There’s a wonderful dichotomy to the Austin, Texas, duo One-Eyed Doll. On one hand, Kimberly Freeman and Jason Rufuss Sewell’s project is so disturbingly on-the-nose, so contemporarily goth-punk, that they might as well have Emily the Strange singing for them, Gorillaz-style. But that’s just the surface, and it needs to be scratched.
Dig a little beyond the superficial, and there’s a staggering amount of depth to be uncovered. Most notably, Freeman is not your standard angsty goth with a notepad full of sub-standard Marilyn Manson lyrics and a penchant for The Crow and Adult Swim. She's a genuine artist, a poetic songwriter, and a charismatic frontwoman.
Her work stands up, to the point that she has a parallel career as a solo singer-songwriter, often performing stripped-down versions of One-Eyed Doll songs. But it’s with her band that she excels. She's been known to have an entire room full of concert-goers follow her around a room just by raising her arm and beckoning.
“One time, I actually saw her have a whole room full of bikers doing a skipping mosh,” says drummer Rufuss Sewell. “So they actually skipped, ‘Skip to My Lou’ style, around in a circle. All these guys in leather jackets, spikes and beards, skipping around like little girls. It was awesome.”
Freeman has no idea where that Pied Piper skill comes from. “I don’t really put a lot of thought into it,” she says. “I’ve had hostile audiences. You never know what kind of a room you’re walking into. You take risks sometimes, and you end up getting beer bottles thrown at your head. I’ve definitely had some rough shows. It makes you appreciate the good ones.”
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The seeds of One-Eyed Doll were planted ten years ago in Oregon, when Freeman, then “only” an acoustic singer-songwriter, had an idea to do something a little harder but no less emotive. The project was relocated to Austin, the debut album Hole was recorded and released, and the band was off and running. Still, Sewell didn’t become an official member until 2009, until then working solely as a producer
“When I went to the first show, it was her and a different drummer, and they were called Ghetto Princess,” Sewell says. “I saw them on MySpace and thought they were really awesome, so went to check them out. We came back and recorded that summer the album that would end up being Hole. That was released in 2007, and Kimberly changed the name to One-Eyed Doll at that point, when that album came out. Two years layer, I ended up joining the band full-time as the drummer. We were recording the second One-Eyed Doll album, Monster, at the same time that we were recording the third Kimberly Freeman album, Sleep.”
That’s essentially how all of this is working. The pair writes and records a song. If it sounds like a One-Eyed Doll banger, that’s where it ends up. Anything else pretty much winds up on the Kimberly Freeman solo pile.
“From a producer’s perspective, One-Eyed Doll is guitar, drums and bass-rock,” Sewell says. “There’s a certain sound to One-Eyed Doll. Anything that doesn’t fit into that sound or is outside of that One-Eyed Doll vibe ends up being a Kimberly Freeman solo album. Sleep was the first solo one that I worked on — acoustic, but also with an orchestral vibe to it. Into Outta Space [her fourth solo album] was next, and that was definitely more of an electronic and dancey vibe. This year, we released an album called Secret Lullaby, which I would say is more prog rock/experimental. It has some of that acoustic element to it and some electronic element, too. But this one is a little more out there than the first two.”
Freeman says that the two careers are fluid. Essentially, she’s happy just as long as she’s creating. They’re equally important parts of her personality that need to be aired and cared for.
“Whatever music I write, I write, and then it’s just production after that,” she says. “Some things are just cool — I can see us playing them live with guitar and drums. Other things are clearly a piano ballad or something. We categorize that over in the ‘just art’ section.”
Since One-Eyed Doll came into existence, roughly ten years ago, a blue-collar work ethic has seen the act make steady growth, leaping up a few rungs in the past couple of years.
“No, I don’t think anybody’s noticed us,” jokes Freeman.
“I would say over the last two years we’ve been headlining our tours, so that was a big jump up,” says Sewell. “Before that, we were mainly opening shows. Since 2015, we’ve been headlining, so that’s cool.”
2015 was also the year that the last One-Eyed Doll album, Witches, was released. It’s about time the band put out something fresh. The fans demand it, and, fortunately, the duo is obliging.
“We made an EP called Something Wicked to go along with the tour, because why not?” Freeman says. “It’s got five songs, and we’re working it out still, but we’ll maybe perform some of the songs from it. I really like this EP. I don’t know if anything could surpass Witches for me, but it might be my new favorite recording of ours.”
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Both musicians agree that they always enjoy performing in Denver but lament the fact that they don’t ever get a chance to hang out and explore this area. All they can focus on is the set, which they say will include some surprises.
“We’re gonna be a little more exploratory, stage-show wise, and musically this time around,” Freeman says. “It’s pretty much guaranteed that people are going to hear things we have never performed before. But as I said, we’re still working it out.”
After this tour, One-Eyed Doll will be heading to Europe, where the musicians will continue to promote the new EP before getting to work on a new album. Of course, whether we get a new One-Eyed Doll or Kimberly Freeman album next remains to be seen. They probably don’t know themselves.
One-Eyed Doll performs with Doll Skin, Sharone & the Wind and Rotten Reputation, 8 p.m. Saturday, September 30, Lost Lake Lounge, 3602 East Colfax Avenue, 303-291-1007.