Lia Tsamoglou doesn’t muck around. It’s only been a year since the former Moonmilk vocalist released her debut solo album under the moniker Melodie Nelson and already she’s followed it up with To the Dollhouse.
It’s a huge leap from the charming simplicity of her debut, replete with lush arrangements, unsettling melodies and an enchantingly uneasy sense that something dark is going on below the surface, from love songs from murder victims (‘Martha’) to duets with the devil (‘Six Six Six’). All in all, a more ambitious piece of work.
“That’s sort of what I wanted to go for, to an extent,” she begins. “The first album was sketches of things that I’d been working on for a few years, whereas this one I had a set idea of what I wanted to do. I wanted them to be more like songs than repetitive melodies, like parts of the first album were,” she laughs. “I wanted to try my hand at writing songs in a very short space of time: try and put as many instruments as I possibly could on it. I had a bit more of a plan: I think I was a bit clueless last time.”
The debut was recorded with Tony Dupé (Holly Throsby, Grand Salvo), but this time Simon Grounds (Laura Jean, Bird Blobs) was behind the desk. “I think I knew what I wanted a bit more: with Tony we were just going with demos that I’d recorded with drum machines, and then I was like ‘oh, I guess I should ask someone to play drums on it, then. Oh, I guess I should have someone play strings…’ We were just working at it as we were going.”
Things were more focused this time around. “I knew that I wanted to work with people like Geoffrey [O’Connor, co-vocalist on ‘Six Six Six’] and Biddy [Connor, cellist], and I wanted the [live] band to be on it as well, and I was like ‘I think I can play clarinet and flute, so I’ll borrow those instruments off my sisters.’ I just wanted to go as full-on as possible.”
Were the arrangements worked on with the band, or presented to them to learn?
“I wrote everything – well, everything except for the drums. I’m terrible at rhythms,” she laughs. “But the way I’ve always thought in terms of arrangements is that they need to be journeys, and you can’t have something in the whole time. And I’m probably referencing music that I’ve heard elsewhere: if you listen to enough of that kind of music, you pick up enough of other arrangers’ good work. Arranging is probably my favourite thing. I’m probably ripping off stuff. I know I am, sometimes.”
And the title track: Virginia Woolf meets Jacqueline Susann?
“Wow – you kinda hit it on the head. Yeah, it’s a mix of ‘To the Lighthouse’ and ‘Valley of the Dolls’. See, with this album I really wanted it to have clear, set themes and stories that I wanted to tell. I love Virginia Woolf and Sylvia Plath, and artists like Cindy Sherman, and [Roman] Polanski and [Dario] Argento films and stuff. I just went ‘you know what? I should just do what I love and reference things that I know a lot about,’” she explains.
“I had a concept of [the album] referencing the seedy late 60s/early 70s, when the hippie movement was kind of over, as much as I could understand of that – having not being born or anything! – but movies from around that time, just heavy shit. Like Easy Rider, or Rosemary’s Baby,” she laughs. “That’s what the album’s kind of about, how things aren’t always what they seem. You know, like in those sorts of 70s films where you’ll be watching and think ‘oh, that’s a cool dress’, and then things just get fucked up!”