This week Christchurch band Doprah was announced as the “Next Big Sound” on Billboard.
Each week the notable United States website lists the fastest accelerating artists during the past week, across all major social music sites, statistically predicted to achieve future success, as measured by Next Big Sound.
Doprah formed in 2013 and comprise vocalist Indira Force and Steven Marr, who handles production duties.
Marr admits to being puzzled by the Billboard proclamation of their statistical likelihood of success.
“It’s cool. I have no idea what it actually is but apparently it’s a big deal.”
In August last year Doprah released their first single, the intoxicatingly sinister and atmospheric San Pedro.
“It was the first Doprah song,” says Marr.
“I had a really big cactus trip in July and got intensely into electronic music and became obsessed with trying to make something sound beautiful. I was having quite a bad time at the start and trying to recreate the feeling through sound.
“It has no lyrics, it’s all gibberish.”
Earlier this year, Doprah were the support for Lorde at her post-Grammy homecoming show in Auckland, played St Jerome’s Laneway Festival, performed with Liam Finn and the curated boutique festival Camp A Low Hum.
Last month they released their self-titled debut EP, recorded in Marr’s bedroom, via Arch Hill and premiered a video for Stranger People, co-directed by Auckland-based Thunderlips, in the United States on SPIN Magazine’s website.
In just over three weeks it has notched up more than 57,000 hits on YouTube and has been featured on music blogs worldwide.
Visually it is inspired by J-Pop. The wild anime dollhouse theme turns Force into the epitome of kawaii (cute) while Marr, dressed in drag, is the omniscient force above all.
Doprah’s take on the control of female pop stars in the music industry, the video has sparked a conversation about cultural appropriation.
“People are asking us about the video without asking about the music at all and that frustrates me a little bit,” Force says. “The videos will always be a visual accompaniment to the music. It’s about the music. “Controversy isn’t something I’m opposed to. You can’t do anything really creative without some kind of controversy.”
Her biggest fear, she says, is being misunderstood. “No-one is going to interpret it the way in which we made it.
“It’s something I’ve had to get accustomed to as our music is starting to become more public. Just doing what you feel is good and sticking to that is, I think, really important.”
As one commentator, presumably a “redneck” spoof review on Tennesseerecord.com noted: “Offbeet acks like Doprah may seem ta be jes a’visitin’ air worl, but wen thay sound thishere good, thay deserve t’ welcum mat.”
This weekend Doprah, which expands to a six-piece in a live setting, is performing two fundraising shows in Dunedin.
“We’re fundraising to go over to the United States,” Marr explains. “We’re a six person band and we’re taking a sound guy so we need to get money together to take seven people. It’s really expensive. We got some money from Outward Sound but we still need to find around $15,000.”
Originally they planned to leave at the end of this month but there was the possibility of a tour with Kimbra so plans were delayed. That particular tour didn’t eventuate but Doprah have two major festivals booked in the United States this year, the esteemed CMJ festival and another festival in Los Angeles.
“The main reason we are going is because we have a manager and a publicist over there,” Force explains. “We are definitely chatting to a lot of different labels internationally about signing to them. Arch Hill has been really great so far and will continue to be our label in Australia and New Zealand.
“We probably will be looking at other labels in America and the United Kingdom.”
Marr says when they were asked to put together a band for the Auckland 95bFM Fancy New Band Showcase last year he had two requirements: “That they were good musicians and that they weren’t dicks.”
Thus, Doprah features Simon Palmer on bass, Ryan Chin on drums (Sandfly Bay/Rickshaw/Ryan Fisherman), Hunter Jackson (The River Jones) and Marr’s bass playing bandmate in Ipswich, Matt Gunn.
“He’s on keyboards. I asked him to join the band on the way out the door to the first practice because I couldn’t be bothered walking to the practice and he had a car.”
Doprah began, under the name Doprah Winfrey, and was Marr’s electronic solo project.
When Force joined, the name was shortened to simply Doprah.
While it has been reported elsewhere that Marr chose the name after an interview Oprah Winfrey did with disgraced cyclist Lance Armstrong, which led to #Doprah twending on Twitter, he disputes this.
“We were already Doprah by then. I remember waking up and #Doprah was trending on Twitter and I got really excited for a minute.”
Doprah are certainly trending now.
Marr and Force met via Rockquest, in a way.
“I stalked her out online,” Marr laughs.
“I watch the Rockquest videos every year. I get bored and sometimes you can find something quite cool or just mildly entertaining.”
He saw a performance by Force, who was living in Auckland at the time, admired her acapella vocals and “great voice” and approached her with a view to including it with his electronic music.
“Rockquest is something everyone does,” Force says. “I found electronic music offered more possibilities. Meeting Steven opened more doors. I like that.”
Force says she wishes she’d helped to write more of their first song, San Pedro.
“I did my vocals, Steven chopped them up and that’s how it came out. I moved down to Christchurch last year to start working on the album.”
She believes the biggest aspiration of any musician is to make music no-one has ever done before.
Doprah’s sound cannot be labelled, pigeon-holed and put in a box. If you’re searching for vague signposts, think Radiohead, Massive Attack, Tricky or Portishead.
Overseas reviews have described their music as everything from trip-hop to “cloud rap” and “dance club music”.
“I wouldn’t really call it trip-hop,” Marr says. “And I don’t know where cloud rap came from.”
“I didn’t rap.”
She says she knows people want to relate the music to something or know what it sounds like but she loves the idea that their music lies outside genre description.
“Genres should be pushed to the side. I like that people struggle with that because that’s a good sign to me.”
When you make music you share a part of yourself. It’s a vulnerable state to be in.
“People are shoving their souls up on YouTube,” Force says.
“It’s a very naked way to be. I personally appreciate it if music is honest and vulnerable and has genuine qualities.”
Both Force and Marr have other musical outlets.
Force performs solo as Indi, while Marr’s “post-punk post-rock” outlet, Ipswich – self-described on bandcamp.com as “three losers making music for other losers” – is currently “on hiatus”.
“For me my solo project is the fun experimental side of what I do,” Force says. “It is good to have another creative outlet.”
Force is looking forward to going overseas and sharing their music.
“My main priority as soon as I got in a band was ‘I have to get out of New Zealand’ because if you stay you are f…ed because you need to get out there and explore the world.”
She is unsure if their full-length album will be released this year or next but she is excited about finishing it.
“I’d really like to hear a fully complete version of our work over the last year.”
Marr says he has been working on it, in part, at Lyttelton’s The Sitting Room studio.
Force has a compelling stage presence. She immerses herself in each performance.
“I’m worried it’s too much. I watched a video recently and I finally saw myself. I was all sweaty and my face was making weird shapes and I thought ‘I have to tone it down’.”
On stage she likes to feed off the crowd. She never wants to be in a band which is just going through the motions.
“I find it hard to watch a band who isn’t getting into it. I’ve always admired expressive players and singers. At the same time I despise the expectations of front people. I think everyone in the band does an equal amount.”
It’s a fine line, however.
While she believes the live experience is something which should be a performance it shouldn’t become too much about the performance.
“Like Taylor Swift’s 13 costume changes. Why do they do that”
Perhaps it’s because the music is bland
This is not an accusation which could ever be levelled at Doprah.
Forget the statistics, out of Christchurch, the next big sound is here.
Doprah play two shows in Dunedin tonight and Saturday night, fundraising for their United States tour. See doprah.bandcamp.com, and the Doprah Weekend Fundraising Extravaganza Facebook page.
They are also included on the recently announced lineup for this year’s Rhythm & Alps festival, to be held at Cardrona Valley on December 30-31, alongside Bastille, Shapeshifter, Zane Lowe, Chet Faker, Just Blaze, London Elektricity and more. See rhythmandalps.co.nz