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Interview with Queen Isis (Barb Wire Dolls)

Greek punk rockers Barb Wire Dolls have fast become one of the must-see bands on LA’s Sunset Strip, the home of sleaze rock. Having relocated to North America last December for an appearance at the legendary club The Roxy, Barb Wire Dolls soon built up a reputation for their energetic live performances and memorable punk songs. Fronted by blonde bombshell Queen Isis and also featuring guitarist Tas Doll, bassist Voodoo Doll and drummer Greg Doll, the band were described as ‘what the world needs now, a good girl-fronted punk band!’ by the Subways bassist Charlotte Cooper.

Queen Isis opens up about her work with Barb Wire Dolls.

How were you first introduced to punk and what was the first album you ever bought?

I think I’ve always been very rebellious in my thinking towards the norm and of how I’m supposed to act. From high school to my family I have always yelled my opinions at people, whether they listened or not. Punk to me is an attitude and a way of being; more than just a genre of music. My first album I ever bought was Silverchair’s Neon Ballroom. I never really new what punk was at that time. The idea of it never really interested me because I initially thought punk music was only bands like The Offspring, Blink 182 and Green Day and at the time they definitely didn’t represent what I was feeling internally. I was angry and misunderstood and very rebellious against all authority. And people, including my principal at school, feared me because they knew I could cause trouble and incite a riot if I wanted to.

It wasn’t until I met Tas that I learned about the type of music that really speak to my soul and that was the early ‘punk’ days with the bands that were simple, radical, and took it to the street and tore the walls down with a burning fire. Those bands were original and revolutionized everything, like the Ramones, the Sex Pistols, the Clash, the Slits and so on. That was when it was real and pure and it came out of a real desperation and need to express one’s opinion and self, and of course to gang up and fight with like-minded people for change.

Also, the recordings were what the band actually sounded like live, you can actually ‘feel’ their energy, instead of the energy now being recorded by so many artists which is technological, computers and shit and everything is just boring. But at least it’s a representative of our musical world today: fake and mass-produced and people keep buying it because that’s what they’ve been conditioned to do: buy whatever the tv or radio tells them is ‘good’.

Barbed Wire Dolls was the name of a Swiss film from the 1970s by Jesus Franco, was this the inspiration for the name of your group?

Tas came up with the name. We were thinking of a name for the band before it was ever an actual band. Tas had always liked the named Barbed Wire Dolls. We both liked it but we thought we should change Barbed to Barb because of the Pamela Anderson movie Barb Wire, where she comes off as a bad-ass but still a steamy hot Barbie woman. We were also using it as a statement towards the Pussycat Dolls. The word Dolls has always been in the Rock ‘n’ Roll family of band names, from the New York Dolls, Toy Dolls, Goo Goo Dolls, 60 Ft. Dolls, MurderDolls and so on and every time we would tell people the name of our band, they would say ‘Oh, like the Pussycat Dolls?’ We’d be so amazed at the responses so when we were recording our first EP, we just wrote a song just for them. I hope they like it!

In one of your songs you stated, ‘Fuck the Pussycat Dolls.’ Do you consider Barb Wire Dolls to be an anti-pop band?

Not at all. There is nothing wrong with pop music in my opinion. Pop music means that its accessible to the masses. To me, the Sex Pistols, the Clash and all those bands are pop music. They’ve sold millions and people all over the world listen to them and get inspired by them still. I believe that Barb Wire Dolls are also mass appeal. Two of our songs from our EP have charted in the Top Ten in commercial radio stations around the world and KROQ has been playing our song California for four months straight on the Rodney on the Roq show. Punk the Fussies, where I yell ‘Fuck the Pussycat Dolls,’ was written out of a desperation for people to remember that the world of pop music that is out there is nothing more than a bunch of business suits telling you who to listen to, even if it is a fake and industry-constructed group. I feel for the kids of today that don’t know that they have other choices to listen to other than fake groups like the Pussycat Dolls. I was once one of those kids but at least there was a little grunge in the charts for me to choose and so I found Silverchair.

Nowadays, what rock bands are there in the top of the radio charts? And I’m not talking about all these wimpy indie crap bands that all just sound the same. One after another. Boring. Where is the balls to the wall rock and roll on the radio? People are fed up with the government, the bullshit, their jobs and they need a music to connect to that represents their current feelings. When Nirvana came out, people were depressed and needed an outlet. Nirvana satisfied that need perfectly and with the help of their big record label, they ended up changing the face of pop music.

Now people are angry, bored, and religion has fallen away so they are all looking within for some power and with that power they demand change in this world. Music is supposed to express feelings, instead the world of pop right now has been suppressing feelings, fooling everyone who is a sheep. But people may be sheep, but they are not stupid and they are itching for something that connects to what they really feel inside right now. I’ve realised that after ten years of the same mediocre music that has been coming out, people are starting to wake up. You can tell that something huge is about to happen. The next Nirvana, the next punk-type band is happening right now, bubbling up from the underground. I’m excited to see what and who it’ll be.

The track California seems to owe a debt to Hole. Do you consider Courtney Love an inspiration to both your sound and attitude?

Considering that Hole spent thousands upon thousands of dollars a month in the studio, taking years to write, record and release an album and we spent one night in the studio recording it all live and in one take and paid for it by ourselves, I would say we are worlds apart. I do like her voice, her old rockstar attitude, her sleazy doll look, and especially her late husband’s songs. She released Malibu, which is a great song, and we wrote California from actual experiences that shaped our lives for the better. We actually surfed and skated with some of Dogtown’s legendary Z-Boys, surfed with Larry Gordon, passed out flyers on the Sunset Strip, etc. The song is the quintessential dream that so many people wish for: the ‘California’ dream. We are so stoked to be living it in reality. Really stoked. And I wish Courtney would get Hole back together and play the music she once did.

Were you also influenced by ‘riot grrrl bands like Bikini Kill?

I was born and raised in Greece and I had never heard about the ‘Riot Grrrl’ movement until Barb Wire Dolls moved from Greece to L.A. in December 2010. Rodney Bingenheimer invited me to a Bangles show at The Roxy Theatre and backstage I was given the book Girls to the Front, which is a complete history of that scene. I’m halfway through the book and I really like Bikini Kill’s music. I am not trying to replace men on stage, I just happen to have a need to sing and rant on stage about what I feel. I am more inspired by the early punk bands and especially the first all-female punk band, The Slits. Now that was a brave move and I am honoured to have sang onstage with them before Ari Up, the singer, passed away last year suddenly. The Slits were punk as fuck.

How fashion-conscious are you with regards to the image that you portray both on stage and in the press?

Every single human being wears what they want to wear at ALL times, even if they say they don’t care about the way they look, they are still going for that ‘I don’t care about the way I look’ style. I wear exactly what I want to wear, even though I am sure my parents are not happy with it. I buy my clothes at Salvation Army here in the States and design and create my own ‘look’ and clothes. The music we play makes me feel strong, powerful and sexy. I’m so bored with the same ‘indie look’ that has been circling around for the past twenty years, which is the blank T-shirt with jeans and Converse. Everyone is so scared to be different that they look like boring ass robots! Whatever happened to the rock star?!

It used to be fun to have rock stars like Courtney Love and having Debbie Harry look so sexy. Now everyone is so conscious of making sure that they look like everybody else in the crowd, instead of sticking out and having their own identity. What is rock ‘n’ roll anymore?! The ‘I don’t wanna be a rock star, but please take a look at me ’cause I dress like you do’ attitude, or the ‘Fuck you, I won’t do what you tell me ’cause I’m my own being and if you don’t like it, then get out of my fucking way!’ which is how I feel. I like expressing myself both inside and out and that is why I have orgasms on stage. It’s my bed and I’m lying in it for all to see!

Are you most comfortable on stage or in the studio?

I am comfortable wherever I am because I am comfortable with myself. I seem to only spend one night recording in a studio per album, so I guess being onstage is who I really am at that moment. I can be wild and run into the crowd and push and shove till people start moving and dancing or I can just scream and rock the fuck out and enjoy it just for me. I love the stage, I wanna play a big festival and see what it feels like. It will be weird being so far away from the audience though, because I like to be one with the people and that is why I jump into the pit a lot.

Where do you most like to perform and how does the fan reaction differ between countries?

We only played for about six months in Greece before we sold all and moved to Los Angeles, so I can’t really say much more, other than the Greeks know how to rock if they are pushed and swayed into it. The OC punks are by far the most wild and crazy I have ever performed for. But playing in America alone is a dream come true for me and having people scream for more is such a rush. I wish I could play every night to a sold out show.

Queen Isis

Queen Isis

Which bands would fill the line-up of your dream tour?

Not counting playing with the early punk bands, I would have to say that playing a tour with the new wave of punk that is coming out of the OC would be a dream tour. Bands like Piss N’ Blood, No Victor, Clepto, Trash Monsters and so many others. I would be super stoked to tour with any real punk band or even a grunge or hard rock band. Just as long as they show up, plug in, crank it and rock the fuck out. No pussy bands because we will blow them away and they would kick us off the tour after the first show for sure!

Has it been a struggle to survive in an industry that no longer relies on album or single sales and instead is more focused on downloading? Do you feel that the traditional album is in danger of becoming obsolete?

Sure, buying albums is down because there are no shops barely to buy them at unless you are in the Top 40 charts. But vinyl is coming back and when a band has a great, and I mean GREAT album, people will buy it online, at shows, anywhere they can find it. Just when you thought you couldn’t survive financially from making and selling music, something else comes up. The only important thing to me is that we tour nonstop and give the people the real thing, the full on frontal attack onstage. Then they will run to the merch booth after the show and buy whatever they can get their hands on. Bands that rock sell a shitload on tour, so we plan on rocking and doing the same. We will also have mas rad T-shirts and stuff that will keep us going from album to album until we die. The road is open and your town shall soon be next, so get ready to rock, riot and rip it up with the Barb Wire Dolls!

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