Last year offered a number of firsts for Dorothy Berry, the lead and only singer of Dorothy and the Originals. The 21-year-old Mills College student recorded her first album in her bedroom, performed her first show (in Washington DC with Devendra Banhart), and went on her first tour this spring (opening for Devendra Banhart and The Grogs). This is also her first interview.
Her debut, Sound Diary, started as a project where she recorded a song each day in her Ash Grove, Missouri home. The three-minute songs are a capella tracks, with Berry performing her own backing vocals. Her deep voice is reminiscent of soul and folk spirituals as she sings about loneliness, broken hearts, and other diary-friendly subjects. Dorothy sat down with Local Frequency at Mission Bar to chat about touring with Banhart, never having a boyfriend, and making stuffed animals for musicians.
If you could describe your sound as neighborhood in Oakland, which one would it be?
Dorothy Berry: I would say that I'm a little craftsman house in Oakland. I'm pretty small to be a whole neighborhood. I'd be a small house that's more bougie than it should be, but kind of cozy.
Tell me about your first show.
DB: Pretty rough. I don't make music that translates easily to a live performance. It was good enough for my first show ever. Devendra [Banhart] actually missed my set and was really pissed about it. I was, like, “It's okay, we'll just go on tour again,” jokingly, and he's like, “Next time I go on tour you'll come.” And I did that. I went on tour with a bunch of older brothers who wrote me into their rider. I got a buy-out from the venue, they booked all my hotels for me. I was freaking out all the time. “This hotel is so nice!” “This tour bus is so cool!” “There's two TVs and a fridge!” “My bunk is so comfy!” They're like, “Yeah, I guess it is nice.” Now it's going to be back to vans and flophouses.
What are your small pleasures in life?
DB: Looking at miniature English Bulldogs and fantasizing about how I will get one and name it Patchuki. Other small pleasures: Looking at dreamy boys, not even wanting to date them, and defining what kind of babe there is and classifying that in my brain. I want to make a calendar called “Babes I Have Known.” Weird animal names: my friend has a cat named Klaus Kitski, and we were talking about what if we got a dog named Bernard Wertzdog. Reading comic books and graphic novels. Talking about ethnomusicology like a nerd. Eating too much candy in my room because I'm an adult. I ask my teddy bear beforehand if that's okay. He's cool with it. I've never been high, I've never been kissed, I've never had a boyfriend. I'm like a five-year-old in an adult's body.
What other adult things do you need to learn?
DB: Driving. I don't know how to drive and I had really bad anxiety, so I couldn't. This is bad, but somehow it built up my mystique, and people would come get me. Repeatedly. Even worse, people would take me home. I live 30 minutes from town on a farm. I'm going to [learn to drive], cause I want to be an adult.