For months, local filmmaker and musician Marshall Granger felt limited by his usual folk music and traditional chord progressions. When he found himself on the road without his guitar, he turned to his computer for inspiration, though he had little experience creating music digitally.
Using unfamiliar tools pushed Granger to write from a fresh perspective. He wrote his first song from the point of view of a housewife who decorates her home while dreaming of leaving it behind. That song was eventually discarded, but the experience of writing from what felt like a feminine place led Granger to "Dorothy," and a whole new project. Dorothy serves as kind of an alter ego through which he produces ethereal pop songs about Tinder, Facebook and online relationships. In the music video for "Captions," Dorothy wears white headphones over a shiny red wig. She sings coyly with dark red lips: "Sometimes I feel so lonely inside, the more people like my pictures online." Her glowing face is close to the webcam, the room dark behind her.
Granger says he never felt at home with the rugged masculine culture of Montana. "There's been a part of me for a while that wants to be an example of 'male' that's not a 'man,' per se," he says. He first noticed this growing up in Billings, when simply loving emo allowed him to embrace the music's androgynous style and shop in a different area of the clothing store.
Granger doesn't identify with labels. He chooses not to use phrases like "gender fluidity" when talking about Dorothy. In fact, it's difficult to get Granger to use any words at all. Interviewing him becomes a game of reading body language and stringing together drifting sentences. As a person and as an artist, Granger is most clear through his art. His short film, To Live Deliberately, which won the Audience Award at the 2015 Big Sky Documentary Film Festival, was a simple and beautifully shot portrait of Justin Willis, a young ice climber. The title of the film is a quote from Thoreau's Walden: "I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived."
The creation of Dorothy is an example of Granger doing just that. He says only a year ago he wouldn't have been able to share the music videos. And until now, she has existed solely in the confines of the Internet. On Dec. 28, however, all of that will change when Dorothy performs live for the first time at the Roxy. It's Granger's initial step in exploring her as a platform for performance art, music and film.
For Granger, Dorothy has become necessary. She provides him with a clean slate, allowing him to access the loneliness and vulnerability that pervades her music. Similar to when authors write fictionalized memoir, he's found it's easier to open up when not tied to reality. The truth is, being Dorothy is comfortable for Granger and even he is unsure how much of that fiction is nonfiction.
"It's me," he says. "'Update' is one of the most honest songs I've written."
In that song, over a simple beat and an echoing wail, Dorothy sings, "So don't be worried if I disappear/ it's just a new update, a brand new year." Line after line, Dorothy presents the confusing non-reality of online identities and relationships. In "Loading," a song that opens with the Skype ringtone, Dorothy asks again and again, "When will I see you for real?"
Fortunately, Missoula audiences don't have long to wait.