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THE NEW YORK DOLLS

THE NEW YORK DOLLS
August 29, 2006 | Author: Greg Phillips

New York DollsBEver wondered how the word ‘Trash’ became part of the rock n’ roll vernacular? Proto-punk band The New York Dolls is not a bad place to start. With a mix of Bolanesque glam and Rolling Stones’ swagger, the lipstick wearing, cigarette smokin’ band fronted by the enigmatic singer David Johansen, stumbled their way through the early seventies, losing  band members at a rapid rate, succumbing to the hedonistic lifestyle the band subscribed to. The Dolls featured legendary names like Johnny Thunders, Arthur Kane and Jerry Nolan, seminal figures in the birth of punk rock. After only a couple of largely ignored albums, by 1976 the band was all Dolled -out. However their name and reputation have lived on and grown with every passing year. Fast forward three decades and Johansen, along with guitarist Sylvain Sylvain are back with a brand new album, ‘One Day It Will Please Us To Remember Even This’, featuring that old larrikin NYD spirit. Intrigued to know  what the catalyst was for the band’s second coming, Australian Musician’s Greg Phillips placed a call to David Johansen who spoke from his palatial New York City ‘mansion of fun’.

Ever wondered how the word ‘Trash’ became part of the rock n’ roll vernacular? Proto-punk band The New York Dolls is not a bad place to start. With a mix of Bolanesque glam and Rolling Stones’ swagger, the lipstick wearing, cigarette smokin’ band fronted by the enigmatic singer David Johansen, stumbled their way through the early seventies, losing  band members at a rapid rate, succumbing to the hedonistic lifestyle the band subscribed to. The Dolls featured legendary names like Johnny Thunders, Arthur Kane and Jerry Nolan, seminal figures in the birth of punk rock. After only a couple of largely ignored albums, by 1976 the band was all Dolled -out. However their name and reputation have lived on and grown with every passing year. Fast forward three decades and Johansen, along with guitarist Sylvain Sylvain are back with a brand new album, ‘One Day It Will Please Us To Remember Even This’, featuring that old larrikin NYD spirit. Intrigued to know  what the catalyst was for the band’s second coming, Australian Musician’s Greg Phillips placed a call to David Johansen who spoke from his palatial New York City ‘mansion of fun’.

DJ:  Oh Christ. The way it happened was… Morrissey called us. He had been the President of the fan club when he was a kid. He was putting on this thing in England and he asked us to play. When I went into it, it was gonna be a one-off show. There was no commitment or anything, it was just gonna be fun. Then we started getting calls to do big gigs like Reading and Leeds. People would come in and see like a hundred bands, you know, they’re not coming just to see you. So when we did those gigs, everybody really dug us. Not only that, they were singing along to all our songs and everything, and I thought “Man, this is really good!” So we just started taking gigs one at a time, and we didn’t have any plans beyond that, and then I guess we were doing it for about a year. And then we had a couple of songs we had come up with and we made a demo of them and we thought  these are as good as anything, we might as well make a record.

GP: So, when you were thinking about recording the album, what were the ingredients that had to be there for you to make the album work?
DJ: Well I’ll tell you the truth, we had three songs that we had written in soundcheck in the one night. We had put them in the show, you know … not all of them in one show, but we played one, one night, one the next night. They were going over pretty good, and then we went to that  South by Southwest, which is this music conference down in Austin, Texas where all the record companies go to look at new bands. They’re playing in bathrooms, they’re playing on the roof, they’re playing everywhere. So I went down there and announced on the stage that we were looking for a record deal. Then Roadrunner Records said “Yeah, we want to make a record with you”, so we said “cool”. And then, I guess about a month or two before we were actually booked into the studio , everybody’s yelling at us … “You f***ing guys better get this along. So essentially we locked ourselves in our room and started banging out tunes, you know, and pretty much, that’s what it is.

GP: You’ve recorded with Sylvain before, with your solo stuff. Was there a real sense that this was a New York Dolls project?
DJ: Well you know it’s funny, because I went through a lot of different ideas about that because when we were first back together again we played in LA a couple of times. I remember Clem Burke, who was the drummer in Blondie came by and I noticed him and went and said hello. At three different gigs I said to him, “So, what do you think of the band?” He’s like, “I love the band, why do you think
I keep coming back? This is the f***ing Dolls man! The Dolls!”. I was thinking like, OK but I had  a band after the Dolls, you know.. called it a different name, but potentially me and Syl. He didn’t really give a shit about that. He goes, “No man, because this is the Dolls!” And I’m like… OK, I’m not fighting this. We got a logo, so I guess in this society we live in, it’s like Chevrolet or something.

GP: In the eighties a lot of bands like Poison and Motley Crue came out of LA looking like the Dolls. What were your thoughts when you first saw those guys?
DJ: Uh, (laughs) you know I have to say I was amused. I mean I actually probably laughed out loud a couple of times. So, that’s pretty much what I thought. They were kinda of like geeky guys, I guess, trying to do what they thought rock and roll was, but musically I couldn’t really get behind them.Usually I’d see them on MTV or something and I’d have the sound down and I’d be listening to something else anyway. I would kinda laugh when I saw them though, cause they would be doing like these guitar heroics and stuff, which is funny.

GP: Malcolm McLaren  tried to manage the Dolls at a late stage, what do you recall about that era of the band?
DJ: He kinda showed up in our last month, and said, “Boys, I’m gonna help you out”, and we were like … “Man, wow”,  as much as you think you can do it, half the band is strung out. We’re really thinking about calling it a day.” He was like, “Come on, let’s give it one more try”. So I think,  he hung around for about a month and tried to help us out, but  it was over already. We didn’t do anything really productive while he was around. You know, over the years his wife has made some pretty ‘choice’ costumes for us, but as far as his actual hands on involvement, it was literally the living end, and we didn’t do any writing or recording or anything when he was around. But when he went back to England he told he told the kids in his shop, “Oh, I managed the Dolls”, you know… helped us get a leg up I guess. You’ve gotta love him for it. Whatever gets you going. I think his involvement with the Dolls is really exaggerated. I think what he did, he came over and like studied the Dolls and then tried to translate that into some English bands or something.

GP: You must have had some great Spinal Tap-like moments over the years. Any that stick in mind?
DJ: Oh jeez. You know, I mean it’s like every day Spinal Tap moments happen. It’s like going to a special ed school or something, where the kids have to wear helmets ‘cause they fall down a lot. So… (laughs) it’s really not rocket science to be in a rock and roll band. There’s a lot of silliness. But you know, if you have a sense of humour about it, it’s really good.

GP: So what’s happening with the Dolls now?
DJ: I would imagine that we’re going to play for a while and then, I guess if the record company wants another record we would make one.

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