Last July, during a busy stretch of gigging, New London’s Suicide Dolls received some promising news.
Joseph Spadaro, founder of the Mystic-based indie label American Laundromat Records, wanted a working Connecticut band to appear on his musical tribute to the ’80s cult-classic film Repo Man. (ALR’s niche is the tribute compilation; previous releases include paeans to the Cure, Neil Young and the Pixies’ Kim Deal, although recently they’ve signed artists for non-tribute recordings.) The other acts on the Repo Man compilation are Amanda Palmer, Frank Black, Matthew Sweet, Mike Watt, Those Darlins, New York Rivals, the Tellers, Moses Coltrane and Weekend.
“No one wanted to jump on the Circle Jerks’ ‘When the Shit Hits the Fan’,” Dolls’ singer/guitarist Brian Albano told the Advocate by phone. “[Spadaro] needed someone to finish it out... He really wanted to get a Connecticut band, one who’s active and doing things right now.”
A friend of Spadaro’s turned him onto the Dolls’ powerful mix of post-grunge punk, noise-rock and tuneful pop. “As a kid, I loved the movie,” Albano said. “When he wanted us to do [the song], I thought that was great, because there are so many lines throughout the song that, throughout my life, I had quoted: ‘Five-pound blocks of cheese / bags of groceries...’ I always thought it was a funny song, and nowadays, it seems very relevant, having this song about how the recession is affecting the attitude of the country.”
Spadaro heard the Dolls, who’ve been together for a decade, and was sold. But with the rest of the album’s tracks already in the can, he wanted “Fan” post-haste. The Dolls scrambled together an arrangement, somewhere between Keith Morris’ acoustic, stripped-down version from the movie soundtrack and the Jerks’ faster, L.A.-punk album-recording. Albano and bassist/vocalist Michelle Montavon sing lead, together. “We had to think quick,” Albano said. “A lot of people love the Circle Jerks, and there was a big chance of upsetting people more than making people happy... We wanted to get this anthem going throughout the song, because there are so many great lyrics. We wanted to build these characters in 2012 who have lost the incentive to go out for work... to believe brighter days are ahead of us, almost this zombie-chorus of no energy, leeching off the state. At the same time, we tried to make the music high-energy, garage-y, still punk-rock sounding... It was a roller-coaster ride, but we’re happy with it, that we were able to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with all these other artists.”
The Dolls’ go-to recording engineer, Justin Pizzoferrato (Sonic Youth, Dinosaur Jr.), wasn’t available, so they recorded it in a single day at New London’s Pwop Studios, owned by Carl Franklin. The Repo Man tribute wasn’t released until September, but the Dolls — Albano, Montavon and drummer Matt Covey — went right back to work, gigging behind their excellent full-length, Prayers in Parking Lots, which was released in June. On the heels of Prayers, the Dolls are still meeting other bands, getting good press, killing it live and winning local awards, including Best Rock Band at this year’s Connecticut Music Awards and Alternative Single of the Year for the 7-minute track, “Smash” at the 2012 New London Whalie Awards. This week, they’ll play a year-ending show at New London’s Oasis Pub, sharing the bill with New Highway Hymnal and Velah, two of the most active bands in the Boston music scene.
The gig is a final push, Albano wrote in a follow-up e-mail, to promote the album “with extra vigor... We're trying to use it as a way to exorcise Prayers in Parking Lots and 2012 and start to focus on invoking the new ideas into the process, hitting the road with them.” The Dolls plan to record a follow-up EP in early 2013, a preview of whatever long-term direction they decide to go in. New songs, Albano said, are “starting to itch,” and the next direction looks “moody.” “There's already too many happy bands and we've always taken the road less traveled,” Albano wrote. “The problem is we want slower moody songs, we also want even faster rocking songs as well, we want the polarities of Parking Lots, if you will, but we want it to be honest and true, not instant.” That will take considerable experimentation, half in their basement and half on the road. “We're perfectly a true blend of people who are overly ambitious and active yet hopelessly slackers... I guess that's bipolar? Hopefully the next few weeks/months of road shows will show us the way.”
Writing and recording a full-length album can be galvanizing; you focus on a particular set of songs and carry that energy out into your live set. For some bands, that’s reason enough to record a new album: you create a model universe, then set out to recreate it on the stage, before ultimately starting the process all over again.
For Albano, that’s not the desired path. “We’ve chosen to be a road band, as opposed to a scene band,” Albano said. “Too many bands nowadays are quick to record an album, and then a month later look at that album like it’s 1,000 years old... I’ve never been too impressed with hyper-songwriting. Songs are like people: they have souls, and they need a little time to age. You need to give those songs a little time. Too many bands are quick to become bored with themselves. I think we are known as a band who gets to know themselves.”
The Suicide Dolls, w/ New Highway Hymnal, Verah, Dec. 29, 9 p.m. doors, $5, The Oasis Pub, 16 Bank St., New London, (860) 447-3929, facebook.com/theoasispub.