“This guy was telling me all this stuff that no one else could possibly know,” says Dorothy Martin, the singer and namesake of Los Angeles rock quartet Dorothy. “The theme from The Twilight Zone was playing in my head. It was a ritual cleaning, where this medicine man from Guadalajara spit all over me and blew smoke in my face. It was crazy. Then, we went and climbed a pyramid. When we got to the top there were all these butterflies everywhere. It felt like a dream. But, the weirdest part is that I had written the song before this happened.”
As Dorothy Martin talks about her favorite song (“Medicine Man”) from her band’s forthcoming debut on Jay-Z’s Roc Nation label, you begin to realize the precise reason why her music is so bewitching.
No, it’s not because she might be more of a shaman than that mystic she met in Mexico City. It’s because despite drawing from a familiar musical tradition—they are a rock band after all—Dorothy’s music is rendered anew by this front-woman’s singular vision. All of it is channeled through her. There is no one quite like her. So it follows, there has been nothing quite like this band before now.
“We’re not trying to fit into a box. We’re not trying to write songs we think should be on the radio,” Martin says. “We just want to write good music. For me, the challenge is to be as honest as possible. I cannot live my life as a lie, at all. Every day, I wake up and think, ‘What can I learn today and how can I give something back?’ This is not selfishly motivated. The picture is bigger than me. It has nothing to do with me. It has to do with everybody. How is this going to make me better, other people better, the world better? If you don’t have that, then why even do it?”
Even her contradictions make sense. She is filled with humility, yet wants to change the world. She has managed to tame any trace of an ego, yet knows instinctively she has something. In conversation, she pauses thoughtfully and expresses gratitude. On stage, she’s intimidating and maybe a little scary, but the possibility of danger that lurks inside of her music is what makes you move a little closer. It’s curiosity. You can’t take your eyes off her. But, she is the first to remind you that Dorothy might be her name, but Dorothy is a band. It is both her and not her.
“It’s like having three older brothers,” she says. “I had to magically bump into these people and it’s almost like it was predetermined, or predestined. It really feels that way.”
Rounding out the quartet is drummer Zac Morris, guitarist Mark Jackson and bassist Gregg Cash. Rehearsing and touring and recording for well over a year, they’ve become a close-knit gang. Once upon a time, Jackson and Martin had been writing together in a one-bedroom studio until one evening, Martin stumbled upon Morris outside of Hollywood’s Viper Room and he introduced her to Cash. Soon, she had given them strict grooming rules (no haircut, no shaving) and the band was born. Martin is adamant about Dorothy being a group effort, but she no longer has to make that plea once you’ve heard the songs. The music they make is undeniably the sound of four, a muscular rhythm section elevated by the melodic counterpoint of guitar and vocals, all woven together into something not exactly rock, or blues, or punk, or even a combination of all three. Dorothy is its own invention, built upon familiar foundations, but sounding only like itself. Take “Raise Hell,” a song that shuffles along with nothing less than the blues-rock audacity of a lost Led Zeppelin track. The first verse arrives and Martin upends the whole affair, floating high above the floor-stomp kick drum and slide guitar, conducting this sinister orchestra without a baton, but the singular force of her incomparable voice. Go ahead and make your comparisons, you are not wrong. This is music that belongs on the historical timeline that runs from Black Sabbath up to Rid of Me-era PJ Harvey and right through recent bands like the Dead Weather. But this is Dorothy—next on that list, written in bold, not hiding inside an overcrowded timeline.
The momentum of Dorothy’s rise speaks for itself. Just as Martin describes the formation of the band as something akin to fate, Dorothy’s recent tour in support of Miguel, Rolling Stone putting them high on their list of new bands to know, Levi’s grabbing the track “Wicked Ones” for an international campaign, and the band’s self-made clip for “After Midnight” captivating none other than the decision-makers at Jay-Z’s Roc Nation to sign the four-piece to a label not usually interested in rock bands—Dorothy’s ascent is as transcendent as that pyramid in Mexico City adorned with the flapping wings of magic butterflies. In other words, you can’t really explain it, so step aside or join in. Either way, this thing, this Dorothy, it’s coming right at you.
“I’m just glad that they welcomed us and saw something special,” Martin says of signing to Roc Nation, while pondering the band’s future on the eve of their debut. “I try not to have any expectations. I’m always pushing us to be better. I’m my own toughest critic and I think this record is great. We’ll just have to wait and see what the world thinks.”