Piecing together distinctively moody, synth-driven anthems that hover between dark retro-pop and melancholic rock-and-roll, Donnie Doolittle has crafted playful approach to darkness, blending bright, poppy melodies into ominous soundscapes with cinematic sensibility. Called everything from “Southern New-Wave” to “Goth Americana” by the press, his genre-bending sound has drawn comparisons to singular acts like Orville Peck, Leonard Cohen, Nick Cave, and Iggy Pop, with releases accompanied by carefully-honed imagery and thematic narrative videos engaging a range of senses. Recently releasing a self-titled earlier this month (listen HERE), the album drifts mood-wise between vibrant and gloomy, weaving together modern and vintage synthesizers as well as electric guitar, bass, and drums.
To better understand how Doolittle went about writing the album, it’s best we uncover the songs that influenced him. Luckily for us, we are graced with a Spotify playlist, detailing songs that helped shape Donnie Doolittle. Doolittle went deeper and explained why each song mattered.
“The Electrician” – The Walker Brothers
Scott Walker and The Walker Brothers have become a major inspiration to me, particularly the way in which they fuse pop and experimental music. The atmospherics, Scott’s vocal range, and dark undertones really resonate with me. This song probably had the biggest influence on “No Soul”.
“Red Right Hand” – Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds
Here’s an obvious one. Along with Iggy Pop, Nick Cave is one of my few surviving artistic idols. This song, from back when the Bad Seeds were a bit more linear and narrative in their song writing, really helped shape my taste. The orchestral elements, imagery, and lyrical precision haven’t lost their sheen, despite the hundreds of times I’ve heard this song. This sort of lyric-writing influenced every song on the album. I remember referencing the music when recording “When a Woman”.
“Curtains!?” – Timber Timbre
I fell in love with Timber Timbre when a good friend turned me onto Creep on Creepin’ On. I dig every Taylor Kirk release that I’ve heard. The vibe for this song definitely helped inspire “When a Woman”.
“Falling” – Julee Cruise
The music was such an integral part to the show Twin Peaks. The work done by Angelo Badalamenti and Julee Cruise continues to inspire me. Most prominently on main guitar part in “Resurrect Me”.
“Stay Away” – Charles Bradley, The Menahan Street Band
This song was a major influence to “I’m a Man”. It’s undeniable, even if I realized it after the fact.
“Big Velvet” – Paul Cauthen
This song was definitely in my head when writing “I’m a Man”. Paul Cauthen’s larger-than-life hubris definitely played into my vocal delivery.
“I’m Your Man” – Leonard Cohen
Another obvious one, from one of my fallen idols. To me, Leonard Cohen is the be-all and end-all of lyrical composition. His wordplay, especially with sexuality and the religious themes of his upbringing, speak to me like none other. I have him in mind every time I write a song. See: The entire album.
“Space Song” – Beach House
Beach House was another unconscious influence on me. After listening to early versions of “Utopia’s Shit” and “There Goes My Pain” it was undeniable. I think they’re great, so I’m all for it.
“Cold Hard Times” – Lee Hazlewood
Lee Hazlewood also speaks to my soul. Obviously, there’s the vocal style and lyrical themes. There’s also the sometimes subtle, yet constant influence of country music. Thematically, this particular song is on point with “This Wonderful World”, but I hear him on “When a Woman” and “Resurrect Me” too.
“Metatron” – DARKSIDE
DARKSIDE, Nicolás Jaar and Dave Harrington, is a major influence to my production. It doesn’t hurt that my favorite album of theirs, Psychic, and even their name seems to be heavily influenced by Pink Floyd. The atmosphere, synths, and percussion samples really get me. The stomps we created for “Got a Feelin’” are a standout example.
“Everytime I’m with You (feat. Jason Lytle)” – Danger Mouse, Sparklehorse, Jason Lytle
The entire Dark Night of the Soul album really spoke to me when I first heard it, which I guess is on brand for me. This song, in particular, is another major “after-the-fact realization” influence on the song “Guess You’ll Do”.
“Together Again” – Buck Owens
Country/Western music, especially the older stuff, is a major influence in my song writing. This song is a perfect example. I love the juxtaposition of the celebratory lyrics with the sadness of the music. I think this sort of concept comes through on “Guess You’ll Do”.
“The Killing Moon” – Echo & the Bunnymen
Here’s the biggest “after-the-fact realization” moment from the album. It’s sorta embarrassing, but at least it’s a phenomenal song to emulate. See: “I’ll Do It Again”
“Light House” – Future Islands
As a fellow Carolinian, I remember witnessing a wonderfully weird set by Future Islands at the World Famous Milestone Club in the early 2000’s. Seeing what they’ve grown to become is immensely inspiring to me. Musically, their use of synths and fusion of pop and experimental music is big influence as well. The end of my song “No Soul” is the perfect example.
“Constant Fear” – Bohren & Der Club of Gore
Doom Jazz giants! I love Bohren & Der Club of Gore. I hear them on “Guess You’ll Do” and even “Got a Feelin’”
“Distant Dream” – John Carpenter
As both a filmmaker and a musician, John Carpenter inspires me. His choice of synths directly influenced my jumping-off point when I started heading in that direction. It may be subtle but I hear this song when listening to “You Cannot Know Me”. He definitely was an influence on “Alchemy”, but I can’t pinpoint the song.
“Still the Same” – Bob Seger
I consider Bob Seger to be an incredible songwriter. This song directly influenced the main synth part in “Resurrect Me.”
“If I Know Me” – George Strait
I know this song may be throwing off the vibe for some of y’all, but it was by far the biggest influence on “There Goes My Pain”, which I believe to be one of the very best songs I’ve ever written. Give it a chance. I love it.
“Six Bells Chime” – Crime & the City Solution
I think this one might be a bit more on-brand for me, with it’s darkness. The guitar style in this song, especially when matched with the piano, was a huge influence to me. I hear it on everything, most notably “I’m a Man”, “I’ll Do It Again”, and “This Wonderful World”.
“Experiment in Terror” – Henry Mancini
20th Century Italian and Italian-American composers are another major influence. I have a framed portrait of Ennio Morricone hanging on my wall. Mancini, Morricone, Luis Bacalav, and Claudio Simonetti are all monsters. I hear them all over this album. Check out the instrumental part in “When a Woman” or the chorus in “No Soul”.
“Eyes Without A Face” – Billy Idol
I hear Billy Idol on a few of the songs. I definitely had him in mind when writing “Alchemy”.
“Pardon Me (I’ve Got Someone To Kill)” – Johnny Paycheck
I’m not so much a fan of his most popular hit, but I do love me some Johnny (Donny) Paycheck. He’s right up there with George Jones as one of my favorite voices. The man could tell a story. I’d love to cover this song one day. I hear his influence on “Resurrect Me”, “You Cannot Know Me”, and “No Soul”.
“Palaces of Montezuma” – Grinderman
I could list so many Nick Cave (and Leonard Cohen) songs. This song is just about perfect to me, as a hyper-poetic, pop-rock song. The lyrical composition is masterful in its simplicity. There’s no fat on it. I hear this one in “Resurrect Me” and “When a Woman”, especially.
“Echoes” – Pink Floyd
I can’t get into most of the Pink Floyd catalogue. But I absolutely love the albums that I’m into. I included this especially non-playlist-friendly epic because I remember having it in mind when writing the vocal melody for “This Wonderful World”.
“The Pure and the Damned” – Oneohtrix Point Never, Iggy Pop
This song is a bonus. I didn’t influence me on the album because I didn’t hear it until we were wrapping up the final song, “No Soul”. Coincidentally, it definitely sounds like it could’ve influenced that one. I include it because I’m in love with it. It was, by far, my favorite new (to me) song of 2022, even though it was released with the Good Time film back in 2017. It’s incredibly moving to me and I can’t seem to get through it without choking up. I still have it on repeat, as I prepare to head back into the studio. So, perhaps it’s a hint of things to come. We’ll see.
“No Soul” – Donnie Doolittle
This is the final song from my album. I’m definitely excited for people to hear the songs that inspired me, but above all else I’d love for them to hear the album itself. Give it a listen and let me know what you think.
Photo Courtesy: Kara Perry