By Christian Leonard
The first time Dol Ikara played live, it was under a full moon — a bit of timing that seemed more than coincidental for an act rooted in mysticism.
Inside the trendy, dimly lit music venue the Echo in Los Angeles, several dozen people shouted over the rumble of voices to make themselves heard by their friends. After the opening band had finished, some people mingled in front of the stage, eager to be as close to the next performer as possible. On the edge of the crowd, band members who had recently finished their set murmured apologies as they ran their equipment to the exit, where cool night air offered a reprieve from the cramped club.
Then a woman, dressed entirely in black and flanked by four musicians, took the stage, The room became hushed, aside from a couple of cheers. A few smartphones flew up, hungry for the first note.
And the woman, La Cañada Flintridge native Claire Roddy, began to sing.
The 23-year-old’s music is ethereal, almost haunting. It might be called gothic rock — Mazzy Star is one of her major influences — but Roddy avoids confining her music to a single genre.Adding to the dreamlike atmosphere of the songs were the costumes she wore, including black lace and a gleaming crown, and the projected backdrop, showing images of swans, cathedrals and trees.
People would be surprised, Roddy said after that June 17 performance, if they knew the creator of Dol Ikara, whose first EP arrives later this month, had attended an all-girls local Catholic school, Flintridge Sacred Heart Academy.
It was during high school that the mysticism-tinged ideas that would later manifest into Dol Ikara first emerged. It was also a very difficult period for Roddy, who said she was experiencing anxiety and depression while searching for a way to express herself.
“I was pretty lost at that moment. … I knew who I didn’t want to be, but I didn’t know who I wanted to be,” she said.
During her high school years, Roddy also began discovering new music, sounds that she said inspired those she now creates. She started thinking about mythologies and magic, seeing rituals as a path to introspection. At the same time, she found herself feeling constrained in a school environment where she says “it was more hip to fit in.”
“Not to talk poorly about that experience, because in the end … it did really shape me in many ways … but it was pretty cookie-cutter, so that was really stifling for me,” she added.
Roddy said she needed to get “as far away as possible” from her local community to find that self-expression. After graduating from FSHA in 2014, she switched continents and enrolled at the University of Edinburgh for an academic year. It wasn’t an easy period, with the anxiety and depression she had felt as a teenager following her abroad, but her experiences there allowed her to hone her art. Her memories of her time abroad would later inspire her first single, “White Queen,” released last year.
Though the change of location was certainly impactful for Roddy, she knew that if she wanted to succeed in the music world, she needed to work in Los Angeles. She now studies English at UCLA.
The name Dol Ikara came to Roddy about two years ago. It won’t be found in any dictionary, but Roddy said it stuck with her.
“I decided to … create my own word, kind of like a blank slate, like a neologism, because I didn’t want anyone to have any preconceived notions,” she explained.
Mythology and magic remain important themes to Roddy — she had been researching the names of moons and goddesses when she thought of the title of her project — as does femininity. She said that her costumes and the projections that accentuated her performance at the Echo are reflections of these themes. She uses lace, for example, as an icon of femininity and the backdrop images as symbols of subjects she finds magical.
“The reason I write music is to escape into a fantasy, and of course as catharsis as well, but I think it’s my way of finding the magic in life, and I hope other people can pick up on that too,” she said.
Some music writers seem to be doing so.
“Behold, an inventive songwriter who’s definitely going to just keep on giving to her fans is right in front of our noses,” wrote Chloe Mogg on the website Born Music.
“The gothic-pop songstress and songwriter reiterates a day in the life of a forbidden decadence; untouched and in ways that we cannot have foreseen,” said indie music blog Come Here Floyd, giving attention to Roddy’s song “Sparrow.”
Roddy’s affinity for mystical themes is reflected in the title of her first EP, “Obsidian Ritual.” Mixed by producer and family friend Michael Patterson, who has worked on albums by Beck and the Notorious B.I.G., the six-track collection will be released Aug. 22.
The poet and vocalist explained that the process of creating each song was exhausting. Because of her close attachment to the initial version of the pieces, she sometimes had to take a step back when the version she recorded for the album emerged differently. However, she was surprised that doing so allowed her to understand her music in a deeper way.
“It’s really fun, because so much of lyric writing and poetry is accessing the subconscious and channeling the depths inside of you, so it’s interesting actually coming back to the song, maybe like a couple months later, and being like, ‘Wow, I actually am looking at it in a completely different light now,’” she said in a phone interview.
She described the new release as a “sonic journey,” being more abstract than the traditionally structured three- to four-minute-long song.
“That being said, it’s exactly what I needed to create for my first release, because I think it really does establish the direction I want to go in,” she said.
She also noted that she would like to challenge herself in the future by making songs that are more accessible to those accustomed to a traditional structure. She plans to release a full album within the next year.
Roddy’s interest in the mythic may have sparked during high school, but her love for music has deeper roots. Her mother, Jeannie Garr Roddy, said recently that Claire started singing as early as age 3, and tried to scrawl songs on paper when she was a few years older. As Claire grew older, she honed her writing and musical skills, taking voice and acting lessons.
Years after grade school, her stage presence remains.
“When she gets on stage she becomes — you see her transform into a different person … It’s like it was a different child than she was performing in elementary school, and that’s a big part of who she is,” Jeannie Roddy said in a phone interview.
Though playing the Echo was a longtime dream of hers, Claire Roddy said she didn’t feel especially nervous. The time she spent talking with friends who had come to support her, she believes, helped ease her fears. And though she has worked with her live band for only a few months, she credits its members as a “goddess-send.”
“Continuing to connect with creative, talented, like-minded individuals … and the belief they have in me, I think that’s been the most special part of this journey — and, of course, actually manifesting the sound that’s been in my head for all of these years,” she said.
Roddy concluded her first performance with the first song she released: “White Queen.” Dol Ikara, the culmination of a path she first glimpsed in high school, was received with cheers and applause. And Roddy seems eager for an encore. She performed at a club in Hollywood in early July, and is headlining at the Satellite in Los Angeles on Aug. 13.
Roddy’s road to the Echo and beyond has had its challenges — the greatest of which, she said, has been escaping the confines of expectations placed on her. But the world is bigger than high school.
“There’s so much magic in the world beyond this time and your life and this place. … Trust that you’ll find it,” she said.