A few years ago, Wyn Doran was “too scared to do an open mic,” she said. But in 2018, somehow Doran wasn’t too scared to perform her originals for her hero Ben Folds.
A New Hampshire-based artist who explores noir-ish, introspective rock and folk, Doran won a coveted spot at a week-long songwriting retreat run by Folds – a pop maestro whose career runs from indie rock to piano concertos. It was at this California artistic bootcamp that Doran began to really dig into her craft.
“When I had applied for that, I had written one song, a song for my husband at my wedding,” she told the Herald. “Then suddenly Ben was pushing me to confront my own demons.”
Doran quickly learned to write deeply personal lyrics that locked in place beside tightly constructed melodies and chord progressions.
“The retreat was the best thing that ever happened to me but it was so scary at the time,” she said. “I came home from that retreat and into the studio and recorded my first album, which I never really saw coming. Since then, writing – sharing my story – has become my life.”
Before the retreat, Doran thought she would be a doctor (she was deep into pre-med classes). Now, she’s about to play with fellow-Boston talent Savoir Faire at the Burren Backroom on Jan. 21 – it will be a thrilling double bill of dark pop full of strange, inviting influences.
Thankfully, Doran found her true calling. Her earlier singles show her range: 2019’s “Spell” is a furious rocker while 2020’s “Cigarettes” is hauntingly hushed. But it seems she’s just getting going, just learning to mix up the perfect cocktail of passion and calculation.
“I meditate now before songwriting,” she said. “I light sage. I light candles. I try to sit and clear my mind for five to 15 minutes and that’s how I start. Then I bring in the analytical part later… The analytical part can get too loud or the magical part can get too loud. Finding that balance between the two is key in my favorite songs.”
Doran has had a lot of time to practice navigating the tug between passion and calculation. During the pandemic, she wrote dozens of songs, often over Zoom with collaborators she met at the Fold’s retreat.
“When the world shut down, someone who helped organize the retreat said, ‘Let’s do speed dating for songwriters,’” Doran said. “We would be paired with a random person in a random time zone and [a week later] we would have to have a song to share with the rest of the group. And then we would do it again. And I did that for all of 2020.”
This work plus her efforts on her own led to a stockpile of songs. She’s headed into the studio next month with her ten strongest songs – hopefully there will be a first single out in the spring and a finished LP by the end of the year.
“I have way too many songs but I feel really lucky about that because it made it really fun to find the ten that rose to the top,” she said.
Then she added with a laugh: “I have quite a lot of B-sides.”
For tickets and details, visit wyndoran.com.
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