Miller and Black actively discuss climate change, greed, politics and more on the album. The song “Dollhouse” itself is a reminder to remove oneself from insularity, from that dollhouse where everything’s just peachy, and be conscious of and active in changing the difficulties in the world.
Assembling the album was an act of catharsis for the duo, their expression of feeling a malaise for nearly a year. While their last album, the critically celebrated Positive Thinking, was about depression, it featured more calls to action whereas Dollhouse is more of a discussion, according to Miller. The band tackles a universal despondency through their signature literature-and-film -inspired lyrics -- references to British novelist Thomas Hardy’s masterpieces of misery Tess of the d’Ubervilles and Jude the Obscure both appear on the album, as do sonic references to the tripods in the 2005 film War of the Worlds -- but there’s hope in between the lines as well.
Dollhouse is not just the band’s first foray into cultural critique, but into love songs. “Considering everything that’s going on, everybody [needs] more than ever to reach out and not be alone,” Miller says. “It’s either that or we just both showed up and had love -type lyrics for the first time ever, which I can’t explain,” she laughs.
The album is sprinkled with delicious morsels of influences that blend darkness with light, their trademark gritty, grungy, growly blues-rock opening with an ‘80s metal guitar explosion on “Woke Up Weird,” then peppered with surf riffs and early Beach Boys-esque vocals on “$,” melancholic Cure-ish lyrics coupled with ‘60s garage pop on “Not Alright,” and even Patsy Cline-era mourning on “Because of You.”
After watching the state of the world unfold during the first part of this year, Miller and Black wrote and recorded Dollhouse quickly, within just two months. In nine songs and just under 29 minutes, the album is an economy of ideas, Miller says. While Miller and Black normally bring to the studio at least twice the amount of songs to record and then sift through and make selections later, this time they actually only brought in and recorded the songs that are now on the album. “[Given] attention spans and how we’re all consuming entertainment and information at this point, to do an album with a whole bunch of songs just seems kind of gratuitous and you’re just throwing songs out of the window,” Miller says. “We just wanted to make a tight little package of songs that we liked playing.” Thus spoke The Pack A.D, and when Dollhouse is released it will have been only 14 months since Positive Thinking came out.
The timing of the album is not unusual for The Pack A.D., who have been steadily releasing albums since their debut, Tintype, in 2008. Miller and Black, who are both from Vancouver’s historically rough but artistically flourishing Downtown Eastside neighborhood (DTES, as it’s known), formed the band in 2006 after meeting through mutual friends. While Black had played the guitar since she was thirteen, Miller was previously a screenwriter and director (though she still works on scripts) and had no musical experience. Even so, they started the band on a whim in 2006 and just kept writing songs, touring in a van they also slept in. Eleven years later, they now get to sleep in hotel rooms on tour -- especially after getting nominated for a Juno Award (the Canadian Grammy) for breakthrough group of the year in 2013 after the release of their 2011 album Unpersons, having their song “Needles” featured on Showtime’s Shameless in 2014, and having Positive Thinking on our list of the best albums of 2016. The next tour will take place in the U.S. and Canada in support of Dollhouse, beginning on Friday, Oct. 6. “I’m excited to have somewhere to bathe,” Miller laughs. “You don’t really sleep in a van.”
And, of course, today marks the premiere of the “Dollhouse” music video here on Billboard. While every video the band has made so far features both Miller and Black, Miller wanted Black to appear solo this time. Working with director Matt Leaf, the band also wanted to depart from their usual sci-fi and/or horror-inspired videos filled with jump cuts. “We just wanted to go with something simple, just on Becky,” Miller says. Black stands in the center of the lens on a white background, in and out of focus, and slowly blood begins dripping down her face. “We were just riffing on what would be visually bringing the point across about climate change and this dollhouse metaphor, and then Matt hit on it. It was the blood and it just felt completely right.”
Check out the premiere of their video below.
Miller has the habit, she says, of getting sick of a record right after they finish it, but it hasn’t been the case with Dollhouse or with Positive Thinking. “The great thing is that we came up with [Dollhouse] and recorded it and mixed it and now we’re about to go on tour so we’re practicing it and it’s all been such a short period of time,” she laughs. “We’re good on this one so far.”