New York Dolls
The legendary New York Dolls have reformed and recorded a new album after a 31-year hiatus. Miles Fielder catches up with the pioneering glam-punks
Having burned brightly for just a few short years in the early 1970s, seminal glam-punk band the New York Dolls reformed 27 years later for what was supposedly a one-off gig at the Morrissey-curated 2004 Meltdown festival. A rapturous reception from the fans, however, ensured the London show became a string of gigs, and an album of new material followed in 2006. Only two of the original Dolls are still alive, singer David Johanssen and guitarist Sylvain Sylvain, but the co-founders have been enjoying a new lease of life with a new studio album, ‘Cause I Sez So’. The record reunites the Dolls with Todd Rundgren, who produced the band’s eponymous debut way back in 1973 and who has helped Johnassen and Sylvain recapture the raw power that defined the Dolls.
In advance of the band’s Scottish date on the UK tour to promote the new record, Sylvain is on horn from his home in Georgia. ‘We’ve always been pretty basic in our recording,’ he says in his native New York drawl, ‘like a live band. The great thing with Todd is, as with the first album and now this last, he let’s us go, just be as we are. You know, our stuff is all about the blues. Take away the lipstick and the New York Dolls are a blues band. The new record strips the sound back to that.’
Stripped down and back-to-basic the new record might be, but fans may be surprised to hear a new and radical reworking of the Dolls’ classic Trash, which has now been retooled as laid-back reggae tune. It’s odd to hear that rocking number recorded this way, but it works, and given ‘Cause I Sez So was recorded at Rundgren’s studio home in Hawaii it makes complete sense. ‘We turned up at Todd’s place not having written any songs,’ Sylvain laughs. ‘So Todd says, “Go away and write some.” So me and David spent a week on that lovely island writing and then three weeks recording them, and I think the vibe of the place came through on that track. Besides, I always thought Trash was a love song, anyway.’
From the blistering eponymous opening track, however, the rest of the album gets back to the Dolls’ sound of the 70s. Sylvain says the proof positive is how they’re able to mix the new material seamlessly with the old when playing live. ‘Our show is everything we feel has made the grade and is important to our audience,’ he says. ‘So there’s stuff from the new album mixed in with all the old stuff. It all sounds great to us.’
Things have come full circle for Sylvain in another way. The old doll hospital in Manhattan, which famously inspired the guitarist to come up with the band’s name, recently closed down after its owner passed away. ‘I got a call a couple of weeks ago from a friend who told me it’s going to be torn down,’ says Sylvain, ‘and that he got a call from the daughter of the owner, who’s a fan of the band. She donated the neon sign to me. I’m in the midst of getting it boxed up and sent to my home. I hope one day I’ll have it on stage. It’s a beautiful thing.’
New York Dolls play the Garage, Glasgow, Mon 20 Jul.