There’s an element of duality to Dorthia Cottrell’s craft as a musician. Her origins were humble and earnest – practicing in her bedroom as a self-described ‘angsty teenager’ whilst using the acoustic guitar as a cathartic tool - an act that carries on to this day in the form of her solo project. However the desire to transpose these skills into something heavier remained dormant until joining Windhand in 2009, now granting her a viewpoint into the worlds of both a solo artist and that of a band’s vocalist. Using these two avenues to create music, Cottrell’s musical career opens up questions as to how a musician can blend between these two worlds and how each one balances her life.
“I’ve been playing my acoustic stuff forever, since I was around twelve or thirteen,” says Cottrell. “In that time I developed my own way of playing and doing things up until I joined Windhand when I was 21 or 22, so I think I brought that talent to heavier music. I always wanted to be in a heavier band but I never had anyone to play with. When I joined, that was really my first time singing over heavier music. We started off with a shitty PA and I was always struggling to hear myself and sing over the music which lead to the way I sing now with Windhand - those ‘soaring’ vocals.”
While things rolled ahead and Cottrell became more comfortable with employing a neater style of singing (as opposed to gruffer vocals or screaming), she still managed to find the time to unveil her self-titled debut as a solo performer in 2015, next to the release of Windhand’s third full length, Grief’s Infernal Flower. Working between the two styles has allowed her to get critical with the way she writes her music and contributes to the band.
“When it comes to my acoustic stuff - It’s reading out my diary basically,” says Cottrell. “With Windhand - it’s different to hear somebody else’s music and try to write a song around that. In a lot of ways that’s harder – more challenging to me, but I know that my own music is something that I would never be able to stop.”
“I feel like a lot of the time – the reason I play guitar, the reason that I taught myself how to play guitar, is it’s really stupid and simple,” says Cottrell. “I don’t even play it right and it all kind of ended up sounding the same. I don’t think about doing anything creative or artistic when I’m writing my acoustic/solo stuff, just writing about how I feel in the moment. Meditating. Clearing my head and letting things come out. In that way it’s cool, but when it comes to Windhand practice, when Aschiah writes a song or Parker writes a song, I have to change the way I normally think about music to put vocals on to that. That’s more exciting and new to me. It makes me step out of my comfort zone, makes me step out of the box and the way that I would do things if I were solo.”
While Cottrell makes no effort to hide her roots in acoustic practice, this strangely has led to creating heavy music with the use of the instrument in an unconventional, yet effective technique. In saying that, both her time in Windhand and her time alone seem to be affecting one another in subtle ways.
“I think that my acoustic stuff - I found a way to make it more calm,” says Cottrell. “I’ve always loved dark music and I think that when I first started playing acoustic guitar it was hard for me to imagine making my acoustic guitar and those kind of songs sound as dark and heavy as I had been thinking in my head. After playing with Windhand, I think it’s really given me more encouragement. A lot of our songs start off on acoustic guitar because that’s how we hear them first. It’s really interesting to hear how a heavy Windhand sounds on the acoustic guitar. It does translate really well.”
Grief’s Infernal Flower saw a change in the band’s process as Seattle based producer Jack Endino assisted with the release – the band all being massive fans of his work before they even met with him. Working with Endino changed the band’s recording process, and the immortal grunge producer’s signature sound permeates through the snarling lows of the instrumentals. This ultimately resulted in a finished product that Cottrell feels she got something from - more so than just a great album, but rather a reflection that all musicians can learn from in how passing the reigns can assist a recording.
“We were huge fans of him before this happened,” says Cottrell. “We never thought we’d be able to work with him. It was kind of shocking that we were able to do that. Garrett (Morris) had recorded all of our stuff before that so it was kind of weird to release the reigns in that way. At first there was a little feeling like we should be doing more, but eventually it made us a lot more relaxed because we didn’t have to sit in a studio for 13-14 hours a day to listen to things over and over again, that was his job. All we had to do is write the parts, play the parts, ask his advice and take his advice – I think that the direction he gave us, even the way he gave us direction was really cool. Even then a lot of the vocal harmonies on Grief’s Infernal Flower were his idea. I always love harmonies but one that really stuck out was this Alice in Chains style harmony that he wrote which came out really cool.”
Witness Windhand in the flesh as part of their joint tour with Cough this March/April, at the following Australian and New Zealand venues:
Wellington – San Fran – Friday March 31
Auckland – Kings Arms – Saturday April 1
Brisbane – Crowbar – Sunday April 2
Sydney – Newtown Social – Wednesday April 5
Adelaide – Fowlers Live – Thursday April 6
Melbourne – Corner Hotel – Friday April 7
Perth – Badlands – Saturday April 8