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- Posted on Mar 9th 2011 4:00PM by Kenneth Partridge
Hill also produced the record, a daring 12-song collection that finds the glammy proto-punk legends turning down their guitars and delving further than ever into '60s pop. Closer 'The End of the Summer,' an organ-driven slice of Jamaican rocksteady, is downright pretty -- an adjective few would use to describe the group's massively influential early work.
In a recent phone interview with Spinner, Johansen discussed recording, touring and what keeps him and Sylvan going.
How did you decide to make a third album with this second incarnation of the Dolls?
A couple of months before we made it, one of our managers said, "OK, we're gonna go make a record." Over that two-month period, [as we were touring], we were probably thinking, "Oh man, I don't want to do this." The thing is, when you're on the road and you're playing in a band every night and you have to stop to make a record, it's almost like getting a new job. You're satisfied with the job you already have, so there's a little hemming and hawing. And essentially our M.O. is we procrastinate for as long as possible and find ourselves in the studio and saying, "I guess we're making a record."
Did you already have the songs, or did you write them in the studio?
Most of it was written in the studio. We got in there and essentially started recording on the first day, just writing all the time and playing all the time. It was a very intensive and creative period.
What prompted you to work with Jason Hill? Had you been a fan?
Yeah, we had met him before on the road when he was playing with Louis XIV. We would sometimes end up on the same bill so we were friends and we liked him a lot. Somebody mentioned that Jason Hill was producing records, so we thought, "Why don't we make a record with him?" and he wanted to do it really bad. When you're going to go into a studio -- for me, speaking personally -- it's like, "Oh man, we have to meet a new person? Hopefully they're going to click with us and get us. " It's kind of scary in a way, but when it's someone you already know and like, it's a lot easier to take the plunge.
Did you talk to him beforehand about what kind of direction you wanted the album to take or was it a more organic process?
What we did was maybe two weeks before we went into the studio, we got together with Jason because he was going to play bass with us and we worked up the repertoire, the existing repertoire, and then we went and made the record in Newcastle. We went around Scotland and up there in the north of England and did a bunch of shows and did three nights in Newcastle. We had about 10 shows under our belts, so we were a real band when we went into the studio. During that time, when we were playing, we would be talking about how it should sound. He had very definite ideas about the bottom, the bass and the drums of the record.
The guitars aren't as prominent on this album as on past Dolls releases. Was that a conscious thing?
Syl wrote a lot of the songs on organ -- not a lot of them, but a bunch of them, so we went with that. It's not a thing where we said, "This is not going to be a guitar-centric record" or whatever. It's just thinking, "This is what we're going to do." We're not really judging it so much. If it sounds good, we just keep going and don't' think about anything beyond that.
With each album, has it gotten easier to branch out and do things people wouldn't ordinarily associate with the Dolls?
Yeah, I think we probably had that to a degree from the get-go, when we got back together, but as time goes by, even more so. Really, if me and Syl are writing the songs and it's coming from us, we feel like that's it. That's what it is. We never really tried to recreate anything. If you're trying to recreate anything, it's ultimately disappointing. For us, the best thing is to let the project or the music go wherever it takes us with it and just follow. That really dictates what's going on. We don't think about, "This doesn't sound like whatever." We just think, "This is a f---ing good song. Let's finish it."
The latter-day Dolls have now recorded three albums -- more than the original line-up...
Syl and I are very passionate about what we do, so we just keep doing it. We're not really concerned with anything else and not concerned so much about even what people think about it. We just do it for the joy of doing it, and the joy of creation. But yeah, we just keep making records, I guess. When we were advised by management we should be making another record, we just thought, "Yeah, if we want to keep playing, that's part of the deal."
What did Frank Infante bring to the project? Did it help having another veteran of the '70s New York scene?
Frank is a great guitar player, and he knows what to do. He's got a wide range of influences that are all pretty spot on.
Are there plans to tour behind the record?
We're going to start up in March. We're going to play the Bowery Ballroom [in New York City] when the record comes out. We're going to debut it there. Then during the summer we're going to be all over the States.
There are a lot of crazy stories about what it was like for the Dolls touring in the '70s. Nowadays, I'd imagine, things are a bit more professional and tame. Do you miss the haphazardness and craziness of the early days?
The whole thing is so different now than it was then. Everything is set up now, whereas in those days you had to create the scene yourself. That makes it a lot easier in a sense. But yes, when we're out there, we're all together. We live on a bus and it becomes very communal and co-dependent, but it's fun.
Given how "set up" things are now, is it still possible to have moments of spontaneity?
I mean, every day, when we go on the stage, we just go onstage as we are at that moment. It's not like, "Now we have to put on our Superman costumes and go out there and do this act." It's more like we go out there and just really be who we are at that moment, and it takes its form up there. And when it really coalesces, the magic happens. Sometimes it does and sometimes it doesn't.
Do you figure you'll make more new Dolls albums in the future?
I don't see why not. Syl and I -- I think we're just coming into our own.
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