I recently sat down for a chat with Michael Eliran–singer, songwriter, and guitarist for his band, Dolly Spartans. We talked about his band’s beginnings, his music, inspirations…we threw in some Kendrick Lamar, and some insights on teen culture.
Dolly Spartans is doing some great things right now so read up, listen to their songs, and stop by their concert on Saturday, June 4, at Bushwick Public House.
N: What made you want to start a band?
M: The music I listen to and write is very band-centric. The high school [LaGuardia] I went to had such a big community of bands and it was great to be a part of that. It’s also fun developing a band, and kind of creating a community. Bands are essentially families (dysfunctional or not), and when you have the right people it’s a euphoric experience. When you’re going on the road and playing shows and figuring out parts, to feel that kinship and that bond grow more and more is the best feeling. To have that love of music in common– when you have a group of people that share your love of music to the same extreme and you vibe together as musicians– it’s just a very special thing.
N: How did you meet your band family? Who writes the songs?
M: I do, but as a band they’re really brought to life. Finding a band that works is one of the hardest things an artist has to do. It’s taken years playing with different people and mixing and matching, both for short and long periods of time, until we ended up with the perfect lineup. When the chemistry’s there, you know it, and it’s definitely there now.
N: Dolly Spartans is a pretty unique name. How did it come about?
M: Honestly, when we were preparing our first CD, I just picked it out of a list of names on a note on my iPhone. I was saving the name for a different project but it just stood out. It was very last minute, and very random, but it stuck. I used to want to go back on the name and change it, but now people seem to like it, even people who haven’t listened to us. Someone posted on our page saying “I haven’t listened to you guys yet so I have no idea if you’re any good but I luv your name god bless.”
It’s also just kind of silly wordplay. That’s another reason I like it. It sounded fun, and we were making fun music, so it was a pretty good fit I think.
N: What would you describe your music as?
M: I guess my music… it’s tricky ’cause when it comes to styles I’m all over the place. I would call Dolly Spartans indie rock or garage pop or something. We have a lot of different elements going on. We’ve got some post punk, some jangle pop, garage rock, indie alternative something… (chuckles) I mean… I just write music I guess, whatever comes to mind. The stuff I don’t include in Dolly is even more random. I guess a better word is diverse. I wrote this somewhat psychedelic song for this movie once and I have a whole bunch of folk songs recorded somewhere on my phone. It’s hard to believe, but I’ve even dabble in like electronic music… kind of as a joke or a test to see if I can, to be honest, but it’s not half bad.
N: When you play shows, do you have a specific message to convey to your audience?
M: I wouldn’t say there’s a very specific message. I know a lot of bands that do have this specific thing they want to convey. For me, I think what’s more important is to make the audience feel something. Music is such an important experience, and all my favorite musicians… they create something that’s just more than songs or instruments. There’s a certain catharsis that comes with the music, they don’t just sound great, they transcend that and create this emotional experience that leaves you in awe… it’s amazing how music can make you feel joy or tap into your sadness, or just be the perfect companion to something you’re going through. It’s a special form of communication, when it comes down to it. As long as my music makes someone feel something– that’s what counts.
N: What are your biggest influences?
M: There are a lot. I have so many influences, it’s kind of funny… I’m afraid to say all of them. Probably the most important influences in Dolly Spartans are bands that focus a lot on melody and texture. A band I got really into a few years back and one that’s shaped a lot of the early Dolly Spartans work is Guided by Voices. It’s amazing how many hooks Robert Pollard Jr. can pack one after the other, and all his songs are minute long powerhouses; it’s impressive as hell. Deerhunter have been a recent influence. I love the atmosphere they create with their instrumental and vocal work and how they balance the atmosphere with really memorable melodies. The jangly guitar work of The Smiths was definitely a formative guitar reference, along with the interplay of bands like The Strokes and Interpol. I think a lot of bands I like, including the ones I mentioned and a lot of the ones I’m blanking on right now owe a ton to the experimentation and the immediacy of the bands from the 60s, especially The Beatles. I mean, The Beatles are essential the ideal band, in terms of melody, image, evolution, experimentation, you name it. It’s hard to find a band that good in every aspect. I should probably point out that it’s not just indie rock that influences me. My favorite album of all time is Pink Moon by Nick Drake, who’s this folk songwriter who was just ahead of his time. I owe a ton to my classical background, too; I think that’s where I got my sense of counterpoint, and a lot of the Impressionist composers definitely taught me a thing or two about texture. You would never imagine, but one of my most recent inspirations has been To Pimp a Butterfly by Kendrick Lamar. The guy’s just a genius, the way he uses words and ties his albums together thematically. Gets me every time. In terms of mediums other than music, I think one factor that’s been in a lot of culture is visual art. Sometimes it’s seeing what artists wear or even how they carry themselves. I’ve been going to a lot of museums and galleries, too. Inspiration can come from anything, anyone, or anywhere; that’s one thing I’ve learned as I’ve gone along doing this.
N: When your band started out, did you find it hard to find gigs or getting the word out?
M: I think that every band loves and wants to play to people. It’s always fun to play with each other but at the end of the day you want to communicate to and develop an audience. Up to a certain point it’s always going to be a struggle. Was it hard in the beginning? Definitely. And is it hard now? It depends. We mostly stay focusing on playing and for me, writing. If people come, they come.
N: What do you see for your band in the future?
M: I try not to think about it. I prefer to focus on the here and now. It’s hard to make music when you think of your music as a product. I try to stay away from the business side of it and keep myself creative. Strategically figuring out what lies ahead is one of the most toxic things you can do to yourself and your music.
N: What do you generally think about teen music and culture?
M: Teen culture is confusing. It really is. It follows a lot of trends that kind of contradict each other. And I feel like it’s very transient, in a sense, like there’s always something that stays for a few months and becomes this hot commodity for exclusivity, and then suddenly becomes irrelevant. At the same time, though, the teen voice is super powerful; it’s the next generation, so it should be. The teen music scene at the moment is pretty great, though. This is a serious understatement, but there are so many talented people I know that are more or less my age, it’s really inspiring.
N: Thoughts on Adidas originals?
M: Oh, I have no opinion on them, I don’t follow much of those fashion trends. I’m wearing sambas right now though if that counts.
In terms of the overall culture, it can be kind of a toxic thing, which is a strong word, but it really can impact one’s psyche. When teens follow what’s trending just for the sake of the trend, they’re often trying to find an identity or fit in. There’s a lot of peer influence involved. People are afraid to like what they like, as if their own taste might make them uncool.
N: Do you think there is something that makes your band different?
M: I can’t call my own writing and band “different,” I’m too close to it. What might be unique I guess is that even though our music evolves from year to year based on what turns us on musically or what we’re feeling you can still tell it’s us.
N: How has being based in New York affected your band?
M: I think every band that grows up in NYC is like, “Oh yeah! We’re a New York band!” Since NYC is such a hotspot for music with a lot of people coming here for the music and culture in general, it adds a little something to it. Not that other places don’t have it, but since the city itself is such a melting pot, there are just so many cool things going on. New York has a lot of great places, and a great sense of like-minded people sharing their love of music and starting things up. I go to Shea Stadium, where we played back in April and where we’re going to play in July as well, pretty often and it’s one of my favorite places to go to because of the people there and the bands they book that I wouldn’t have heard otherwise. A lot of the people that work there are doing their own musical projects too and it’s such a great community. I love how NYC creates all these communities through music.
N: What advice would you give to a teen band just starting out?
M: I definitely would say find a group of likeminded individuals who are just as passionate as you are and who you click with. Good communication in a band is super important. Another thing is practicing as much as possible. Playing as many shows as possible, too, to gain experience. Confidence is key. Not everyone’s going to like your music, that’s just how the world works. If everyone liked the same thing there’d be no evolution of music, so always stay confident in what you’re doing– not arrogant, but confident. And always try to reach out to people– be nice to someone, they’ll give it back to you.
N: How would you describe your band’s fashion style?
M: To be honest, everyone in the band has their own style. Recently I’ve been wearing a lot of big t-shirts. I used to be all about the button-downs, In the winter I rocked the whole sweater and button-down thing, but now I’m into t-shirts.
I wear band t-shirts from friends of mine. I like the way they look. People come up with some cool designs, man. The music industry would be much better if everyone just supported other bands and band shirts are a great way of spreading word of mouth. So that’s what Dolly Spartans does, we go out and support other bands and rep their merch, because in the end we’re all just making music and having fun.
Check out Dolly Spartans on Spotify and iTunes
And definitely come out and support them at Bushwick Public House this Saturday:
Or at any of these upcoming dates:
June 14 – Tubecats w/ Wydyde – Amherst, MA
June 17 – Underground Animal -Philadelphia, PA
June 26 – Don Pedro – Brooklyn, NY
July 1 – Shea Stadium – Brooklyn, NY
More information is up on their facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/dollyspartans/app/123966167614127/
Thanks for reading!