrums and rows when she’s working with partner Adrian? “Ha ha, we were saying the other day we should really get into drugs.” ‘The Calm & The Storm’ is released on the 7th April. Dolly Mavies plays The Bullingdon the same night. Find out more at dollymavies.bandcamp.com
Oxfordshire Singer Songwriter Dolly Mavies has a reassuring and tasteful quality to her voice and her emotional choices add the mature quality of a master engager.