Dutch: The New Voice
By: Steven DiLodovico
Liz Fullerton is the quintessential wanderer. Not quite a lost soul; just someone extremely comfortable in her ambling ways. Born in California and raised in Mexico, she is more a citizen of time and memory than any real geography; a whisper of nostalgia and sentiment that is not easily connected to a time or a place. Like a lone mercenary she has travelled through North America’s cities and towns armed with an arsenal of deeply personal songs and an ethereal, evocative voice with which she communicates them. That voice is the personal summation of years spent living; it is the culmination of experience, endurance and raw emotion.
“I’m from a lot of places, really,” says the diminutive songstress. “I was born in California and I grew up in Mexico. I moved around a lot before I ended up back in Santa Barbara.” Santa Barbara was where she met up with a friend who would, quite by luck and accident, become the mutual conduit through which she was introduced to Jedi Mind Tricks.
“I went with a friend to L.A. to see Jedi Mind Tricks and he told me that they were looking for a female vocalist. I didn’t know what I was doing; I brought this CD (they still give me shit for this!) with two songs and it didn’t have my name or phone number or anything on it. I had no idea that, at the time, they were listening to lots and lots of female singers. They had tons of people they were checking out and I gave them this kind of janky CD. Stoupe somehow found it and that’s when he decided he wanted to work with me.”
Stoupe and Vinnie’s discovery lead to Fullerton’s adding backing vocals to the song “Razorblade Salvation” which appeared on Jedi Mind Tricks’ 2007 LP Servants in Heaven, Kings in Hell. Getting the collaboration off the ground, though, would prove to be tricky with Fullerton in Santa Barbara and Stoupe in his native Philadelphia.
“The whole project started over AIM. We began IMing each other beats and I would record over them and mail them back. The whole thing was crazy. Stoupe was really nervous about sending stuff over the internet. He was afraid it would get lost or leaked. He would send me like just a cymbal, a hi-hat and a bell and would tell me to write a song off that…
“When I really started doing it I decided I wanted to move out there. Stoupe was really surprised, but since I move around a lot it was easy for me. I was a little intimidated when I first came to Philly and knew I was going to meet Stoupe but he turned out to be the sweetest guy ever! He took us to his apartment, which maybe had a stool in it as far as furniture went. He was like ‘here; sit on my stool.’ He pretty much just set a mic up and told me to sing and I had no idea what to do. He said; ‘well, just sing a hook’ and I didn’t even know what that meant. I told him I play really sad folk music; I didn’t know how to create a hook. So then he told me to just sing behind the layers of music and I just started doing some ‘ooohs and ahhhhs’ and that became “Razorblade Salvation.”
The result was a critically acclaimed, stand out-track from the album. The extremely personal nature of Vin’s lyrics were perfectly suited for Liz’s plaintive vocals and, together with the Shara Worden’s hook, made for a compelling, confessional moment in a genre that is not always know for sensitivity. As for Liz it was her first foray into the world of Hip-Hop. It was quite a debut.
“It was a little intense,” as she remembers hearing the finished song for the first time. It was the first time I had ever done anything Hip-Hop and it wasn’t like I was singing a catchy hook on a club record. This was Jedi Mind Tricks; it was some heavy, heavy hard-core stuff.” The song was groundbreaking for JMT and it opened the door for further experimentation between Stoupe and Liz.
“Stoupe and I became really good friends when I moved out to Philly. I understood him better than anybody, which is hilarious.” The closeness of their bond lead to their latest effort; collectively known as Dutch.
“We chose Dutch because Hall & Oates was taken,” laughs Liz. “No, it’s not that. I don’t know where the name came from; I think Stoupe picked it because I look really Dutch or something. It started out as a joke but Stoupe became real serious about the name because he said he kept running into all these signs that were telling him to call the group Dutch. We went through about a million names before that and it was literally the toughest part of this project. In the end it was our original choice, and after we ran through so many other potential names we just kind of gave up and said let’s go with Dutch and call it a day.”
Once the name was settled on the two very different musicians began their creation. Stoupe was the seasoned veteran; Liz the neophyte and the fusion of light and dark worked well from the outset. Dutch also enlisted the help of long-time JMT collaborator Scott Stallone. They took the operation to Stallone’s Found Sound recording studios and the three began working in earnest; with Stallone helping in all areas of the record; his credits include co-producer, engineer, musician and songwriter. Scott was also used to the meticulous methods of the notoriously perfection-oriented Enemy of Mankind.
“I’ve worked with all kinds of people; musicians, beat-makers, singers, bands… working with Stoupe is not like any of those things,” says Stallone. “It’s really like understanding a twin language if you’re not a twin. It’s like trying to pick up a foreign dialect on the go. It always comes back, though, to our love of old records. That’s always the place where we start. From that point on all the other things kind of grow out of that. If we ever have an impasse where one is not quite sure what the other means, we start referring to records.”
Liz, too, found the recording process to be a new experience, especially under the tutelage of Stoupe.
“It was kind of fascinating and really challenging in ways that I was hoping for. He has such a clear vision; the music really speaks to him and tells him how to fill things in. He’s very literal, which is hilarious. He’s a genius. He seemed to really like what we were doing, I think, because it was so different from what Jedi was doing. It was hard because I think when someone is like Stoupe it can be frustrating for them when people aren’t hearing what they’re hearing. I had never been in a recording booth; I had never heard my voice… I went through some pretty dark sh*t at the beginning because I just didn’t know what the f*ck I was doing with these dudes. Then I just hit this point where I was like ‘I’m just gonna’ do it’ and I went with it. You can tell how much easier it got for me from the beginning to the end of the record. At the beginning I was all soft and shy and by the end I was busting out; singing louder than I’ve ever sung. By the time we recorded the last song I just sang my heart out because we finally got to that point where we understood what each other wanted. Scott had to help me write a lot of the bridges, choruses, and stuff like that because that’s not how I write music; I’ve never been that structured. But I was completely open to it; I loved every minute of it. Stoupe gave me all kinds of room to work it out, though.”
Even without any kind of training, both Stoupe and Stallone were duly impressed with Liz’s ability.
“Liz is the rawest, most unfiltered talent I’ve ever worked with,” espouses Stallone with a firm certainty. “She’s just capable of so much and it was daunting at first, we felt like, with Liz, we could do anything we wanted to do. And we’d throw this stuff at her and she would just come in and crush it. This is definitely her coming out and I expect to hear many big records from her.”
Musically, Dutch’s debut A Bright Cold Day is an exotic ride through a vast soundscape created by Stoupe and Stallone. Jedi fans will easily recognize Stoupe’s impressionistic hands over the course of the album. His signature dark, atmospheric orchestration is evident throughout. His tracks are laced with Latin flavors while Scott’s expert craftsmanship imports an assortment of live instrumentation.
But through it all remains one constant: the inimitable voice of Liz Fullerton. It is a genuinely unique entity that brands her music with such a celestial quality. It is both a throwback to the sultry sirens of another era and homage to celebrated trip-hop artists like Portishead. Fullerton’s voice is a dusky, mesmerizing beam of intense sadness that comes from a deep place within her. It is a sound borne of travel and sight; advance and retreat, light and dark. The sadness belies the bubbly, warm person that Liz is when she is not singing.
“I think that it’s just the way that I get that out,” she says, attempting to reconcile her sad nature with what she presents on a personal level.
“I think that for a while I felt really self-conscious about how sad my stuff sounded. I played a show when I first moved to Philly and this guy was like ‘why don’t you just hand out razor blades?’ But, I mean, that’s the kind of stuff I listen to anyway. I think it puts people in touch with their emotions. I’m a pretty happy person, but when I sit down to write I just cannot write a happy song. I never have; I don’t think I ever will. It comes from life experience and it’s just what I choose to sing and write about. It’s cathartic and maybe that’s what allows me to be happy and positive and grateful. I took a lot of time with the words on this project. I really like to write and I hope that comes through.”
What really comes through is the strong presence of Liz; her words, her nuances. It all stems from the solid, sonic foundation carefully envisioned and crafted by Stoupe and delicately enhanced by Stallone. Check the lazy, loping vocal delivery of “Tritessa,” a stringed lament sung in Spanish and lit with Stoupe’s spooky samples. “Beyond All Walking” is a sophisticated spy-like anthem with soaring, smoky-cabaret vocals and a sick, Jedi-like backdrop that is played and devoid of any sampling. “California Cloaked in Wool” is another transcendent stand-out that puts Fullerton in the realm of some of the great vocalists that have preceded her while “Charlotte” is an acoustic ode to her folk and Americana roots. Collectively the songs round out the diverse but cohesive vision of two artists from polar opposites of the spectrum.
Indeed, the long road to Dutch has been one filled with experience for Liz, and, ultimately, this is what the listener is most likely to take away from their music.