I wasn’t sure what to expect when DC four-piece SEAMSTRESSES took the stage at Slash Run in November.
I was told it was the band’s first in-person show, which made the prospect of seeing them perform even more exciting. Here was a chance to experience a live show that was going to be just as new for the band as it was for the audience. What would they sound like? What kind of show would they put on?
The only hint I had was the evocative description on the show flyer, which promised: “Haunted carnival music from the end of the world.”
SEAMSTRESSES did not disappoint. I was immediately struck by how confident and self-assured that “ringleader” Hester Doyle was when they introduced the band’s first song. What proceeded was the first of many standout songs that reverberated with a wide-eyed wonder and theatricality that is rare for a local indie rock band.
While SEAMSTRESSES’ sound draws from vaudeville and dark cabaret acts like Dresdan Dolls, it’s also evident this is a band that revels in the emotional power of the music it makes. Yes, SEAMSTRESSES will entertain you. But they will also move you in unexpected ways.
I was delighted when SEAMSTRESSES kindly agreed to perform their second, in-person show at the Friday, Dec. 3, 2021 edition of WE FOUGHT THE BIG ONE at the Marx Cafe in Mt. Pleasant. I know the band’s show will be one to remember. To coincide with this exciting event, I reached out to Hester via e-mail to find out more about this intriguing band. Hester has some interesting things to say about how the band formed, what the creative process is like and how the band feels about bringing these powerful songs to a live audience. Read on!
1) How did Seamstresses form? Who’s in the band?
Hester: Seamstresses consists of Alyson Cina, Greg Svitil, Rachel Bauchman, and me–Hester Doyle. The band started nearly two years ago, in February 2020, when a friend and bandmate introduced me and Greg. Our first jam together, which was supposed to be about two hours, went for more than four hours, and we even created the first parts of “Maya’s Song,” one of the songs we perform now. We worked on both my compositions and Greg’s songs for Teething Veils pretty much nonstop for two weeks before the world shut down for COVID. We tried practicing together online, but too many technical glitches kept us from jamming the way we wanted to (the inspiration for “Plague Love Song”: “It was a day without a day, an unday, a joke that time played on us–sitting in separate homes, singing softly alone”). Finally we decided we’d be in each other’s bubble, and we spent most of lockdown creating a lot of the songs you heard in our first show. When the world began to open back up, we finally had a chance to recruit members to build the full band sound we’d been dreaming of all along. Alyson joined on drums and Rachel picked up keys and they’ve brought so much to our imaginations and our sound.
2) To me, the phrase “haunted carnival music from the end of the world” is an inspired description of Seamstresses’ songs. It simultaneously captures the larger-than-life, theatrical aspects of the band as well as the powerful emotion at the core of your music. Did you form the band with a clear vision of the band’s sound in mind?
Hester: Yes and no; Seamstresses is the first band I’ve fronted and the first band I’ve been the primary songwriter for (in my first band, Daamsel, I’d say I split songwriting pretty evenly with my collaborator Rye Rayne). So when I first started jamming with Greg, I’m not sure I had any idea of where I wanted it to go–in fact, I was mostly focused on overcoming my own fear and insecurity and finding the courage to sing in front of another human. I definitely have very strong influences from cabaret punk, The Dresden Dolls, Beirut, Rasputina, and other groups that build eclectic, eccentric worlds along with their music. But it’s hard to say I set out with that vision in mind because I’m so raw at writing music that I don’t feel I have that much control over how it comes out. I’ve had times I really wanted to form a psychobilly band or a metal band or a folk punk band, but whatever comes out of me just comes out the way it does, without adhering to my wishes for a specific genre. I write by feeling and then figure out what the common thread is. Once we had a body of work taking shape, I started to imagine the character of the ringleader–it started with the outfit, because even in my day-to-day life I try to dress as the persona I want to be that day. It felt like a natural fit with some of our themes–magic, Tarot, child-like wonder–and it’s a world I felt possessed by, a world I felt I could build on stage and invite listeners into. In that way it’s a lot like how I write fiction; first and foremost, I want to create a world for readers, and people in that world who they can connect with.
3) What is the band’s process for writing songs? Is there one or two primary songwriters?
Hester: I (Hester) am the lyricist and I’ve shaped most of our songs, but I still feel awkward saying I’m the primary songwriter because all my bandmates have brought so much to each piece. First of all, Greg’s presence is in every song, gentle and encouraging, and both his friendship and his musical senses have helped each song develop; he also generated the riffs that became Plague Love Song and Patterson Park. Then, after 18 months of just the two of us playing, it was a revelation to get Alyson and Rachel involved (we also briefly had Alex Touzinsky playing fiddle and organ, and her musical sensibility definitely helped us shape the songs even though she didn’t have time to stay in the band). We started switching instruments, which gave me leeway to imagine how to take the lush instrumentation I imagine for these songs and adapt it for a four-piece band on the stage. With some songs, all I have is a bass part or keyboard part and some lyrics, and the band takes it to another level I never would have been able to invent on my own. With other songs, I have fully composed multiple parts, including baritone guitar, bass, organ, etc–but I’m no drummer, and the second Alyson touches it, I realize how much more there is to be realized about that piece of music. Or Greg adds a flourish on the guitar that completely opens it up, or Rachel hits a bass groove or keyboard element that elevates everything. So even when I do a lot of writing ahead of time, these songs really are collaborative and I’m grateful to the very talented and kind humans who help me make this strange dream a reality.
4) What recording plans do Seamstresses have? Can we expect a release anytime soon?
Hester: We’d like to record an album, though we don’t have studio time booked in the near future. Right now, I’m focused on getting ready to head into the studio this January with Greg for Teething Veil’s newest record, and playing with Seamstresses live a bit more so we can get a feeling for how the songs feel when they interact with listeners.
5) I realize the band has only played one in-person live show so far, but I am curious to know – what does it feel like to bring these songs to a live audience?
Hester: I keep thinking about one of my film professors from college, who said you never make the movie that’s in your head–you just learn how to get a little closer each time. That’s held true for everything I’ve created. What’s unique with Seamstresses is we tinkered for 18 months before we had a chance to share anything with a live audience, so it was a big moment to see how it would finally come together–how people would react to the ringleader character, whether the instrument switching would work or if we’d be able to incorporate the little novelty instruments into transitions and fully enact all the things we’d been dreaming of. There were all sorts of little things I’d meant to do that I forgot or just didn’t have time for, or lost the courage for in the last minute. But afterward, to hear that people had received what we were trying to create–that they experienced even a bit of what I’d hoped to share with them–was incredibly reassuring. I’ve been off in my own little world my whole life, but it feels good to finally invite others inside.
Be sure to check out Seamstresses’ live show at the Friday, Dec. 3rd edition of WE FOUGHT THE BIG ONE in-person at the Marx Cafe (3203 Mt. Pleasant St NW DC 20010) OR online via Zoom. Register for the Zoom link at: bit.ly/WFTBO_SEAMSTRESSES. The show kicks off at 10pm EST.