Lemmy-Approved Rockers Barb Wire Dolls Are the Talk of the Sunset Strip
Barb Wire Dolls
Photo by Hannah Verbeuren
“Lemmy would be fuckin’ pissed,” says Scott, aka “Nazi Scott,” a lovable scoundrel on the Sunset Strip known mostly as Lemmy Kilmister’s best friend and sometime assistant. He’s now working at the Whisky A Go Go and giving lip to the Barb Wire Dolls for covering Motörhead’s “R.A.M.O.N.E.S.” during their May residency.
“It doesn’t sound like Motörhead, get it fuckin’ right,” Scott tells Pyn Doll, a 6-foot-2 Greek from the island of Crete, who’s trained in Burmese bando and various other martial arts. “It’s for killing,” Pyn tells me backstage, with a lit cigarette dangling from his lip. Understandably, I wonder if Pyn is going to poke out Scott’s eyeballs, but he doesn’t even flinch.
Pyn’s Zen-like chillness was mastered on the waves as a professional surfer. He’s also the guitarist of Barb Wire Dolls, today’s most talked-about band on the Sunset Strip — where unpretentious rock & roll still has some fight.
“Lemmy loved these guys,” says Don, a old-timer from the Strip, who saw Hendrix play the Whisky in 1967. “That’s why he signed them to his label.”
Isis Queen (center) and Pyn Doll (right) with Lemmy
Courtesy of Barb Wire Dolls
Since 2010, when eminent KROQ DJ Rodney Bingenheimer began to spin their demo on Rodney on the Roq, the Dolls have been living on the road, jamming econo by making their own meals and crashing with friends. They’ve played 700 shows in 22 countries, including a Bingenheimer-hosted show in 2011 at the Sunset Room that initially brought them to L.A., which, in those rare moments when they’re not on the road, has become their home away from home. They left behind the Ikarus Artist Commune in Crete, along with Greece’s financial crisis and political hell, which fueled the rage on their first LP, Slit, released in 2012.
Before playing the Sunset Room, the band says, they handed out 10,000 fliers over the course of three weeks and sold out the Roxy in December 2010, which was their first U.S. show. Their street team is a deceptively Barbie-like lead singer named Isis Queen, who looks like a glam model and performs like an unrepressed savage. She’s a sexy, Debbie Harry–like frontwoman, but Isis’ most immediate effect is her sweaty, prizefighter presence on the stage — a more violent Gwen Stefani.
Isis became a singer for the first time in 2008, after seeing a DVD of Led Zeppelin performing “The Song Remains the Same.” “She looked at me and said, ‘I want to sing,’’’ Pyn says. “So I wrote ‘Street Generation,’ our first song, which is about how disgusted I was with the state of punk rock.”
When major labels began courting the Dolls a few years ago, one A&R guy tried to mold them into the next Paramore. The Dolls refused. Isis took it personally and raised her blade. “I can’t abide by somebody else’s rules,” she says. “And the music industry is suffering because there’s no one with any balls or vision anymore.”
When Isis handed their first EP, Fuck the Pussies, to Lemmy at the Rainbow, he had just one question: “Does it sound as good as it looks?”
“Lemmy didn’t ask Isis to be more like Paramore,” says Pyn, who credits the band’s old-school approach to watching the L.A. ’80s punk/hardcore documentary The Decline of Western Civilization and its sequel, The Metal Years. The Dolls have spent the past five years becoming a bridge to L.A.’s punk and metal heyday. They were represented, for a time, by Tom Zutaut, who discovered both Guns N’ Roses and Mötley Crüe; courted aggressively by Kim Fowley; discovered on Rodney on the Roq; and signed by Lemmy to his own label, Motörhead Music.
Isis Queen in action
Photo by Daniel Reyes
Their new album has a song called “Darby Crash,” and like Crash’s Germs before them, the Dolls have no problem going on the offensive. On “L.A.,” off their debut, the Dolls swing their barbed-wire bat at L.A.’s dying rock scene, attacking those who’ve taken L.A. from The Metal Years into an era of yuppie rock in Echo Park and Silver Lake and pay-to-play on the Strip.
The Dolls themselves look like a collage of punk-rock motifs, from their studded leather jackets to schoolgirl skirts with torn stockings. But their aesthetic is no indicator of their sound. The Dolls’ logo and personal style are largely borrowed from The Sex Pistols and the working-class, late-’70 British punk movement called Oi!; their name is a nod to the New York Dolls. But their sound isn’t as codified as their look. Even though they were courted by NOFX’s Fat Mike to join Fat Wreck Chords, the Dolls don’t write catchy pop-punk or emo.
Instead, their sound evokes raw power, like The Stooges, blending elements of metal and grunge with European street punk. It’s a combination that gets heavier rather than harder on their new album, Desperate, which is set to be released on Motörhead Music on July 22. Slit, a much angrier statement engineered by Steve Albini, includes cover art depicting Isis holding a microphone between her thighs and the track “Your Escape,” their live set’s most vicious three minutes of punk.
Isis describes Desperate as a “teenager maturing,” while Slit was “a newborn baby kicking and screaming.” The first single off the new record, “Drown,” is about an experience Pyn had watching a fellow surfer die during a hurricane in South Carolina. He’s now coaching the band’s only member who didn’t grow up near a beach, bassist Iriel Blaque, a grungy Chicagoan, on how to respect the waves. All five members surf.
Joining the core trio of Pyn, Isis and drummer Krash Doll are Blaque and a guitarist named Remmington, who played briefly with legendary Oi! band Sham 69 but also adds to their obvious punk-rock sex appeal, which crosses gender, orientation and generations. Remmington is queer, while Krash is a muscular, straight surfer. Pyn is the oldest, a grizzled veteran who played CBGBs in the ’80s. Isis is their spirit animal.
According to the Dolls, this is the first non-Motörhead release on Motörhead Music, which gives them not only Lemmy’s imprimatur but also the support of longtime Motörhead manager Todd Singerman and the team at UDR, Motörhead Music’s parent label. So far, the label’s approach has been to let the Dolls be themselves, without asking them to tone down their sexually charged live show or write mainstream pop-punk anthems.
“We can’t open for a lot of punk bands,” Pyn says. “Metal bands, for whatever reason, are less afraid of us.”
“They appreciate the power of the music,” says Isis, who’s probably the most powerful performer the Sunset Strip has seen since those wild “Metal Years.”
Barb Wire Dolls' free Monday-night residency at the Whisky a Go Go continues May 23 and 30.
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