Sylvain Sylvain of the New York Dolls Talks Hair Metal and New Album
“In England there’s a place called Blackpool, it’s sort of like Atlantic City. We played there and it had this amazing vibe. I just couldn’t resist.”
Sylvain Sylvain, guitarist and founding member of the New York Dolls is talking about what inspired him to write ‘End of the Summer,’ the sweet, sad, and very catchy number that closes the new Dolls album, ‘Walking Backward in High Heels.’
England played a big part in the rest of the album as well. The whole thing was recorded last fall at Blast Recording Studios in Newcastle.
Along with producer Jason Hill (who also played bass), drummer Brian Delaney, and ex-Blondie guitarist Frank Infante, Sylvain and singer David Johansen all hunkered down and got busy after playing a short artist residency at a Newcastle club called The Cluny. Infante will be replaced on the upcoming UK tour by legendary David Bowie axe man, Earl Slick.
“Trying everything out before a live audience was key for us,” Sylvain told Noisecreep. “It allowed us to figure things out and really get a feel for the songs. It’s sort of like our first record in 1973. People forget that by the time we finally got a record deal, we’d been playing all of our songs for like two years. They were already classics by the time the first record came out.”
Sylvain and Johansen are the last two remaining members of the original band, surviving the late Billy Murcia, Johnny Thunders, Jerry Nolan, and Arthur Kane. But Sylvain says that their influences still reflect everything that inspired all of the dearly departed members of the group.
“The Dolls were always about the blues, about girl groups like the Shangri-Las, and about basic rock ‘n’ roll. Me and David, we take our musical influences very seriously, just like the other guys did. In everything we do, we remember what this band was always about. And we celebrate those things musically.”
Of course, the Dolls, who exploded upon the downtown New York City art scene in the early 1970s, were also about style. The sight of a bunch of New York City kids in high heels and makeup, festooned with brightly colored feather boas and other rag trade items, stunned Middle America. The effects of that cultural shockwave were felt for years all over the world.
“It was so funny when all the Sunset Strip hair metal bands came out with teased hair and makeup,” Sylvain laughed. “It was impossible to not think about the influence of the Dolls. We never imagined that would happen. We just had this ‘Little Rascals’ attitude toward show business. Let’s put on a show! Get the makeup, get the outfits, and let’s make this fun. We were ground zero for a lot of that stuff. And look what it helped cause.”
‘Walking Backward in High Heels’ follows in the Dolls tradition of presenting a sort of musical quilt; a collection of influences filtered through the team of Johansen and Sylvain.
There’s the finger-snapping, 1960’s Brill Building attitude of ‘Streetcake.’ There’s plenty of rocking, raucous New York City swagger and humor in ‘I’m So Fabulous’ and ‘Talk To Me Baby.’ There’s even a cover of the 1978 Johansen solo-era cult classic, ‘Funky But Chic.’
It’s yet another impressive effort that blends teenage lust with wiser, knowing winks and smiles. The album also comes packaged with a fascinating making-of-the-record DVD.
The musical circus known as the New York Dolls is now an ongoing road show that cycles in various players and producers. But for the last original men standing, Johansen and Sylvain, the band name represents a feeling, spirit, and attitude that they are proud to keep cultivating.
“We could easily just go out and play ‘Trash’ and ‘Personality Crisis’ forever,” Sylvain said. “We’ll never turn our back on those tunes, But you’ve gotta grow, too.”
And grow they have.
‘Dancing Backwards In High Heels’ is released by Blast Records in the UK (March 14), and in the USA by 429 Records (March 15). New York Dolls tour the UK – O2 Academy Newcastle (March 27), Manchester Club Academy (March 29), London The Old Vic Tunnels (March 30-31). More info at http://nydolls.org.