2. China Doll
Formed in late 2011, the soul of the band originated in the form of acoustic songs written by vocalist Madi Poncia, whose work in previous local bands had left her unfulfilled. “This band is how I always wanted to present my music,” Madi states plainly. “My main inspiration comes from Siouxsie and The Banshees – whose version of The Beatles’ “Dear Prudence” gave the band its name – The Cure, and Depeche Mode, and it’s my way of channeling those influences while using music as a creative outlet that allows me to truly express myself. Ultimately I just want to be able to make music that matters to us as a band, and that people can relate to – and hopefully fall in love with.” Recruiting friend Paul Egan on bass, the rest of the line up was soon fleshed out with guitarist Rick Ahir, keyboardist Andy Highmore, and drummer Alexis Nunez, the five members quickly gelling and forming a unified vision for the band that everyone contributes to.
A charismatic unit, the focal point undeniably falls on Madi, whose diminutive stature is belied by her towering, soulful voice and commanding presence. “People tell me all the time they can’t believe that this massive voice comes out of me because I’m so tiny, and I really like that, I like that it’s unexpected and it’s all me,” she laughs. With integrity important to them, the band do not pretend to be anything they are not, and Madi eschews the Americanized nasal whine affected by far too many British vocalists of late. “To be honest I wasn’t even aware that I was doing that,” she smiles. “It’s just the way it comes out, and that’s grown and developed over the years. But when I think of those kind of vocals I think of pop-punk bands, and I don’t know exactly where you would say Dear Prudence fits in, but I’d say that we’re actually closer to ‘punk-pop’ in our influences and in the melodies and hooks that we write.”
Perhaps the most potent and alluring contradiction inherent in the band is that which exists in the juxtaposition of Madi’s aching, frequently sad lyrics and the upbeat, lively bounce of their music. This is perhaps most plainly apparent in “Coming Apart Again”, which surges on a throbbing rhythm and layers of warm synth sounds that New Order would be proud of as she frankly laments the collapse of a relationship in heartbreaking terms. “I’m a happy person, but in everyone there’s that darkness that just comes with experience. We don’t necessarily approach a song looking for that juxtaposition, it just comes out that way, but I think the two balance out each other quite nicely.”
Madi is equally candid on the bobbing and playful “The Mourning After”, looking at the consequences of ignoring the mistakes about to be made in the haze of good times, and the up-tempo “Belong”. The latter’s gorgeous hooks and lively delivery immediately grab the listener as Madi searches desperately for a sense of direction, as evidenced in the chorus, in which she sings ‘When nothing feels like home/I'm tired and I am done pretending/I still believe in happy endings/But I can't find it on my own/So tell me where do I belong?’ For Madi, the roots of this lay in her late teens and early twenties as she tried to figure out what she was going to do with her life. “Everybody goes through that, and it’s such a massive thing to find out who you are and what you’re going to do, and hopefully that’s an anthem for people who are lost and asking who am I?”
The band’s first single, the effortlessly catchy “Valentine”, which gives a respectful – and thankful – nod in the direction of The Cure, sees Madi searching for happiness out of the way of the world around her. “To me, it’s quite noir-esque, and there’s nice connotations to the word Valentine, but the lyric is ‘Valentine/with a heart as black as mine’, and again it’s that juxtaposition of darkness and light. It’s like saying you don’t fit in, but as long as you have that other person you can be outcasts on the sidelines, and sort of exist in your own happy world.”
Having played gigs up and down the country the band are steadily building up a following that is only going to increase as their profile grows in the coming months. In March the band were invited to appear on BBC2’s The Review Show having submitted music to BBC’s Introducing, and Madi and Rick closed the show with an acoustic rendition of “Valentine”. On the strength of their material to date and driven by their confidence and self-belief the band will continue to turn heads, offering listeners an alternative to everything that is currently cluttering the airwaves. “We’re alternative British popular music, and I don’t think there’s anyone out there representing that in the way we are right now,” Madi states. “But we’re not looking for instant fame or anything like that. What we want is people to be able to listen to us and feel less alone, or feel that someone understands them and where they’re coming from – and who wouldn’t want that in their lives?”