It's been just a few months since blues-metal outfit Dorothy released their Roc Nation debut ROCKISDEAD — easily one of this year's best albums — but bluesy banshee Dorothy Martin is already threatening to sit down and write her autobiography.
It's a story that begins in Hungary, where she was born to an engineer father whom she never knew.
"My mom had a crazy experience with me as a baby — she had to book it to another country, quick, so she came to the U.S., and I started kindergarten in San Diego," she recalls. "So English was my third language, my first being Hungarian, my second being German."
You wouldn't guess that from hearing this diva belt out raspy anthems like "Missile," "Kiss It," "Raise Hell" and "Gun in My Hand" — all splashed across a Black-Crowes-meets-Black-Sabbath, power-chord backdrop. Nor would you picture her as a shy bookworm of a kid who enjoyed reading R.L. Stine's Goosebumps series and Roald Dahl collections more than interacting with classmates her own age.
Sure, she lacked basic social skills, she admits with a laugh. "But what it did was, it made my vocabulary pretty good, and also, I excelled at spelling and writing, and then I started writing poetry. And now I love doing our lyrics, and they don't have to be complicated — sometimes the most simple stuff is great."
At first, Martin thought she would proceed straight to college after high school — she was fascinated with bioengineering. "Instead, I chose a much more loosely scripted path in life," she sighs. "I moved to LA, got involved in a very toxic relationship with a guy from Morocco who duped me into this whole green-card fiasco, and ended up modeling — not lingerie, but legwear — and doing extra work in film, television, and music videos. And I was making no money."
After her boyfriend got her evicted from her apartment, maxed out her credit cards and finally split, Martin was living on friends' couches, or in her car, and drinking at least one bottle of tequila a day.
"I was definitely Hollywood trash for a few years, but it made me stronger as a person," she says.
Trying to break into showbiz, Martin recorded an uncomfortably pop EP in 2014, then eventually gave up on music altogether and moved to Las Vegas with a new beau. When the stepfather who had raised her passed away, she flew home to San Diego to comfort her grieving mom, and the guy she'd been seeing promptly dumped her. But while cleaning out her childhood closet, Martin found an old list of A&R contacts a friend had given her, years earlier. She sent out a blind email to every name on it, she remembers.
"And it said, 'I know this is unorthodox, but I'm at this point in my life where I really need music, and I would really like to collaborate.' And only one guy got back to me, George Robertson, who became my manager."
Robertson heard something in the young hopeful's vocal style, which had gravitated from delicate and sweet to tough and worldly. "Something happened that broke my voice — it wasn't pretty anymore, it was nasty and gritty, and this whole other person came out."
Martin's manager scheduled her for sessions with the LA production team of Mark Jackson and Ian Scott, and there was instant songwriting chemistry. The first song they came up with was the fervently Gospel stomp "After Midnight," which gave her room to howl. "Mark and Ian said, 'Damn! You sound like Janis Joplin — let's put some heavy riffs behind you,'" says Martin, who's already begun penning an even grittier sophomore disc with her band's guitarist, D.J. Black.
After 45 minutes, the chatty, likable Martin apologetically wraps up her serpentine saga. "Sorry — I've had a lot of Starbucks today," she laughs. "I'm giving you the crash-course rundown of my whole life."
The payoff is that she's now behind the mic in a rock band every bit as big and booming as her own personality. What has she learned from it all?
"Well, now I have a zero-bullshit policy — I don't have any patience for it now," she says. "And everything I've been through basically gave me balls of steel."