Meet Mia Moretti and Margot, DJ-Violinist-Duo of The Dolls
In an evening that anticipated the desperately awaited summer solstice, there was brought forth bright smiles, spiked lemonade cocktails, and a sweet, sweet set by killer DJ-violinist-duo The Dolls. While the sun set across the Hudson river, Imperial Companies kicked off Tuesdays at Henry Hall, a music series bringing the boutique hotel experience to residential living. How chic?
The Dolls, an unconventional match made in heaven, is composed of bad ass DJ Mia Moretti and rocker violinist, Margot. Your jaw will drop to the floor before your booty does when you hear these ladies’ dance-inducing tracks and unbelievably impressive string accompaniments. Not only is their music to die for, but their impeccably unique style, too. We sat down with the poised ladies, Mia clad in Dior while Margot rocked a two piece vintage set, and though we understand it’s hard to imagine that they could get any cooler, our conversation with the girls demonstrates otherwise. Touching upon their formation as a band, a memorable birthday gig amidst a Moroccan forest by the sea, and their dreams of playing atop a pyramid in Egypt on New Years Eve, the interview will prove their creative talents wild, but their aspirations wilder. Check it out below.
I know you guys met at a club in the East Village, but how was the idea of The Dolls conceived? When did it spark?
Mia: Well, the idea was really conceived in the beginning. It’s just taken a lot of different incarnations. We actually weren’t friends when we met. We met on business terms just to get to know each other and play records together, just to get ideas, and see if we wanted to start working together, see if we grooved at all. And from there it blossomed into a friendship.
Margot: Basically a marriage now. We have a joint bank account. And it’s the only I’ll ever have joint.
So Margot plays the violin and does vocals, correct? What’s it like creating the relationship between DJ and violinist? It’s not conventionally a match made in heaven.
Margot: I think it took even us, like Mia said, several incarnations. It’s kind of the perfect word for it because there were no guidelines, there were no boundaries, there was no precedent in a sense for us to be able to grab examples from, and so for us, I think because we came from two totally different worlds, we had a lot to share with each other and also explore with each other. From there it was, I think that, Mia was so fascinated with the classical world and what a live rendition had to bring to her record. I only knew about classical music, so Mia really expanded my knowledge ten-fold, because I just wasn’t exposed to music outside of that. From there, it was just so much experimentation and we had the opportunity to be able to play at such different spaces, from venues, to clubs, to private events, to recording. So, from there I think what we had been drawn to the most right now is disco, Motown, soul funk, just because strings are so predominant in that genre, that we sort of had been playing off of that with our own twist.
And with that said, how do you describe your genre? Like you said, it’s unprecedented, so do you think it falls into a category?
Margot: Yeah, totally. I think we’re still exploring it within our own original music that we’ve been making, but it’s definitely hugely disco influenced for sure. It’s big string arrangements, that big band feel, and whenever we do live shows these days, we like to use horns, or brass bands or a string quartet to heighten that experience of that sound.
Mia: Yeah, I mean, really in the beginning, when we started playing together, I used to call her my third turn table in the sense that you have, when you’re mixing two records together, you have the beat of one record that you’re mixing over another record, and then all of the sudden, I have a new melody coming in like it’s a third turn table in a sense. And for me, it evolved in that way, so it evolved from being this third record that was mixed in, to becoming something that we built more around. So composing pieces and adding the string quartet, or adding a brass band, adding these elements that really transitioned from being this extra piece, to being the focus of it and then what can we pull in to add to that sound that we were creating. And it’s constantly changing, which is the fun of it.
Yeah, so going off of that, it sounds like your process is a lot more back-and-forth rather than Mia producing a track and then just having Margot accompany it.
Mia: Yeah, everything grows organically together now at this stage. Nothing really starts separately. Also, because we both do solo stuff and I think what sort of makes our sound unique to us is how we create together. So if she’s creating something on her own, that’s definitely more of a Margot sound, and probably something that’s on her solo record. And if I’m doing something on my own, that’s something that’s probably more a DJ Mia Moretti record or set, but the beauty of collaboration is that we create something that I would never have created on my own and that only happens when you have those different energies in the room together.
Margot: We’re lucky because we get to play in such vastly different spaces, we get to see how people react to the different songs and things that we make, so it’s always so interesting to see who responds to what and why. Whereas, I think when you are a band, you’re kind of playing to the same audience every day, and you’ll get the same sort of reaction. So, with us, we get to learn a lot about music and what excites different people in that moment.
Mia: Totally, and coming from the DJ world, we have a lot of flexibility to change a record quickly, to change a vibe dramatically, quickly, to really play off of that energy that’s happening in the room and to follow our intuition as we’re performing, which a band I don’t think always has.
So also, touching upon your identity as Mia, and yours as Margot, and then as The Dolls, do you find that hard to distinguish not within your music, but as your identities as artists?
Mia: No, because we don’t have to be different people than who we are as artists when we’re the Dolls. She’s always Margot, she’s not a different person, so I think in those terms, we’re very lucky to be ourselves, but just how we create and perform sounds different, but our personas aren’t different.
Margot: I think it’s also very clear to us what is what, too. I think at least for me…
Mia: I guess your persona is a little different when you’re performing our new songs, but it probably comes naturally with the tone of the music.
Margot: Totally, there are even certain times where I sit down to write something and I’m like ‘This isn’t so much a Margot song than it is a Dolls track.’ And I think that’s become so clear just because of all the different routes that we’ve taken and gone through to get to where we are, I think that clarity has shown itself.
Yeah, and touching upon each of your guys’ exposure to music, was it something that was sought after or were each of you surrounded by music growing up?
Mia: It’s so funny, we both were highly exposed to music all through out our childhood, but in completely different ways. Margot only listened to classical music almost her whole life.
Margot: Yeah, for 18 years. I mean occasionally, I’d turn on the radio and I remember when I’d drive around the country in Florida, but honestly I was so focused, disciplined and determined to play classical that when you study a 20 minute long piece, all you do is study 10 different performances of that one piece, so you’d just have to listen to it constantly. So, I’m literally just listening to the same 20 minute piece all day.
Mia: Which is so interesting, because for me, DJ’ing is all about variety. DJ’ing is all about, for me at least, my style, I want to know as many genres of music as possible. I want to know the weird South African sound, and Ghana sound, and Ethiopian sound, and over to Latin America, Morocco, I want to know a little bit of every type of music possible, and it’s the complete opposite of honing in so finely on one work, even how you talk about listening to five varieties over one piece to decide how you’re going to play it. But it’s so beautiful.
Right, and there’s kind of a parallel to that, because while you’re studying different varieties in terms of genres, Margot studies the same category, but different varieties within that. And so, I know you practiced that years ago, growing up, but do you feel it surface now where you hear some Rihanna track, and you think about different renditions of that one song? I guess you could consider that a remix?
Margot: Yeah! That’s a good point! I mean, for us, how we even initially discovered our sound was doing remixes and doing string edits and sort of going off of that, so I think that’s actually how we started realizing that we wanted to do original music together.
Mia: And I think that when you sit down to do a remix, because it’s so different than performing live, or working off an audience versus sitting in a studio and you deciding what you want that sound to be, not what the people want to hear, we really were able to fine tune what the sound that we wanted to create together is. There are a lot of records when we first sat together, that it wasn’t just ‘Can I play the violin here?’ but, ‘Why would I play the violin here?’ or ‘Do I need to?’ or recognizing that it doesn’t add to the record positively. If it’s not lifting it up, we decide pretty early, let’s not do that, let it be and just find the places where you don’t take away from the sound.
As you were saying, you guys have pretty much played all around the world, but is there any one party, venue, city that you guys still have on your bucket list?
Mia: Ooh, bucket list… Egypt? A pyramid? Under a pyramid? With a full moon? On New Year’s Eve? Can we work that out?
Mia: We’ve traveled a lot in India, and highly enjoyed it, but never played. And we’ve been dying to work on some original music with a lot of those sounds.
Margot: I mean in Bollywood, the strings are almost just as important as they are in Motown. It’s interesting, really, the parallels that there are between the two genres. Bollywood, weirdly enough, was actually the only thing outside of classical that I would listen to in high school because my best friend was from Bangladesh and she was the one that really exposed me to that music. I think that’s why I have a natural inclination and love for it.
What about the one most memorable gig?
Mia: I always say when we played the I.M. Pei pyramid at The Louvre. We’ve played it twice, one time we opened for Diana Ross, the other time we opened for Janet Jackson. That was pretty good, BUT, I think now, looking back, last year we played a birthday party in Tangier, in the middle of a jungle, it went all night long and you had to follow little lights down a path, and there was a clearing where they set up this big tent and it was just this jungle rave. There was just the most positive energy around it.
Margot: Also, we had a gig in Tokyo a couple of months ago, in April I think. It wasn’t actually a gig we played, but just an experience. A friend took us out and it was in this tiny, little run down bar, everyone was super dressed up with wigs and costumes, not cheesy, just ready to go out. And at first I thought to myself, ‘Why is this so special? I haven’t felt this in so long.’ And I realized not one person had their cell phone out. I don’t know what it was, but it was weirdly one of the most fun dance nights I’ve ever had in my life.
And what can we expect from your set tonight, at Henry Hall?
Mia: I think what’s so special about tonight is the energy in the room. The energy of the city, the weather, the time of day, the sun is setting, it’s the first sunny weekend that we’ve really had, it’s the beginning of the summer. This is my favorite time in New York City because that first summer weekend in New York is so irreplaceable, you can’t describe it. The energy of everyone has done a complete 180, you know? It’s like we’ve finally shook off the winter and everyone’s ready to celebrate summer, and happy about life. We’re just going to start playing and see where it takes us, but it’s all about that energy of the day that brings it to life.
Margot: I also think that’s because we don’t have like a set list that we have to abide by. Whereas a band has a set of maybe ten songs that they have to play, but we have the luxury and freedom of designing how we want the night to feel as we go about it.
Yeah, so touching upon that, do you come prepared with a set and then just play off the audience, or..?
Mia: How I always describe it is like how an actor prepares for a film. You learn your lines, you know your script, you memorize it and then you throw it out. We always plan on a set and rehearse something, and then when we get there, we almost always throw it out. We almost always start and say no, no, no, let’s throw it out, let’s not do that. And it’s so important that we can see each other or hear each other, because a lot of times during a set, I’ll be yelling to her ‘I’m putting this song!’ And maybe she’s like ‘No, don’t go into that one! Let’s play another!’ One glance of the eye and I know what she’s thinking.
Margot: Yeah, we’ve learned each others movements.
When you’re not playing, performing, traveling, and it’s summer in New York City, what are you guys up to?
Mia: We’re probably dancing… or eating, or drinking! Isn’t that what you do with your money in New York City!?
All at the same time! So does being able to play at all of these nightlife places change or influence the way, not that you go out, but how you perceive going out here?
Mia: Yeah, I mean when we go out, we usually go to new places. We go to something that we don’t play, or never play, and there are also DJs that we love and support. Also places like Tiki Disco that is such a tradition in New York and alway so good to go and dance and hear good music. If anyone hasn’t checked that out, I’d say do it.
And what have you guys been cooking up lately? Any new projects?
Mia: Well Margot has a solo record coming out with Warner!
Margot: Yeah! We’ve also been saying this for quite some time, but we have a single, a couple of new singles, that are going to come out. As of now, it’s still called Club Soda, but yeah it’s getting there. I think that timing is everything, and divine timing is even more of a thing and I think that our divine time is finally coming.
Anything else you guys want to add that I haven’t touched upon?
Mia: Oh! You guys should all go buy the Katy Perry record, because there’s a song that I co-wrote. It’s called ‘Tsunami’ so go buy that! Mike Will produced it.
Margot: It’s my favorite song on the record!
Images courtesy of Visuals by Pierre for Henry Hall.
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