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Interview: The Dollyrots

21 January 2022

Photo by Jen Rosenstein

With nearly 20 years worth of unreleased tracks, demos, covers and B-sides piling up, it makes sense for The DollyrotsKelly Ogden (vocals/bass) and her husband, Luis Cabezas (guitars) – to clear out the hard drive during the down time between new albums. Released on Wicked Cool Records (Little Steven’s label), Down the Rabbit Hole is a treasure trove of fun pop-punk songs that have been The Dollyrots calling card since the couple moved to Los Angeles 20 years ago to chase a dream.

After grinding it out nearly non-stop for 13 years through the typical cycle of recording and releasing music followed by incessant touring, Kelly gave birth to the couple’s son, River, in 2013 and The Dollyrots gave birth to their fifth album, Barefoot and Pregnant in 2014. With a new child in tow, Kelly and Luis moved back to Florida to establish roots and while many artists may have taken time off, The Dollyrots stayed active both from a recording and touring perspective, bringing River on the road as they criss-crossed the country and took overseas flights. Daughter Daisy followed in 2016 followed by 2017’s Whiplash Splash.

As the world headed into lockdown during the pandemic, The Dollyrots family was able to take a (momentary) breather from the fast-paced schedule of being an active band. With time on their hands, Kelly picked up a permanent gig as a daily show DJ on Little Steven’s Underground Garage Sirius XM channel and Luis has been writing music and recording other bands at the couple’s home studio.

I had a chance to catch up with Kelly and Luis just before the holidays and even had a chance to see some of Daisy’s creative Lego work on the Zoom call.

As artists who are used to being on the road, I’m sure the last two years have not been so great for you.

LUIS: It didn’t affect us in the ways that I think people assumed it would have. We’ve got two little kids and our life was just so hectic prior to this. It was constantly planes and taxis and hotels and traveling with the kids. Then they started school so it was like, maybe we should take a little time off. We were feeling a little burned out. It’s like, be careful what you wish for. This has gone on much longer than any of us thought it would. But, it was good for us as a family to coalesce and be stuck together.

Kelly’s got a radio show every day on Sirius XM so she’s been busy with that. I record bands. We put out music all the time. We’ve got a home studio that we’re always creating in so, for us, the last two years haven’t been that bad.

KELLY: And we were doing StageIt shows. We did them for 10 weeks starting last March. I feel like we got closer as a family but we also got closer to a lot of our fans on social media. There were silver linings to it.

LUIS: We had time to stop and reflect. It was harder on our crew, the people that we tour with that help us out, and the people at the venues who have had to push things back again and again and again.

The StageIt shows probably allowed people who maybe haven’t made it to one of your live shows get the chance to see you play. In some cases, I’m sure there were people watching in towns that you’ve never played in.

LUIS: Yeah. We’re making ourselves accessible. We’ve never played Montana. Well, we could have played Missoula at some point. There are so many places we don’t play and now we get an opportunity to connect with people everywhere. We were fulfilling our merch orders for Christmas and we saw all these names and towns and we were thinking, “We’ve never been anywhere near some of these towns. But, that person can watch us online and we can connect with them.

You’ve been home recording for a while. This was not something you had to scramble to figure out how to set up and do during the pandemic. In a sense, you beat the rush without realizing it.

KELLY: We started recording at home when I was pregnant with River. So, nine years ago.

LUIS: I started dabbling and making demos as far back as our third album, A Little Messed Up, in 2008. When Kelly got pregnant in 2013, we had to put together a way to record in a way that facilitated her.

KELLY: I was massively pregnant! I couldn’t go to a studio for seven days in a row and work 16 hours a day.

LUIS: I just bought a really nice preamp and compressor and we tracked that whole record in our little apartment in L.A. Stacy Jones [Letters to Cleo, Veruca Salt, American HiFi] came in and just banged out the drums in a couple of days. That’s what started this whole thing of home recording.

KELLY: We’d been working on things with John Fields, our producer. At this point, it’s become so natural and easy for us to build something and then we get together with John at the end and put the sauce on.

LUIS: We’ll do all the basic tracks. Every time we do a project, I’ll get another piece of gear. At this point, we can track anything easily so we do all the basic stuff at home, especially if it’s not a serious thing. If it’s just a song here and there, I’ll do it all myself. But, if we’re going to put out a real record, we’ll send it to Fields. We’ll fly to his studio in Minneapolis and spend a week there and make everything super duper. So, there is a collaborative effort with him, he’s like the third member of the band. But, we’ve become fiercely independent with the ability to create music on our own.

You’ve been doing StageIt shows even before the pandemic so you weren’t introducing anything new to your fans.

KELLY: We started doing those when I was pregnant with River. A lot of our fans already had StageIt accounts, they knew what it was, it wasn’t weird or new to them. Once the pandemic started, they were like, “Oh, good. You’re doing these every week now instead of occasionally”

LUIS: Circling back to the studio thing for a second, it was a cost benefit thing. If I can track all the background vocals at home, why should we be spending eight hours in a studio tracking them for $300 an hour? They are just background vocals. I think anybody who makes music should be able to at least sketch out a song at home. If you’re lucky, you get to keep some of those takes for the final version. Some of our demos, or some of Kelly’s first takes, end up on the record like 90% of the time. Kelly gets the initial inspiration, we record it before she’s had to sing it 30 times and she doesn’t sound bored.

When it comes time to record with Fields, sometimes we’ll be like, “I wonder if you can beat the demos?” Rarely can he beat the demos, no matter how good you are, because that initial inspiration often can’t be replicated.

With Bandcamp and Soundcloud, you can record a song this afternoon and share it with fans by this evening.

LUIS: Yeah. We just did that. We put out a Christmas song every year and this year we did a rock version of Leona Lewis’s “One More Sleep”.

KELLY: It was about a 24-hour turnaround from recording to getting it out.

LUIS: Between the time Kelly started singing to me mixing it and putting it on Bandcamp was like 28 hours and that included family time and sleeping! I just made some artwork for it, it took like an hour, and then all of a sudden you’ve got a release out that people can listen to. Everyone who is tied into us through Bandcamp gets an alert. And, wallah, it’s out in the world.

This new album is a collection of B-sides and demos and that kind of stuff. Was that something you had been planning to do or was it the result of the pandemic and wanting to get something out to fans?

LUIS: Well, I had a mental break! (laughs) Not really.

KELLY: There were three days where I was like, “Is he going to get out of this?”

LUIS: I think we’ve all been feeling the same thing, we’re just kind of lost in the void. And, I’ve been frustrated with the whole concept of making new music. There’s just a lot of factors working against us right now.

KELLY: The silver lining we were talking about of being home with the kids … well, also, we were home with the kids! It’s very hard to be creative because you’re making macaroni and cheese and chicken nuggets every five minutes! And, I started a full time job.

LUIS: She has a radio show every day on Sirius XM. So, there’s a lot going on. We have more than enough in our lives. So, I was just feeling like we needed to put out new music but we wanted to have something out for the holidays. I didn’t want to go a year without putting out a release.

I was just going to gather all the stuff we had laying around and put it out for free as a download on Bandcamp. We called the label to ask permission – we’re on Little Steven’s label, Wicked Cool – and I asked, “Can I use this song that we didn’t use for a 7-inch?” and their response was, “Why don’t we put it out the whole collection for you?” I’m like, “We are three weeks from when we’re supposed to do this, how are you going to put it out?” They were like, “Let’s do it.” I was like, “Really? Like a real release?” and they’re like, “Yeah, you have to get all the material to us … in four days.”

KELLY: So then he really had a nervous breakdown!

LUIS: Thankfully, we have a network of really awesome people that we work with. We got somebody to master a double album in 48 hours. We got artwork done by a brilliant artist, Stefan Beham, SBAM, he’s Austrian. He’s great. He turned around a perfect layout in like a day and a half. And, we turned it in on time with enough time to get product to be able to send out to people. This thing was just a mad dash at the end but we’re really proud of it. We think it shows our influences. It gives people an alternate take on songs they already know. It gives them something new and it looks amazing.

Are The Dollyrots gaining new fans because of Kelly’s Sirius XM show?

KELLY: Yeah. It was kind of wild when we went out and played the Northeast this summer. We did Philly, Cambridge and New York. There were a lot of fans of the show which was cool.

LUIS: We never sold out Boston before this tour. All of the shows were well attended. I think part of it was people just wanted to get back to seeing live music but there were a good number of people who listen to the radio show. We’ll go out and talk to people after the show. I mean, obviously, in these times we’re mostly playing outdoor shows and you better have a mask on. But, our thing is that after the show, we’ll hang out. We’ll sign merch and have conversations. We like doing that. And, so, a good number of conversations were with fans of the radio show that didn’t know about our band before. They just knew Kelly as a DJ. She’s going on two years of doing this.

KELLY: I spend four hours a day with a lot of people.

I know you’ve been in Florida for a while now. Was the move planned? I was surprised because I always thought of you as an L.A. band.

KELLY: We got a house in Florida when the market sunk. We were looking around L.A. but we couldn’t get anything within four hours of the city.

LUIS: Even the worst house in Highland Park, about 2011, we could have bought three houses in Florida for the same cost.

KELLY: We got a house with the idea that we were going to start a family and move back to Florida. We rented the house out for a little while and then we were very fortunate as River came along pretty quickly after that.

LUIS: It was pretty much two years flat after we bought the house that River arrived. We was about three or four months old and Jaret from Bowling for Soup called and said, “Hey, Bowling for Soup’s having their birthday party. Do you want to come to Texas and play?” That was around June 3. I said to Kelly, “We can just move to Florida now and play the birthday party on the way.” We just packed our tour trailer, took whatever would fit. We sold the tour van. We were crying by the end.

KELLY: We were sobbing. We were like, “We’re never going to tour again. We’re not going to be musicians anymore!”

LUIS: It was kind of hard because everything about L.A. that we loved and that was gritty and charming and exciting suddenly took on this darker tone. Once you’re pushing a baby stroller down the sidewalk and you’ve got to get around the guy that’s laying there. We’d take River to the sand pit at the playground and there’s needles and stuff. We were like, “I don’t think we should have him here.” It was really a quick decision and we basically left our apartment as it was. We still have the apartment. We sublease it. Our guitars are still hanging on the wall. Our books are still on the bookshelves. That place is frozen in a time capsule. But, in retrospect, it was absolutely the right move. It was very hard to leave because L.A. was in our fabric. The flip side is that the virus came around and instead of being stuck in an apartment, we’ve got a yard now. My dad is here so we’ve got help with the kids. And, we’re like 10 minutes from the airport so we can fly out and go wherever we need to go. And, we have a home studio with a mother-in-law suite in the back. In the end, it all worked out great. I do miss L.A. a lot. If we had $50 million, we could have the same thing in L.A. but that’s not the case for a punk rock band.

What’s next? You’re going on tour this spring?

LUIS: Yeah. After the U.S. dates in March, we’re scheduled to go to the UK in April with Bowling for Soup and Lit. And then we’re booking dates for later in the year.

KELLY: We’ve got the Great Rock ‘n’ Roll Sea Cruise in August with a bunch of our punk rock heroes.

LUIS: Yeah, we’re going on a cruise with the Buzzcocks. We’ve toured with them before.

KELLY: The Dictators. The Stranglers.

LUIS: It’s all these punk rock legends and then us and then a few other bands associated with the radio station. We’re excited about that.

KELLY: And we’re going to work on new music.

LUIS: Now that we have all of our rarities and things out, the next thing is going to be a new album. We’ll launch a new album project on Patreon and it’ll probably be the same thing that we’ve done in the past where we launch the project before we start writing anything. Then, anybody who pre-orders will get updates along the way as we’re writing and recording. We don’t know what it’s going to sound like. We have a bunch of half-baked verse/chorus demos but that’s it. We’ll see what happens.

KELLY: And hopefully hit the road and just keep going.

2022 TOUR DATES

March 10 – Reggie’s Rock Club – Chicago, IL
March 11 – VFW Post 246 – Minneapolis, MN
March 12 – X-Ray Arcade – Milwaukee, WI
March 13 – Beachland – Cleveland, OH
March 14 – Rumba Café – Columbus, OH
March 15 – The Melody Inn – Indianapolis, IN
March 16 – Old Rock House – St Louis, MO
March 17 – Nightshop – Bloomington, IL
March 18 – The Sanctuary – Hamtramck, MI
March 19 – Southgate House – Newport, KY

w/ Bowling for Soup & Lit

April 12 – Empress Ballroom – Blackpool, UK
April 13 – O2 Academy Glasgow – Glasgow, UK
April 14 – Grimsby Auditorium – Grimsby, UK
April 15 – Scarborough Spa – Scarborough, UK
April 16 – O2 Academy Birmingham – Birmingham, UK
April 17 – O2 Academy Bournemouth – Bournemouth, UK
April 18 – Riviera International Centre – Torquay, UK
April 19 – Brangwyn Hall – Swansea, UK
April 21 – De La Warr Pavilion – Bexhill On Sea, UK
April 22 – Winter Gardens – Margate, UK
April 23 – O2 Academy Brixton – London, UK