Living In The Dream World: The Rebirth and Unstoppable Rise of Lady Pills

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All photos by Eric Walker

There’s a point on Commonwealth Ave. between Allston and Fenway where a resemblance to either neighborhood fails to register.

The Citgo sign brightly dominates the skyline, but when I arrive at Lady Pills bassist Alison Dooley’s apartment, a neighboring guitarist is defeatedly hacking away at a blues riff as a group of college kids competitively howl the chorus to O.T. Genasis’ “CoCo.” With broken glass on the sidewalk as plentiful as the multi-million dollar apartments up the road, the borderland between Allston basement shows and downtown Boston seems like a strangely comfortable fit for Lady Pills. On this particular night, the trio are still lingering in Austin, TX.

“We only played one set, thank god,” singer/guitarist Ella Boissonnault says with a laugh about the Berklee-sponsored showcase they played at South by Southwest. “I could not have handled more than one. I’m under 21 and most shows at South By are 21+, so we mostly just walked and ate a lot at G’Raj Mahal.”

“One of my favorite moments from our set was that bald, shirtless man covered in tattoos,” drummer Claire Duhring adds. “He parted the Berklee seas, came right up front, took a seat on the ground, and started peacefully drawing on a large napkin. Probably one of my favorite fans yet.”

“I mean, I got kicked out of a bar,” Boissonnault continues. “Our friend told us it’d be fine at this one place, so we went straight to the back, apparently walked right past the ID person, and tried to hide out on the back porch. [The door guy] immediately walked back like, ‘Did you take a sip of that drink?’ and I said no, but he was like, ‘I saw you drinking, asshole.’”

All three deflect their recent string of successes, including said SXSW trip less than a year after forming, with humility and banter, but no one in Dooley’s apartment (or most of Boston, for that matter) can deny that Lady Pills have earned in a matter of months a level of local hype toward which most bands would spend years building up.

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(from left) Boissonnault, Duhring, and Dooley


The rapid rise of Lady Pills is more remarkable considering the fact that at this time last year, the band was pairing down to a solo act.

“The main thing was that I always wanted an all girl band. I recorded an EP, [2015’s Limerance] with a couple of guys, but things were kinda falling apart with that group,” Boissonnault recalls. By the summer, Lady Pills was Boissonnault’s solo project again. Playing in bands in the Northern Virginia DIY scene (including Makeshift Shelters and Posture and The Grizzly), Boissonnault met the task of finding bandmates at Berklee who shared her desire for contained egos and positivity.

“I guess I expected people at Berklee to be more like, ‘We’re all at this school together. We’re all classmates; let’s work together,’ but when someone says ‘Good job!’ there, it has a weird passive-aggressiveness to it,” Boissonnault says. “It’s almost like they’re saying, ‘Yeah, good job, but I’m competing against you.’”

It took less than two weeks for Boissonnault to meet violin major Alison Dooley at a margaritas and Mac & Cheese-themed party, become friends, and ask Dooley to join the band.

“Alison and I were sorta friends around this point, so I asked if she wanted to try out bass,” Boissonnault said.

“I was a huge fan of her first EP,” Dooley adds. “I even messaged her over the summer before we met like, ‘This EP changed my life!’, so it was awesome that she asked.”

Despite the fact that Dooley was still learning how to play bass while recording their demo and both Boissonnault and Dooley were still getting to know their new drummer outside of a few shared classes, Boissonnault’s chief concern was Dooley and Duhring actually liking the songs she’d already written.

“Alison couldn’t come to the first full band practice and I thought Claire hated it,” Boissonnault attests. “I didn’t really know her at all and she was just really quiet the whole practice.”

Their unifying moment came when they eventually practiced the song “Make Out”as a trio. “[Claire] was like, ‘That’s a fun one!” Boissonnault says. “That’s when I was finally like, ‘Phew. Okay, it’s gonna be okay!’”

“Next thing I knew, I was in the band and, by our third rehearsal, we were asked to play our first show,” Duhring recalls. “For me, it was a very sudden beginning and it hasn’t lost any steam.”

“Musically, we had good chemistry, even though I couldn’t play the damn instrument,” Dooley quips.

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Situating themselves into regular basement show lineups was the easy part for Lady Pills; the hard part was maintaining a centrist allegiance to both the DIY and Berklee scenes.

“Shifting into the Boston DIY scene, I felt like I knew what was up. It was a little cliquier here at first, but I came in being like, ‘Hi there, I’m from Virginia!,” Boissonnault recalls in a Ned Flanders voice.

“Coming into the DIY scene from the Berklee bubble personally was a breath of fresh air for me,” Duhring adds. “I got to shift my focus from showcasing my capabilities to what’s most important: the music itself.”

“Being heavily involved in the DIY scene, I can say going from being a listener to being in a band here is a humongous transition,” Dooley says. “When you’re a listener, everything’s kinda romanticized with basement shows, Christmas lights, tapestries, and all that bullshit. And it’s great, but the minute you’re in a band, you can see more of what’s messed up and what could become messed up very quickly.”

All three attest that both Berklee and the basement show scene are undercut with differing, but ubiquitous forms of sexism, citing a number of times male show goers have thrown out discomfiting comments or sound guys have asked if they know how to use their gear.

“I feel like in the DIY scene, it’s more of a ‘we’ll book you because you’re all girls’ kind of thing,” Boissonnault says. “It’s a hyper-PC culture that exists in the DIY scene for sometimes better, sometimes worse. At Berklee though, the misogyny is way more tangible.”

“But at Berklee, they don’t book you because you’re a girl; they’ll book you because you’re good musicians,” Dooley adds.

On top of that, the prejudice towards Berklee-educated musicians entering a local scene that thrives on an unspoken measure of authenticity and self-taught practices has been equally present.

“I still feel the judgement and pressure to meet people’s expectations in the DIY scene, but that’s always going to be the case being a musician or, you know, anything really,” Duhring says.

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“Having training doesn’t take any of the truthfulness or emotion out of playing live,” Dooley defends. “I feel like a lot of people [in the DIY scene] think that’s what happens when you go to Berklee. But Berklee has a lot of very intense, emotional people. Yeah, there’s a lot of people that like to ‘shred’ more than emote, but…”

“… that’s everywhere, including the DIY scene!” Boissonnault finishes.

Still, the trio have taken to the more respectful corners of the local scene. “When the demo EP came out, a lot of people were eager to book us, which we felt very flattered by, but it was basically our opportunity to practice,” Boissonnault notes.

Dooley hadn’t played a basement show before Lady Pills, and Duhring had yet to play a show in Boston, so their trial-by-fire was equal parts fortunate and necessary for the band to grow.

“It’s more of an introverted kind of experience, playing violin,” Dooley compares. “I’ve learned to express myself without words, while playing bass and singing is, like, ‘Here are my emotions! Here are my lyrics!’ I’m getting nervous thinking about it actually… but I’d feel completely unprepared for Boston Calling if we didn’t have all those shows.”


Playing Boston Calling and SXSW before releasing a full length LP is an obvious achievement, but the three members of Lady Pills discuss their upcoming release, Despite, as as solidifying them as a band and as friends.

“We were sitting right there,” Boissonnault recalls, motioning to Dooley’s couch, “complaining about our frustrations with everything. Like, we kept ending everything with, ‘This is happening, that’s happening, but despite all that…”

“It’s so angsty, but it’s about being fed up and just overcoming,” Dooley adds.

The angst implied with Despite is smirking, but lead single “Irrelevant” straddles the line between personal struggles and the eventual ability to laugh it off.

“There was some very traumatic stuff that happened to me personally right when we were forming as a band, but ‘Irrelevant’ is about leaving that bullshit behind,” Boissonnault explains. “There are good things happening, [the band is] growing into exactly what it’s supposed to be, and it’s my way of saying, ‘Yeah, it happened. Those things sucked, but see ya!”

Produced by Benny Grotto of Boston hardcore legends Slapshot, Despite is also serving as a harder-edged reinvention of Lady Pills.

“The EP was more bubbly,” Boissonnault compares.“We got compared in the Frankie Cosmos vein of things with the EP. Now, we get Dinosaur Jr. a lot, which is a huge shift.”

“I’m okay with that,” Alison adds with a laugh. “I mean, people have booked us on bills with all quieter folk bands based on the songs from the first EP, which is funny. Like, do your research! We’ve upgraded! We’re using three fuzz pedals at once!”

The pressure of recording an album-length statement behind them, the only task in front of the band is not being silenced by assumptions about a band made up of three women.

“Like, yeah, obviously we’re feminists and that’s one issue we’re very much about, but that’s not the only reason why we’re doing what we’re doing,” Boissonnault says. “So many people already think we’re the ‘girls that write songs about hating men’ band, but we have so many other things to say.”

“I believe the minute you generalize a group or an audience, they stop listening,” Dooley says. “I’d like to think our music could reach cis white men that may need a little help and guidance. If we were saying things that are provocative, but not productive, people wouldn’t listen.”

Considering they’ve crossed off the most obvious band goals, Lady Pills keep their aspirations simple at this point.

“No subgenres. I just wanna be a rock band,” Boissonnault says.

“We are a rock band,” Dooley adds quickly.

There’s something to be said of a female-composed band feeling the need to demand their status simply as a rock act, but the mood is hopeful on the Allston/Fenway line. If the last few months are any indication, a lot more people beyond the borderland are about to get the message too.