Soho Dolls

In Autumn 2006, Miloco caught up with Maya von Doll & Toni Sailor from Soho Dolls down at Miloco’s Musikbox and chatted of this, that, the other and, critically, The Comic Strip Presents Box Set, which they were making at the time. It includes every single film they ever made – can you believe it? Yes, it’s even got Mr Jolly Lives Next Door in there! Mr Harder popped by too. The tape started rolling and this is what it recorded…

Maya: LA’s great for vegans and veggies…

Toni: But London and England’s better because of the health food shops…Sweden have got a Vegan political party but you go to a shop and they’ve know idea what they’re talking about.

Maya: I used to rely so much on cheese I thought I was going to die!

Toni: But over here lettuce is a joke!

In time, though, the conversation moved on from matters of vegetable and cheese-based mortality. And then producer Robert Harder emerged from the control room and I asked him how he was finding Musikbox.

Robert Harder: Oh it’s great. Just busy transferring some files from Logic to Protools…

But you’re usually in The Yard, yes?

RH: Yes. And The Toyshop.

Toni: Which is the one off Shoreditch High Street?

RH: The Garden.

Where haven’t you guys been? Are you doing the full Miloco tour?

Maya: We’re studio whores!

So do you have a favourite?

Toni: It sounds great here, but I loved The Garden – it looks like an old fashioned studio.

Maya: And between Islington [The SSL Room] and here [Musikbox], which is your favourite?

Toni: Probably here. Minus the fact that the other one has more sweets…

Maya: Ah yes, there’s Strawberry Creams and Rhubarb…

At this point I stepped in and defended the honour of the Musikbox sweet selection (Sherbet Lemons and Kola Kubes, since you ask), before realising that yet again we’d strayed from music to food. So, I asked them quickly, what project are you recording here?

Toni: We’re doing our album. We recorded our single down at The SSL Room before, but now we’re doing a whole album with Robert.

And Steve Lyon…

Maya: Yeah, it’s pretty much Robert producing it and Steve mixing it.

And it’s going well?

Toni: So far with every track we’re well pleased, yeah.

Maya: We’re about halfway through and it’s going really well. Hopefully it’ll be done by the end of Sept.

And you’ve been recording bits elsewhere I understand?

Toni: Yeah, they’ve all been recorded in Cornwall – as well as some pre-production. Then when it comes to proper recording we’ve come back to London to use the studios.

Maya: It’s good to be isolated when we’re writing because there are no distractions. We’re all from London so it’s good to escape sometimes.

And is it still sounding like a cohesive whole despite being recorded in a variety of places and ways?

Maya: Oh yes. We’ve had the songs for a while…

Toni: …and we have quite a unique sound anyway. And it’s working great with Robert Harder as producer bringing his touch to it, so it’s all gelling really well.

Maya: Just so long as the vocals are really loud it’s all going to sound like the same band!

Toni: It’ll be interesting because every song is very different…

Maya: …there’s lots of different tempos and time signatures…

Toni: …there’s hip hop, there’s blues, electro, jazz…It’s quite a soup.

And was it an active decision by you all to explore these different pastures?

Maya: Not really, no. It started off electro and minimal, but as we’ve all got more comfortable with each other it’s kind of gone that way. So now we’ve got a blues number and a jazz one and even dub! That’s what happens when you get taken out off your environment and start writing things in Cornwall!

Toni: We all appreciate a wide range of different music and try and incorporate all of that into what we do. You can’t switch that stuff off.

Maya: But it will always have our style vocals and our synths and our guitars – our sound.

Toni: Yes, whatever we are. Electro glam synth rock or something…

So you haven’t alienated any fans with the new stuff.

Maya: No, it’s all still us. Although Gavin does want to play double bass on stage when we do the 30’s blues/glam/electro tune… Be tricky to it throw about though…

Maybe employ some kind of winch system…? Anyway, how did you come to be working with Robert?

Maya: Well he chose us and we chose him. He came to see one of the early Soho Dolls gigs and we got talking to him. He said he’d like to be involved and so we continued talking and then he then worked on one of our tunes, Prince Harry, and we really liked what he’d done. It was a lot slicker than the punky stuff we were doing live, a bit futuristic, a bit different… So we asked him to do the next single with us, Stripper, which then got remixed by Steve Lyon… So yes, we kind of chose each other really…

…Also with Robert, when we first started talking he asked us to write a list of all our influences and he did the same thing and bizarrely he said, yes, that’s almost exactly my list too. Varying from, you know, Dr Dre to Marilyn Monroe…

Toni: Too often in this business everyone is so narrow-minded. You’ve got to listen to everything. If you listen to the same few bands all the bloody time you just end up sounding like them. It’s not helped by the industry and the labels. But good bands do get through. Like The Knife from Sweden and the album Deep Cuts.

Maya: Yeah, there’s steel drums in there and everything from electro and African to even Eskimo…it’s so cute. I was weirded out by it in the first place, but then it became my must listen-to record. I think he sounds like Bjork – though no one agrees with me about that. You know that song from the TV advert that broke Jose Gonzalez – Heartbeats? – that’s one of their songs. You should check them out. [I promise to do so, do, and she’s right: it’s a crazy porridge alright. And there is some Bjorkiness loitering in there…]

Toni: But so much over the last 15 years has been so disappointing. It’s all so tired. There are singles every now and then, sure, but where are the bands that can write a whole album?

The conversation them turns to who did and didn’t do the business at Reading Festival. Dresden Dolls as a substandard Tiger Lillies, anyone? The Raconteurs to provide the soundtrack for Almost Famous 2? And then part way through this meandering chat Maya reveals how she’d dreamt about having a nice chinwag with Keith Richards, in the process of which he’d persuaded her that The Rolling Stones were in fact good. And on that bombshell we returned to matters of Dolls and Soho…

Toni: I was so happy to meet Maya because we share so many similar tastes. The Rolling Stones was the final piece of the jigsaw and now she gets that too.

Because they took time out to visit you in a dream? I ask Maya

Maya: Exactly. But also because Toni stopped me liking Guns N Roses and people like that. He sat me down and drew me a family tree of rock – I’ve still got it – and I began to understand who came first and who was actually good… And now in return I’m getting him into Nirvana and stuff, which was more my thing when I was growing up…

So do you now co-write the songs?

Toni: We do a bit more together now but it’s still, I would say, 80:20 in her favour…

Maya: And it’s staying that way! (I don’t mean that)

Toni: I just try and support where I can, really…

Maya: …but the last few songs we wrote together. And Toni’s just amazing with the guitar. He puts all the bends in the right places…

Excuse me?

Maya: The bends. You know: eeeeeee-ooooowww-werhuh! Can you write that down?

With a lot of vowels, possibly…

Maya: I used to listen to a lot of Blondie when I was younger and I loved that sound but never knew how you got it – because I don’t play guitar – but then Toni arrived and straight away he was bending it all the time just when it was needed. Eeeeeeee-oooooooowwwwww! So yes, at this point in our lives our musical taste is 100% converged…

Maya von Doll & Toni Sailor from The Soho Dolls were talking to Miloco in the summer of 2006.

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