North Carolina artist Donnie Doolittle makes distinctively moody, synth-driven anthems that hover between dark retro-pop and melancholic rock-and-roll. Over the past half-decade he’s earned a following for his playful approach to darkness, blending bright, poppy melodies into ominous soundscapes with cinematic sensibility. Called everything from “Southern New-Wave” to “Goth Americana” by the press, his genre-bending sound has drawn comparisons to singular acts like Orville Peck, Leonard Cohen, Nick Cave, and Iggy Pop, with releases accompanied by carefully-honed imagery and thematic narrative videos engaging a range of senses. “I want to provide a full experience—to use my resources to create a palpable ambiance,” he says.
A longtime veteran of the N.C. music scene, Doolittle studied piano and guitar as a child before cutting his teeth fronting a series of popular Charlotte bands in the early 2000s: local favorite garage-pop act Stone Figs, sludgy, doom-rockers Little Bull Lee (who opened for Dead Meadow in 2014), and dark psychedelic solo project Dreamy D. In 2018, he recorded the first version of upbeat pseudo-lovesong “When a Woman” (inspired by 1970s Aussie thriller Wake in Fright) while visiting friend and music producer Jesse Clasen in New York. Originally conceived as a Dreamy D song, the collaboration marked a shift in Doolittle’s songwriting and later became the first single from his new, eponymous act, Donnie Doolittle. “That song just felt different: I was evolving, and I wanted to start fresh, releasing tracks under my own name,” he says. “The new music feels more true to who I am as an artist and as a person.”
With the independent release of his self-titled debut in April 2023, Doolittle unleashes a nuanced, hyper-original collection of twelve layered, darkly groovy, and expansive tracks. Produced and mixed by Clasen, Donnie Doolittle drifts mood-wise between vibrant and gloomy, weaving together modern and vintage synthesizers (most notably the Mellotron and 80s-era Roland Juno-106), as well as electric guitar, bass, and drums. Informed by some of Doolittle’s favorite idiosyncratic songwriters—Leonard Cohen, Tom Waits, and Lee Hazlewood—the album’s compelling, cinematic arrangements draw listeners into multifaceted sonic worlds, laced with sharp, narrative lyrics exploring tropes of religion, gender, pop culture, and sexuality with subtle irony and a light touch. “I like to play around with religion and sex,” says Doolittle. “Feeling jaded about God and the world, but also firmly attached to both. I think that’s a big part of Southern culture, and who I am as an artist…for better or worse.”
More horny than happy, each song on Donnie Doolittle is calibrated with a pop-friendly sense of ease and steeped in a slightly strange kind of sadness. Tracks like the post-punk-leaning “This Wonderful World” conjure the stoic cool of Bahaus’s “Bela Lugosi’s Dead,” while the pulsing, pop-oriented single “Utopia’s Shit” reveals Doolittle’s knack for crafting bleak-yet-sparkly retro melodies in the vein of Cocteau Twins. Along with overseeing the detailed production of each track, Doolittle works with N.C. producer/director Josh Rob Thomas to create compelling videos to accompany his releases. Atmospheric and provocative, each video seamlessly blends sonic elements and visual imagery into a cohesive, thrilling whole. Filming on location at various local landmarks (including iconic Charlotte venue “The World Famous Milestone”), Doolittle and Thomas plan to release two new videos, along with a live performance video, in February and March of 2023. Donnie Doolittle will be available for purchase as a Double LP and on all digital streaming platforms April 7, 2023.
FFO: Nick Cave, Orville Peck, Timber Timbre, TYPE O NEGATIVE, Lee Hazelwood, Paul Cauthen, and Leonard Cohen