Doll Sisters on the road to stardom
The Doll Sisters are Central Alberta Prairie girls who write brooding sea chanties, as well as beautiful, forlorn love ballads about doomed romances.
Since Edgar Allan Poe is one of their biggest influences, along with steampunk style and “sorrowful” Celtic music, it seems all too appropriate that The Doll Sisters hail from the Raven area, southwest of Red Deer.
“We’ve made a joke that you have to add up the body count at the end of our new album,” Off the Edge of the Earth, said Jenna Doll, with a giggle. “There are some very sad songs on it.”
Jenna and her sister Shelby Doll, at age 21 and 20 respectively, thankfully haven’t experienced a lot of personal tragedy in their young lives. Jenna, the older blond sister, said their songwriting is mostly stimulated by their imaginations, and shaded by a love of Poe’s gothic horror stories and the heightened emotions of Celtic and Appalachian music.
“We’ve always related to that style,” she added. “It’s extremely sorrowful.”
Echoes of tragedy and hardship infuse the soulful harmonies The Doll Sisters deliver, and this moodiness can be felt on their first music video of The Road, the title track from the duo’s debut album.
The duo received a $5,000 grant this summer from Public Records and Telus to create the new video, which is now on YouTube and on TELUS Optik TV.
The Doll Sisters were among only 10 Albertan performers selected for the grant, out of 1,000 applicants from Alberta and British Columbia. A publicist for Public Records said the judges were impressed by the sisters’ musicality, professionalism and visual concepts for the video.
It features Jenna and Shelby striding through high grasses and a forest in trailing Victorian skirts, while carrying worn instrument cases.
“The song is about people struggling in hard times and trying to journey towards finding hope and peace.” said Jenna, who wrote the tune with the Depression era in mind. “I was just thinking: what if you can’t see a light at the end of the tunnel, but you have to keep trudging along the road?”
Not only does Jenna have a “huge” interest in history, she said she also loves the acoustic melodies and harmonies associated with the dust bowl 1930s. “The music is so powerful and there’s so much passion . . . .”
The Doll Sisters were actually raised on Rankin Family tunes, which was the Celtic-flavoured music favoured by their parents. To this day, Jenna said she and Shelby would be absolutely thrilled if a member of the Rankins heard their music. “That would be amazing!”
While their family is ensconced in landlocked Alberta, Jenna believes she and Shelby would feel at ease on the Atlantic Coast because their grandparents were born in England, Ireland and Scotland.
“We’re from the Prairies, and I’ve only seen the ocean once, but I think we would feel at home living in both places . . . I guess it feels like it’s in our blood.”
The broiling sea appears in the title track from the duo’s new album, Off the Edge of the Earth, which is described as a Celtic rock song. Jenna said it’s about a sea captain who’s being chased by the devil during a storm and fears he’s being driven off the world’s edge.
In contrast, Weeping Willow is a slower tune the sisters co-wrote with their mom, who’s actually a great songwriter, said Jenna.
“It’s about somebody who’s dying and saying to a lover, ‘Don’t cry for me.’ . . . It’s a very sad song,” she added.
But this second album by The Doll Sisters actually contains some more rollicking tracks than the first one — even though they are more challenging to write, the singer admitted.
“We really want to see if we can get this (album) to take off,” said Jenna, who with Shelby has performed at festivals and coffee houses across Alberta and B.C. and into Saskatchewan.
The Rocky Mountain House-based duo are next set to showcase their new album at the Folk Music Ontario conference this fall. The sisters were also excited to recently be invited to sing at the International Folk Alliance conference in Kansas City, Mo., in 2014.
The Dolls have come a long way since starting singing in the little log church built in 1926 near the family farm.
A few years ago, Jenna began playing the guitar and Shelby took up the fiddle. Their instrumentation now also includes a mandolin and a bodhran, an Irish frame drum.
“I know if we went to the East Coast, we would feel right at home,” said Jenna, who hopes to tour across Canada someday soon.
The Doll Sisters perform tonight at 5 p.m. at the Railway Promenade on 48th Street in Sylvan Lake.
They play the Kaleido Family Arts Festival in Edmonton at the Carrot Arts Community Coffeehouse at 4 p.m. on Saturday and at the Marda Loop Centre in Calgary at 7 p.m. on Oct. 4.