Photos by Michael Muller
When musicians stray from successful bands to form their own “projects,” all too often the results are mediocre and destined for obscurity (Tommy Lee, anyone?). So it’s a rare joy to find Brit buddies J.S. Clayden, front man with defunct techno-metallers Pitchshifter, and former Cult bassist Billy Morrison rebounding with Doheny, an L.A.-based transatlantic hybrid that’s already hinting at the musical caliber of their previous outfits.
Longtime friends, Clayden and Morrison started writing together while still touring with their respective exes, communicating ideas back and forth across the globe via laptops. Pitchshifter had long known they’d disband in 2003, and Morrison had always been realistic about his role in the Cult. “When I joined the Cult, I was told I’d be a full member of the band,” he says, “but the Cult will always be Ian [Astbury] and Billy [Duffy], and I was aware of that. So I started the writing process for Doheny the day I got on that tour bus, because I knew I would only get my two years in the Cult.”
Once free of touring commitments, Clayden and Morrison convened in L.A. and completed Doheny (named for the street where Morrison lives), via ads and auditions, with previously unknown players: guitarist Sean Kipe, bassist Tony Freddo and drummer Colin LaRocque. Ironically, their dynamic is similar to the Cult’s: a core singer-and-guitarist writing team (Morrison plays guitar with Doheny), fleshed out with sidemen.
Doheny’s motivation, and x-factor, is obvious yet frustratingly scarce. “The reason we’re doing Doheny is because John [J.S.] and I love playing and writing good songs,” Morrison deadpans. “I was brought up with real songs, and I think what sets one band apart from another is the songs.”
This purist approach paid instant dividends at their low-
key live debut at West Hollywood’s Viper Room in November.
Rather than a pressurized “showcase” situation, Doheny invited just friends, seeing the occasion as a good-natured dress rehearsal. It went about as well as a first gig can go, the band having shameless fun parading a procession of harmony-laden, melody-driven tunes, and Clayden’s voice going places — like his upper register — rarely visited in Pitchshifter. However dense Doheny’s twin guitar barrage became, they never lost sight of
the songs and have clearly pored over every bar to ensure dynamic, evolving arrangements. The songs were fat-free yet multiflavored and, however crunching, artfully evaded Beavis and Butt-head banalities. Doheny are approaching hard rock’s Holy Grail: simultaneous power and melody, with intelligent lyrics and structures to boot.
Though essentially preaching to the choir, Clayden worked the Viper’s crowd with studied Scott Weiland moves between compact, bent-double convulsions. Morrison, Les Paul slung low, smoke in lips and arms lost in ink, cartooned rock & roll while proving every bit as adept on six-string as on bass. Doheny juxtaposed eyes-closed, head-bobbing verse grooves against surging shockwave choruses, ominous melodic implications against laddish between-song banter. Memorable were “Take My Eyes,” glinting with art-rock adventurism, and “Drive Me”’s insistent vocal refrain, frizzling over fast-fingered fretwork. With the right producer, this material could be world-beating on disc.
“In our verses,” muses Clayden, “we’re verging on bands like Incubus — nice sung verses, and then at points touching on Puddle of Mudd, STP or even POD with the rock choruses. It’s just a mishmash of all the bands we like.” Morrison concurs, never claiming that Doheny’s reinventing the wheel. “There are a lot of bands doing what we’re doing, I’m just not sure they’re doing it with the conviction and talent that we do it.”
Both Morrison and Clayden are dealing with transitions from their previous, well-established outfits. “I got to play the biggest places in the world with the Cult,” Morrison recalls, “and the transition from that to the Viper Room on a Tuesday night is a big one. But the difference is that I’m able to express myself . . . the joy of actually playing songs we’ve crafted, it’s priceless.”
For Clayden there’s also been the shift from electronic to organic: “I’ve gone from a band that’s all loops, breaks, samples and click tracks, to Doheny, where it’s just five guys!”
As industry veterans, Clayden and Morrison have set realistic goals and timelines. “Just to get an album in the stores would be a success,” says Morrison. “Long-term, who knows? We’ve got a good two or three albums in us.”
Doheny play at the Dragonfly, Sunday, January 11.