The Rock Pit - Hard rock, Metal and Blues Interviews, news & reviews from Australia and around the world

The Rock Pit - Hard rock, Metal and Blues Interviews, news & reviews from Australia and around the world

MARK TALKS TO SYLVAIN SYLVAIN FOUNDER OF THE LEGENDARY NEW YORK DOLLS

 

 

It’s not often that you get to listen to a sound check by one of the bands that set you off on the crazy obsession that is rock and roll, even rarer that you get to meet and interview one of your true musical heroes. Even less common that, your hero actually comes up to you and starts chatting away about going to see Hendrix as a kid and a heap of other things that you really hadn’t dreamed or hoped to ask. And all this happens even before the said interview starts.

 

 

 

 

 

 

This is a day that will be hard to forget and one that every time I listen to the tapes makes me break out into a broad smile.

 

 

The first part of the interview where Syl and I just shoot the breeze will come later as the Dolls have a new album out soon and it will fit in nicely with that. This then is the ‘official’ interview with Sylvain Sylvain founder of one of the most important bands to draw collective musical breath - The New York Dolls… Who knows where we would be and if we would have had the music we all love over the last thirty years without them?

 

 

 

Sylvain Sylvain New York Dolls 2011 www.therockpit.net interview

 

 

 

Mark:  Thank you very much for doing this for us. Personally it’s a great honour, as the second album I ever bought, was the New York Dolls. I went out with three pounds, and bought Blondie, New York Dolls and Alice Cooper, but the one I keep coming back to is your stuff, because to me it’s timeless. You must know how many bands you have influenced over the years, out of all of them, who do you think are your best imitators?

 


Sylvain:  Imitators!! Let me see, that’s a good question, (laughs, he’s putting on the pressure!!). Out of all the bands I think probably The Ramones, who I like. But I like that simple, stupid stuff.

 


At this point a lady comes in to tell them that their dressing room with food and alcohol is ready downstairs!

 


Mark: That was one of the questions we weren’t going to ask!

 


Sylvain:  Well, I still drink, I do. I don’t drink more than just wine, white wine. But you know I never really screwed up too bad, I’m lucky that way, in that I had kids I had to take care of, so daddy couldn’t come home stinking drunk! It taught me a big lesson.

 


Mark: It always sounded, reading other interviews that you were the member of the band with his feet on the floor.

 


Sylvain: Yeah, I was the George Harrison, the quiet one!!

 


Mark: I remember reading a story; I think it was Michael Stipe…

 

 

(We’ve already got the ESP going obviously as Syl anticipates what I guess is a pretty well-reported quote about Stipe citing the Dolls as a major influence. I’ll have to try harder!)

 

 

Sylvain: Yes, that is correct, it’s just like that question you asked me before, it doesn’t stop with The Ramones, there’s so many bands, and still today there’s a band from Atlanta, that I love, called The Black Lips.

 


I once heard Bono say that he was influenced by The Ramones, and I thought shit, then I helped him too!

 


Mark: Yeah, that’s true, you just need a bit of his cash!!

 


Sylvain: Well, yeah, the cash I never got lucky with, it makes me bitter sometimes, you know, because when I can’t afford to do what I can for my kids, sending them to college, always eating spaghetti, that gets me upset ,you know!

 


Mark: Recently, I think it was last year, I read about your other project, The Batusis.

 


Sylvain: It’s actually the dance that Batman does!!

 


Mark: Is that actually where the name comes from?!

 


Sylvain: It is, and it’s me and Cheetah Chrome.

 


Mark: I haven’t heard it yet, but it sounds like something I need to check out.

 


Sylvain: He’s now a Southern boy too, he lives in Nashville and I’m in Atlanta. We recorded that record in Nashville, actually now you get a whole album, initially when we released it; it was an EP of only four songs.

 


Mark: I heard the previous stuff the Sleep Baby Doll, which was a few years ago.

 


Sylvain: That I did in 1987, it was in LA, in my basement in Georgia, I did a lot of my pre tracks down there and brought them in to the studio, it was all portable, digital stuff.
Mark: I guess it’s a lot easier to make music now.

 


Sylvain: Well, now, I made all demos on the brand new record, “Dancing backwards In High Heels”.

 


Mark: That was one of the things I particularly wanted to ask you about. For me the first two albums you did were absolute classics, and have stood the test of time over and over again, but for a band to come back after so long, is it 32 years?

 


Sylvain: It was even more probably.

 

 

 

Sylvain Sylvain New York Dolls 2011 www.therockpit.net interview

 

 


Mark: And to just get better and better is an amazing feat, how do you manage it? The music still sounds so fresh.

 


Sylvain: Well a lot of people said, it doesn’t sound like the New York Dolls to me, I don’t know, you have to have a kind of freshness when you come in to work, and go in to writing mode, and the frame of mind is not to have anything in mind, because if you do you get pigeon holed and then they’ve got you!

 


Mark: But that was the sound of it, the whole girl group sound, it is from New York City and it is from that period that must have been the music that you loved growing up?

 


Sylvain: Oh, yeah, especially me, Dave and Johnny Thunders. When we grew up it was all, girl groups and T Rex, who the fuck needed TV, when you had T Rex! Like the famous line in the Mott The Hoople song! We were like not very satisfied guys, compared to other Americans, let’s say they probably had it really good, we didn’t have so many things we were still street kids and rebellion for us was natural, we didn’t do it intentionally, that’s for sure. They called it Punk, we were sick and tired of all that shit, and that’s the reason I decided to start the band, because this stuff sucks!!What happened was that at that time the music was called Stadium Rock, and all the bands that I loved and saw in “67, like The Who, were making operas, I like operas, but it was all more technique rather than rock and roll!

 


Mark: That was the whole Prog. Rock thing, I think people lost touch with reality a little bit, and started taking themselves too seriously!

 


Sylvain: I think so too, and it wasn’t sexy anymore. To me, Rock n Roll had a sex thing you know. My favourite part of any record, every record ever made in the whole fucking life of the record making world or whatever is “Be My Baby” by The Ronnettes, where it stops and the drums play, that is the fucking sexiest two seconds of music that was ever recorded, it doesn’t have lyrics right there, it doesn’t have notes, it just strips you to death! It drives me crazy. When I was a kid listening to James Brown, “Papa’s Got a Brand new Bag”, and my mother wasn’t in the house I’d take off all my clothes and fucking run round the house naked! She’d come home and find me like this, with the record turned way up, and say in French, “Are you crazy?!” :Go to your room!” So, I think music has to have that kind of ingredient.

 


Mark: I think it does. For a band like The Dolls, you launched so many other bands, in a way, your style and your influence, from the store you used to run, probably led to a lot of The Dolls style, in the early 70’s, and then The Dolls style, led to the whole Hair Metal  explosion  in the late 80’s, in my opinion. Out of all those bands, do you think any of them got it right?

 


Sylvain: In the 80’s? In the 80’s I kind of lost track a little bit but what’s that band that did ‘I Touch Myself’?

 


Mark: The Divinyls?

 


Sylvain: Yeah those guys had it! And you know what that English guy Morrissey, I love, he had it too. The self appointed president of The Dolls fan club! I love it!  I think the 80’s especially in the States rock and roll had kind of lost it, that’s when MTV came around, Rock n Roll lost it and then Hip Hop came in, of course that was so outrageous, all the white kids liked Human League and stuff like that.  To me it’s like is it the Beatles or the Stones and of course it’s the Stones, that real rock and roll. To me, to be honest it’s got to have the blues; it’s got to have some sort of blues in it.

 


Mark: It’s all about sex at the end of the day!

 


Sylvain: Exactly! Sex, it’s got to be catchy, it’s got to be quick, even if it’s slow it has to be quick. A song is as long as it needs to be, if it’s 5 minutes, then it needs to be 5 minutes, like our song Frankenstein??

 


Here the soundcheck that has been a severe distraction to me stops for a minute or two!

 

 

 

Sylvain Sylvain New York Dolls 2011 www.therockpit.net interview

 

 


Mark: do you play that song tonight?

 


Sylvain: Not tonight, we play it here and there.

 


Mark: I saw the Motley Crue and the Poison tour, where your set list was a bit short.

 


Sylvain: Yeah, we got forty minutes with those guys.

 


Sylvain: Maybe, I don’t know, ”Stranded In The Jungle” is a big fucking record too! I mean popularity wise, which we don’t seem to do too much anymore, but then again we have to enjoy ourselves too. We do have some good stuff that came out of the last three albums, that maybe didn’t sell too well, and again I’m financially broke!!

 


Mark: I bought them all!!

 


Sylvain: (Laughs) What all three records! Well thanks a lot buddy!!

 


Mark: Hey no problem!

 


Mark: As far as the Dolls getting back together was concerned, I remember reading that you were always ready, from as far back as 1984.

 


Sylvain: I must say I was, since probably 1975, when we broke up with Malcolm.

 


Mark: There always seemed to be that under lying tension between you and Dave. How are you guys getting on at the moment?

 


Sylvain: It’s nice, OK at the moment, I mean it’s always been a struggle, and up and down thing, it’s like any relationship, you have good times and bad times. But, I think at the end of the day we make great fucking music together. We don’t see eye to eye, as much as I would’ve liked. I think if I could toot my own horn, I’m much more New York Dolls, than he is! (Laughs).
Mark: (Laughs) We will quote you on that one!

 


Sylvain: Hey you do that if you want (Laughs)

 


Mark: When Dave had his Buster Poyndexter years, and this is the one question I woke up at three in the morning with and thought I have to ask Sylvain this, let me read it out (this is in fact the only scripted question I ask all interview). If you could have an alter ego, like Buster Poyndexter, what would be his name and what would he do?

 


Sylvain: Wow man, you are really giving me some good questions!! Checkmate baby! Wow! I would be Ricky Corvette, which was one of my names that I had, to have a telephone in New York, and not to have to pay for it!! People still call me that!! I can still walk down Bleaker Street and people call out “Ricky!” All the Italian Goodfellows y’know! But that would be that and Ricky is kind of like some kind of Rockabilly, but with hip hop drums and shit!

 


Little do I know at the time that later tonight from stage Sylvain will announce to the audience that he is no longer Sylvain Slyvain, but is actually now to be known as Ricky Corvette – it makes my night especially when I see David and Earl laughing away!

 


Mark: You know what my friend it doesn’t happen to often but I personally could talk to you all day.

 


Sylvain: I’d just like to add, how I founded the name The New York Dolls, that was my contribution to the band. In the sixties when I was checking out Jimi Hendrix and all that kind of stuff, I worked in a shop in New York called The Different Drummer, it used to sell stuff like bell bottoms and shit, and across the street from the shop was this toy repair shop on the second floor, on Lexington Avenue, and it was called’ The New York Dolls Hospital’.

 


Mark: I think I read that in the book “Too Much Too Soon”, that was a really good book, what did you think of it, were you happy with that?

 


Sylvain: Yeah, I was happy with that. Actually, you know what I’m going to fast forward. The New York Dolls Hospital sign, the neon sign, plus the awning, was given to me, by the daughter of the owner of the shop, who passed away a couple of years back, they called Bob Gruen, and said we want to give Sylvain the sign! I was on tour on the bus, and I fucking started crying, I couldn’t believe it!! They gave me the sign, and I have it down in my basement now, in Georgia, in my music room.

 


Mark: And that takes us right back. I do have to ask one obligatory, Australian question, what are you looking forward to on this tour of Australia?

 


Sylvain: In Australia. Oh, I don’t know, a kiss

 


Mark: Are you looking for a kiss? (to quote the Dolls song)

 


Sylvain: (Laughs) Awesome man! Will I see you tonight?

 


Mark: I’ll be taking the photos – just try to keep me away! Thanks so much for your time!

 

 

Sylvain: Thank you for your questions!

 

 

Sylvain Sylvain New York Dolls 2011 www.therockpit.net interview

 

 

 

By Mark Diggins

 

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