The most raucous rock 'n' roll rackets on the London gig circuit right now are being kicked up by The Dogbones. They're loud and brash and they look like they've been pulled through a glam-rock thrift shop backwards - and that, in my book, makes them everything a rock 'n' roll band should be. But it's not just noise, you know. Proper Songs lurk in the sonic undergrowth. For all their slam and blam, The Dogbones make a rather nifty pop group, too.
Here we talk to three-fifths of the band - vocalist Nomi Leonard, guitarist Johnny Orion, and bassist Michael Vikalis (twin drummers Joao Pires and Vince Johnson were elsewhere when we had this conversation). You may recognise some of the names and faces here from Queenadreena, Daisy Chainsaw, and Selfish Cunt - yep, this is a band that has plenty of connections on its family tree. We'll get to all that later, but only briefly. Because this is all about The Dogbones.
When I review The Dogbones I usually find myself trying to describe the band by saying things like 'Voodoo glam-punk' or some similar word-collision. But how do The Dogbones describe The Dogbones? Can you do it in one word, or does it take several?
Nomi Leonard: I don't like to try. If you pushed me I'd say something like 'garage pop' or 'GRUNK' - pffft.. Or primal sneering rock 'n' roll. I dunno, it always seems futile to try and describe it. I prefer to leave that up to the journalist..
Johnny Orion: Crude.
Michael Vikalis: I might be a bit too sedated for this right now, but here goes. Like Nomi I usually let people choose their own labels - sometimes even the other bands we're playing with at a gig will ask. My response is usually 'Just wait a couple of hours.' However, if someone asked at the pub I'd say tabasco flavoured hippocampus.
How would you introduce the band to someone who'd never heard of you?
Nomi Leonard: I'd punch them in the face with my unicorn.
Johnny Orion: Hello, these are The Dogbones, pleased to make your acquaintance, and you are?
Michael Vikalis: I believe that our biggest strength is our live performances, so if it's pop, grunge, rock, whatever you wanna call it, I'd suggest they come down and have a look for themselves.
I've seen you described here and there as a grunge band. Do you take the G-word on board? Apparently there's going to be a grunge revival at some point (I think the NME has it pencilled in for next Tuesday tea time, or something). Does that prospect delight you, or would you rather not go there?
Nomi Leonard: Oh, I don't know...some people are pretty petty about all that stuff, they get really upset: 'Oh, how dare you call yourselves grunge'...blah blah. I wouldn't be jumping for joy to be labelled like that anyway. I think it would trivialise us somewhat because I think there's more to us than that. But ultimately I dont really care. People can say and do as they please, they're gonna anyway. I certainly don't think we're a 'fad' band.
Johnny Orion: To quote Pablo Picasso when he was asked what he thought about men landing on the moon for the first time - 'I don't care and I'm not interested'.
Michael Vikalis: There's always a revival of something or another going on, or about to happen. Miraculously every band I've ever been in was asked the same question, substituting the word grunge for whatever. In fact I remember recycling a song I'd written from a previous band to the next one, and people just used a new label for it that was more in line with whatever revival was prevalent at the time.
I don't bother myself with it, it's bull, journalists will always find a genre they can fit you in. It seems to be part of their job description. Even if I disagreed I'd still let people call it whatever the hell they wish, they're just made up words, they don't mean squat. The music either invokes some feeling in the listener or it doesn't. Nothing else matters.
Everyone in the band has a bit of previous - with Queenadreena, Daisy Chainsaw and Selfish Cunt. But it's interesting that you're not making a big deal out of this.
You could probably big-up the connections, pull a few strings, get a tour support with some bunch of megastars and bypass the hard work of trying to make it as a new band. But you're not doing that. The Dogbones are doing it the hard way: gig by gig in small venues. Do you think, in the end, that's a better way to win loyal followers? Do you just feel more comfortable with the idea of doing it all on your own terms? Or does it simply come down to this: making a big racket in small rooms is What You Do?
Nomi Leonard: Of course we want to make it on our own terms. I don't want to ride on any other band's coat tails.
And anyway, I don't think a lot of Queenadreena fans would like us that much. We don't have that art core ethereal super feminine appeal that all the girly goths love so much. We're far cruder. If we ever had fans turning up viewing the whole gig from the front through their cameras dressed up like me, getting pissy if someone bumps into them, i'd have to fling some shit at them. It would drive me mad. We're assuming we'll probably appeal to an entirely different audience.
By the way, to that growing army of semi-professional photographers at the front - please can you not form a barrier between us and the audience...I don't like barriers. I like to connect with the crowd, it fucks with the vibe of the gig, for both sides of the fence. As much as I appreciate your support, and believe me I do, can't you just take a few shots and move aside?
Johnny Orion: I don't think trying to big up connections with those bands would achieve much for us anyway. If there was an easier way to do it I would, but I don't know how. We're doing it the hard way because we have to. I would much prefer to make a big racket in a much bigger room. I hate cramped stages.
Nomi Leonard: Oh, I don't mind the shitty little venues. I like the intimacy of them.
Michael Vikalis: I just hope we get the chance to be heard by a wider audience - if they hate us that's fine. I just don't want us to disappear because we were prejudged for whatever reason, or because no one was exposed to it. So the previous bands we were in can help....on the other hand it can be a hinderance.
Thinking back to some of the earlier Dogbones gigs, it was interesting that the band seemed to experiment with various different line-ups: Nomi on guitar, Johnny Orion on bass. Then Nomi became the (almost) full-time vocalist, and Michael Vakalis came in on bass.
The lead vocals swapped around a bit: in the early days Nomi would sing everything, now Johnny Orion steps up to the mic for a couple of numbers. It's as if the band is a work in progress. What made you do all this in public, from gig to gig? Do you see the band as always in a state of change? Or is the band we see now the definitive article?
Nomi Leonard: I think we've pretty much got it now. We had to experiment publicly as it was the only way to figure it out.
The main reason Johnny sings at the end of the set is because I miss my guitar, so we swap....maybe at some point I'll have an amp and guitar of my own on stage and there'll be two guitars for a few numbers, but I'm not sure we need two guitars. I just love playing and I don't want to have to give it up entirely because I'm the lead singer now.
Bringing Michael in enabled me to front properly. I think it's made us more exciting. As much as I love guitar, there is something quite restrictive about singing and playing at the same time. It's so much more fun this way.
Johnny Orion: As Nomi says, this is the definitive article. We did all that swapping around before because we were trying to figure out how to make it as good as we could get it to be. We knew it wasn't right at first, but it's not something you can really do in a rehearsal room. You find out if it's going to work or not in front of an audience, even if it's only five people.
Michael Vikalis: Well, I'm obviously the wrong person to ask, although I loved watching The Dogbones before they asked me to join. I think I watched most of the London gigs. Every band should be in constant state of evolution.
I'm not going to ask the really obvious 'Why two drummers?' question. But I am going to ask this: why no snare drums?
Nomi Leonard: Because we wanted it to sound primal.
Johnny Orion: Two drummers because I really like the flamming and I knew they weren't going to be tight enough to avoid that. I like the sort of loose, loping, falling down the stairs quality The Dogbones has from the drum department.
I was originally thinking no cymbals either, I wanted it to sort of sound like an African tribe out in the jungle - hence the toms and no snares. I guess that didn't really come off, but we wound up with something relatively individual anyway.
Michael Vikalis: Sometimes what makes a song are the notes you miss, things you leave out, the gaps, its sparsity.
Come to think of it - why only Gibson guitars? What would happen if you auditioned a new member and he turned up with a Stratocaster? Would you show him the door?
Nomi Leonard: There will be no new members. There will probably be no Stratocasters... and there will definitely not be any Ibanezes (shudders). Johnny loves old cheap guitars and I love SGs but I reeeeally love my white Airline, I've fucked it up pretty good though, it's hollow so there's a big hole where the jack has been smashed into the body.
I think Johnny's pretty nervous about letting me play his guitars, with good reason. All mine are in pieces...and for the same reason Joao took back that lovely black gibson SG he lent me. I loved that thing.
Johnny Orion: Actually my guitars are are not even really Gibsons, they're Epiphone Firebirds - a cheap copy of the Gibson original. I like them though, because they have thinner bodies. Technically speaking I'm supposed to be an endorser for Epiphone, but I think they've long since forgotten about it. Nomi's guitar now is a copy also, although slightly less cheapo then mine. It's a copy of an old 60s guitar called an Airline.
Michael Vikalis: It's only Eko Kiwi bass guitars for me. I have three of them, they look like a Les Paul I guess. I've seen geeky websites where people try to figure out what they are....
Nomi Leonard: Your guitar looks like it's for girls. You should fix up my old Overwater bass that I played in Queenadreena, that thing was amazing...until it commited suicide in its case. It spontaneously severed its own head. I guess I dont have much luck with guitars, that's the second guitar to do that to me. They must really hate me.
The great thing about Dogbones songs is that you're never more than a few bars away from a stick-in-your-brain chorus. That's a harder trick to pull off than many people think. Anyone can make a big rock racket, but it's not so easy to put some bona-fide pop songwriting in there, too.
Are you secret Beatles fans? Do you have some sort of affinity with The Art Of The Song?
Nomi Leonard: It's important to us. structure and melody and above all - RHYTHM. Yeah, we really think about what we're doing. We're not really a 'let's get high and jam and see what flows out maaan' kinda band which would be the easy route (and one I was used to and pretty comfortable with in my old band).
I've learnt alot about songwriting from Johnny, and Nirvana was also a huge inspiration for me. Kurt's songwriting was amazing, he really understood what was important. I aspire to that level, but you're right, it's not easy.
Johnny Orion: I'm not a secret Beatles fan. I openly admit I like a lot of what they did. This isn't false modesty, but I don't think I'm a great songwriter or ever will be, but I think sometimes I come up with a fairly clever arrangement which occasionally makes up for it. As Nomi says, rhythm is very important to us.
Michael Vikalis: I always wanna play songs that move the lower half, but as far as I'm concerned most of the bands I like are pop bands. It's rock 'n' roll, not Beethoven. Hooks are pop.
In fact, this is probably a good place to ask the traditional influences question. So, what goes into The Dogbones' melting pot?
Nomi Leonard: I'm really fucking lucky because there have been very few bands of recent years that have really truly inspired me. Two of them were Queenadreena and Selfish Cunt, so I'm actually in a band with two of the people who have inspired me the most.
We all love the same music, The Cramps, Ramones, The Stooges, The Rolling Stones, Siouxsie and the Banshees, The Melvins, Can, Kyuss - the list goes on into infinity. I grew up being really into Pantera, Sepultura, Tura Satana, riot grrrl and grunge though I'm more likely to put on a Doors record at the moment (oh, I'm really into The Vile Imbeciles right now too, you gotta check out their new album, it's fucking brilliant).
Johnny Orion: The distorted electric guitar is the main influence for me. Without that I don't think I would ever have been in a band.
Michael Vikalis: Like Nomi, I have to admit some of Johnny's old bands had been a big influence. I come from what you might call the MTV generation, and I remember The Cramps' 'Bikini Girls With Machine Guns' coming on, and that was my first record bought with my allowance. Then the obvious Nirvana, Stooges, etc, which ended up being more than a music influence, it was a life influence. I doubt I would have picked up a bass or migrated to the UK if it wasn't for these people that became the outlet of my teenage angst.
Nomi Leonard: Ditto.
Michael Vikalis: I've also always had a thing for this Greek music called Rebetiko that originated in the Athenian opium dens of the 30s...
Given that the band plays more gigs than most, do you see The Dogbones as primarily a live experience? The album seems to be a no-frills document of the band's live sound - is the stage, rather than the studio, your natural habitat?
Nomi Leonard: Right now I'd say so, but we've only done one record so far, so it's too early to tell.
Johnny Orion: Recording is equally important to me. Hopefully on the next album we'll have a bigger budget and we'll be able to spend more time on it. I'd love to be able to record in a studio Nomi has told me about for years. It's called Bryn Derwen and is somewhere up in north Wales - sounds great.
Michael Vikalis: I have to admit as amazing as making a record is, to me it feels like what people describe childbirth as: painful, laborious, but in the end amazingly satisfying. Being on stage is the best drug only much more addictive. To me it epitomises the ultimate freedom. I frequently wonder how can people can go through their lives without experiencing it.
Nomi Leonard: Yes, but there are quite enough stinky fishes in the sea, Mr Hippocampus.
|'All Your Friends (Are Going To Kill You'), performed by The Dogbones in a tinfoil-lined room, which seems somehow appropriate. Watch out for Nomi's magical vanishing glasses.|
What's the longer-term plan for The Dogbones? Is there one - or are you just going to keep on keeping on, and see where it all takes you?
At the risk of asking a tactless question, what would happen to The Dogbones if a new Queenadreena album or tour was on the cards? Do you think of The Dogbones as a 'side project' in any way, or is the band the number one priority from here on in?
Nomi Leonard: Our manager seems to have some kind of game plan. I trust him to steer the ship, that's his territory. I hate thinking about that stuff. I just want to play.
The Dogbones is the absolute priority for all of us. If Katie ever wanted to do some more Queenadreena stuff that would be great, I hope that happens, but it would have to work around The Dogbones.
The two bands did exist at the same time at one point and they never got in the way of each other....but The Dogbones has taken precedence because all members are completely dedicated to it. We definitely DO NOT consider it a side project, we never have.
Johnny Orion: The Dogbones is definitely not a side project. I don't think we can do anything else but keep going and see what happens. That's all that really happens in life anyway.
Michael Vikalis: I'm not much of a planner, as the only plans I seem capable of adhering to span only a few hours into the future at best, with The Dogbones being the only exception. Wild horses couldn't drag me away. As long as someone out there wants to turn up at the gigs or buy our records I'll be there. At the risk of sounding repetitive, this is an addiction.
Where would you like it all to go?
Nomi Leonard: To the moon. We all want to be huge stars and tour the world, of course. Duh.
Johnny Orion: Somewhere over the rainbow.
Michael Vikalis: Forward...run, walk, shuffle, or crawl.
For more about The Dogbones, walk, shuffle, or crawl this way...
An album review can be found here.