When sleaze-punks the Barb Wire Dolls relocated from their native Greece at the end of 2010 and exploded onto the Sunset Strip, a manic blast of plaid, leopard print, skinny jeans and torn fishnets, they couldn’t have looked more the part.
Hard work, great tunes and a number of residencies that saw them dial up the decadence on a frenetic live show had their star rising fast, locally at first and then, thanks to some high-profile tours, nationally too. Badass frontwoman Isis Queen’s Wendy O. Williams–meets–Cherie Currie approach to showmanship saw Lemmy himself bless the band with his approval (and a deal with Motörhead Music) and, after a successful Vans Warped Tour last year, nothing was going to stop them.
Then 2017 came to an end, and so did the Barb Wire Dolls. At least for now.
With all commitments with management, venues, labels and everything else concluded, Isis Queen and guitarist Pyn Doll decided not to take up the various offers of extensions, and to instead do something completely new. The duo had been writing songs that were more melodic and synth-driven than the gloriously nasty rock & roll of the Dolls, so with those in hand, they decided to form pop-rock outfit Royal Distortion.
“We’d been doing eight years straight Barb Wire Dolls, almost 1,000 shows in 25 countries,” Pyn Doll says. “There’s no timeframe, but everyone in Barb Wire Dolls is doing their own thing for now.”
On one hand, that desire to challenge oneself artistically, after nearly a decade of busting your ass in the same band, is understandable. On the other, the timing is undeniably a little weird. From the outside at least, it seemed like all of their hard work was finally reaping rewards. On 2017’s Vans Warped Tour, the Dolls were one of the highlights, and the ability to perform in front of a young, enthusiastic punk audience every night was invaluable. Momentum is key in music, so why stop now?
“I don’t think we really care,” Doll says. “All we care about is the music right now. Everybody that likes the Barb Wire Dolls already knows that we’ve been changing musically for the past three albums.”
“Good music grows, so it’s gonna find the right people,” adds Isis Queen. “Constantly, people are finding it daily without any promotion behind it, just because the music that we did do with Barb Wire Dolls was real, and in this world people need something real that’s not formed just to sell records.”
And that’s all there is to it. They’re quite prepared to put the brakes on and start again, because the art is all-important. That’s an admirable trait, but it shouldn’t be surprising. The Barb Wire Dolls threw themselves 100 percent into everything they did. If the band members aren't feeling it, then they know they’d be short-changing their fans. And that’s not acceptable to them. At all.
So here we are. A new band, and a new sound. Queen says that nobody in the BWDs wanted to touch this set of songs, as they were “too poppy.”
“Anyone who’s heard it understands the pop sensibility behind them,” she says. “A lot of our fans, they write us about Barb Wire Dolls, and their favorite songs are the softer ones on the album. But this whole Royal Distortion is all about the music. Barb Wire Dolls already had its name and it was kicking ass. This is new.”
A debut EP is currently being recorded, with teasers leaking out from time to time. There’s a GoFundMe set up to finance it, as the band treads a DIY path. Queen says the recordings are turning out different to what she had expected, though the beauty of the project is there are very few expectations on it to begin with.
“We weren’t following a genre or anyone else’s preconceptions of what we were going to do,” she says. “We literally wiped the slate clean. It’s found its own sound based on all these different entities that are coming into the mix.”
With the Barb Wire Dolls, Isis Queen was an untamed punk rock dervish. Like an Iggy Pop or Lux Interior, sexuality and destruction were paired to perfection, a vibe that suited the raw and raucous songs perfectly. She may be toning all of that down a little now, although she doesn’t plan it out anyway.
“Even with Barb Wire Dolls, I never really put any expectations on myself,” she says. “I really just went onstage and had fun, let the music move me. I never pre-thought anything — not what I was going to say to the crowd or anything. It all just happened naturally onstage. With Royal Distortion, I’m just going to do the same thing. I’ll let the music speak through me, and be that vessel for the music. I’m not worried about it — it’s going to be totally fun.”
The band, completed by bassist Gabe Maska and drummer Kevin Tylor, will be playing a few of the more melodic Barb Wire Dolls songs live when they start a monthlong residency at the Viper Room this week, mixing the sets up as much as possible.
“With Barb Wire Dolls, we had done three or four residencies at the Viper Room back in 2011 and 2012,” Queen says. “We really like the room — nice tight quarters, with a dark vibe. We eventually went to the Whisky, which became our family and we stayed there for a while. But Royal Distortion are just starting out, so we really wanted more of an intimate room, and the Viper Room jumped on it.”
With work on the EP moving along nicely, the Viper residency should put these musicians front and center again. They’re starting all over again, and they’re happy to do it.
“Our only plan is to find new management and record label for Royal Distortion,” Doll says. “That’s starting right now. Then as soon as that happens, we’ll release the EP ourselves first, sign with someone, and start recording a full-length from scratch. This is our full-time thing right now.”
Royal Distortion plays with Sun Graves and Salty Hearts at 8 p.m. on Wednesday, March 7, at the Viper Room. That's followed by stands with Barrio Tiger, Color TV and Name the Band on March 14; with Registered Offender and Bassett on March 21; and with Vigil of War and Earthsleep on March 28.