Photo credit: Julie Zielinski
Berkeley resident Shelley Doty is considered to be one of the best independent artists in music. Influenced by artist such as female rock group Heart, Jimi Hendrix, and John Coltrane Doty is making a name for herself in her own rite.
Doty is an accomplished artist that has performed as a solo artist and has recorded with a plethora of artist such as Bonfire Madigan, Yo Miles! and Kindness. She has also performed with mainstream artist such as Sarah McLachlan, The Pretenders, the Neville Brothers, and No Doubt. Her musical style covers many genres including jazz, funk, and rock.
Doty is the winner of the Lilith Fair Talent Search and a founding member of the popular band, Jambay, a group which she co-founded with two college friends. Jambay relentlessly toured the West Coast for several years before disbanding. To date, she has recorded two independent CDS with her band Shelley Doty X-tet on Howling records, her own independent label.
Doty has ventured into the movie making realm as the co-creator, script writer, and musical director for the Sci-Fi animated movie Strange Frame. The film earned kudos at the 2012 Dragon Con convention. She chatted with Prideindex about her inspirations, influences, and her movie making experiences.
PRIDEINDEX: I saw the movie Strange Frame, and I knew that I just had to have a conversation with you about your involvement with the film.
SHELLEY DOTY: I’m glad you enjoyed the film.
PI: According to published reports, you are a “Guitar Goddess.” Tell me a little bit about your musical career and how you got started. What was your inspiration?
SD: Let’s see… I have been a professional musician for many years now. I grew up listening to jazz and a lot many things that did not necessarily inspire me to pick up the guitar…My older brothers turned me on to rock bands like Led Zeppelin and stuff like that and….I became a huge fan of Heart… [And] once I heard Nancy Wilson sing guitar, it just sprung on me. It was like, “Oh My God,” I don’t want to just listen to that and pretend, I want to play the guitar…. I’ve talked to a lot of different female instrumentalists, and the one thing that we all have in common is another woman playing an instrument has inspired us to pick up an instrument. It’s like seeing yourself doing just that, doing something that you really did not realize that you could even aspire to. It made all the difference. It’s sort of an interesting thing to me because as a female instrumentalist I take very seriously my responsibility to girls out there who may have not even realized that “Hey, I can pick up a guitar too and play it like that!” One of the things I have heard people say is that there is one way the guys play and another way the women play, which I totally disagree with. The fact of the matter is that as a young girl I saw a woman playing just like the guys play and that’s what opened up that inspirational channel for me. The thing that I wanted to do was to learn to play the lead guitar. I just wanted to be able to communicate through my instrument. And that’s something that I have been working on for the last 30 years of my career.
PI: Who are some of your music inspirations?
SD: I would have never picked up a guitar if not for Nancy Wilson, but as a far as overall music, there is John Coltrane, Nina Simone, and Sarah Vaughan…In the Rock world, there is of course Jimi Hendrix, pretty much everything I hear inspires me.
PI: That’s a little bit surprising to hear you say John Coltrane and then Nancy Wilson strictly because they are different genres. I would expect that you would only mention rockers like Hendrix or Janis Joplin.
SD: Well, like I said, everything I hear has inspired me, but remember I started off with a Jazz background. As far as the rock genre I play in, I pretty much play anything that I feel like. I play rock with a jazz attitude because improvisation is the key to life. Without it, I would get bored, and the people I play for would get board too.
PI: Where did you go to school?
SD: I went to the University of California at San Diego (UCSD), and I started off as a Biology major, but I switched to music. It had not occurred to me when I first started in college that I could have a professional music carrier. I realized that music is my passions , so I had to switch my career.
PI: Tell me a little about Jambay. Why did you break up and will you ever perform together again?
SD: Jambay is a band that we formed when we were in college. In 1989, three of the bands members were going to school at UCSD and the fourth member moved down from Washington State to join the band. The fourth member went to high school with the band’s drummer. Jambay was an amazing eclectic at the forefront of the whole Jan band scene… We toured hard for 7 years. We were pretty much the epitome of. We did what I called the “yo-yo tour” up and down the West Coast up through Vancouver to San Diego. For the seven years that we were together, we toured for about five years. We did go across the country, but it was mostly up and down the Coast. The band parted ways I guess when you stick four 19-20 year olds in a pressure cooker for seven years and you try to have every one musical output and try to capture in that one space at some point just does not work it just becomes too much. (Laughs) It was an amazing point in my life. Will we ever play together again? I would say yes! In fact, we have played together again….Our most recent reunion was probably three years [ago]. I am not one to let the cat out of the bag, but there might be another reunion someday soon.
PI: Tell me about your transition from being a musician to your involvement with Strange Frame.
SD: Strange Frame came into being because GB Hajim and I were good friends. We met in college he went to UCSD as well and both of us are tremendous lovers of science fiction. Then one day 12 years ago, my wife and I [visited] GB and his family at his house. GB and were driving our wives crazy as we were going through some of our favorite animated books and talking about creating our own animated television series, so we co created this whole universe, and some of the concepts that you saw in Strange Frame came to life. We spent years writing scripts together. I wrote music and we applied for grants for the television version of Strange Frame. Then we realized that people really wanted to buy our idea rather than to help us make it. We decided that we could not make it fit into a corporate culture that comes with television production; it just would not work because it was too limiting. At that point, we shifted our energy into making it as an independent series or feature length film. Strange Frame is the first of these series and it serves as the prequel for the original television concept. GB and I co-wrote the script, and he formed the animation production house basically from scratch and started the designing and animating and I started writing music.
PI: The music is off the chain, OMG, Strange Frame is a wonderful film. I’m glad to have it in my collection.
SD: Thanks for saying that. I did not write all of the music. I wrote a lot of the songs that the characters in the film sing. I have to thank my musical supervisor, Dave Pellicciaro, who’s a good friend of mine that I brought onboard once we really started moving, so I cannot talk credit for all of the music. One of the things that GB and I knew from the start was that the story had to strongly integrate music and visuals. When we wrote the scripts, we wrote dialog that was actually lyrics for songs. Before I even had the song, I knew that this line was going to be sung as opposed to be spoken. To be able to go from the bottom, from scratch, was an incredible experience for me. This was first film that I was really involved in although I had done some composing here and there? To be able co-write a script, compose a bunch of the music, and use all of my inspirations as a musician and songwriter and seamlessly integrated fashion has been a dream.
PI: What was your muse for the song you wrote for Strange Frame called “Healing Sex?”
SD: I wrote a song that was in the movie “Healing Sex;” it was not in Strange Frame.
PI: Okay, I had it wrong.
SD: “Healing Sex’ was an amazing dramatization project to help survivors of sexual abuse to reclaim their sexuality.
PI: If your creative muse were a bird, what kind of bird would it be?
SD: (Oh that’s a very interesting question) I guess I would have to say an osprey or I would like say it would be an eagle. Eagles are hunters; they are not above eating dead things off the ground. (Laughs)
PI: So that means that you are a survivor?
PI: Tell me about what projects you are working on right now?
SD: I am really excited because I just got out of the studio to playing lead guitar for an amazing artist by the name of Gina Greedlove who is about to release her CD in May here in Berkeley. I am also always hunting for my own band WS Love. No one can ever stop me from that. I guess I can say that till I am 75 I will always be able to book a show here locally. No one can pry my guitar out on hand. I just started another band with Coffee Brown on drums and Vickie Randall on bass; it’s a very amazing power trio of queer black women just going it for it. It’s that excitement that we’re like teenagers playing together in the basement, but we all actually have all of our shit together. (Laughs)
PI: Have you ever been here to Chicago or anywhere in the Midwest?
SD: I was actually born in Chicago, but moved to Berkeley when I was three years old. I have no memory what so ever. I would love to come back and get a little more with the roots of my foundation, but I have not spent any time there
PI: Going back to Strange Frame… Were the lead characters from Strange Frame based on you or your experiences or you?
SD: Not necessarily, he certainly borrowed my hair, but as we tell the story about Parker, we talk about life as a touring musician, but it’s not as if she illustrates my personal life. I do lend my voice a character named “Terpsee” in the film.
PI: I am going to go and watch the film again to catch the voice.
PI: What is your long term goal professionally?
SD: That’s a good question that folks have been asked me when I was twenty years old. I guess I would say that I would like to be a self defined artist, a musician, and a [filmmaker and writer]. I would love to delve into that novel. I will never stop playing music; it is part of who I am, how I breathe, and I will never stop doing that. And I will take on projects that inspire me. I am lucky enough where I have a wife and six year old son; my wife is gainfully employed and I get to watch our kid and play music. I am lucky enough to be in a situation where I do not have to play music just to pay the rent, and that’s a real blessing.
PI: Where can we find your music?
SD: At Shelleydoty.com. I always tell folks that’s two “L’s” and two “E’s” just not right next to each other.