Interview: Isis Queen of The Barb Wire Dolls

Gary somehow managed to squeeze in the time to chat with Barb Wire Dolls frontlady Isis Queen – along with reviewing the gig and taking all the photos. We’ve scheduled in some sleep for him a week on Thursday, but he’s only allowed two hours this month.

Nice to see you back at Bannermans and Scotland again. How has the tour been going so far with only three UK dates left after tonight?

It’s been going really good actually, easy shows good crowds, you can’t ask for more.

Most people don’t think of Greece when they think of punk rock. You have been labelled as being the first punk band in Greece – would this true?

No we’re not the first punk band! There’s been plenty before us and there will be plenty after us. The media had said we were the first Greek band to play the USA, up until then there had not been any rock or punk bands that had left Greece to go and play the USA. There had been one band – Socrates – that had been invited but they did not do it as it’s difficult you know. You have a sense of community and family in Greece so you don’t really want to give that up. I think that is a good thing coming from somewhere that people don’t expect something, always a good punch in the face when you don’t expect something.

barb-wire-dolls-isis-queenTell me more about the band for our readers who still maybe haven’t heard of Barb Wire Dolls… and was it difficult to go about forming the band?

We formed the band as we needed and wanted music that we liked around us. There was no one doing music that we enjoyed and we were bored with the contemporary rock scene both in our homeland and the outside world and everything had become stale and boring so our answer was to start our own band. I think that says a lot about who we are as people, no compromises, no giving up and no excuses.

You’re now a five piece band since Jay Jay left and we have new members Iriel on Bass and Remmington on rhythm guitar. Was this a conscious decision to fill out the sound more?

Yeah, Remmington was our first real bass player when we recorded Slit. We were a three piece – myself, Pyn and Krash, and then Remmington joined us on bass on our first European tour and JayJay filled in for that year. The album Desperate was written with bass and extra guitar parts so we always wanted a fifth member to help fill up the sound so when Iriel joined the band on bass Remmington moved to rhythm guitar.

How did you manage to work with producer Steve Albini (Nirvana, Pixies, Godspeed You! Black Emperor) for Slit and how was it to work with him given who he has produced?

He was a good really cool guy. Pyn Doll had recorded some albums before with Steve and he was good friends with him so when we wanted to do our debut album we knew that we wanted Steve to do it. We were a two piece and the sound was very raw and perfect for the types of sound that Steve enjoys capturing so there was no second thoughts about it and Steve was the man and he gave us two days and that was all we could afford. Anyway the rest is history. It was an interesting two days.

How do your songs come about? Is it one person doing the majority of the writing or is it a group effort from the start to finish of the writing process?

Pyn Doll has the most history when it comes to songwriting so he always is the first one to strike the guitar when it comes to writing. He is a great song writer he’s the backbone for the songwriting for sure and then contributions come from all over the place to help with lyrics, ideas and so forth.

Tell me about the band name, Barb Wire Dolls. How did the name come about?

Well there’s a 70’s porno called Barbed Wire Dolls and whenever you hit google search that’s the first thing that came up, though other things like apparel would come up. We thought it would be funny when you typed in our name a 70’s porno would come up so that was the idea for it

barb-wire-dolls-edinburgh-2016-1When you came over from Greece, was it a difficult transition from the Greek culture to an “American” one or was it pretty easy to adjust to?

It was difficult because we did not know anyone in the USA. The people that we stayed with let us crash on their couches for whole months, and being in unknown territory and crashing on people’s couches and trying to get your feet on the ground is gonna have its ups and downs and that was the most difficult thing. Also trying to get into the rhythm and different mentality, different culture but everything came together when the Roxy gave us a show. We passed out 10,000 flyers and we ended up selling it out. It was amazing as it’s a historic venue and one of the world’s most renowned venues and it’s hard enough to get a show there let alone sell it out. So after that anything was possible once we put our minds to it.

Do you believe that Rodney Bingenheimer’s (KROQ radio host) interest in Barb Wire Dolls really helped to have an impact with the band?

Rodney definitely had the biggest impact so far for an outside person mainly because he gave us a reason to keep going and he gave us hope. We were doing our own shows in Greece at the time and trying to start up a scene as there was not any scene going on, there was not any punk scene, there wasn’t a rock scene. There were metal bands doing their own thing and so when our little scene started getting out there, because we were doing these punk rock matinees every Sunday at this bar that we found in Athens and somehow Rodney had found our demos.

We had done a demo and he invited us to come to the USA and like I said before there had been no rock or punk bands from Greece to play in the USA before so to be invited, let alone by Rodney Bingenheimer, a guy who discovered all these amazing bands and put them out there to the world… of course we had to say yes and take that chance. We sold everything we could and bought the tickets and I think everything happened after that. There was no reason to give up if those circumstances happened out of nowhere you just got to believe everything else will just unfold as you go along.

From my point of view, being a photographer, how did you happen to get to know Bob Gruen (John Lennon, Led Zeppelin, The Clash, Sex Pistols photographer) and was he fun to work with?

I stalked him! I met Bob outside the Bowery Electric in New York City and again circumstances just happened that both of us were there at the same time, because right then the hurricane had just hit and we came in two days after they opened up New York again after the disaster. He was there the second night after it had all happened. He was outside the Bowery Electric to see someone – I think it was Lenny Kay – and we had just arrived in NYC and we were walking around. We went over to the Bowery Electric because we wanted to see the old CBGB’s. Our eyes just locked and gravity pulled us together.

We got talking and I knew who he was and he had heard of us and he had always wanted to go to Crete and he found it fascinating that we were a band from Crete. I think he just wanted to be a part of what we were doing and he wanted to do a photoshoot. He charges about $10,000 to do a photoshoot for a 1 day band shoot and he wanted to do it for free just to contribute to us to help us out because we were a DIY band, but that’s the kind of guy he.

He is able to hang out with all these amazing people to get the coolest photos with John Lennon, Sid Vicious and Tina Turner… all these really cool people because he is the type of guy you want to be around and don’t mind being around. He just has that energy about him I think that’s the beauty about Bob, he’s like Andy Warhol. You know Andy was not necessarily an artist but he was art so everything he touched was artistic. It is the same with Bob. It’s not that he is the best photographer in the world but there is something about him that everyone wants to be around him and wants to get photos done by him and he just has a really good energy about him.

The original punk movement took place more than 30 years ago. Do you try and incorporate elements of that sound into your music or do you try and stay more up to date with your songwriting and live shows?

I don’t think we think about time. I think we are our own thing and think that’s what people see about us and compare us to the first wave of punk. We don’t follow anyone else’s rules, that was the beauty of the first wave of punk – that if you had an idea and you could bring something new, original, unique to the table then you were considered punk. It was not about following something old, something new or following something in modern times and that’s what we respect about it and that’s what we try to do. I mean that’s what we do. We are not really punk, we’re just a rock n roll band. Punk’s all in the mind and I think like minded people can see what we are all about.

The new album which I reviewed back in July is a bit more polished with a different fuller sound from your harder debut album Slit. Was that a deliberate thing and did working with producer Jay Baumgardner and engineer Howie Weinberg have any impact on your sound for it?

When we recorded the album at Sonic Ranch, Jay had heard the rough mixes and he wanted to be part of it. He is really good at clearing up everything as a mess when we recorded it so definitely he had a part in making each instrument pop out nice and clearly and give it the respect it needed. Jay is really easy to work with and he is awesome and has worked with some of the greatest people in the rock world. Like Bob and Rodney, he just wanted to contribute to be a part of what we were doing and Steve obviously, he came out of the woodwork for it.

Is it true Lemmy himself signed you to the Motorhead label and how has it been for you.

You know when you have an idea and you want to do something about it, you gotta give it 100% because then people will come out of the woodwork to come and contribute and be a part of it. Up until then we had done everything we could as a DIY band. We travelled the USA five times and we came to Europe/UK a couple of times and just then we were playing the residency shows at the Whisky-a-Go-Go for the fifth time or something and packing them out. We were doing really well, we had done everything we could, but at that point there was a dead end we could feel it.

Just like everyone else that came into our lives there was Lemmy and he saw us, saw potential in us and he had started Motorhead music to put out to the world new bands. Until then he had only put out Motorhead records on his label. He had been looking for a band and he told us that we’ve got it, that essence of rock n roll that he had been looking for and he wanted to be a part of it. He wanted us to put our music out on Motorhead music and when Lemmy comes to you and says you’ve got the chops and he wants to be a part of what you are doing then you agree and you shut up and you listen to him! Lemmy wanted us to be ourselves. I guess it was perfect timing, unfortunately he was not around to see the release of the album, but I think that he had done everything he needed to do in his time while he was alive.

How was your debut experience at Wacken? Did you enjoy it?

Amazing! I had never heard of Wacken because I’m not really a metalhead, but about 2 years ago Kreator’s singer Mille Petrozza came to our show in Germany. I did not know who he was and he bought a t-shirt and everything like that. Then from Wacken we started to get bombarded by messages and emails because that year he was wearing our t-shirt and headlining Wacken festival.

That was the first time I had heard of Wacken and after that he wore our t-shirt at every festival Kreator played around the world which was amazing. After that first debut of him wearing our t-shirt we went “what is this festival and how do we get on it?”. I mean it sells out every year – 80,000 people. It is the biggest heavy metal festival in the world it truly is an amazing experience and we were truly blessed to be a part of it.

It was really good for us and we had a good crowd and I like big stages. You have more room to strut your domain. Small clubs are fun, they’re great you get up front in people’s faces, but there’s something glorious about big stages.

Your shows are explosive and full on to say the least. I described your 2014 show here as one of the most explosive live performances I had ever seen. What drives the band for these performances?

Tea and biscuits! I always think to myself “who that person is on stage”, because maybe I don’t have the energy, maybe I did not sleep well, maybe I have a hangover, maybe there is so many elements that play a part in your daily life. As soon as I hit the stage something clicks and I find that energy I find that inspiration and it comes naturally. I don’t even think about it, like I think beforehand I’ll take it easy tonight, I won’t even move and it’s never been like that ever.

It’s two layers of the same thing. It’s a different phantom that comes on and takes over and it’s good, it’s fun… it’s what keeps it exciting. I don’t expect any of it and it can never be repetitive and the crowd plays a big part of it. I’m feeding off the energy of the crowd and they’re feeding off me, it’s a give and take situation. I could not do it in a rehearsal room situation.

You are touring right up to Xmas. What are the plans for next year after the USA tour is finished?

To keep touring at least that’s what I would like, that would be a goal. It’s better than staying still. We have our home back in Crete but you know that’s always gonna be there. You might as well go with the flow while it’s still inspiring, still fun. Otherwise there’s no real point in it, is there? I can sleep when I’m dead.

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