Rosie Jones and Zoe Nicol are the Worry Dolls and first met while attending the Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts as students. They have come a long way since those early days and their debut, Go Get Gone has been receiving widespread critical acclaim since the release in January last. Lonesome Highway has reviewed their album and featured their music on our radio show. We were delighted to meet with them on their maiden tour of Ireland for plenty of conversation, laughter and tea …
Tell us about touring. You have not been off the road since the start of 2017.
We have had a couple of days off since the release of the album in January but it has been pretty intense. A few breaks, but it has been constant touring.
What countries have you been to?
Mainly touring the U.K. but we have also been to Belgium and Spain. We did our own headline tour in England and also toured with Ian Hunter (Mott the Hoople fame), which was really different and fun. It was the hottest week of the year and we call it our sweaty clubs Rock 'n' Roll tour. We also did our Country tour with Sam Outlaw and now we are touring Ireland for the first time.
You originally met at Liverpool University?
We became great friends and saw each other play at open mic nights. We began writing and collaborating on a very relaxed basis; let’s just hang out and learn a cover or write a song. We had a Bluegrass band as part of a project and Rosie had purchased a mandolin which she wanted to master by learning Nickle Creek songs. They are technically difficult and I was obsessed – tabbing them not for note and practicing 8 hours a day, wanting to be as good as the best. We realised that we harmonised really well together and that it was all very natural to us.
Is it true that Sir Paul McCartney gave you advice?
Yes, he is a former pupil of the Institute of Performing Arts and he mentors the third-year songwriters. It was just him and us in a room with him listening to our songs. We had been paired by the school as a natural team when we could have been put with anyone from the class.
Was he of practical help in terms of advice?
We were both somewhat in awe of the whole thing but we did soak up what he said to each of us. He was really helpful on little tweaks in song-writing techniques and one of the really big things that we got out of it was his advice to change up the melody in the second verse in order to keep the listener interested. That has stayed with us when writing, that you don’t have to repeat the same thing. It was strange having him listen to our songs and then play them back to us!
So, a couple of E.P.’s released and then the big decision to relocate stateside with a move to Nashville
We had been working towards that decision for a long time and like anything in life, sometimes you just have to do that crazy thing or you never quite see what could happen. We went to Nashville with half an album written and it could have all been an epic failure. But we both trusted that it was the right thing to do.
There are a number of cowrites on the album. Was this a conscious decision?
Our first EP was recorded at University while our second was written when we were living in London and was more representative of what we were doing. We went out to Nashville initially for 10 days, meeting friends and new people. Everybody there says ‘let’s just write a song’; almost like going for a coffee. We were inspired and it became part of the story of the album. Songwriters in Nashville are credited much more than in England where it does not seem to matter who wrote the song. In the States the songwriter if often credited higher than the artist and we wrote so many songs as a shared experience.
Was it a culture shock and intrusive to suddenly be faced with letting others into your creative process?
No. We are together already and a strong writing unit. It might have felt intrusive if it had just been one of us and new people that we had never met. We are so solid in what we want to create so it was ok to let someone else come in and share what they thought would work. There is a transition between writing on your own and writing with another person. We had already been through this when we first decided to start writing together so to let someone new into the collaboration process was not as difficult as it may seem. We felt very much at home in Nashville and we brought a lot of that feeling back home with us to London. We feel like a part of that community now and you just have to know how to find these groups which exist in all of these areas – it’s just finding it and being a part of that network.
Bread & Butter is your record label. Are you happy with their input?
Very much so. It’s a U.K. label but one of the heads works for an American label in their European division. They help us go to the next level by assisting in distribution further afield than just what you could do on your own. It is all about working together to ultimately help us grow as artists. We had recorded the album ourselves and were about to release it before any label was involved. We had a distributor that was willing to come on board but we could never have had the success we did by not waiting for a year in order to have Bread & Butter come on board.
Are you happy with the way that the record has been selling?
We don’t always see the figures for how the album is selling digitally and we always do our best sales after the live shows – hopefully there is a big cheque in the post for us down the road! That would be nice.
The fact that you have done it all yourselves augers well for the future
Yes, and the nice thing about this Irish Tour is that we had been playing recently with a band, whereas now we can get back to our roots. We always wanted the core of it to be just the two of us, which is why we made the album stripped back and that it sounds like us. The additional musicians and instruments that came on board for the record was wonderful but hopefully everyone will appreciate us playing it live as a duo.
On the album there are songs about travelling, the need to be free, experiencing the new, leaving and wanting to return.
The creative process is the best part and the songs are so fresh that some of them were only written a few days before we went into the studio. Miss You Already was written as an acapella song initially and it was only later that we added the instruments for the studio. She Don’t Live Here is about the sacrifices that you take. That was one of the only songs we played on the piano and our life change was involved in the song along with the fact that the piano we wrote it on had been given to us by a family member that subsequently died. It is the last song that we wrote for the album and is a special song for us.
The song Passport speaks of a negative experience that you had as part of being in this career?
It’s about how not everyone has your best interests at heart. It’s not about a specific relationship and it was somebody we didn’t know. We were opening our hearts up to a lot of wonderful things but unfortunately when you do that a certain amount of darkness can also come your way.
It is all part of the odyssey you have embarked on. It must be very rewarding to see the attention that is now coming your way?
It feels like the tables are turning a little bit after all the hard work that we put in. It can be funny however because anything that brings you right up the next day you can be brought back down again! It keeps you on your feet. Playing the Cambridge Folk Festival was the most incredible experience and to hear people singing your songs back to you in the middle of the day was special. Country 2 Country was another highlight, along with London Fashion week appearance; Jessie Weston is this incredible western-style designer with native American stuff which is so our vibe! We played the catwalk and it was amazing to see the models in real life; the way they can just switch on that look.
Do you write from a personal perspective?
I think that the songs will always be written from a personal angle. If you don’t write something from personal experience then people are not necessarily going to connect with it. From co-writing you get less precious, in that words you would never use can be given new meaning. For example, the song Someday Soon has a refence to ‘my last cigarette’ and I never would have used this as a non-smoker. However, as a metaphor for being down on your luck it works really well … I would like for the two of us to just write the next record and to each take the lead more on certain songs in this direction. This will not be taking us away from the personal!
So, this nomadic life is suiting you at the moment. You haven’t started getting tired of the travelling yet?
In the time we had off we were moving house but luckily our base is very happy, so wherever we are, we are never going to feel alone. Meeting people after the shows is important and we love to hang out at the end of our performance getting feedback.
Both Rosie and Zoe are charming in conversation and totally open in their honest assessment of their career trajectory to date. They contribute equally to the answers and often talk with great enthusiasm so that the answers recorded here are a composite, without singling out who exactly said what and when. We look forward to following their continued success into the future!
Interview by Paul McGee