Bullets have been turned into a symbol of healing in the song “Bullet Dress” by
Ojibwe Nation member Melissa Doud and the band Mambo Surfers
The Story behind "Bullet Dress"
Melissa Doud served 20 years in the Army including one tour in Iraq. Hailing from the Lac du Flambeau Ojibwe reservation in northern Wisconsin, she is also a pow wow jingle dress dancer.
“I was serving in Hawaii when I had a vision of making this dress. I know of many other Native Americans that incorporate their Veteran experience into our cultural dance. I had wanted to be a jingle dress dancer because it's a healing dance to help others."
While serving overseas she was a Quarter Master Supply Sergeant in charge of supplies and provisions. Also tasked with collecting spent bullet casings from fellow soldiers, it allowed her to quietly collect 365 spent bullets.
Back on the reservation in Wisconsin, Doud took the casings gleaned from the horrors of war and turned them into a bullet jingle dress. She says, “Creating this dress after I came back from Iraq was part of my healing journey. Now I dance for others and can display the path I went through to get here."
After connecting with the Warrior Songs organization in 2015, Doud was paired with Connecticut songwriter Marco Frucht, and the Mambo Surfers, a Milwaukee “funkified jazz rock” band who then put music to the lyrics. In July 2016, Melissa Doud (vocals) and the Mambo Surfers recorded “Bullet Dress” at SurroundinSoundStudio in Wauwatosa, WI. The engineer also recorded the low, heavy sound of the warrior dancing in her bullet dress, which subtly imbues the finished song.
Milwaukee-based Native Voices Booking & Management nominated “Bullet Dress” as Song/Single of the Year for the 2017 Native American Music Awards (NAMMY's). With sixty-six songs nominated in the Song/Single category, “Bullet Dress” was one of nine that made the final cut for the NAMA public voting process.
Warrior Songs generously ran a funding campaign to get the band to the Nammys in Niagara Falls in October 2017. The award ultimately went to WWE star and recording artist Mickie James for her song “Shooting Blanks”. Mickie James was also inducted into the Native American Music Awards hall of fame. Everyone was honored to have “Bullet Dress” nominated alongside so many other talented artists. Though "Bullet Dress" didn't win, Melissa and the Surfers (minus bassist Skate, who wasn't able to make the trip) attended the awards ceremony where they proudly represented not only themselves, but the Warrior Songs organization.
As Melissa says, "Being nominated for a Nammy is an additional honor allowing me to pioneer a path for other Native female veteran artists.”
Melissa talked about the making of her bullet dress on
WPR's "Wisconsin Life"
which aired in February 2018
It was destiny the Mambo Surfers and Melissa Doud would find each other.
When they first came together in the studio to record "Bullet Dress" with Melissa, the Mambo Surfers were a trio without a drummer. Then Jason Moon of Warrior Songs asked studio musician Tom Haines to drum on the track for the recording.
The pairing was initiated to produce one song, but Tom was so taken by the Surfers sound, he asked to join the group!
And rather than a one-off song produced for a CD compilation, all five of the musicians on "Bullet Dress" chose to begin working together on more songwriting and performing, even though the band was in the Milwaukee area and Melissa four hours away on the rez.
Warrior Songs Organization
Founded in 2011, Warrior Songs is a non-profit organization using music and the creative arts to help veterans heal from the wounds of war, assisting them to transform their traumatic experiences and struggles into an art form. At workshops across the country, they gather veterans stories to turn them into song, transforming trauma into a life-affirming catalyst.
If You Have To Ask: Warrior Songs Vol.1 is the organization’s first CD compilation, and where "Bullet Dress" was first released. In all, 16 songwriters wrote the 14 tracks on the album, 46 musicians participated in recording sessions, and sound engineers at eight studios captured the magic. Forty-two veterans from 14 states contributed through testimony, song, poem, lyric, art, and story. Warrior Songs Vol. 1 was released on November 6, 2016.