The New York Dolls have returned with a new album, “Cause I Sez So”, produced by Todd Rundgren, who produced their groundbreaking self-titled debut in 1973. Dolls frontman David Johansen talks to RadarOnline.com about the reformed Dolls, the late Johnny Thunders, and his brief stint as Buster Poindexter.
RadarOnline.com: How did bringing Todd Rundgren on board to produce again come about?
DJ: I know Todd, but somebody just said that Todd’s available and that he wanted to make a record in Hawaii and so we thought okay let’s do that it wasn’t really like a big think tank kind of thing.
RadarOnline.com: The New York Dolls in Hawaii sounds like a bit of a paradox, tell me about that.
DJ: We got a bunch of crystals and did some extreme yoga and bought ourselves some Birkenstocks.
RadarOnline.com: What made you decide to rework your classic song “Trash” and what were you guys going for?
DJ: When we started playing it we only did it because we were still asleep when we’d get to the studio, we just started playing something to make your arms move and stuff, so we started playing along, Todd taped it and then we heard it again a couple of days later and it sounded really good so we kept it. I gotta come up with some better answers than this because everything we do just kind of fall into it.
RadarOnline.com: Well the fans will surely love it.
DJ: We figured we have another song so let’s just put it on the record. You need so many songs these days, you need one for iTunes, you need one for People’s Republic Of China, you gotta come up with all these tunes.
RadarOnline.com: The title track blasts our modern voyeuristic society; have you had run-ins with the paparazzi yourself?
DJ: It’s not just me, but everybody’s always taking pictures and making movies and stuff, you know, which isn’t the worst of it. It’s like what did you do two weeks ago, they probably have like a database, like there he is walking down Fifth Avenue, he’s making a left on to 8th Street, he must be going to St. Marks Place, you know what I’m saying? It’s really more about surveillance, which is kind of like, just like creepy.
RadarOnline.com: You probably have regular people who follow you down St. Marks too, right?
DJ: I don’t know I don’t usually look back. But it would be nice to meet some regular people.
RadarOnline.com: When choosing your reformed lineup, tell me what were the essential requirements to become a New York Doll?
DJ: When we reformed we were just going to do one show in London, so there wasn’t really any criteria, other than can you play a concert, it wasn’t a thing like what’s this guy gonna be like in five years or something. Then we decided to do more gigs after that, but we went in thinking we were just doing one.
RadarOnline.com: Morrissey asked you to reform in 2004; were you friends with him before that?
DJ: I spoke to him maybe five times in my life, you know, but he called me up and asked me if I would do then and you figured oh well it’s Morrissey—if he called and asked you to like defuse a bomb on 24 you’d say it’s Morrissey, you’d think oh my God, you know what I mean?
RadarOnline.com: How do your live shows vary from those back in the day, and are you enjoying the audiences?
DJ: I love to sing more now than I ever did when I was a kid, do you know what I mean? So I would think it’s more enjoyable but I’m not sure because as I recall it was very enjoyable at the time too. You know we live to play so we come up with good songs to play and it’s pretty melodious.
RadarOnline.com:You still live in New York—tell me a little bit about what you love most about it?
DJ: What I love about New York, that’s a tough one. You know that old Battery Maritime building that goes to Governor’s Island? That’s like really beautiful; they painted it like green and amber.
RadarOnline.com: Are you at your label, Atco, for good now, more albums ahead?
DJ: If they want to put out another one we’ll put out another one with them. If they don’t then we’ll probably put out another one with someone else. I don’t even really know what a record is, you know what I mean, I know there’s music on it, but there’s music everywhere now so I don’t know, it seems kind of superfluous.
RadarOnline.com: Would the Dolls ever cover “Hot Hot Hot” or will you ever resurrect Buster Poindexter?
DJ: I don’t have any like thoughts about doing that but I’ve done crazier things. But I don’t think the Dolls would do “Hot Hot Hot” because, you know, like I heard the song in the islands and I thought it was cool and I started singing it at Tramps when I was doing that Buster residence there, and then someone at a record company thought oh we could make a hit off of this and then it was like a hit. And to me it’s just a song, but so many people who I speak to about it, or who mention it, have like a lot of baggage with that song. Like, ‘oh, they played that song at my wedding and then that bum ran off with a…I don’t know what, a chorus girl.’ And I’m like sorry.
RadarOnline.com: You’re celebrated for being one of the original charismatic frontmen. When you look at today’s music scene, who do you see that innate quality come through in?
DJ: I can’t say that I’m very privy to what’s going on because we don’t really pay that much attention to what’s going on in the marketplace. We just do whatever the hell it is we want to do and it’s hard to compare that to anyone else. But it’s hard probably to have some kind of over the top frontman unless you’re going to have really good words to the songs and philosophy and whatnot because I think a lot of people are too self-conscious to put that whole package together.
RadarOnline.com: How do you feel about the way [late Dolls guitarist] Johnny Thunders has been lionized and idolized by so many musicians?
DJ: Well for me, when people are talking about the mythology of the Dolls, they usually conflate the post-Dolls history of the people with the time that we were actually in a band. John was like doing his thing for many years after he left the Dolls. But I think there seems to be a tendency in our culture to lionize you know James Dean, Janis Joplin and whatever, you could go on and on, Kennedy, and like what if? What if they saved Hitler’s brain or whatever. I think a lot of people liked Johnny’s attitude, like he don’t give a fuck, but as far as like lionizing him and wanting to emulate him, to be like a junkie I think those days are gone, thank God.
RadarOnline.com: Right. Anything else you wanted to tell us about the Dolls?
As far as the record is concerned, the band is really people I like and we think it’s like hit the spot. And making the record in Kauai, which is like really beautiful, was a great experience so it’s like a little reminder of that experience. And what we, do as far as having a lot of songs in us and being able to produce them at any given moment as a band, is just a really good like rock feeling.
(Photo credits: Max Lakner and Leah Hennessey)