More With Mydolls: "Being Yourself Is Always in Fashion"
Photos by David Ensminger
Over the last decade, Mydolls have rejuvenated themselves by branching deep into local music again. In the fabled past, they haunted clubs like Caribana, the Island, Rudyards, and Numbers; in some cases, they have returned to those grounds but also lit up fires under new, wide-eyed audiences at Walters, Super Happy Fun Land, and Dan Electro’s. They mentor young girls in the fine art of rock and roll, have keenly revisited their catalog and reinvented songs, dealt with deep personal loss and disease, and found kinship on the West Coast while gigging with heralded bands like the Avengers.
All of this when most people have retired to musty couches and safe routines. Legends like Mydolls evoke the very root of creative impulse, the core of making music matter. Their vision is long, their habits spontaneous, and their art ever-fluid. For Part 2 of our talk with the group, surrounding their recently released It's Too Hot For Revolution, David Ensminger probes their punk ethos, current philosophies and film picks.
Houston Press: The last handful of years, Mydolls has become part of Girls Rock Camp Houston efforts. In what ways were you each shaped by musical mentors in your own youth?
Linda Younger: Dianna [Ray] and I were involved in Girls Rock Camp since its inception six years ago. Trish was soon to follow. Mydolls are passionate about paying it forward and being involved every year. The transformation in the girls from day one to Showcase is incredible! Seeing the young girls who started in the first-year assume leadership roles in the camp now is so rewarding!
My Dad was a bandleader and tenor sax musician in a 16-piece big band in Lafayette, La., called the Skyliners. He had a television program much like The Lawrence Welk Show every weekend when I was a child. My sister and I were asked to sing "Let the Sunshine In" one weekend and I was determined to get that incredible sensation of performing in front of others from that day forward. He taught me how to play three songs on saxophone — “The House of the Rising Sun,” “The Swim” and “Tequila.” I joined my all-girl high-school band The Furies, and the rest is history. My influences were the British Invasion — the Who, The Rolling Stones, The Kinks, Elvis Presley, zydeco, and blues musicians in Louisiana and Motown. Fast-forward to 1978 in Houston, where I fell in love with punk rock and the Island. Hooking up with Trish and Dianna was meant to be. George followed soon after and Mydolls music was born.
George Reyes: I think garage band really sums it up. I started playing early on and most of my influences came through radio. The immortalized Lee Baby Sims was one of my greatest mentors. He may have lost his gig in S.A. by playing music not appropriate for his listening audience, but he dropped a lot of musical seeds that changed the way I looked at music and encouraged me to play outside the norms of the day.
Trish Herrera: For me, I enjoy seeing the girls connect with each other in a way that they may not have before with music — the non-verbal vibrations and the knowing and getting tempo and timing combined with letting go of fear of stage fright. Them growing as an artist and having a voice is the most inspiring thing to witness at Girls Rock Camp. I don't really believe you can teach anyone rock 'n' roll. I believe that you can help others grow holistically. It's almost a psychological event.
Dianna Ray: Trish was one of my mentors, even though we are only six years apart. She practically dared me into life. I really was a bit of a timid mouse when I met her. I am such a rule-follower, and she is such a boundary-pusher. She really is my musical sister. I just connect with her so easily musically, like nobody else I've ever played with. I wish there had been a Girls Rock Camp when I was a young girl. Their central mission is self-esteem, using music as the modality. It is such an important time to have a positive, creative, and collaborative experience in one's life, especially for girls.
As a young teen, I played air guitar to T-Rex in my bedroom, and my best friend and I talked about being in a band, but there weren't many role models for us. There was Suzi Quatro, her sister Patti's band Fanny, and The Runaways, and that was about it. I hope I will be going to see the bands our Girls Rock camp attendees form for years to come!
When I hosted the Island celebration [in 2012], you were an integral part of that tribute, yet Mydolls thrilled audiences at clubs ranging from Caribana, Ale House, and Rudyard's to Cabaret Voltaire and Numbers. How would you compare eras — the years of CIA Records to the here and now?
Linda: It's so rewarding to see friends old and new enjoying Mydolls music. At the Island celebration, kids of our fans from the Island came with their parents and are now fans. It was so incredible to have Jerry Anomie there with his son, Garrett. AK-47 also had a father-son show. There is a real connection in this community. That was also recognized when 100 Houston fans attended our show in Oakland with the Avengers! That was so much fun!
George: Hard to compare eras. So much has changed politically and technologically. DIY has taken on a whole new set of customs and traditions. I think the CIA years were filled with anything goes: you don’t need to be perfect and all are welcome to create. I once saw a band in Cincinnati play cardboard boxes after a very intense sound check. They sounded like the latest techno-pop music being played at the time. It was great!
Today’s venues, although very supportive of independent music, seem to have a formula for acceptance or not. It reflects a business model that benefits from the trial and error of the past, but limits the creative and lacks acceptance. I really enjoyed playing in Denton and Lufkin since these small towns seem to have a similar appreciation of anything goes and we enjoy what you do. It was the first time we got applause for the drum/bass break in “Fair Stands the Fields of France” at 35 Denton. Houston shows have been fun, but mostly getting energy from our longtime fans. I kind of miss those venues of the past and the "let's do a show and see who shows up" attitude.
Trish: It's surprising to me that punk rock is a form of genre. Now it has a certain recognizable rhythm pattern. I never thought that being a genre was the message of punk rock. Mydolls has always been a little outside the box. Maybe because punk rock really didn't reach Texas until 1978, and by then it was all over, so the audiences that we had were really varied. When Mydolls toured the Midwest and East Coast, our audiences were mainly of college age and the underground letter-writers and zinesters that we knew. There was no Internet or telephone that you could use because long-distance calls were very expensive, so there was a lot of letter-writing, very underground. I've saved many of the letters and one day hope to have a little mini-show of the letters. They're very cool. They have tiny little script because we tried to fit a lot on the letters on the pages so that wouldn't cost much to mail them.
We did interviews by letters, and we did booking by letters. It's very different now as far as audiences go. There's not that underground circuit that there used to be. I think the history of punk rock is something that should be taught in school, especially for young punk bands truly. For instance, Detroit is claiming the godfather of punk is Iggy Pop, and New York is claiming that the godmother of punk is Patti Smith, so start there, maybe — know your craft. Okay, I'm off the subject on a little soapbox here with history, but it is important on how the audiences are gathered these days: curiosity, maybe energy anger, feeling left out, being different: those were the audiences and still are.
Dianna: There is a lot of cross-genre love and support in our current musical scene, which I think makes it an exciting time to be forming bands and playing shows. You can go and hear a psychedelic band, a folk trio, and a noise/art-punk band all on the same bill, and the audience will show up and stay for all of the bands. There is also a strong sense of respect and knowledge about the earlier Houston bands who helped define certain sounds and maybe even pave the way for some of today's local musicians. One thing that hasn't changed a lot is how often clubs and even promoters expect musicians to play for free or what amounts to less than minimum wage. That is a mentality that needs to change.
Playing music in the early punk scene in Houston was a lot of fun. It was a small scene, so many of us knew each other, and we still do, which is pretty great. If there wasn't a venue for a show, people would create a venue for the show. There were shows at warehouses, and I don't mean the fancy kind of warehouse either; I mean a giant empty space with no air-conditioning in July. I think that was one of the three sweatiest nights of my life, the other two being the first Girls Rock Camp Houston showcase at the original Walters and the first Art Car Parade. Those people were my tribe of beautiful misfits, and they still are. I think playing music may have saved my life early on. I was depressed and suicidal, but the music and the people gave me hope. I have heard a number of people echo this sentiment about music: it is a very emotional art form.
RO: Recently, you've befriended Frightwig and played your first West Coast gig, in support of the iconic Avengers. Do you find inspiration in their resilience, cultural force, and trans-generational appeal?
Linda: MeowCon was such a wonderful experience! Meeting Frightwig, Kathy Valentine, Jennifer Batten, Patti and Suzi Quatro and June Millington was a dream come true. Frightwig is busy playing and recording music now, and a real inspiration to me. Look for their new CD and Christmas compilation. Great musicians and role models for girls today. Meeting and opening for Penelope Houston in Oakland was another wonderful experience. I definitely find inspiration in their resilience, cultural force, and trans-generational appeal.
George: I think it’s great to see that there are parallels with the West Coast and the music icons from the '70s and '80s. In looking at our own journey, I can see that the bay area has traveled similar paths. It was great to see Penelope Houston and Jello Biafra continuing to support each other’s efforts. It reminded me of similar conversations and shows where folks still come out to support us. Not quite the distribution and notoriety but the same sense of being there for each other and continuing to support the artistic talents of each.
Trish: I have always been a fan of Penelope Houston and Frightwig, and hearing about the recent concerts that Frightwig did with Alice Bag and some other iconic bands from the '80s and late '70s was completely inspiring to me. When we played the festival Fabulosa, I was insanely inspired by the female power that created that festival. Very fringe, edgy, alternative punk-rock experimental out-of-the-ordinary musicians and artists graced that event. I left there with a feeling of complete and utter awe from the genius sound woman Lindsay B. Smith, who was just featured on Live Sound magazine on the cover, to the women who made our food, the women who set up the stage, the generators, the scaffolding, you name it. It happened all by the hands of women. So, yes, I see these young women inspired by what women did in the late '70s and '80s and how they have built layer and layer and layer of incredible power. I am deeply grateful for what is happened.
Dianna: I don't think I could add anything to what Trish said. She pretty well nailed it.
Mydolls has never quite been a "play-by-the-book" kind of punk band. Film, fashion, poetry, history, politics, and artful entanglements all merge into the music. Do you think that same type of cultural "mash-up" still exists in the new music you hear?
George: For sure! Despite the tremendous amount of music being produced and marketed on YouTube and other mediums, there is great depth and creativity that comes from not playing by the book. The lineup at our recent Continental Club show illustrates the great range of art, music, fashion and performance that marks the talented people in Houston looking for a venue to express themselves. It was a great night of entertainment.
Linda: It's different in the new music somehow. Thinking outside the box and expressing your feelings through music will never grow old. One of my favorite shows was at the Continental Club with Two Star Symphony and Say Girl Say. Check them out...refreshing and innovative sounds.
Trish: Yes, I only hope that everything is still possible. The idea behind punk rock was to break the rules, not in a violent way, but in a way that says, “I have a voice, I have a style, I have my own personal individual way.” At my hair salon, I made up a quote: "Being yourself is always in fashion." To me, that is truly punk rock: to be yourself, to find your own individuality, use whatever you want to make your own style, your own music, your own way of being. If you are dictated by fashion, you will be lost. You will be branded by some commercialized idea of what’s new.
It's all marketing. You can put salt and caramel on something and sell it for more money these days or call it vegan leather, fusion rock, fusion sushi, or some BS like that. That is a type of fucking the public over so that someone can capitalize off of your desire to be rich and famous or fashionable, which is opposite of everything that I know as punk.
Dianna: Having just seen Erase Errata's final two live performances, I have to say yes. They were tangly, political, fashionable, wry, and very, very smart. One of my favorite shows we recently played we supported Two Star Symphony and Say Girl Say. Both bands cross boundaries between music, art, fashion and performance. I love seeing Y.E Torres dancing and performing with so many different Houston bands. She adds such wonderful dimension.
RO: If German director Wim Wenders cast you for any other one of his films besides Paris, Texas, in which you appear, which one would you have liked to be in, and why?
George: By far, it would be Wings of Desire. I really love going to Berlin. I think that a scene with Mydolls performing would have made an impact on the ethereal mood of this film. Plus, meeting Peter Falk and Bruno Ganz after sitting with Harry Dean Stanton at a Paris, Texas viewing would be a lifetime memory not soon forgotten.
Trish: I would've loved to been in Wings of Desire too. It is such a beautiful film. When I was in Berlin and visited Wim, the way I felt was how the movie looked. Berlin felt like a place I could live or had lived in a past life.
Dianna: Maybe Until the End of the World because it has such a great soundtrack! Wim is very conscientious about the music he chooses.
Linda: Since I was not able to be there for filming Paris, Texas, that is the Wim Wenders movie that I would love to be in. I recently ran into Hunter Carson at a SWAMP program and expressed that resentment to him in person. It is one of my all-time favorite movies, and every time I watch it, I see and feel something new. A classic!
See more Mydolls and buy It's Too Hot For Revolution at mydollsmusic.com.
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