Like lots of bands, The Dollyrots are anxious to return to touring. When the L.A.-based band kicks off its Like an Animal Tour this week in Texas, they’ll stop through Houston. While we’re seemingly absent from many tour schedules recently unveiled during the re-emergence of live shows, Luis Cabezas and Kelly Ogden, the husband-and-wife team at the heart of the group, know how important Houston can be to working bands. If not for a fortuitous stop here 20 years ago, their path to pop punk stardom might have been much different.
Cabezas and Ogden chatted with Houston Press by speakerphone ahead of their show at White Oak Music Hall this Friday. The discussion was filled with endearing moments where the exceedingly likable couple finished each other’s sentences, displaying the sort of harmony that comes from sharing a music career and family and having known each other since junior high. The thing mostly on their like minds was bringing music, particularly songs from their last full-length album Daydream Explosion, to fans.
“We’re so proud of that record. I mean, it came out in 2019 but it never really got a chance to be heard. Playing a record live is kind of the payoff, you know? For us, it’s always been, ‘Okay, we’ll put a ton of work in making the best possible album we can’ and then the reward is being able to play it in front of people and see their reaction to it,” Cabezas said.
“Throughout the pandemic we of course were trying to write music and be creative but being stuck in one place with our little kids without much time to breathe and be creative, it was definitely a struggle. I’m kind of grateful in a way that we still can tour on that album without it seeming stale or anything,” Ogden added.
As fans of the band know from following them, listening to Ogden’s SiriusXM Underground Garage radio show or maybe catching their 2016 concert film Family Vacation: Live in Los Angeles, The Dollyrots are a literal mom-and-pop pop punk enterprise. When they hit the road this week, they’ll be bringing their kids along, as they’ve done before, and it seems the kids are as eager to tour as their parents.
“Our son River is seven and we have a daughter, Daisy, who is four and they’ve been on the road with us since River was like three. River’s first big trip was South by Southwest in 2014, so they’ve been doing it since then,” Cabezas explained.
The family was set to tour in March of 2020 before world events brought things to a pause. For The Dollyrots, it really was a pause. Cabezas said they didn’t work on much music for fear of cranking out a bunch of “quarantunes.” Instead, they promoted Daydream Explosion when they could, their first album on Little Steven Van Zandt’s Wicked Cool Records label. They released a pretty great cover of The Commodores’ “Easy.” They focused on their young family. They bought pet chickens and got a new puppy. And, they took the longest live performance hiatus of their career.
“We had two babies and the longest amount of time we ever spent off was three months,” Ogden said.
“Our kids didn’t go to school, we home schooled them, so they’ve been stuck at home just like everyone else has,” Cabezas added. “We live right near the airport and they see the planes and are like, ‘When can we get on a plane?’ We kind of feel like once we get started, it’ll be like riding a bike.”
“We’ve been very careful and want to protect them, so we’ll make sure that we do it carefully with them,” Ogden assured. “But the whole crew is vaccinated.”
“We’re road dogs, we’ve been doing this since we were real young,” Cabezas noted. “Getting back to being on the road is going to feel back to normal for us. I think it’ll be good for us to get out on the road, it’ll be inspirational, and I think after this round of dates we can think about coming back home and writing for the next release, whatever that’s gonna be.”
Thinking about the future is exciting, but we want to know about the past, especially Houston’s role in The Dollyrots’ journey. That journey includes a string of Billboard-charting albums and a massive hit, “Because I’m Awesome,” from a 2007 album on Joan Jett’s Blackheart Records. Houston was a pinpoint on the actual coast-to-coast journey that began the couple's music career.
“It’s a very important pinpoint, too, because I don’t think we’d be the band we are today without that night happening,” Ogden said.
“We decided when we were about 20 years old, okay, we’re gonna drop everything, drive across the country, move to Los Angeles, just us and our guitars, in our cars and just try and make it,” Cabezas said. “We were all naïve. We thought we had some pretty good songs, let’s move out to L.A. and be rock stars! And so, we drove cross country and on the way our drummer at the time, he had one of those old Nokia phones,” and Ogden tagged into the tale and added, “Somehow on this ancient phone he was flipping through he saw that The Breeders were playing, I don’t even know how it was possible, but he was like, ‘Wow, The Breeders are playing in Houston.’”
“They were playing at The Engine Room and we always loved The Breeders, we grew up with The Breeders being an important musical influence on us,” Cabezas jumped back in. “We’re literally sleeping in our car, it’s January, it’s cold, we’re just these punk kids showing up at the show. So, we pull in, it was night time and the show had already kind of started. We park our cars, go to the front and the show’s sold out.”
“Yup,” Ogden added with a sigh, as if it all happened last night. “I go up to the door guy after we had tried to purchase tickets and I actually started crying. I also had just left my home of my childhood, I was moving across the country, I was scared and I was like, ‘Man, I just really need to see this band play. I’ve got 20 bucks.’”
The kind doorman (you know who you are and Dollyrots fans everywhere thank you, fellow Houstonian) allowed the trio into the venue. Cabezas said the intimate room made for an incredible experience but what happened next was even more notable.
“We watched the show and afterwards, just like any fanatical fan would do, we decided to go wait by the bus and see if we could say hi to the band,” he said. Ogden chimes in with, “Their road manager was taking gear out of the venue, loading it into the bus. He’s like, ‘You guys waiting for the band?’ and we’re like ‘Yeah’ and we told him we were moving across country, the whole thing and he said, ‘Oh my gosh, they’re gonna love this.’”
“Sure enough, the girls come out, they come to the bus and he kind of makes a quick introduction,” Cabezas remembered.
“The girls” are Kelley and Kim Deal, the twin sisters who formed the influential ‘90s alt-rock band. They wanted to see the prairie dog, cat, iguana, tarantula and scorpion Cabezas and Ogden had brought along for the trip to their new home.
“Kim Deal pet our cat for a while,” Cabezas said. “They got anointed by Saint Kim. So, we told them our story, we’re moving out to L.A., we don’t have any friends there, we don’t have any family, but we figure we’ll just figure it out when we get there and they were like, well let us know when you get there, we can help you out finding a practice space. And sure enough, a few weeks later we reached out and they put us in touch with their practice space people and we ended up getting a rehearsal spot right across the hall from them.”
Ogden said The Breeders would pop over to the rehearsal room and plop on its couch to watch the earliest version of The Dollyrots “and I would try to not freak out,” she said. The Breeders took them underwing and put them on some bills as openers.
“It changed our trajectory,” Cabezas said.
You need more than a leg up to have the legs The Dollyrots’ career has enjoyed. It’s also about talent, good songwriting, charm and tenacity. We asked them what wisdom they might share should an upstart band catch them at their own tour bus after an approaching show, maybe even the one in Houston.
“You have to have an almost insane belief in yourself, you know? Actually, a completely insane belief in yourself,” Cabezas said.
“What we’ve learned most through working with Joan Jett, Bowling for Soup, Little Steven - they all have an insane work ethic and they’re always thinking about their craft, they’re always working, and not in a bad way but because that’s what they live for,” Ogden added. “I think that hard work is what helps people to sustain.”
“If you work on it every day, then something good will come of it eventually,” Cabezas said. “It’s not always gonna be easy. I feel like the second part to that is young bands should understand – we had to learn this on our own as well – is there’s enough room in the world for everybody. Sometimes, especially when you’re younger, you’re really going for it and you can get caught up, especially in local rivalries. What we’ve learned from all of it is there’s enough out there for everyone.”
As our interview wrapped, Daisy, the youngest member of the family/band, asked to say hello. Might she or her brother one day be interested in the family business, we wondered?
“They’re getting there,” Cabezas said of their interests in music.
“We don’t push it at all, Ogden added.
Daisy did get the last word though, one that suggested she doesn’t mind sharing her folks’ time with music writers and Dollyrots fans, to a point.
“Bye-bye!” she said cheerily.
The Dollyrots bring the Like an Animal Tour to White Oak Music Hall's upstairs hall, 2915 N. Main, on Friday, July 30, 2021. With support from Houston's own Nervous Habits. Doors at 8 p.m., all ages, general admission $10.
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Jesse’s been writing for the Houston Press since 2013. His work has appeared elsewhere, notably on the desk of the English teacher of his high school girlfriend, Tish. The teacher recognized Jesse’s writing and gave Tish a failing grade for the essay. Tish and Jesse celebrated their 33rd anniversary as a couple in October.