14 Pews Film Academy Presents: An Evening with Houston’s Original Femme Punk Band Mydolls

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Contact: Cressandra Thibodeaux, Executive Director

800 Aurora Street, Houston, TX 77009

281-888-9677 | info@14pews.com

14 Pews Film Academy Presents:

An Evening with Houston’s Original Femme Punk Band Mydolls

(Houston, TX) – 14 Pews, an artist-run multidisciplinary nonprofit, is pleased to announce an evening of music and film celebrating Houston’s original femme punk band Mydolls (1978-present) on Saturday, July 1, 7 pm-9:30 pm. Mydolls’ musical history and their impact on the Houston art scene are the subjects of an upcoming documentary by 14 Pews Film Academy, directed by Executive Director Cressandra Thibodeaux. The event on July 1 will include a lively discussion, performance and silent auction to raise proceeds for 14 Pews Film Academy.

“I am excited to host this year’s fundraising event with the legendary Mydolls,” says Thibodeaux. “This party will benefit 14 Pews Film Academy, which makes films on Houston artists, while teaching the art of filmmaking.   We are honored to bring to light Mydolls’ legacy as one of Houston’s earliest female-fronted art punk bands. In addition, the documentary will also recognize Mydolls’ mentorship through their involvement with Girls Rock Camp Houston. Please join us as we and the next generation of filmmakers continue to tell the stories of our city through the art of cinema!”

14 Pews Film Academy, which began in 2012, focuses on engaging the youth of Houston in positive and creative activities that benefit the greater arts community. Students create films on local artists, in particular highlighting women, artists of color and under-represented practitioners. Since 2015, 14 Pews’ student films on local artists have premiered at the Houston Cinema Arts Festival to appreciative audiences.

Reserve your ticket by visiting the official event page. Seating will be limited.

About Mydolls

Mydolls was formed in 1978 by guitarist and vocalist Trish Herrera, bassist Dianna Ray, guitarist and vocalist Linda Younger and drummer George Reyes. Mydolls’ sound is as ethereal, fluid and poetic as it is politically charged and feminist. Throughout their nearly 40-year history, Mydolls has paved a path for women and minorities in the arts and they continue to perform today with their original lineup. During the 1980s, Mydolls were interviewed by John Peel on BBC Radio and performed in Wim Wenders’ award-winning film Paris, Texas. Mydolls and the Houston punk scene were the focus of a 2016 music-based lecture series at Contemporary Arts Museum Houston, and the band recently performed at Lawndale Art Center for the 2017 SPEAKEASY experimental music and art program series. Their latest EP, It’s Too Hot for Revolution, blends classic punk protest anthems with poetry, including Charles Bukowski’s “Fair Stand the Fields of France.”

 

14pews.com

800 Aurora Street, Houston, TX 77009

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Maximum Rocknroll (No. 410): Interview with Mydolls

By Heather L. Johnson

 

Cypress, TX. 1985

I was one of those awkward suburban girls trapped by geography, hormones and the grave misunderstandings of my football-playing, skin-tight designer jean-wearing peers. I took it all out on my bedroom walls, pasting up cutouts of hot young boys from TEEN magazine and hair band musicians with cucumbers in their pants, abject byproducts of an extreme desire to fit in. There was always something missing, some chasm lacking form or language keeping me from becoming that carbon copied Barbie Doll I thought I was supposed to be.

Then a few things happened. Glorious things revealing a gorgeous yet hideous underside of life that rang true. My mother gave me her old car (a necessity in 80’s era Houston, when taking the bus meant a four-hour round trip to anywhere). With that came access to new experiences and ideas…and to a tribe of people unafraid to live fully, read between the lines and make art about what they found there.

This is how I first found Mydolls, a Houston-based, nearly all-female punk band that had been playing since 1978. Though they’d stopped performing by the time I was old enough to see them, their spirit had imprinted upon the Houston underground music scene to the degree that even random kids from distant suburbs were inspired by them. Their sound, an explosive mix of Au Pairs, the Slits, X-Ray Spex and early Siouxsie and the Banshees influences, was layered with something else – something hilarious but deadly serious, cutting yet colored by a love and self-respect that could only spring from the familial, from friendship bonds so tight each person finishes the other’s sentences. A “something else” springing from the obstinacy required to thrive in mid-80’s Houston, in all of its swampy, concrete, billboard grazed, freeway-strangled, police-brutality tainted glory.

Mydolls’ very existence helped me find and fight for my own voice as a young girl. The title of their collection, “A World of Her Own” (a compilation of singles and early material released in 2007) couldn’t express that more clearly.

Still together after 39 years, all four original members have granted us theirs.

*   *   *   *

When I think of Houston in 1978, I try to imagine it prior to the Reagan years, but at the height of the cold war. The oil industry there was booming; disco and stadium rock filled the top-40 airwaves.  How did you find each other and what motivated you to start a band? 

TRISH HERRERA (VOCALS/GUITAR): The Texas scene was small. We found each other through innate recognition. No one said, “Hey, I hate Reagan, let’s start a band.” We just knew that together we could be a voice and we all had the same drive for disruption and change.

GEORGE REYES (DRUMS): I think there was a lot going on pre-Reagan. The police were out of control in Houston. So it was a real shock to see [Trish’s] cousin’s picture in Time magazine related to the police and the repression they dealt out during the 1970s. The Moody park riots were also a reaction to police brutality.

DIANNA RAY (BASS/VOCALS): The physical genesis of the band came from Trish and myself, but the impulse that drove it started many years earlier for me. I love all forms of art, something my mother gifted me, but music draws my most visceral response. I was a loner kid with a rich interior life; music became my companion. Years later, Trish and I were seeing shows at the Island, Houston’s only punk club back in 1978, and one day we were standing in front of the stage after a band had finished. Impulsively, we decided to form one. We knew a lot of people playing music and it seemed natural.

LINDA YOUNGER (GUITAR/VOCALS): Divine Providence…I felt it then and I feel it now. There was a reason we met, formed a band and stayed together for all these years. The story continues to unfold.

 

What were you all listening to and thinking about that underscored this motivation? 

TH: We didn’t agree with the general population’s apathy toward politics, war, attacks on LGBT or women’s rights. Using religion to back up hate was starting to become an American past time.

GR: Seems like there was global unrest. The news was always bad and the music we were listening to reflected economic and political malaise.

DR: I can’t say I had a conscious political motivation when we first started, though that quickly surfaced. I was emotionally gutted by the Vietnam War, which heavily influenced my social and political beliefs. Having come from Michigan, where music was almost a religion, I was introduced to Iggy and the Stooges, The New York Dolls, Patti Smith and The Ramones. Then came post-punk. What a revelation that was! Au Pairs, The Raincoats, the Slits, Lora Logic, PIL, Joy Division, The Pop Group, wow!

LY: I have always listened to a wide variety of music and still do, but Flipper, Iggy Pop and the Stooges, Lou Reed and the Velvet Underground, The Raincoats, the Slits, Siouxie and the Banshees and the Cramps were some of my faves at that time.

 

Was there anything in particular about Houston that made you make and perform “disruptive” music? 

TH: Anger and a desire to bring attention to political and social issues was fueled into song and performance. It was just the next step for us.

GR: I think Joe Campos Torres’ death really galvanized a segment of Houston, while the rest of the city was enamored with Gilley’s and “Urban Cowboy”.

DR: I have to agree with George on how galvanizing Joe Campos Torres’ murder was.  He was a 23-year-old Vietnam veteran murdered by six Houston Police officers. They beat him and pushed him into the bayou where he drowned. His body was found two days later. Two of the officers were tried for murder and found guilty of negligent homicide. They received one year of probation and a $1 fine. It was an insult. The sentencing sparked riots in Houston’s Moody Park, crystallized and personalized divisions between ordinary citizens and those in power. It was time to push back.

LY: Sadly, what makes our music timeless are these recurring events. Racism, sexism, police brutality…. Clubs like the Island provided safe havens, where freedom of expression was embraced. And much of that was in the form of angry, fast, loud music.

 

During the early 80s you guys toured around the country, appearing in Wim Wenders’ film “Paris, Texas”, and more. What made you stay in Houston rather than relocate to LA, NYC or even Austin, for a bigger chance at financial success or notoriety? What was at the center of this experience for each of you?

TH: Punk was a boys’ world in the big picture. Although our local punk men supported us, women were generally still front singers with cute gimmicks. Three women dressed in black, shouting and pointing out social misnomers and political injustice was not popular.

GR: I don’t think financial success or notoriety played a big part in our decisions. We wanted to share the music with larger audiences but not at the expense of creativity. Linda’s interview with John Peel on BBC Radio really expresses what we were about. I love Peely’s comment on “the demands of the audience.” We play what we want to play and let the audience find us.

DR: We had a pretty great scene going on in Houston. It was a vibrant mix of music, artists, fashion and politics. I’d call being able to live and play music with the likes of Really Red, The Degenerates, Legionaries Disease, The Dicks, The Big Boys, Butthole Surfers, Culturcide, artists like Mel Chin, Jack Livingston, James Surls, and William Steen pretty damn successful. Cultural currency was way more important than dollar currency.

LY: I think we each have different reasons why Houston is home for us. For me, it’s family and friends. Our recent performances at Lawndale Art Center (formerly Lawndale Art Annex) and Contemporary Art Museum Houston brought “our Tribe” together to celebrate our musical journey in a way that just can’t be described in words. It was a feeling of unconditional love, total acceptance and appreciation for our legacy. We’re currently working on a documentary with Cressandra Thibodeaux and 14 Pews, and I am blown away by the incredible footage of us at various performances, practicing with Amos, Dianna’s dog (our howling back up on the song “Politician”), and all the interviews being conducted. Much more to come on that labor of love.

 

Fears of a nuclear apocalypse permeated so much of our culture during the early/mid 80’s; I remember its possibility creating a constant tension, bleeding into films, music and television to the degree that it affected the tone of everyday life. How did that influence your choices of what to write, play and record during that time, if at all?

TH: In the 80s, American Cruise missiles were being planted in our ally countries. The United States was becoming unpopular all over the world for our mongering. We felt that while traveling in England. It was and is never the people’s choice to go to war and kill our young men and women. The government decides that. This powerlessness and victimization afflicted by our own country created a ping-pong subculture starting with beatniks in the 50s responding to the Russian Commie scare. We fight back with words and song; we are responsible to speak up.

GR: Anarchy was a big theme, although not too many people knew what that was. You could still discount people’s views by calling them “Commies”, but anarchist, what the hell was that? It really was underground. I recall having to use a secret password to get into the Anarchist Press in London. These experiences came out in our music. The marching snare in “Politician” and the apocalyptic guitar riffs demonstrate how much chaos was surrounding us.

DR: I was more influenced by actual bombs going off in Northern Ireland and Beirut, the insane violence of religion in these countries and in South America with the Jonestown Massacre. How religion was used to manipulate, oppress and separate people. Those are some of the thoughts that came out lyrically in our song, “Soldiers of a Pure War.”

LY: It makes me sad that things seem to be heading in the same direction with regard to nuclear threats and the “bullying” mentality permeating the air right now. At least we know that “Duck and Cover” is not going to protect us anymore.

 

How did the rise of hardcore affect your music? Did the audience change, and did they remain receptive to you? Did it transform your own attitudes toward performing?

TH: There is a degree of disconnect. Some feel punk is kid stuff and don’t participate anymore. Those people may be living more conservative lives but are still punk rock in attitude. Mydolls audiences range from five-year-olds to 105-year-olds — it’s crazy but we seem to have a vast appeal like that.

GR: I recall Bob Weber’s 50-something uncle coming to a Butthole Surfers show we were performing, who really got into slam dancing. Hardcore was out there along with a lot of other creative expression. Audiences react to what’s on stage. They’re not too picky when something engages them.

DR: I think the hardcore scene had a more profound effect on me as an audience member than as a musician. I enjoyed the playful skanking and moshing we did before the really young hardcore boys hit the scene; after that it became very aggressive in the pit.  I weighed 100 lbs and couldn’t compete with someone twice my weight, all muscle and not looking out for me. Early on we took care of each other. If you started to fall, someone was there to pick you up before you even hit the floor. No one was rough – it was playful and joyous, even during the hardcore shows.

I will say this – at a recent show here in Houston I watched you, Heather, crouched in front of the stage taking photos, and a gentleman scooted right in behind you and kept the moshers back so they wouldn’t hurt you. I thanked him afterwards. I’d like to see more of that! We can all have fun and do it in a way that is respectful and allows everyone to be engaged.

LY: Our music has a hardcore message delivered a little differently. The punch is more subtle, almost poetic. I think the music and audience always evolve. The attitude to encourage others to “Go Make a Band!” remains.

Mydolls audiences start earlier than five-year-olds. My granddaughter, Molly, has been a Mydolls fan since infancy. She is three now and recently performed live on stage with us at Cactus Music, a local record store in Houston. She loves practicing “Totally Wired” [Mydolls’ cover of a song by the Fall] and is a constant reminder that we have a moral responsibility to keep our message loud and clear, and to pass the baton to the next generation. We nurture our future hardcore performers while maintaining love and respect for those who have been with us from the beginning. We met a whole new generation of hardcore punks at “Take This Fest and Shove It” [a music festival featuring mostly Houston and Texas-based bands that occurred April this year]. It reinforces the need to keep playing and to support others in performing as well.

 

You have been, for all 39 of your years, a mostly female band, operating in a very male-dominated music scene. Is this something you all were conscientious of, and if so, what gave you the guts to dive in?

TH: I don’t think we really thought about our femaleness at that point. We were just doing it.

GR: I don’t know if it was the personal connections with male musicians or that women’s music was developing, but our reception was very positive. I can’t recall that we labored over conscious considerations of being dominated by a scene. That might have to do with the fact that we were focused on creating music and not worrying about who headlined. We still think that way. We’re just happy to be there and play.

DR: It was probably more naiveté than guts. We looked for a female drummer before we found George, so our original intention was to be an all-female band.  It was more of a novelty back in the ’80s than it is now. Thankfully there are so many more gender-integrated bands these days that we’re almost at a place where we don’t single people out for special attention based on their gender. We aren’t there yet. That is one of the reasons we’re involved in the Girls Rock Camp organization. We want to see more women pick up instruments, learn how to run sound, write songs, form bands and book shows. We also have a new female collective in Houston that books shows, supports one another’s creative endeavors and keeps venues safe for women, called DAMN GXRL. Female audience members and performers experience a shockingly high amount of sexual inappropriateness from industry people and audience members. That really needs to change – for Christ sakes, it’s 2017! It’s called R-E-S-P-E-C-T. We’re a tribe and we take care of each other. Predators have no place and should be called out for their behavior.

LY: It was not on my radar screen. Sexist promoters and club owners asking for men to collect our money at the end of nights did piss me off and bring the issue to the forefront. I am very supportive of the current movement in Houston to address that.

 

What was your first show like and how were you received?

TH: We opened for the Hates at the Parade Disco and were not afraid at all, but our hardcore punk male supporters were a little nervous for us. Thanks to the kindness of the Hates we had a very successful show and were launched into the world with a lot of positive reception.

GR: I think this show was part of an early Gay Pride Week performance. Again, I think we were happy to put the hours of practice into a performance.  I lost my wedding ring at that show which may have been a sign on the direction I was taking and that of the band.

LY: The Hates welcomed us and we are grateful to Christian Kidd for that. We continue to experience that kindred spirit with them to this day. We are currently involved in fundraisers to pay it forward now. Christian is battling cancer, as are many of our fellow musicians and friends.  The punk rock community is incredibly supportive, and so many have stepped forward to raise money to help him with medical expenses. We stand with them. Oh Cancer, Up Yours!

 

GEORGE, what was it like to be the only guy in the band?

GR: Having already played in garage and cover bands, I came to Mydolls with a music background. Working with novices playing instruments and performing really minimized the ego-tripping I had experienced with other performers. I had to check my own ego in learning how to play with people who were totally focused on creating music and expressing themselves rather than developing an aura of stage presence. It’s been interesting, especially on the road. I’ve adjusted to the time element (make up, wardrobe, etc.) and have found opportunities to explore and write.

Were you all initially accepting of one another’s musicianship, tastes, etc… or were there growing pains?

TH: We were all just having fun; we barely have tension.  If it happens, it’s just slight irritation about not being on the same schedule.

GR: Since this was definitely a DIY formation, I would say that we all learned together. I accepted the recommendation to change from ride cymbal to floor tom rhythm. It has become signature to our music. I think as we have been out of sync from time to time, the irritation has been channeled into better performances.

DR: Well, I had no experience playing a stringed instrument, nor any ability to read music, but I loved it and that was enough to start. The band made adjustments along the way. When we started we had a keyboard, which we dropped pretty quickly. We gave George a really hard time about playing too much snare and cymbal combos. We just kept telling him to hit the toms! He accepted the challenge of doing things differently, opening up as a drummer. He makes playing bass a lot of fun. In fact I think he makes me a better bass player.

Though we shared musical interests, we had different influences. Those differences helped us develop our own unique sound.

LY: We continue to challenge each other with the music, and this only makes it better. The fact that we have remained a band for so many years is a testament to our mutual respect and encouragement.

 

Jumping forward to 2008…what inspired your re-emergence after a 13-year hiatus?

TH: Dianna and I had been playing in bands all along, and Linda and George had taken some time off to have and raise children. It just seemed the next step. I was very disturbed by some of the legislation for LGBT rights and we talked a lot about that in 2008. Kathy Johnston was a miracle in helping us organize and pull together a full set and play some shows.

GR: I recall that there was a birthday party Mydolls was requested to play. I know we wanted to present a good performance, so we organized some practices, dusted off some songs from our playlist and have been playing ever since.
DR: In 2008 we were asked by Anna Garza and Rosa Guerrero to be a part of “Noise and Smoke 2”, a festival they and Liz Molina put together. That was about a year after we released the anthology double CD, “A World of Her Own”. The timing felt right and they were so sweet and earnest that it was impossible to say no.

Then we just kept at it. Kathy Johnston was playing with us as she had at the very end of our 1980s performances. She had a great ear, helped us relearn our material and added depth to our songs. Unfortunately we lost her to blood cancer back in 2011. Sometimes, in her honor, we set an empty chair for her on stage. I miss her every day.

 

How had Houston changed and how had the punk scene there and in Texas changed? How did your voice as a band shift with age, and with the times?

TH: The growth of Houston has affected small clubs and the independent music scene; the digital world has created a free market for music. So basically the only way independent bands make money is by selling records at shows or in independent cool record stores. (A shout out to all those stores who help us, and a special shout out to clubs gibing us guarantees and support!)

We have had to learn to ask for payment, which is really hard when you grow up in a free thinking punk rock world with a disdain for success. All our money pools back into recording and touring.

GR: As times have changed, so have we. There are more Houston venues and a greater opportunity to perform to a larger audience. We played at the Houston Library last summer. We definitely have had to adapt to the electronic, social media world. I think as far as shifts go, we’re building a legacy for girls and women to express themselves. And for the punk rock world, we continue to be a model of that same self-expression.

DR: Houston’s population had grown exponentially in the years we were on hiatus. Social media was on the rise, translating into an even more diverse audience, especially as it pertained to age. One of the things about punk rock that amazes me is its power to endure. With the Internet more young audiophiles everywhere have learned about obscure bands like ourselves. They share playlists and information, creating new audiences. I think we were very lucky to have lived during the first and second waves of punk, but the younger kids today are every bit as excited and innovative in their approach to music. They are also very supportive of each other’s bands across genres.

When I was in my 20s I was more concerned with my image and how cool I was on stage. Now I just want to have fun, play music and pass out an abundance of hugs to friends in the audience, onstage and in other bands. We recently attended and played a festival called “Take This Fest and Shove It!” You were there Heather, and it makes me so happy to see how many we used to play shows with still making music well into their 50s and 60s. Punk music. I think it keeps us young. We have found the fountain of youth!

LY: We have learned the value of good dialogue before agreeing to play, and we make sure that compensation and equipment availability are clear up front. Older and wiser, we recognize the need to have someone like Nancy Agin Dunnahoe with Neon Artifact and Wild Dog Archives as our press agent, who keeps us focused with our “Eye on the Prize.”

 

And now… you’ve just released a new record, “It’s Too Hot for Revolution,” in one of the strangest moments of modern times, with an unpopular “strongman” in the presidential seat, whose actions and policies are bringing about renewed fears of nuclear war. At the same time, I’ve witnessed an unbelievable spirit of love and optimism emanating from people who attend your shows, who range so greatly in age. What are your hopes for this new album in terms of how it will be received by this new/old audience?

TH: “It’s Too Hot for Revolution” is all about apathy. It’s about getting off our couches. Put down the remotes and phones and get out to some shows. Mydolls rails against the puppet and we hope for goodness and fairness in our future.

GR: I think we are hoping it motivates people to action. The lyrics to the title cut offend many groups, laced with micro-aggressions for several. I think in today’s climate, there is a great need to be intentional and deliberate. I’m glad that love and optimism are being spun at our shows but I think we’d like to see a counter to apathy.

DR: We’re really proud of the record; it was a labor of love by many. One side is softer in its musical and lyrical tone. It has songs about love and personal struggles. One is especially personal to us: “Don’t Fucking Die.”  It’s about cancer, which has and continues to affect each of us in the band through our own diagnoses and cures, as well as friends who are newly diagnosed and those we have lost to the disease. FUCK cancer.

The other side of the EP is more political and biting. Trish changes some of the words when we perform to better align with what is happening in the moment. Capitalism without morals will eventually consume itself. It feels like we hit a new low every day. I am hoping for a correction, even an over-correction towards love and acceptance – because tolerance isn’t good enough. We are a better people than our country currently reflects. That is why I still cling to the optimism you referred to in your question. The best antidote for hate is love. And hugs, lots and lots of hugs! And dogs too. Dogs are great.

LY: We have gotten such positive feedback on our new red vinyl release. This album spans years of Mydolls music and tells our story over time. It starts with incredible cover art by friend and creative genius, Jack Livingston. Insert contains the lyrics and a Mydolls self-portrait by Trish from 1989. The song selection represents earlier recordings by our very special sound engineer Phil Davis done in 1982 on reel to reel tape, lovingly restored by Dan Workman at SugarHill Recording Studios, and re-engineered by Andy Bradley at Wire Road Studios. It is a true labor of love and we are so proud of how well it turned out.

 

Finally…I’d love it if each of you share a story. Some moment that crystallizes what this band means to you. It could be an interaction with an audience member, a moment on stage, or a personal experience inspiring lyrics to a song…whatever comes to mind first.

TH: My favorite memory in the 80s is playing at the Island on Main Street when some of the ceiling tiles fell on my head. Kind of just says it all.

GR: Margaret Moser and I go way back to a different time and place in Austin. We both worked at a restaurant in the mid 70’s. Years later Mydolls played Raul’s on the drag. Other than a tire being slashed by frat boys, the evening started with Margaret coming back stage and identifying herself to me as a former workmate. She ended by saying “now I am a famous editor and you are a famous musician.” Didn’t think much of it at the time, but I guess we are.

DR: Music in general and playing it has literally saved my life. From times as a teen through my early 20s when I was suicidal, and recently while coping with the death of my wife and Mydolls’ guitarist Kathy Johnston [http://www.maximumrocknroll.com/remembering-kathy-johnston/], it has given me companionship, creative and spiritual connection to the Universe, and the ability to exist in the moment while letting everything else fall away. It has brought and kept the most amazing people into my life: people like you, Heather; my band mates in Mydolls; and those in the other band Trish and I play in, No Love Less.

Music forms a unique connection between the players, the thing itself and the listener. It is magical. A song can take us back to a specific time, place and feeling like nothing else. The notes become part of our DNA independent of whoever wrote it. I can’t imagine a better or more potent gift.

LY: My favorite memory is being interviewed on the John Peel BBC radio program in 1982. He was such an advocate and wanted to know all about Houston. I listen to the interview and smile at the questions and answers from the young, naïve Linda, and the warmth and wonderful sense of humor of someone we all loved and admired.

 

*   *   *   *

Houston, TX. 2016

I left Houston in 1987, to return after 29 years. I’d lived in 7 different cities, and had just spent 10 months riding a motorcycle all over Latin America for an art project (appropriately called “In Search of the Frightening and Beautiful”) [https://www.facebook.com/TheFrighteningAndBeautiful/]). I was in a city I felt I no longer knew, once again without many friends.

One day I saw a listing for a free show at the Houston Public Library. It was a Mydolls show. “Holy shit,” I thought. “I finally get to see them play!”

Those four best friends owned the stage so completely and with such pleasure that all the good parts of Houston came flooding back that afternoon.

After their set, Trish walked right up to me and asked, “Who are you? Don’t I know you?” Then Dianna came over and gave me an enormous hug. Neither of them had in fact ever seen me before.

Who am I? I’ll probably be trying to figure that one out till I’m dead. But at least now, thanks in great part to this band, I have a solid clue as to where I belong.

 

Source: MRR #410 July 2017

Artist page: In Search of the Frightening and Beautiful

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Mydolls Keep Giving Back, Inspiring Younger Rockers

By Kristy Loye

Proving rock knows no age, Mydolls can still pack the house and rock out. (Photo: Greg Rabel)

 

A staple of the Houston music scene for decades, Mydolls played the Lawndale Art Center last Friday night in the third installment of the gallery’s SPEAKEASY series, celebrating a vinyl release of their latest EP, 2015’s It’s Too Hot For Revolution. According to the website, the program “re-envisions Lawndale’s “Speakeasy” series, which took place from 1993-2002 to cast a reflexive eye on the center’s “historical relationship to live performance and the exploration of issues in contemporary art.”

No surprise that Mydolls would be a natural selection. The beloved group has celebrated a career that spans decades and reaches back into some of the earliest moments of Houston’s punk scene. Yet that doesn’t mean a Mydolls show happens every weekend, nor does a red vinyl EP release. So, in one of the hottest tickets of the season, I found myself in close quarters among a packed house in a gallery full of people spilling out into the hallway, all longing for a listen of some living legends of Houston punk.

The evening started off with a round-table discussion, where the band members fielded questions about the history of their music careers, tour anecdotes and other stories of the past. Also included on the panel were past Lawndale Director Mary Ross Taylor and local historian Pete Gershon.

Bassist and guitarist Dianna Ray opened up about what made a difference in her stage performance and playing. “Well, I’ll just say it — sorry, kids in the audience — but what made a difference for me was not playing drunk,” she said. “I remember playing sober for the first time and when we had finished [the set] I said to Trish [singer/guitarist Herrera], ‘I’m never doing that again.’”

Speaking honestly about an issue that many musicians face is tough. But Mydolls are honest, salt of the earth musicians who know that sobriety is a choice of courage. Sober even today, Ray’s change made a lasting impact on her life and career.

While the audience chuckled at the remark, it’s apparent that whatever Mydolls’ strategy is, it continues to work. Vulnerability, growth and a lifetime of friendships have made the bonds between bandmates incredibly strong. Yet perhaps the greatest asset the band possesses is the continual building of a family vibe among friends, fans and longtime listeners. There’s no attending a Mydolls show without a display of close camaraderie, hugs, and laughs from people who have known each other for years.

Photo: Greg Rabel

 

Yet it’s more than that. A Mydolls show is a celebration of life. Singer Linda Younger pointed to the wall behind the stage, where a black-and-white reel rolled: “That was the Mydolls in 1984!” A silent film showed three fresh-faced young women and a young handsome drummer. In the grainy recorded video, a petite Ray adjusts her plaid hat, Younger picks up a violin and strums it like a guitar while Herrera pulls the microphone to her lips and points at the audience offscreen.

It’s a vision that has been carefully curated and documented by not just the band members, but Houston’s own artistic community. Last summer, the Contemporary Arts Museum Houston hosted an evening honoring the band and its history as part of its 20HERTZ series. Theirs is a living history that continues to write itself new chapters every year.

Nancy Agin Dunnahoe, publicist for the band and archivist at Wild Dog Archives, says of the evenings performance, “”Mydolls’ legacy as Houston’s original femme-punk band, [who] performed in experimental art spaces such as Lawndale Art Annex during the 1980s, is important to preserve and celebrate through events such as [this]. This collectible red vinyl EP is part of that legacy.”

About Revolution, she adds, “It was an honor to work closely with Stephanie Mitchell, executive director at Lawndale, and local art historian and co-curator Pete Gershon. Releasing their collectible red vinyl EP [is] a legacy album in its own right.”

“Mydolls Revolution is more than a reference to the album; it is very much about standing for what’s right, as Mydolls have always done, and building a world in which love wins,” Dunnahoe continues. “Events like this in which music and art come together revive that classic DIY spirit of punk — that notion of building a world of our own — and paying it forward by inspiring and empowering girls such as [Friday’s openers] Lazer Kittenz. I mean, how cool is it to see this kind of lineup?”

It’s a testament to their longevity and tenacity for making important music. Their version of DIY art-punk lives on and bursts forth in some of their strongest songs yet, to hear Herrera’s voice shout through the lyrics of “Politician” is the stuff of authentic punk-protest gold. Tracks like “Walls of Tunisia” and “Don’t Fucking Die” prove that Mydolls can still write avant-garde tunes with the spirit of angst-ridden punk rockers.

L-R: Trish Herrera, Mydolls singer/guitarist; Dianna Ray, guitarist/bassist; Linda Younger, singer; George Reyes, drummer, Mary Ross Taylor, former director of Lawndale; Houston historian Pete Gershon (Photo: RJ Faith)

 

It’s not just empty talk for Mydolls, either. Part of their message is encouraging the next generation of young girls to pick up musical instruments and express themselves, too. Friday, the group literally gave their opening spot to a two-piece female rock act whose collective ages do not yet reach 20 years. Still, Lazer Kittenz played a set that any punk band in town would have loved to claim.

Using only a floor tom and guitar, the duo combined breathy vocals and a keen sense of arrangement. Seemingly at home behind the microphone and in front of an audience, they took listeners through several original songs. Not too bad for a couple of kids not yet in junior high.

Singer Linda Younger spoke about how she heard of Lazer Kittenz. “I met David Leftwich, [the guitar player’s father] at KPFT when we were both scheduled to be on the Open Journal that same day,” she said. “The rest is Herstory.”

Younger took a moment during the set to praise Girls Rock Camp Houston, led by Anna Garza, saying that meeting young female musicians through the camp is an exciting oportunity for Mydolls. Founder and Director Garza says of the band’s help with the camp, “The Mydolls have their fingerprints all over Girls Rock Camp Houston. Dianna and Linda [have] invested a lot of their time, knowledge and love from year one to present. I am forever indebted to their support of me and GRCH.”

Anyone who’s familiar with Mydolls shouldn’t be surprised at the gesture. Giving back to the community is something all the members do with regularity. Herrera has long given her time at local hospitals with her therapy dog, Angel, who even had a day named after her by former mayor Annise Parker.

No matter what lies ahead for this group, it will undoubtedly include reciprocating the love that Houston has bestowed upon its favorite punk-rock daughters (and one incredibly dedicated drummer). For now, fans will have to spin their latest record and wait for the next historic chapter to unfold.

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HOUSTONIAN TALES: MYDOLLS

By David Garrick

Mydolls. Photo: F. Carter Smith

 

Seeing how punk music stands today, it’s a little difficult to imagine a time when female fronted punk bands weren’t a fairly common thing.  But, in the late 70s, while everyone was thinking about how progressive they were, Houston’s MyDolls literally changed the way people think about punk music.  More of a punk rock meets post punk sound, MyDolls were among the first female fronted punk bands in America and truly paved the way for females within the genre and what female involvement in music in general looks like today.  Aside from being legends in music, few people know that the band was essential in the formation of Girls Rock Camp Houston, as well as promoting the Houston music scene.  After reforming in 2008, the band has a new record released today and a show scheduled for March 3 at Lawndale Art Center.  There are few people who can attest to how much the Houston music scene has grown and changed over the years like the members of MyDolls, and it’s a real treat to hear about it from those who lived it and helped shape it.  Free Press Houston was more than thrilled to hear about how the band formed, where their name came from, and what they have planned for the future.

 

Free Press Houston: I know the band has been together since the late seventies, but can you explain how you came together and what made you want to start making music together?

Trish Herrera: Dianna and I met through a friend and became roommates soon after. Linda and I met via my hair salon, Wavelength. Linda came in and I gave her bangs. George and I are cousins.

Dianna Ray: I spent many a high school afternoon with my best friend Carrie playing air-guitar to the likes of Mott the Hoople, T-Rex and The Sparks. While I was dreaming of playing in a band, Trish was already singing backup for Kinky Friedman! I think it was our destiny to be in bands together. Trish and I spent many a night at the Island (aka, Rock Island, Paradise Island) the only punk club in Houston in 1978. Night after night we watched bands play. Some were good, others were terrible, and we spent so much time at the club, why not start our own band and play there, too?

Linda Younger: It all happened for me at Wavelength, Trish’s Salon. She and Dianna were there and had already talked about forming a band. They were regulars at the Island and roommates in the apartment above Rudyard’s, the space that is now used for performances. I had made the decision to have bangs cut and we were listening to boring music. The subject of starting a band came up and Dianna and I mentioned one minor detail. Neither of us knew how to play an instrument. In true Mydolls style, Trish said that shouldn’t stop us and offered to teach us. So, I got a guitar and Dianna got a bass. We tried to find a woman drummer to no avail. Trish’s cousin, George practiced with us one night and the rest is herstory.

FPH:  Who came up with the name for the band, and can you explain what the name means?

Dianna Ray: It’s meant to be a clever play on words. I am going to say this for the first time publicly, so this is your scoop David, I never really liked the name! Ha! I think I wanted something with more gravity…

Linda Younger: It happened at the Taj Mahal when we had way too much to eat and drink for our own good. We started thinking of band names and the first was Heart. The conversation then went off on a tangent with organ names…after shooting down kidney, lungs and uterus…Kelly from Really Red came up with Midols, but we changed the spelling to Mydolls and the next thing we knew, we were opening for the Cramps! How cool was that!

Trish Herrera: We were having dinner at the Taj Mahal on the Gulf Freeway with a group of punk musicians in 1978. We were throwing around names, and someone said: “There is a band named Heart, why don’t you call yourselves ovaries? “Then Kelly, guitarist in Really Red, said, “How about Midol like the cramps drug and spell it MyDolls?” And we loved it and said, “this is it.” I always thought it looked like NYDolls. The name has a feminine root, and I love that we play with doll images. I like this poem.

My sister has a punk doll.

When you stick a pin in her, she yells, “Fuck.”

The doll is nice too.

FPH:  It probably doesn’t seem like it would be the case nowadays, but being a female in a punk band in the seventies and eighties was a big deal and very progressive act at the time.  Can you talk about how people in the punk world embraced and dealt with you and how the music world treated you back then, and how different it was compared to how it’s gotten better but not by much in today’s music landscape?

Dianna Ray:  We had a couple of things to overcome; we were a female fronted band and our music wasn’t straight-forward punk, it was more post-punk, so I think people didn’t quite know what to do with us.

Linda Younger:  We were like little sisters to the Houston Punk bands. They treated us like equals for the most part and welcomed our participation on the bill when they played. Biscuit from the Big Boys used to tease us and say that we belonged barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen…but it was with a big snuggle.

Trish Herrera:  No one wanted punk music especially punk music by women. That is why indie labels started. We created our own world. We were denied pay unless the money was given to the males in our bands or our road manager at certain clubs. We weren’t taken seriously. We weren’t a cutesy joke band, although I enjoyed many bands that were not political that were changing the face of music at that time. We were angry and meant every thing we said. Speaking out and questioning wasn’t popular. Yes, it is better. But the fight is still there. Censorship was a big issue in the Reagan era.

FPH:  You’ve toured the world, been on British radio with John Peel, and even lost a member; can you explain the difference between the music world in the early eighties as compared to today? Perhaps shed light on the way bands booked tours on their own and how you got things done without the ease of the internet for those who don’t know?

George Reyes: DIY of the past was very much a collaboration of individuals. Some of it was acquired from alternative presses and some by word of mouth. Lots of relationship building and reaching out. Today, technology feeds these efforts. There are lots of media engines to choose from with a greater sophistication. In the ‘80s, it was a start to finish endeavor including making flyers, T-shirts and badges, and distributing them.

Linda Younger:  We wrote lots of letters and made calls to independent radio stations and clubs where other bands we enjoyed listening to played. There was a circle of friends who would do anything they could to help us book and promote shows. Ronnie Bond (U Ron Bondage of Really Red) was instrumental in introducing us to fanzines and new music that he played in the record store, Real Records, and on his radio show, Fun House, on KPFT. 90.1 KPFT was very supportive then and continues to be now. The rest was pretty much our fearless pursuit for what we dreamed about doing and then just doing it. “Breaking the Rules” was one of our songs and our modus operandi. The John Peel experience was exactly that.

Dianna Ray: Booking a tour took some time. It often started with letter writing to bands who had previously come through Houston or bands and venues whose names we found in fanzines picked up at our local record store, Real Records. We didn’t use the phone until things were tightening up, long distance actually cost $$ back then! I was recently re-connected with a guy, Robbie Reverb, via FaceBook. We were pen-pals for a while after he came to one of our shows while we were touring. Pen-pals, do people even know what that is? Ha!

Trish Herrera: Fanzines had ads for clubs and we networked with bands that had toured before us. Mostly it was all done by letter writing. Ya know, pen and paper, and we used light paper so the postage was inexpensive. No one had money. We still have some of the letters in our archives. They are really beautiful.

FPH:  I would guess that you got to perform and tour with some pretty influential punk bands back in the day.  Are there any acts that stand out in your mind or where there any shows that were insane back in the early days of the band?

Trish Herrera:  My faves were Minor Threat , Butthole Surfers, Siouxsie and the Banshees, The Cramps. More currently, Frightwig and the Avengers.

Dianna Ray:  I did lose my two front teeth while attending a show at the Island on my birthday. That was insane.

Linda Younger:  For sure Siouxsie and the Banshees and The Cramps stand out back in the day. Recently, however, playing with Penelope Houston and the Avengers in Oakland was very special. The great part about all of those shows is the Mydolls Tribe, many of them the same in Oakland as for the older shows from the ‘80s.

FPH:  Many people might not realize how integral you’ve been to organizations here like Girls Rock Camp, can you talk a bit about how you’ve gotten involved and what the organization means to you as musicians and females in a male dominated industry?

Dianna Ray:  It started with the documentary about the camp in Seattle, which we watched at Aurora Picture Show. We thought, this has to happen in Houston. It turns out we weren’t the only ones who felt that way after seeing the movie, so did Anna Garza. Anna started the Houston camp and Linda and I helped in the early formation. One or more of us has volunteered at each Houston camp since. I have met some of the most amazing, talented, generous and funny women at that camp. And those are just the volunteers! Many campers have returned year after year and some now volunteer at the camp in principle roles. Watching these young women grow into themselves, grow in confidence and mature with compassion is incredibly heartwarming. When the parents talk about how their daughters have been impacted by a single week spent at camp we often find ourselves in tears. Last of all, Mydolls’ rally calls is, “Go start your own band!” So of course Girls Rock Camp Houston fits very nicely with that!

Linda Younger: Dianna and I were in the very first meeting with Anna Garza and Muna Javaid after we saw the Girls Rock Camp movie. It was like a light went off and all of us were determined to have a camp here in Houston. I am passionate about continuing to do whatever I can to make the camp available to as many young girls as possible. Trish, Dianna and I initially worked most of the week as band coaches, counsellors or instructors. Over time, it’s been so rewarding to see the girls from the first camp take over and become the Counsellors, Coaches and responsible for making things go smoothly with equipment and the showcase. It is a life-changing experience to see the girls develop from being very timid, introspective to empowered, confident young women. I would encourage everyone to consider volunteering. There are many things to do even if you aren’t musically inclined, such as registration, coordinating volunteers, picking up food for volunteers, etc.  The feedback from the parents is priceless. And the showcase is a feel-good experience for everyone. There are also scholarships available for those who could not otherwise attend. One of the scholarships is very near and dear to us. It’s named in memory of Kathy Johnson, Dianna’s wife, who was very involved and passed away three years ago.

FPH:  Last year, the CAMH hosted the collection and retrospective for the 20HERTZ series, can you explain what it meant for the band and how it came about?

Dianna Ray: Max Fields from CAMH was looking for the perfect fit for the installment of their 20HERTZ program which would coincide with the Mark Flood exhibition, which was amazing, by the way. Mark (aka Perry Webb) was in the band Culturcide who were on C.I.A. Records along with Mydolls, so there was both an artistic and a historical intersection between our work.

Initially the event was proposed to us as a panel discussion with the band. We asked Max if we could play a short 30-minute set. We then asked our friends Dan Workman, also a former Culturcide band member, and Nancy Dunnahoe, from Wild Dog Archives, to be the panelists. Nancy suggested we display some of our ephemera as part of the evening. Before you know it Max had arranged for entire gallery space for us to display in and the event went from a small discussion to a retrospective of sorts. I was bowled over by the enthusiasm and support we received from everyone involved and from the audience who attended. It was electrifying!

Linda Younger:  It was such an incredible experience. Max Fields approached us and asked us about doing the interview for his final 20 MHz program at CAMH before moving to New York. As in true Mydolls tradition, we asked about doing more than just an interview. We suggested showing a video and having a space for our archives. The CAMH allowed us to have the downstairs education room to display so many wonderful things, from our cassette tapes documenting Mydolls on the road, to hand painted one-of-a-kind t-shirts, to vintage video from a show in Kent Ohio in 1982, to incredible posters and photographs. It took off from there and just became this incredible experience, not only for us, but all of our friends and family who we lovingly call our Tribe. I would be remiss if I failed to thank Max Fields for curating the event and Nancy Agin Dunnahoe for her unending energy in archiving all of the items and to Nancy and Dan Workman for making the event very special by asking just the right questions for the interview. The interview and the sound clips of the cassette tapes are available on CAMH’s YouTube and Soundcloud accounts and definitely worth listening to.

Trish Herrera:  It was mind blowing to have all our history so well thought out and organized.The audience was of all ages and super diverse. This was a special honor having grown up in the art and music world in Houston. It was like looking at a life. Punk girls come of age in Houston, Texas.

George Reyes: Definitely, it was a retrospective moment. It was great to see Mydolls’ Tribe and recall memorable experiences. Lots of people are contributors to the Mydolls success and talking with them reflected this wonderful fan base.

FPH:  It seems like in the last couple of years, the band has been more active than you were for a while.  What brought the fire back to record and start playing more shows?

Trish Herrera: Absolutely driven by politics and the timeliness of how our songs fit the same issues we had throughout the ‘70s and ‘80s.

Linda Younger: Our eye on the prize…new vinyl that represents Mydolls through the years…a legacy album so to speak. And the encouragement of our Tribe to keep playing.

FPH:  The new album, It’s Too Hot For Revolution, seems to really offer up a refreshed sound for the band while keeping your core intact.  What made you decide to make the album and what’s the meaning behind the title of the record?

Linda Younger:  It’s the title of one of our songs, but more than that it fits so well with the current state of affairs. Many of the songs are political in nature and even though most of the lyrics were written almost 40 years ago, sadly they are as true now as always. The artwork by Jack Livingston is beautiful and the red vinyl is so perfect!

Trish Herrera: “Bored with apathy” is one of the lyrics. 45% of our country didn’t vote. Punk has always been known for parody. Astounding how many people can’t tell you a thing about our Constitution and how law and government works, yet it affects everything. We have to resist government that is not based on freedom and diversity and basic human rights.

Dianna Ray:  I want to add that this recording is the only one we have which features my beloved wife Kathy on guitar. You can hear her on the songs we recorded in the early ‘80s with Phil Davis, who also toured with us as our sound engineer. Both of them are gone now, so it’s a wonderful way to commemorate and celebrate their contributions to Mydolls’ music.

FPH:  You worked with Dan Workman of Sugar Hill and Andy Bradley on this album, both who you’ve worked with in the past on projects.  Was there ever a notion to make the album at another studio or to work with others, or is SugarHill like a second home?

Linda Younger: Sugar Hill is very special to us. However, when Andy Bradley who “speaks Mydolls” moved to a different studio, we did work with him there on the final engineering. Dan plays guitar on one of the songs. Both of them have been a very special part of our musical journey and we can’t thank them enough for their creative genius, encouragement and support.

Dianna Ray: Dan and Andy are a part of the band and it wouldn’t have been conceivable to do this without their involvement.

George Reyes: I think the discovery of the master tapes was all part of the synergy that Sugarhill has provided us and continues to do. Using the combined memory of all who participated was dynamic.

Trish Herrera: We have worked with many engineers throughout our history. Both Andy and Dan are genius in their own ways. They’re family for sure. One of my fave recordings is one we did in San Antonio in a studio set up by Butthole Surfers’ engineer for the compilation Cottage Cheese From The Lips Of Death. The song is “Soldiers of a Pure War.” Love that track.

FPH:  You’re culminating the album’s release with the Speakeasy show at Lawndale Art Center, you’ve planned to have an ultra limited hand numbered vinyl release at the show, and you’re doing it all without a cover.  Is it safe to say that those DIY ethics that you had when the band started, have never ever left the band’s core, and what do you have planned for those who want to attend the show?

Trish Herrera: We will release 50 numbered records and treat them like a special collection. The art and the mastery of this record is so gorgeous. Lawndale is a perfect venue to debut a work that came from many talented artists.

Linda Younger:  It’s our gift to those who have been with us though our musical journey. Pete Gershon and Mary Ross Taylor, former executive director of Lawndale, will begin with an interview of the band that discusses our experiences at Lawndale Annex many years ago and why this venue is perfect for our vinyl release party. We are thrilled to be able to be one of the first bands to play at the Lawndale Art Center Speakeasy Series. We will also have one of the Girls Rock Camp Bands, Laser Kittenz, open for us with a couple of their original songs. Rocket and Eliot have been practicing really hard, and hopefully they will have a large and engaged audience to cheer them on.

FPH:  After all this time as a band, do you ever see a time when you won’t be breaking down boundaries and performing?

George Reyes: Love has no boundaries.

Trish Herrera: What’s the point?

Dianna Ray: When we’re dead, David, when we’re dead.

Linda Younger: Never. And we will never stop encouraging others to do the same. Go Make a Band!

There’s not too much you can’t learn from a group that’s as humble as they are legendary like the members of MyDolls.  For over thirty five years, through their music and actions, they’ve helped shape what the future of Houston music looks like.  You can hear their latest album, It’s Too Hot For Revolution here, and you can grab the limited edition red vinyl  and catch the band at the SPEAKEASY event March 3 at Lawndale Art Center.  The all ages event with doors at 7 pm and it’s 100% FREE.  You can also catch them perform at Walter’s for Take This Fest And Shove It Festival April 8 and 9.

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Mydolls Release Collectible Red Vinyl EP “It’s Too Hot for Revolution”

 

February 1, 2017

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Mydolls Release Collectible Red Vinyl EP “It’s Too Hot for Revolution”

(Houston, TX) – Mydolls (1978-present), Houston’s original femme punk band, has released a limited edition collectible red vinyl EP, It’s Too Hot for Revolution, in February 2017. The official album release party will be held at Lawndale Art Center on Friday, March 3, as part of the 2017 SPEAKEASY program.

It’s Too Hot for Revolution is a personal triumph for Mydolls whose members survived cancer and experienced the loss of guitarist Kathy Johnston during the making of the album. Revolution blends classic punk protest anthems such as “Politician” with poetry such as Charles Bukowski’s “Fair Stand the Fields of France.” Also featured on the EP are guest guitarist Dan Workman of SugarHill Recording Studios on “For Her” and bassist Dianna Ray’s dog, Amos, providing backing vocals on “Politician.”

“We’re excited to debut this labor of love, our revolution, as an exclusive edition EP for our tribe,” says Mydolls founding member Trish Herrera.

The band’s upcoming performance event at Lawndale builds on the legacy role and cultural impact Mydolls has had on the local music and contemporary art scenes and follows their recent program at Contemporary Arts Museum Houston for the 20HERTZ music-based lecture series: “A World of Our Own: Mydolls and the Houston Punk Scene.” Hand numbered vinyl will be available at the SPEAKEASY event, which will be free and open to the public.

Part of the first wave punk scene emerging in 1978 in Houston, Mydolls was fronted by girl punk rockers who have since paved a path for women in the arts and continue to empower a new generation of fans.

It’s Too Hot for Revolution was engineered by Andy Bradley at SugarHill Recording Studios and Sound Arts Recording Studios, and features cover artwork by contemporary artist Jack Livingston.

 

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