Lydia Jenkin is an entertainment feature writer for the New Zealand Herald.

Doprah: A force of nature

Doprah's lead singer talks music and mushrooms with Lydia Jenkin.
Despite their love of the garden city, the band are hoping to head back overseas to tour more this year. Photo / Supplied
Despite their love of the garden city, the band are hoping to head back overseas to tour more this year. Photo / Supplied

Doprah have made a name for themselves with captivating music videos like the candy-coloured kawaii/Harajuku-inspired Stranger People, and the creepy gothic beauty of Whatever You Want. They released a self-titled EP in 2014, which got international blog attention, plus some heavy props from Spin and Billboard, and now they're releasing their debut long-player through Flying Nun.

Their aptly named front woman Indira Force is warm, spirited, and delightfully down-to-earth as she calls from Christchurch to chat about the album Wasting and the band, which formed back in 2012 when producer/multi-instrumentalist Steven John Marr emailed Force, out of the blue, to say he liked her voice and ask if she wanted to collaborate.

"I was slightly scared," she laughs, when asked about their first meeting. "Cos I was like, 'hmm, strange person from the internet ... ' But it turned out to be a great match musically. We're quite a contrast - he's quite structured and precise in his writing, whereas I'm quite floaty and less linear, but it works really well for the music."

Since starting out as a duo, they've now expanded to become a six-piece, largely because they always wanted to perform their songs live, with as many live elements as possible, rather than backing tracks.

"We just wanted to make everything very layered and lush when we perform live. It's more immersive that way, and we just want it to sound really full."

That means there are several synthesisers, drum samplers, an iPad, and all manner of pedals involved in order to achieve their psychedelic trip-hop sound, which draws on all sorts of inspirations, including David Lynch, the Cocteau Twins, and a variety of plants with psychoactive properties, like a magic mushroom with the latin name Subaeruginosa, which gives one track its title.

Doprah's sound is marked by Force's distinctive vocal techniques. Photo / Supplied
Doprah's sound is marked by Force's distinctive vocal techniques. Photo / Supplied

"I don't think I can even pronounce it correctly, but Steven knew the word. It's the name of a specific species of magic mushrooms we get down here in Christchurch, we call them 'subs' for short usually, and they're quite common in March, and well, I don't know how much I can say about them really," she says with a laugh. "But I think the feeling of them was very well encapsulated in that song, the dreamy, floatiness of it all.

"A couple of our other songs definitely have allusions in the title too - I know Steven named San Pedro after the cactus, and also Black Lodge we named after we did a big Twin Peaks marathon."

Their sound is marked by Force's distinctive vocal techniques - not just various effects and modulations, but also the fact she often sings unspecific syllables rather than words.

"When Steve first approached me, I sent him an a capella track of me singing a whole bunch of completely nonsensical words, and weird vocal sounds, rather than actual lyrics, and that's how San Pedro arose. And that was the first one I did without using any words, and I enjoyed it, because I feel a bit limited if I think too hard about the words.

"I guess I just think the voice doesn't always have to be used in a conventional manner, and it's a much more versatile instrument than it's usually given credit for."

The album is also influenced by Christchurch. Force moved down there to write and record with Marr after the 2011 earthquake, and found the broken city to be an oddly great place to make music.

"It was really desolate when I first went down, with a lot of rubble and open spaces. Christchurch is really flat as it is, but with all the buildings being demolished it was especially sparse and expansive, I think. I found it to be a pretty interesting environment to write in, coming from Auckland which was so busy and dense. Christchurch felt quite isolated. It was a great place to make music though."

Despite their love of the garden city, the band are hoping to head back overseas to tour more this year, revisiting Australia and hopefully the United States, as well as trying to forge a path in Europe, and they've got more videos on the horizon to propel the attention.

"I think really we've just done very well to surround ourselves with amazing creative people and friends who have visually interesting ideas to share, but I don't think we'd ever invest our time in a half-assed video, that's not really our style. The psychedelic thing, it's very much a visual and auditory amalgamation, which sounds a bit wanky, but I think our music works best with that extra dimension."

Who: Indira Force, lead singer for Doprah
What: Debut album Wasting, out now
Where and when: Performing at Valhalla in Wellington tomorrow, Golden Dawn in Auckland on Saturday, Feb 27, Christchurch Art Gallery on Friday, March 4, and Chick's Hotel in Dunedin on Saturday, March 5.

- TimeOut

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