Tony Shrum – The Suicide Dolls Interview (2012)

January 16, 2013 at 10:18 am (Music, Reviews & Articles)

From AMP magazine, Dec. 12th of last year an interview with local CT rock n roll legends The Suicide Dolls…

The Suicide Dolls talk about their album and their improbable wins at local music awards shows where they’re totally out-of-place ultra-cool underdogs.

After speaking with Suicide Dolls bassist/vocalist Michelle Montavon for my piece on the A Tribute to Repo Man record and finally hearing their latest album, Prayers in Parking Lots, I had to talk to her again about her band in detail. So, along with speaking to Michelle I also got to talk to guitarist/vocalist Brian Albano this time around and had so much fun in the process. Two old-school-punk, hardworking, DIY rockers who also play with drummer Matt Covey (Shai Hulud), we discussed their improbable (!) wins at local music awards shows where they’re totally out-of-place ultra-cool underdogs and their album, recorded by Justin Pizzoferrato (Thurston Moore, Dinosaur Jr., Free Kitten), quite possibly my favorite record of 2012.

You were going to that awards show the day after I talked to you. How did that go?

Michelle: It was interesting because we got nominated for it, top five rock bands in Connecticut. We weren’t gonna go and then we went and we ended up winning it.

Brian: We won best rock [band] and we were sitting in the aisle cracking jokes with each other, and all these awards shows we’ve been going to ─ we’re usually these rogue misfits and now we keep going to these awards and we keep winning. We went to this one award show in our town so it was cool but we’ve been going all over the East Coast and these awards shows are no different than any sort of how everything’s sort of rock scene cliquish right now. We go to these awards shows and everybody knows each other except us. So it’s funny too because every time we go everyone looks at us like, “What?!” [Laughs] It’s four bands that know each other and then us. And when we win they’re all looking at each other like, “Something’s wrong!”

I got to hear this last awesome record, and you’re still putting it all out on your own. Are the other bands you’re competing against DIY too? Or…?

Michelle: We’re not sure. And that’s the weird thing because it’s true what he said, we got there and there’s a lot of bands we’ve never heard of and it’s weird because we feel like we know so many bands from the whole area from three or four or five states over just because we’ve been so active for the last few years. So they did a thing where we had to perform with a bunch of the finalists and winners. And there’s a reason why we didn’t know. It’s just not the same thing. It was like taking us out of the underground and putting us on Main Street for a night. So we just stuck out like a sore thumb. We were so different from everyone else. Everything was very radio-friendly, just not what I’ve ever played with before. A couple people who were the finalists in the rock category were like if Staind and 311 had a baby. I’m like, “No. That’s not what we do!” We went on after them, we were one of the headliners, and I could just see them looking at us like, “Are you serious? This is what won?” And it’s like, yeah, our little grubby three-piece.

Brian: The bass player from Living Colour was the one that announced it. [Laughter] But he seemed to know everyone in the Hartford area, so when we won, he even went, “Okay…”

Michelle: “Okay… The Suicide Dolls.” [Laughter]

That’s cool though.

Michelle: It is.

Brian: Other than Boston has a really good diverse scene right now, but a lot of scenes even though they’ll have really great equipment and really great haircuts and they got a publicist and stuff, they only play their scene and area. A lot of people don’t venture outside the area anymore. We venture outside many different areas and we don’t belong to one sort of cut-and-paste scene so when we show up at these shows, no one knows who we are. But then they don’t realize we didn’t just pay somebody to let everybody know about us; we’ve been on the phone, we’ve been on the computer, we’ve been playing other cities. We have a bigger fanbase than they realize. We’ve been going night and day with this thing.

Also, now that you’re getting all these accolades, do you think your next record you might go with a label?

Brian: It’s tough because we’re winning all these accolades right now and we got fans in more than one scene and we’re being known on the road in all these places and yet we’re still sorta up against this sort of old dinosaur mentality with the record labels. They see what’s going on. “We like your press. We like what you’re doing. We like your album but we’re not signing your sound right now.” I’ve actually had people going, “Would you be willing to ‘tweak’ yourself?” I’m not gonna tweak myself to sound like everyone else.

Michelle: The thing is that we’re not ─ and maybe it’s because we’re a little bit older too ─ and when we were growing up, the stuff that we liked, the alternative music, the old punk music and stuff, we had to go three towns over and it took us an hour to get there because we had to take a bus to find this oddball music that no one else liked. So it means a lot to us and it’s very personal to us. We have the sound we want, we finally have it, and it took us a while to get confident with it and comfortable with it. And so to hear somebody say, “We would really be willing to work with you guys, you have a great story, history; we wouldn’t have to make anything up.” That was actually said. “Maybe you could add a keyboard; maybe you could do something like this.” And it’s like, “No, maybe we can’t.”

Brian: Not only that but when we were kids growing up before we got in a band, not that there was anything extra special about then than it is now, but we used to go when Lollapalooza toured and you’d go to the show and every band sounded different. We wanna sound like a mixture of all these different bands and come up with our unique sound so it can be upsetting for us when people say, “We would prefer it if you sound like these other 12.” There’s just nothing dangerous about cutting-and-pasting bands where everyone is the same. It’s boring, it’s not dangerous. So when a label says, “We like all the accolades that you’re getting but your sound is a little unique and this is what we’re signing right now,” it’s frustrating, and it makes us wanna make the next album even more signature.

Michelle: Because I feel like this is a pretty digestible album and from what we used to do was an all-noise, drone type of thing. We really over the last eight years put a lot of focus into normal song structures. Which sounds oh well, what’s the big deal about that? But we never did it before so we turned our focus onto almost pop-oriented, it’s almost like a concept. So now it’s this weird alternative, noisy, rock-pop type album and it’s borderline concept for us. I think it’s digestible. So to hear people say, “We think the songs are really good and the sound is interesting, but it’s not as acceptable as it should be,” it’s like, well this is about as acceptable as I wanna get. If there was a label who was open to getting behind what we do, I think we’ve done a lot for not being signed. It’s not that we don’t wanna be signed, we do.

Brian: We do. A lot of people are like, “Labels suck.” We don’t think labels suck.

Michelle: And I think with a little bit of financial support and a little bit of support for publicity just to further what we’ve already done, I think we could have a really good shot at doing this. We do this full-time as it is, we don’t have day jobs, but if we had a little bit of support behind us I think we could actually pay back people who’ve been helping to support us because just financially it’s just not there. Obviously we’re not doing it for that but seeing some other bands who are less dedicated get further faster just because they have money for a publicist or something, it’s kinda hard to swallow sometimes. A label would be cool. We’re not shy about saying that would be awesome but I don’t think it’s wrong to want to be appreciated for all the work we’ve already put into it and a little bit of respect for the sound we have because when we’re live and after every show we have all these people singing our praises, “Oh, you’re one of the best live bands I’ve ever seen!” And then you make 100 dollars. [Laughs] I think the type of labels we’d be interested in would be indie but still sort of established and I think you have to have a publicist to even get their attention so it’s kind of a double-edged sword.

Brian: That’s the thing too: Because we do everything indie ourselves─real indie not “rich people indie” that seems to be happening now. We’re not gonna give a publicist ten thousand dollars if they’re just gonna say, “Okay, we’re gonna sell you just like we’re selling everybody else.” No, you have to sell us different. The cool thing we have now is we get accolades for this album, we brought in an accredited engineer, we went to an accredited studio; we did it all basically in four days because that’s what we could afford. We’re getting all this great attention for it and if we could find a label that was going, “You’re getting the accolades we want; you’re not conforming. We’d like you to conform but we’re gonna take a chance.” If we could go into the studio and do this for two weeks or a month, what a label band would do, I’d have to assume we’d do that much more.

Michelle: I think we did really good for four days of recording. The goal I had going in, ‘cause we had played for years and years and never really did a studio album. It was getting to the point where we’ve toured without merch and stuff like that just because we wanted to play so it was like we finally decided it was worth having something. If it all stopped tomorrow and we didn’t have that studio album that we could feel good about then it would’ve been weird. So it was, let’s see how many loans we can take out and make this happen and so we did. There’s things we wish we could’ve gotten to but we ran out of time.

Brian: The thing is everybody’s favorite punk album, metal album, alternative album, was done in at least two weeks, not two days. We’ve done everything an independent band can do. We’re just looking now to say we’re not shying away from yeah, I can do this myself. We do want a label. Again too we’ve been doing this long enough to know getting on a label doesn’t mean it’s gonna be cake and champagne. We’ll be further in debt if we get signed to a label. It’ll probably become even more difficult for our regular if we join a label. But we’ve been doing this so long that music is in our blood. We’re not just some poseurs going, “I’m gonna be in a band.” We have the scars to prove it.

[More on the record] It was pretty evenly split, singing-wise, one from you, one from Michelle, do you try to do that or it just happens the way you guys write? Obviously you sing the songs you wrote. But is that something you try to do? Try to have it kinda equal?

Michelle: It’s not even that we have to try. It’s just sort of the same thing in the set. We try not to make it too heavy, we try to even it out a bit. So I guess as long as we both have songs we do try to make it kinda even and that album was, there’s a couple of songs on there, we have a lot of other stuff that could’ve went on that album but we just decided to choose a couple that were kind of old that never got the real recording they deserved and some current stuff and then a couple new ones. ‘Cause again, we didn’t know if we’d ever be able to record again. We definitely will ‘cause we loved the experience, it’s done really good things for us.

Brian: At our live shows we stop playing once. We don’t after every song go, “If you got ‘em smoke ‘em.” We’ll play four songs in a row, we’ll string them together. Sometimes it goes one-two-three-four right into the next song, sometimes we’ll do a little segue of music or noise and we’ll roll one song into another so it’s more a set of songs, instead of song-stop-song-stop. So there’s this energy. There’s this narrative. When me and Michelle switch off on vocals there ends up being also a conversation between songs, where one song one person’s speaking and the next person’s speaking in the next song. And I think it keeps it interesting. Our performances become this narrative, and with us switching back and forth on vocals it’s like each character is getting their time to express something to each other. So I think it works for us where we switch back and forth. Sometimes she’ll do two in a row, sometimes I’ll do two in a row but we try to keep it even.

Michelle: It’s funny you mention it because I didn’t really think of it till you asked that question. But yes, I guess it is on purpose.

Mentioning about the Repo Man tribute where you sing together, one of the bands that did it the most awesomely was X. And Michelle you said some people were comparing you guys on that record to them.

Michelle: That was awesome. We’d been talking about [singing together on songs] for a long time but we just never did it. It’s one of those things, so seeing that, it wasn’t as painful as maybe we thought. It’s the whole thing of doing it right. It could be terrible if you don’t do it right. And I love that because people would be like, “You got that X thing going on, why don’t you ever do anything like that?” It was always in the back of our minds. And I don’t even think that that necessarily sounded like X because we were actually singing so it wasn’t quite atonal like Exene is but I totally see that. It’s in there so it eventually will get pulled out in some way.

Brian: I think just like all things if we did it 100 percent of the time it could get old. But I think especially how we do it, how we never stop in between songs, we have some things where I sing, she sings, that could be a real new dynamic we could bring to the group. I think people would like it. It’ll freshen things up.

Michelle: It’ll definitely be more apparent on the next album.

One thing I noticed about you Brian, I call it kind of a talking-singing, kinda like a Lee Ranaldo-type singing, you have some song where you do more singing-singing.

Brian: Definitely. I was doing so much of the talking-singing for a while now that I’m starting to not get in the corner doing more singing stuff. But on the album there was a lot of the singing-singing. I’m a big fan of The Fall, Lee Ranaldo and Thurston Moore’s talk-singing style. Charles Thompson/Black Francis’ talk-singing style I was always a fan of and then there were even times where I was singing, Michelle was saying, almost Jack Nicholson on this part. “Wendy. I’m just gonna bash your brains in!” There were times where I almost do talk-singing. I like talk-singing. It has an energy to it. There’s a bit of a beatness to it. Almost like you’re popping off some sort of poetry, but noise-rock poetry. That’s always been…

Michelle: Some people like it; some people don’t.

Brian: Which is good. That’s what we like. We’re one of those few bands, we like when someone tells us, “I don’t like that.” “Well, good!” If we get a bad review we’ll post it. “Oh this person didn’t like it. Hey everybody look at this!”

On this record, a couple of the most different-sounding songs come in the middle, “Elizabeth” and “Go.” You coupled them. I don’t know how much you think about the track-listing. I don’t know if you guys get nerdy about how you put the record together…

Brian: I think we got extremely nerdy.

Michelle: We tried to put those two in the middle, for the simple reason that they’re slower and they’re very different sounding, so we wanted it to almost feel like you have the high-energy songs in the beginning and it kinda goes in a wave and then you go into those little dark recesses of our brains with those two songs and then you come out through “Senses,” which is one of the more upbeat major-note-type songs that’s a little more friendly sounding, so it comes out of “Go” and into “Senses” so it almost dips and then comes back up. It definitely was on purpose to put those where they are ‘cause they’re both pretty heavy songs. “Elizabeth” is about a real girl who had epilepsy but her family was from Argentina so when she would have the seizures they’d beat the crap out of her because they’d blame it on the devil and they thought she was possessed and they wouldn’t give her medication.

I can see why it’s so dark then, that song…

Michelle: Pretty creepy.

Brian: Historically most people who were thought to be possessed were suffering from epileptic seizures.

Michelle: Everything I say in that song happened, she would scream in the middle of the street, she had a seizure at my house, we brought her home and me and my friends stood in the street just listening to her parents beat the crap out of her. It was really a weird thing to happen when you’re 11 years old. That was me just trying to get that out of me and then it goes into “Go.”

Brian: Any good movie you wanna put a lot of drama in the middle.

Michelle: And so then coming out of those two heavy songs emotional, getting-things-out-of-you types of songs, to put it next to “Senses.”

Brian: Let’s bring the mood back up again.

Michelle: There’s this hope that comes back.
Brian: When you said did we get nerdy with it? We definitely did and I totally appreciate you saying how you like to listen to things more than once because that’s when you really get to start to interpret something the more you listen to it and we really did talk about this too with the idea of hey let’s make this something that gets better with every listen. We really did try to make a narrative. That’s the way we are too: We don’t just listen to something once. If we get something, we’re gonna experience it for a month. We’re gonna keep it in the tour van, get to know it. So when we did the track-listing it was very nerdy of how’s it gonna sound the second time? How’s it gonna sound the third time?

And like you said you guys started it out just really hard-hitting.

Brian: We started off with sort or our straight-up rock songs, yeah, we’re gonna do this. Which is weird because we usually end the show with “Smash,” but because we decided we were gonna start off with more rock songs like “Eye” and “Drive” in the beginning, Michelle was like, let’s put “Smash” which has this sort of riff epic tear down song with noise the third.

Michelle: You’re totally wrong. The reason I wanted it to go third, I do think it fits well there but it speaks more to what Janelle says. They [reviewers] listen to half the record and they put the rest of it away.

You wanted it to be heard.

Michelle: Absolutely, because that’s my favorite song on the album. I think it’s a really good example of what we do where it’s got the noise middle, that noise is where we come from. It’s got the rock riffs, it’s got some really interesting lyrics. For me, I think that song is too important to put where somebody might not get to it. So I was like, “It’s gotta be the top three or four songs, ‘cause if nobody gets past the fifth song, I want them to hear that song.” And it works where it was. We have a couple, that one’s the longest and then “Deep Red” ends the album, but “Deep Red” is also kinda long and has that noise to it, so we couldn’t have them next to each other, but of the two my favorite was “Smash.”

Brian: You see the power of reexamining things. I’m just finding out now why that was third. If we didn’t have this conversation today, I’d be thinking something entirely different! […] We sort of defy what the labels are saying: “Hey, can you tweak this, can you do this?” There was this award show that had something like 10 thousand votes meets a secret panel of labels and booking agents and media people and at this awards show “Smash” won best alternative song of the year and I was like this is seven-minutes-20-seconds! How did an almost eight-minute song get a best single award?! It confused me. This is usually the song we put at the end for whoever is still enjoying the show or whoever is still around. You live and learn.

Tony Shrum[]


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