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Interview with The Dollyrots' Kelly Ogden

Since forming The Dollyrots over twenty years ago, Kelly Ogden and Luis Cabezas have perfected a blend of miscellaneous influences including girl groups, punk, and garage and crafted an upbeat, engaging sound. Their recent double album (Down the Rabbit Hole) is a collection of covers, B-sides and miscellaneous tracks including the ultra-catchy “Too Much Fun for My Health” which was recently honored as “Coolest Song in the World” by Little Steven Van Zandt. Ogden also moonlights (literally) as a DJ on SiriusXM’s Underground Garage in the 4 a.m. – 8 a.m. Eastern time slot. CincyMusic caught up with her as The Dollyrots were preparing to hit the road for their delayed 2020 tour and a cold snap was freezing the entire country. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

I'm going to start with Sirius XM because that’s where I first heard of The Dollyrots, and also you as a DJ. I've had it for years; I love it and Underground Garage is just a terrific channel. I love the mix of artists -it's like one minute it might be the Ramones, then it might be Ronnie Spector or, you know, The Clash. It's a great fit both for your music and for you, because… looking at some of the variety of covers you've done, you’ve got a huge range of influences and tastes. Can you talk a little bit about how you got involved with Little Steven or Underground Garage and got the gig doing…I guess you'd call it “overnight” now, but I don't know if that applies if it's satellite.

Yeah [laughs], that is pretty much what it is though. We actually were introduced to the station when we were on Blackheart Records [Joan Jett’s label]. Joan Jett actually had a show that she was doing on the station and she played [our 2007 song] “Because I'm Awesome” and Stevie [Van Zandt] loved it. And, so, then he made it a “Coolest Song in the World”. And then it actually was the “Coolest Song of the Year” right after it came out.

And so, you know, it's neat, because there have been times when we had XM and times when we haven't. But when we have it, we always tune into that station. Because, you know, like you mentioned, it's just all the good rock and roll, such a wide variety of stuff. I mean, you’ll hear Sister Rosetta Tharpe. And then you’ll, yeah, you'll hear the Ramones and then you'll hear The Dollyrots [laughs]. It’s just kind of wild, you know… it's like, Tegan and Sara are on that station. And, you know, the newest Green Day side project and it's, it's just really cool. And all of it is …just it's literally Stevie Van Zandt’s personal jukebox is how it was explained to me when I got the DJ gig. Or like, listen, his little library, like, here's this huge library for you to choose from. And, you know, these are all Stevie's favorite songs and songs he thinks are important for musical history and the story of rock and roll and that's why a lot of them are included, just because they're historically significant even. And it's not all the hits and stuff. It's a lot of songs that are deeper into albums and things like that.

So, it was crazy, because my husband and I were just listening as fans of the station. And our oldest kid had started school, we're driving to school in the morning, we're listening and it was just programmed music in the morning. And I was like, man, like, I just gotta change the station! I need more energy in the mornings! I need somebody to help me because I am not a morning person and I need some good energy. And I was like, yeah, they should have a morning person. And, I kid you not, I swear, that afternoon the program director gave us a call. And he was like, “Hey, Kelly, would you want to audition to be our morning show host on Underground Garage?” I was like, “Dude, this is really weird you say that because this morning I was like, man, they really need a morning show host.” And so, I was one of a handful of people that did some audition tapes and turned them in and I got the job. So yeah, now I'm a DJ!

Yeah, that's awesome, congratulations. I like every DJ on there. I love it because I learn something new from them. Michael Des Barres is our morning guy as I'm driving in, he’s really dynamite. I always like catching Little Steven when he has those breaks and does back history and then he goes into a song, those are always fascinating.

Yeah, it’s so cool. Yeah, I kind of feel like the new kid, you know, too, because the way the other DJs talk about it, you know, they talk about these songs, which on the station… if people don't have it, I guess it’s important to mention that, it's not just, you know, spin four songs, talk about myself and the weather. It's like, spin four songs, talk about myself and the weather, and every single song that I played, I mention at least a couple facts about it. Sometimes there's a story, sometimes there's something about what was happening in the world when the song was written. It's definitely an educational channel as well, as you know, it's fun to listen to it. Yeah, I feel like all, all the rest of them know so much about the music from life, you know, and I'm like, trying to learn it from books and movies and like freakin’ Wikipedia, I’m like ‘ahHHhhh!’. But, in the last couple years, I've learned so much from doing it. So, it's been really cool.

I think that's awesome because it's like, you'll have an eagerness come into the material new and you’re a bit younger, you're probably one of the younger DJs on there as well, but you also bring your musical experience [as a musician] and what you grew up with. I was listening to the new double album [Down the Rabbit Hole] and then some of your older material. I think I just told Amazon to play Dollyrots, and so a bunch of stuff came across. And then they sent me the link to the new album, and I'm waiting for the autographed copy in the mail. So hopefully it'll come soon. I ordered it…

Ohh! Yes. Thank you.

Yeah, I’m excited! But I was just struck again by the range of the covers that you've done and the material you've pulled from. I don't know many other artists that could cover [‘70s pop novelty song] Melanie's “Brand New Key” and then turn around and do “Breed” by Nirvana [Kelly laughs] and do them, I would say, credibly. Actually, I think the Melanie works amazingly well for me. I loved it. I was like, “Oh my god, this is terrific” [both laugh].

Yeah [laughing].

So, yeah, so I think that your eagerness and eclecticness comes through there.

Oh, thanks!

How do you approach… some of them might be more obvious, like maybe a “Ruby Soho” [by Rancid], that's maybe your wheelhouse. But how did you pick a “Breed” or “Brand New Key” [songs that] are kind of on the edges for you stylistically?

They're all songs that we love. Yeah. No matter what, like, if there's a cover song that we've recorded, that is on that album, it's a song that, you know, we grew up with or has some kind of significance to us. Growing up, I was in Florida, I listened to a lot of oldies radio. My parents, it was always top 40. And so, you know, I was a little kid in the ‘80s growing up in the ‘90s, that kind of all makes sense. I was always drawn to, you know, girl groups. And that sound and the melody like The Ronettes, The Crystals, all that music as well. And then Luis [Cabezas, guitarist], his influences are more the punk rock ones. And that's kind of where we mixed together well, to make the band that we are. But you know, some of those covers were actually kind of strange, like the Tom Petty song [“American Girl”]. We wouldn't have ever recorded a Tom Petty song we just… I love Tom Petty. I have loved all his albums. But then the day that he died, we were really sad like, poor guy, just such an important rock and roll figure that always seems so gentle and thoughtful. And, you know, when we were in Los Angeles, we're based in Florida now, but we would volunteer at [human service organization] Midnight Mission a lot. And that was something that was close to his heart as well. And we're like, let's do a Tom Petty song and put it up on Bandcamp. And we'll just donate everything that we can make by people download the song, donate it to a good cause, and so that's why we recorded that song. Otherwise, I don't know that I would have tried because it is a stretch- “American Girl” by us is, it's a little bit weird and it’s also a little sacred, you know?

Sure.

But then, “Breed” ... Nirvana was like the band that Luis learned to play guitar to. His uncle gave him a guitar, and he just locked himself in his room and learned every single Nirvana song, you know, like, the back of his hand. And so, the anniversary, I guess it’s the anniversary of Nevermind or something…

Oh, yeah, it was 30 years last year, yeah, good lord…

Yeah, I think it was for that. We were like, hey, listen, you know, let’s mention the significance of that album and put it out on the anniversary just for kicks. So, you know, that one is just the song we used to play and scream along to as teenagers. So, they all have a story like that, you know, even like, The Contours’ “Do You Love Me”, that’s because I love the movie Dirty Dancing and that soundtrack. That soundtrack gave me a whole new set of musicians and bands that I wanted to listen to when I was a preteen. And so, it all does kind of make sense. It seems kind of crazy, a lot of it. I mean, the punk rock songs are easy and obvious, but yeah, those ones on the fringes are actually the most fun to do for us too.

I think that it’s a very credible, interesting take on “Breed”. I mean, it's a very, I would say very “straight”, for lack of better words, reading where you could easily make it, I don't know, you can make a Ska version or a pop-punk version, but it was very authentic. And yeah, really well done.

So, you guys were slated to tour I guess, probably pre-pandemic and it's kind of picking up where we left off before the pandemic and picking up the tour.

Yes, we're doing our March 2020 tour… in 2022 [laughs].

Wow [laughs]. And yeah, so coming from Florida, you've made a wise choice to start in the frosty upper Midwest [Kelly laughs] … so Chicago, Minneapolis, Cleveland. You picked some good weather.

Yeah, I'm hoping for some snow! We live in Florida…California. We want to see some weather every now and then. And our driver is extremely safe and he grew up in Michigan.

[Laughs] Yeah, you’ll be fine.

So, it's not me and Luis behind the wheel. So, it’s totally fine.

But yeah, we're excited and the kids are out- of- their -mind excited. For people who don't know, the guitar player and I, Luis, we've been together since we were kids, practically and we now have children that come on tour with us. And, well, it's made it so much more fun again. You know, after touring for like 20 years, it was getting a little bit stagnant. A little bit like …really, this it, this is life? And then, you know, we finally decided, alright, it's time we had some kids and now they come along with us on tour. I can't wait. It’ll be like our five-year old’s first tour ever. Because she doesn't remember. She’s like, “Have I ever been on an airplane?” And I’m like, “You've been on so many airplanes!” She has no idea. We drove to Texas for a few days last the end of last summer and we pulled into a hotel for the first night we drove there and she's like, “What is this?” “This is a hotel.” And she’s like, “And we sleep here?” And I was like, “Oh my god, you don’t remember anything, do you?”. So, it's gonna be great. It'll be exciting.

It's a great mindset. I interviewed another local musician here a year ago in the midst of pandemic and she had talked about not being on tour, and how she was looking forward to whenever things picked up again. And she said, well, I didn't always appreciate every soundcheck or you know, every opening band, or every kind of dead moment on the road, but I'm gonna have a different perspective when it opens back up. So, do you have that feeling of…something was taken away for a while, now things are opening back up, and you have that freedom to get on the road? A new fresh take on it?

Yeah, definitely. I think, I mean, man, even every truck stop, every view that's not from the windows of my house, I’m gonna be so happy. I've been traveling, since I was a teenager, and I just, you know, I've gotten comfortable just being home, too, which scares me. So, I'm like, that’s not you… you're not a routine person, so, it’s like, “Alright, gotta shake things up a little bit. Get back to life a little.”

Cool. And the touring band is you and Luis, and… is it a three piece with a drummer, or more?

Yeah, three piece. It'll be Justin [McGrath] who has been with us, oh, at least the last five years or so for the most part. He and Rikki [Styxx], they’re friends actually, he and Rikki are usually the ones who've been touring with us for the last five years. Every now and then, Aixa [Vilar] from Go Betty Go will play with us as well.

You're coming to The Southgate House [Revival] (in Newport, Ky). Have you played there before? I thought I remember you coming through, but it might have been the last tour that got canceled.

Yeah, it was booked and didn't happen as well. But yeah, we love Southgate House.

Yeah, it's gonna be fun. It's a great venue. Let's talk about the new double album [Down the Rabbit Hole]. I listened to Luis on the Coolest Conversations [interview on SiriusXM] and I think he had described it as kind of a clearing of the vaults…going back through the computer pulling a bunch of stuff out, giving it a new fresh take on life, and then kind of clearing the decks for new stuff. Is that appropriate? Does that sound right? [pauses as Kelly thinks] Or is Luis wrong? You can talk, he's not on the call [laughs].

He is correct…it also was just a little bit out of just the desire to put something out there, but, you know, not being able to make a brand-new record, like a brand-new full length. Because we were home with our two little kids, we kept them out of school for a year. And, you know, we really hunkered down and did the thing. And so, you know, I was doing my radio show, we were doing Zoom school with our school-aged kid, and it just, you know, by the time the end of those days would come, we would go out, we'd go to our studio, and we would try to write music. And not much was coming out. It was very strange. And, the inspiration we had, the things that were happening in our lives weren't really things we felt like, singing about, or rockin’ or rolling about, you know, it's like [sort of sings], “Hey, COVID, stuck inside the house!” [laughs]. Nobody wants to hear that album. You know, everybody who wanted to [make songs like that] did that and I don't want to listen to it.

It's hard because a lot of your normal routines are upset and a lot of your normal motivation and inspirations are taken away.

Yeah.

I love music. I love going out and seeing live music. I'm also a live music photographer on the side, and then COVID hit and all that got cut off. So, after a while, I was like, oh my god, like all these things I love have been cut off. I just don't feel inspired to do anything.

Exactly.

So, I gotta imagine as a musician, like, you're without an audience to play to and feed off of as well. It must be doubly, doubly hard. Wow.

I mean, fortunately we have the Internet, you know, so that does allow us to keep in touch with a lot of fans. And, you know… but it's not the same. I feel like there's like a true exchange of a rock show that, you know, the audience has with the artists. And I mean, I love going to shows too and not just playing them. And I feel like when I don't have that either as a fan or a musician, it just starts to, to lose its power in a way. But yeah, we had been talking about doing a B-sides and rarities album for a long time. And I guess after 20 years, it's probably time to put some of that out there. So, we started looking through… we had four days to put the whole thing together.

Wow.

Yeah. We really wanted to have it… we wanted it in time for Christmas. And so, when we called Wicked Cool records to ask if we could use a couple B-sides from a couple from our albums with them, they're like, “Yeah, of course, but you want to just put it out with us?”

And, Luis is like, “Well, yeah. Could we have it in time for Christmas?

And they're like, “Well, probably, but let me check what the deadline will and we’ll call back.”

And [they called back and said] “Like, Tuesday”. It was Friday.

[Laughs]

We had to determine the songs, the track order, some of them had to be remixed a little, mastered, artwork had to be created, layouts had to be done and approved by Tuesday, and somehow it happened. There wasn't a lot of sleep happening that weekend. It just happened. And that that's how we got here.

That's amazing. And I love that. It's a very, scrappy DIY kind of attitude.

Yeah [laughs].

Look at some of these major artists, right, you're like, “Okay, well, it's gonna be years before this comes out. We have to take it and polish it and get multiple producers and get the artwork approved.” I love it, “Let’s get it out in four days!”

Yeah, “Here you go!” [laughs]. It was a good thing, though. Because, man, we would have just toiled over the songs and what version, should we remix this one too? Like, oh my god, this project could have taken so long to put together and instead we just did it. So, it's great.

I think it hangs together really well. And you know, as I was working through it, it really gels there's a nice looseness to it and good energy to it. I asked Alexa to stream the Dollyrots and all the stuff that was coming through, it's like no matter what is lyrically going on, everything has an upbeat positive energy. I don't know how you can walk away from listening to it not feeling energized.

Aw, good. Yeah.

And that's especially rare these days.

Even our dark songs are peppy [laughs].

Yeah, which is fine! I want to wrap up by asking you about what we can expect from the show. I'm expecting based on what I hear …I haven't seen you before, so I'm excited to see you guys…

Ohhh!

…that it’s going to be high energy, good time... that sounds really shallow saying that [laughs]. But if you had to pitch somebody on like, “Why should we come out in a cold Ohio winter to come see the Dollyrots?” …

[Amused] Well, because we've been holding it in for two years, and it's gonna be awesome!!

[Laughs]

There are only three of us. It sounds much larger. And we will have perma-grins the entire time and it's infectious. It's contagious in the ways that you want, not in a COVID way [laughs]. And we like to hang out to like, you know, we'll be playing the show, but then, you know, we'll be signing your boobs after…

Awesome. I will get mine ready…[laughs]

Yeah. And fortunately, unfortunately, we, the band and children are just recovered from COVID. So, we feel very confident moving forward with this tour because we're not going to be spreading it. And we aren't going to be getting it. So yeah, cuz we should all be fine by the end of March. Yeah, I had a doctor's appointment today. I was like, listen, I got this tour in the middle of March, am I gonna be able to get COVID? Like, it's so unlikely. So, we're feeling really stoked about it. There's definitely freedom in that, you know, playing the shows that we've played in the past year. I definitely had anxiety about not just getting COVID, but passing COVID around and being responsible for, you know, somebody being hurt or dead. So, I'm glad that, you know, I don't want to be part of that. I feel like it's people's own decision if they want to come to the show now. You know what COVID is now, you know the risk. I feel better about it, though. Yeah.

Well, fantastic. So yeah, I am really looking forward to it. And yeah, I'd love to come definitely come and say hi.

We’ll sign your CD too; it doesn't have to be your boobs [laughs].

The Dollyrots play The Southgate House Revival on Saturday March 19. Their new album, Down the Rabbit Hole is out now on Wicked Cool Records.

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