Alumna singer and songwriter Boh Doran (formerly Mary Beth) released her debut album “Rainbow” two months ago and is now on tour on the East Coast. She is slated to perform at The Hamilton in the District on Nov. 17.
She is currently signed on with indie label Big Stuff Records. Responses have been edited for clarity and length.
Question: Is Boh Doran your given name?
Answer: It’s my project name. It is a family name. Doran is my last name and Boh is my other family’s name from New Orleans. I’m Mary Beth at GW and to my friends and family. I started this project name a couple years ago.
Q: Why did you choose Boh Doran to be your name?
A: A combination of things: Using my name is very personal and it’s nice to be able to mix music around something that is outside of myself but still keep it personal by having it sort of as an homage to the other side of my family.
Q: How did you get from Vibes to your debut album “Rainbow?”
A: Somewhere along the way at GW I started singing with Thinktank. It was a really cool club, a spoken word, sort of hip-hop performance troupe that was at GW. A lot of people went to the shows and I had friends in it that would ask me to come write hooks for their poems and I would go and sing them. That was when I started writing. In Vibes, I sang other people’s songs and we were such a fun tight-knit group of people, but doing Thinktank showed me that I liked doing my own stuff.
I met Aaron Leeder, a guitar player that was still on campus who played for the dance department. He was also in a band called Exit Clove. They were pretty big back then and played at the Black Cat all the time. And he wanted to start a side project. During my senior year he started sending me all these songs that he’d written guitar parts for that he wanted me to write song lyrics for. I spent so much time writing that I went from straight As to hoping I wouldn’t fail. I was bitten by this writing bug.
That summer I sang at clubs in D.C. and got signed to a record label in New York City. I worked with that guitar player for a while. Four years after that, I started my own project. I got a couple demos together and moved to a farm in Iowa to flesh it out, then moved to LA.
Q: What was the hardest part of making your album?
A: Getting past worrying about what people think you’re doing. Whether people are critical of the way you’re doing your music or the fact that you’re doing music: You have to surmount the odds.
Q: Who were your inspirations and support systems?
A: I grew up listening to a lot of 70s singer-songwriter-type folk. Beatles, Bob Taylor, those kinds of artists. My mom listened to artists that really inspired me because they’re ladies. It really wasn’t that long ago since women started singing on the radio.
For me, pushing from a band with all guys and me to, “Nah, I’m going to do my own thing” was hard, but I was inspired by women like Florence and the Machine and Lorde.
I also have lots of great soul sister-type girlfriends and different boyfriends and family.
Q: What is your songwriting process like?
A: It just kind of comes to you. Sometimes I’ll do a specific writing session – did a lot of that in LA. You bring things that are starts. Either I finish that on my own and that’s the song or I bring it to someone who I think is a wonderful writer.
Q: How would you describe your singing style?
A: Retro indie pop. Lily Allen meets Ingrid Michaelson meets Lorde.
Q: Your song “White Knuckles” has a very relaxed feel to it. How did you get inspired to write this song?
A: I was starting to hang out with this guy. We started seeing each other and it was really cool and magical but I was already overwhelmed with worrying about it because I was thinking of how so many people will try to put a label on it when something good starts. I was thinking about what it feels like when you try to hold on to something. I was picturing the hand on a driving wheel in the middle of a storm and you see the white knuckles and it means it’s holding on too tight.
Q: What advice would you give young singers at GW?
A: I strongly encourage everyone to try writing their own stuff. Think about what inspires them and go snag a piano room in the basement of Phillips and just don’t worry about anything that has to do with school for a while. Just write and sing it.