Please enjoy the transcript of Episode 061 with Margot:
Since she was 4 years old Margot knew she wanted to be a violinist when she grew up.
Margot is now a professional musician, performing full-time as one half of the DJ-violin duo, The Dolls, alongside DJ Mia Moretti, and is set to release her debut solo project this summer.
You’ll hear Margot discuss how she made her way in the music world, the opportunities that come from being open and that the best way to move forward is to do the best you can do:
“You have to give your all. Always.” – Margot
Margot: Hi, this is Margot, I’m a violinist & singer, and you’re listening to Prologue Profiles.
Margot: I grew up in Gainesville, Florida.
Dan: College town…
Margot: College town. Big ‘ol college town.
Dan: What was it like in Gainesville, Florida?
Margot: I don’t know if I’ve ever been asked that before. I guess…
Dan: We go there. [Laughter]
Margot: You know I was actually so consumed in violin and with my school that, for me, there wasn’t much outside of that.
Dan: All right so you are a musician.
Margot: Yes, I’m a violinist.
Dan: So talk to me about what you do, what you’re up to, all of that?
Margot: I’m one-half of The Dolls. We’re a DJ/violin duo. I play with DJ Mia Moretti.
(Margot & Mia, via Diggy Lloyd on the Dolls’ Tumblr)
Dan: So you’re the violin…
Margot: Yea [Laughs], I play the violin, and we play a lot of dance, a lot of soul and funk, and disco. We’re inspired by all sorts of genres and it’s mainly focused on instrumentation with the violin and bringing her tracks in, but I recently started singing as well for our live shows and whatnot so it’s kind of a combination of all three.
Dan: Are you doing this full-time now?
Margot: Yes, definitely. I have my own solo project that I’m working on.
Dan: Is there a name for that?
Margot: Well I’m going under just Margot, so it’s just gonna be Margot and it’s me singing and lots of strings and it’s kind of pop/electronic-ish [Laughs].
But I’m doing that and then I’ve also been composing for some orchestras and film, but I’d say that The Dolls have definitely been the main focus over the past couple of years and we’ve just been touring so much and playing out so much that it definitely is a full-time job.
Dan: And you guys are supporting yourselves as musicians?
Margot: Yes, I’ve actually, I can very, very fortunately say that I’ve never had a real job before.
Margot: Yea and it’s scary to say that and sometimes I wonder how exactly that happened.
Dan: Like you looked over your shoulder just now [Margot laughs] “The man’s comin’” [Laughter].
Margot: I actually started, I guess, considered a professional at the age of 12 or 13. I started playing at weddings when I was in Florida and that’s how I started making money.
Dan: …What? [Laughs]
Margot: I know [Laughs] And when I think back on it, I think about the way people used to react when I walked in the room, they were like, ‘What is this little kid doing about to play music at my wedding?’ [Laughs]
Dan: So Margot, let’s talk now about how you got here. What was the path you took to get to this point? Where does it all start for you?
Margot: I guess it all started, technically, when I was four. My mom said that I came home from pre-school during the summer and she was so excited it was summer, she thought I was going to be a really relaxed kid and the first day I came back, I was like, “Mom, what are we gonna do?” And she was like, “What do you mean, what are we going to do? It’s summer. We just hang out.”
And she realized that she needed to actively do something with me, so she put me in ballet and violin lessons and I studied under [teacher’s name] for 15 years, almost 16 years and that’s where I received really all of my training on the violin, I was classically trained. My teacher was really adamant about group lessons and group involvement, so we would have concerts almost every couple of months and really big competitions once a year. It was completely my life. Some days, before competitions, on the weekends, I would practice anywhere from 8 to 12 hours a day.
Dan: Were you the youngest there?
Margot: Not at all. She actually had tons of students who were kind of my age and I was really fortunate to grow up with really passionate and incredible musicians-turned-friends who actually, most of them, now live in New York and we even play together to this day.
So it was a really positive environment to be constantly surrounded by other kids my age who love the violin just as much.
Margot: Which also I think stems from the Suzuki method, which is what I was brought up on. And Suzuki was a Japanese violin teacher, he kind of created this method that a lot of people use to this day.
Dan: And that involved playing violin on jet-skis? [Margot laughs]
Margot: For a long time I really thought that I was going to do classical music, and I was also really fortunate to have an incredible music instructor in high school, Mr Roger Newburn, and he kind of opened me up to jazz and bluegrass and folk music, and I realized that there were other ways that I could express myself with the violin. I think that I thought it was like a one-headed road.
Dan: And so what did you do after high school? Did you go to college? Did you go to a music conservatory?
Margot: I always thought I would go to conservatory, but when it came time I actually didn’t apply to one conservatory, which was really bizarre and my teacher wasn’t very happy with me. I think I was a little burnt out, I think I was a little tired, and I think it needed to happen. And so I eventually went to school in DC and, ironically, found myself not really going to class and practicing violin in the basement of the music school there. So that was my first heads up that ‘Hmm, this might not be [Laughs] working out so well’.
Dan: And what was drawing you to the violin? Like why stick with it, and why, even when at college, that’s what you were drawn to?
Margot: I think when I was little, you know people always, when you’re growing up were like, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” And for me it was such a silly question because I always knew, even when I was four, that I was going to be a violinist. Like there was no other option. Everything else just seemed, I don’t know, I guess I already just knew what I wanted to be.
Margot: Yeah, and I loved the violin, I mean sure, there were days that my mom had to kind of pull teeth for me to practice, but overall, I have to say that I truly, truly loved playing. And whether it was learning a concerto on my own, or playing with my fellow musicians, it felt right it felt like what I was supposed to be doing. So I guess that’s why, even amidst not pursuing it in a college atmosphere, that it didn’t feel right, but I knew that I wanted to do music.
So I ended up finishing one semester [Laughs] and I had met someone, who gave me an opportunity to move to Poland, to play violin in a soft rock band, I guess, and I had an opportunity to travel around a lot.
So I took a leave of absence from college, thinking I was going to go back, and I moved to Poland. I was 19, on my own [Laughter], with my violin and a suitcase. And I was really fortunate, I got to travel to India, Japan, and Argentina, Russia and Italy and all these places.
Ok pause. Dan here by the way.
So Margot takes a huge risk by leaving college after one semester to move to Poland, but as you’ll hear, this leads to an opportunity that takes Margot to where she really wants to go.
Ok back to the show:
Margot: When I was in India I met a producer who said, “Move to New York and I will help you with whatever you want to do with your record and whatnot” and as much as I loved living abroad and living in Poland, I did miss the States, I did miss home. So I decided, “You know what? I’ve always” when I was even growing up I knew that I wanted to live in New York at one point, so it just felt like, “Yeah, let’s just try it. Let’s see what happens”.
Dan: So in the summer of 2008, you moved to New York.
Margot: Not knowing anyone again, and slowly just started, just kind of researching the places to go and I would just spend all day walking around and I eventually stumbled upon places like Rockwood Music Hall or The Bitter End, and I would read Bob Dylan’s autobiography and another artist and whatnot and kind of try to [Laughs] retrace their steps and see where all those musicians were hanging out.
And slowly just started, I would walk up after people had performed and I was like, “Hey, if you ever need a violinist let me know. I’d love to play. I’ll do it for free.” And eventually, I can’t even remember who the first person was that was like “Alright, I’ll give you a shot.” [Laughs] But eventually I started playing with a lot of singer/songwriters and some rock bands and whatnot and that’s kind of how I stumbled upon the music scene here in New York.
Dan: And what did your parents think when you moved to New York?
Margot: [Laughs] That’s a hard question. I think, they are both extremely supportive of me, and I think at the time I had my head on pretty straight, so they trusted me.
But I honestly think that it was hard for them to see me throw away all of my classical training, in a sense, ’cause even though I was still playing music, to them it felt a little bit like I was just throwing it all away, because I had spent so many years really slaving over the craft and slaving over the discipline of it all, that it seemed like, to them, I was just kind of playing in these dark, grungy bars for drunk people. [Laughter] Instead of like at pristine concert halls in a flowy gown in front of an orchestra – which I understand, I can completely kind of see where they’re coming from, as a parent concerned about a child just fresh out of leaving home. But, at the end of the day, you know I’m able to support myself and I think that as long as I’m supporting myself they can’t really tell me ‘yay or nay’, in a sense. [Laughs]
Dan: I’m on your side! Don’t worry! [Laughter]
So what was driving that, though, for you to kind of explore this new world for you, this other side of music?
Margot: I honestly think it was having been introduced to jazz music in high school, ’cause if you ask me or any of my friends, it was kind of hilarious, my knowledge of music. I had kind of missed a gap of 100 years. [Dan laughs] I knew everything from about the late 1800’s, like prior to that, and then maybe post 1999. [Laughter]
Dan: Great year.
Margot: So I literally missed about 100 years in music. I had heard of the Beatles but I couldn’t tell you what one song was, I didn’t know what the Rolling Stones were, I didn’t know who all these people were. I kind of was familiar with Spice Girls and T.L.C. and Lauryn Hill and Mary J. Blige [Laughs]. So, for me, moving to New York also was opening up to all these different types of music.
Dan: So how did things progress for you from there?
Margot: Things were difficult. My first, probably 3, 4 years in New York were really rough, in terms of, you know New York is an expensive place to be and there were sometimes months of no work and just being like “Oh my gosh, what am I going to do?” And I would try to get any kind of session work or get any sort of work as playing with people live and whatnot.
Ok pause. Dan here again.
So even though Margot was finding difficulty supporting herself in New York, she was spending her time networking in the music scene, meeting people and making connections, and in a sec you’ll hear how her network came through, in a major way that she did not see coming.
Ok back to the show:
Margot: So I had called my mom probably in 2009, and I was like, “I think I’m done. I think I want to come home. Maybe I’ll go back to school. I can’t really seem to be making enough money and finding enough work and whatnot.” I was like, “Maybe this isn’t the right path for me.”
And literally the next day I got a call from one of my friends who was like, “We need a backup violinist for the Trans-Siberian Orchestra. And I was like, “Done.”
So I called my mom the next day and I was like, “Just kidding. Got a job!” [Laughter]
And it was a really great gig because being backup meant that I got to stay in New York and rehearse in New York and make a little money on the side. And then the next year I took an audition and I actually got to go on the road with them. So I went on the road with them for two years, on the West Coast Tour, and got to play arenas. It was a 3-hour show, some days we did two shows a day, and I think we did, one year, 72 shows in 60 days. So it was a pretty grueling tour, but it was an incredible experience to have arena experience. And just to be able to tour that kind of capacity and that lifestyle, real tour buses and the only other tours I had done were crammed with fellow musicians in a little car and everyone takes their turn to drive kind of situation. [Laughter] So in a sense that was my first real break.
Dan: And during that time, you and Mia formed The Dolls.
Margot: We met about four years ago. We both happened to be playing at the same venue down in the Lower East Side.
Dan: What was it called?
Dan: Oh Ella!
Margot: It’s on First and First.
Dan: Friend of Prologue Profiles. We’ve had events there.
Margot: Oh really? Yeah, it’s really cute, little, fun downstairs venue.
She was doing a DJ solo gig, and I was doing a solo performance, and our managers at the time happened to be good friends and they introduced us and we decided to see what would happen if we kind of joined forces and played together in a sense, like kind of combined our sets.
Dan: And how’d you guys know that you worked well together?
Margot: I mean we, at first, we had no idea what we were doing, [Laughs] for sure. And I look back on footage that I’m still trying to remove from the internet. [Laughter]
Dan: Google never forgets.
Margot: [Laughs] It’s terrible. It’s scary being an artist today. Anyone can take out that phone and upload any sort of video of you.
But it all happened organically. No one else had come in and said, “This is what you should do” or “This is how you should do it.” And I don’t think we ever even sat down and said, “This is what we want to accomplish.” I don’t think we thought more was gonna come of it. We happened to get booked for a couple of gigs.
Dan: How’d that happen?
Margot: Mia’s manager, they put on a bunch of events, throughout the city and throughout the U.S. and whatnot, and a lot of them are coordinated with music festivals, too. And our very first gig, actually, was the official after party of Lollapalooza, out in Chicago.
Margot: And that was our very, very first gig and a lot of industry people happened to be at the music festivals and whatnot, and were like “Oh we should book the girls for our next show” and we both were very surprised [Laughs], I think.
But yeah, we started getting some gigs and we were able to make some money, and slowly but surely we both were able to make a living out of it, which was something that we definitely never saw coming. It really started as something that was fun for us, and new and exciting, and I had never imagined playing with a DJ, I never really imagined playing dance music and I got to express myself in a way with the violin that I never thought possible.
Dan: So what was key in getting The Dolls to the point where you can make a living out of it?
Margot: I think we both are very free-spirited and spontaneous people at heart, that we were open to anything. So, and I totally understand how important it is to kind of maybe set out a map, in a sense, but for our first couple of years, I don’t think we set out a map. I think it was just free game. So we literally took every gig that came our way and it didn’t matter if that meant hopping on two planes a day or sometimes we were doing five or six shows a night, just literally hopping [Laughs] everywhere we could and whatnot.
And I think it was because we were just so excited to play that we took every opportunity that came our way. And you know we would approach anyone and everyone we could and say, “Hey, we would love to play here.” And it took a lot of playing free shows. It took years of so many free shows and then eventually people start remembering you and are like “Oh, we should book those girls” or “We should book that weird DJ/violin duo.”
Dan: And what’s been the highlight for you so far?
Margot: We’re fortunate, where our setup is pretty easy, she usually always has a computer, and I usually always have my violin because we are either coming from a gig or coming from somewhere. And there’s been time where we’ve just jumped on and decided to play a set and I think it’s been the most unexpected moments that have been, for me, the best in a sense. But you know we’ve also been spoiled and we got to open up for both Janet Jackson and Diana Ross at the Louvre in Paris
Margot: And we opened for Stevie Wonder one New Year’s Eve in Vegas, and we recently went on tour with Eve. E-V-E. And she’s just so incredible.
Dan: Pitbull [Margot laughs] in a skirt.
Margot: And we collaborated with her on two of her songs on her record, and we’re planning to go on another tour with her, and maybe even doing a record together, so.
Margot: I know it’s…she’s literally the nicest person ever. [Laughs]
Dan: How’d that happen?
Margot: We play at a lot of fashion events, especially like during New York Fashion Week. We didn’t do any this year. We did one show and it was our first ticketed show at Glasslands in Brooklyn, because we had been doing all these incredible shows, but they were all shows that already kind of had an audience. Like there were already going to be people there for an event or whatnot, so we decided we needed to start building our own audience, in a sense.
But, going back to when we did play shows at New York Fashion Week, it was for the after party of Prabal’s show and it was at, I think it was at Bao, or whatever it is now. I think that’s one of the ever-changing [Laughs] venues down in kind of the Bowery in Chinatown.
And we happened to do a set and [Eve] was there, and she was like, “I love you girls. I’d love to collaborate. Let’s work together. Let’s maybe tour together.” And Mia and I are looking at each other like, “Is she being serious?” because also, people say things and it’s one thing to say and it’s another to actually follow up on it, and there’s been so many times where we’ve had conversations with people who have been like, “Yeah, let’s do this”, but then it never happens. So, for us, I think it was just a, “Well it was really cool we got to talk to Eve.” [Laughs]
And then we ran into her again while we were at Lollapolooza, and she’s like, “Hey I’m going on tour in like three weeks, you girls wanna come?” And of course, I fanned-out, and was like, “What?! Yeah!” I was like, “No, I’ve got to calm down, Margot, calm down.” And I really, really nerd out sometimes, really hardcore, [Laughs] I’ve got to contain it. But yeah, that’s kind of how it happened, and she was serious and so we went on tour with her!
Dan: So what would you say you love about what you do?
Margot: I mean I think I love too much, what I do. I feel really fortunate just to be able to play my violin every day and to sing and write, and I haven’t had to get that other job. And there are days where it gets daunting, ’cause sometimes you don’t know when that next paycheck is gonna come, but I feel really blessed to be surrounded by extremely passionate and inspired, especially women, and just creatives, in general. I just have so many strong forces in my life that no matter where you are, they’re always inspiring me to want to be better or to be greater. And it took a while, I didn’t have that at first when I moved here, and I think it’s only been like the past couple of years that I’ve had that really incredible relationships and bonds that way.
Dan: And what else do you love about what you do?
Margot: I get to travel the world. I always wanted to travel the world, and I always wanted to do music, I don’t think I necessarily thought they would go hand-in-hand with one another. I think I thought maybe I would teach violin somewhere, which is something that I still love doing and would completely be open to if I ever wasn’t doing so much. But, yeah, I definitely didn’t ever foresee the two going together for me. Especially as a violinist, like there aren’t that many opportunities, well, I shouldn’t say there aren’t because actually for strings, it has been incredible to see the growth in the past couple of years, especially like with bands like Arcade Fire or whatnot. There’s been so many prominent string players, and I love, love, love seeing a string player on stage, whether it’s for a classical show or someone’s solo show or with a rock band, or with a pop singer, or whatever it might be. But, at the end of the day, you know that’s only x-amount of jobs and positions for string players.
So I feel fortunate that Mia and I kind of created this niche for ourselves and we’ve gotten to travel to all over Europe, Asia, and the U.S. and I just get to write music and perform every day, and that’s pretty damn cool.
Dan: What would you say you dislike about what you do?
Margot: I don’t like waiting in lines at security. [Laughter] That’s never fun. I love touring on the road, either in a car or a bus, that lifestyle, to me, is so much easier than hopping on a plane every day. That can get really draining and I get sick a lot. I’ll sometimes get sick every two weeks or so, it’s like a vicious cycle, so that can be not fun. Some people say that they miss home, and I do, there are times when I miss New York and I have been touring for eight or nine years now, but it still feels new. I think that you get to wake up every day and sometimes go somewhere new and it doesn’t really get boring or tiring.
Dan: Where would you say you are in your career right now?
Margot: It’s weird cause I don’t even feel like I’ve started because I’m finally about to release my own record that I’ve been working on for like five or six years, and obviously, the things that I’ve been doing with Mia and The Dolls and all the other projects that I’ve been working on have been incredible, but this is definitely the closest to me, so I think that’s why it feels like I’m just beginning to sort of release myself out into the universe.
Dan: And where do you want to take things in the future?
Margot: I think if I didn’t love performing so much, I would want to only write scores for film and for orchestras. That’s definitely like a passion of mine, which I’m trying to tap into now and I hope to do more of in the future.
Dan: You’re scoring some things?
Margot: Yes, just kind of friend’s films and whatnot, but, yeah, I definitely see myself touring really heavily for the next ten years or so. And I’m gonna start touring Margot Music, and I think Mia and I are always going to be evolving and touring, and I hope to also one day perform the pieces that I’ve been writing for violin and orchestra.
Dan: What would you say is the biggest challenge looking forward, for you?
Margot: The biggest challenge, you know, for me a lot of it has been knowing when to say “No”, like knowing when to say “No” to certain shows and certain tours. And you know I took all of January off, which was something I hadn’t done in a long time. I had literally been touring extensively since ’07, and I’ve hardly had time off from tour, like there was always just something that was going on. And so it was the first time that I was able to sit down and really put myself in a creative mindset, instead of the performing mindset as well, because it is, it’s two different mindsets and it’s two different worlds, and it’s so easy to get excited because someone has given you an opportunity, but I knew that in order to actually [Laughs] finish something for once, I had to really kind of sit myself down and just do it.
Dan: What would you say inspires you?
Margot: I recently started going to the orchestra again, and I went and saw the LA Phil, and I also saw the New York Phil, and when I was down in Gainesville I got to see Itzak Perlman perform who I think is probably one of the greatest violinists of all time.
And it’s not just through music, but it’s through the travels that I get to do. Every culture, every country has such specific musicalities to it and specific energies to it and different kinds of brightnesses, in a sense. Whether it’s hearing the call for prayer in Istanbul or like hearing a little French jazz band in Paris, or hearing a brass band on the streets of New Orleans, or going to see the New York Phil in New York, it’s definitely been a whirlwind of inspiration.
Dan: What fears do you have?
Margot: I definitely have a fear of, it’s going to be good enough, or just, what’s going to happen, like you know, I took a huge risk in saying “no” to a lot of shows this year. Whereas last year we were probably playing shows every three to five times a week, and they were all money gigs. Like last year we were really fortunate and this year, I said no to everything so that I could actually create music instead of perform music. And not that performing isn’t part of music and it’s part of my path, but it wasn’t what I deep down wanted to be doing, I deep down wanted to do my record and I wanted to do all my orchestral stuff, but I was too scared to stop doing shows and having the financial security of that. And instead focus on my art and the things that I know that I was put here to do.
Someone once told me that you are meant, and not saying me, I just mean artist in general. Like, you are meant to share your work with the world, and it is your gift and it is your duty to share your gift with people. And for me it was, “Okay, you’re right, it is my duty to share my gift and music with people.”
[Clip of ‘Glass’ off of Margot’s upcoming solo record]
Dan: So, Margot, what advice would you give to someone who sees what you’re doing, and is wondering if it’s possible for them?
Margot: You know I think, most importantly, don’t force anything. I think we sometimes get caught up in our own goals too much that we forget about how to get there, in a sense. And sometimes when you are so focused on something, you don’t see all the other open doors that are all to the side of that main goal that you have in your head.
And don’t be scared of “No.” Don’t get discouraged when someone tells you “No” because I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been told “No” to.
But also, you don’t want to work with someone who doesn’t want to work with you. Just like you don’t want to be in a relationship with someone who doesn’t want to be in a relationship with you, you don’t want to work with someone who doesn’t want to work with you [Laughs]. Trust me, because I’ve tried that. I’ve been in positions where I was like “Well, they’re the best name in this business” like “They’re the best manager or the best this or the best that. I have to work with them.” And then nothing happens, because they are not interested in you.
And so it could be the smallest name to the smallest person and, you know as long as someone is willing to work hard and hustle, you’d be surprised at what you can do together with someone. And you just have to keep pushing no matter what and you have to give it your all, always, because there’s times when I forget how like how six years ago me would have died to have the gig that today, me has sometimes. And I’ve been in rooms or situations or at shows when I’m like, “Aw, man, I’m really not in the mood to do this.” But if I had been given that opportunity six years ago, I would have died to have that opportunity, you know?. And I think that that’s important too.
Dan: Just give it your all.
Margot: Yeah, just always give it your all. You never know who’s gonna be in the room. Really, you never know who’s going to be there. You never know what it’s going to lead to. There’s been gigs that seem like the most miserable thing and then we ended up playing Chelsea Clinton’s wedding because of it, you know? So just be open to anything. I think because we, at first, just we didn’t say no to anything. You never know what it’s going to lead to.
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