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‘Classical Indie’ Duo Dagmar Play Art Boutiki

In Music
DIRTY DUO: The bubbly harmonies of Dagmar are reminiscent of Dirty Projectors and Björk.

DIRTY DUO: The bubbly harmonies of Dagmar are reminiscent of Dirty Projectors and Björk.

Miranda Lee and Gemma Rose first sang together in a fifth grade choir in the tiny Iowa town of Fairfield. They went to different schools, so they didn’t reconnect until a mutual friend’s birthday party during college. There, they became instant, vocal soulmates over their shared passion for obscure harmonies.

“I was just nerding out in a dark corner with a piano and she came over and I was like, ‘Oh, let me teach you this French opera duet,’” Lee recalls. “We started signing it, and the rest was history.”

After being two-thirds of another band for nearly a decade, Lee and Rose decided to start Dagmar. Both are formally trained singers and musicians, and they label their sound “classical indie”—which translates to crisp, raw ballads centered mostly upon their pleasantly dissonant harmonies pulled from the Medieval era.

“We kind of approach vocals more like instruments,” Lee says. “So our [voices] often don’t go together rhythmically or melodically, but they’re more like two different instruments playing on top of each other. And I feel like I sing better when I’m singing in harmony and I enjoy it so much more. It’s about creating something bigger than us.”

On “What Do You Want,” from their most recent album, afterlight, they compose the central melody with breathy, ping-ponging notes, which recall the staccato indie rock scatting of Dirty Projectors and Björk. Then they take turns crooning the verses before weaving in and out of each other during interludes. The song centers on the idea of being trapped in an unsatisfying life, an echo from Lee’s messy divorce.

The rest of afterlight wrangles with similarly heavy themes. Rose worked for the past four years as a nurse in an intensive care unit. Daily, she saw what “most people don’t see more than a couple times in their life,” yet found inspiration and beauty in the poignant emotions that she saw surface in strangers after they witnessed the death of a loved one.

The duo moved to San Francisco in March, but Dagmar cultivated the core of its sound in Iowa’s wide open spaces, where the duo had time to expand creatively and channel “big feelings” into their lyrics. Below the melancholy surface, they radiate a comfortable humility, an aura that’s soothing like a cool night under a clear sky.

“We really are pretty darn happy and giddy,” Lee says. “And I think it’s because we’re able to let out our more heavy feelings and thoughts through our music. When one of us is feeling something very strongly, it’s easy for us to get into that and write together in this moment of pain or discomfort. It’s our relationship that makes us able to write that way. We’re sisters.”

 Dagmar
Aug 20, 7:30pm, $10
Art Boutiki, San Jose

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