When New York Dolls decided to record their new album in Newcastle, Geordie native and rushonrock editor Simon Rushworth was more than a little intrigued. He caught up with guitarist Sylvain Sylvain to talk Tyneside, gigging and brand new album Dancing Backward In High Heels. rushonrock: Did you make the right decision to record in Newcastle?
Sylvain Sylvain: We had such a great time in Newcastle. I remember we’d walk up the street and around the corner from Blast Studios and there was a little store selling produce. The staff in there would always be telling us we were in the papers again and laughing and joking. People were coming out of the pubs when they saw us in the street just to shake our hands and we felt so at home.
rushonrock: Did the fact that your three-night residency at one of the city’s smaller clubs go so well add to the experience?
SS: The three nights at The Cluny were just amazing. That whole experience made the whole record so much groovier.
rushonrock: What did you know about the Toon before you took up temporary residence there?
SS: I must admit I didn’t know too much about Newcastle before I made the city my home for a few weeks. I knew about Newcastle Brown Ale but that was about it and I was looking forward to a new experience. Of course I knew about the musical heritage of the area. I knew The Animals started there and one of my favourite bands was Roxy Music with Brian Ferry. And there’s Sting of course. I’m a big fan. One day I was having a drink in The Ship, across from The Cluny, and the Newcastle Rock N Roll tour bus stopped outside. All the people got off and I waved at them! It was great.
rushonrock: So why record in Newcastle rather than New York?
SS: We only ended up in Newcastle because of the record deal we had. That’s the truth. But I’m so glad we did. It was just a magical experience and I’m so pleased the gentlemen at Demolition Records offered us the opportunity to make our record at Blast Studios. When they signed us they told us they had this studio just up the road from The Cluny and it was just perfect.
rushonrock: What made it such a fulfilling experience?
SS: Even the caterers were something special and not just because of the food! One day they came in and Stephanie, who was delivering the food, started singing in the hallway. And she was good, really good. Then she brought in her girlfriends and they were great too – they all ended up on the record. It wasn’t planned but then that’s what’s so special about this record. Through Stephanie we got a violinist and a cello player and it was just crazy. The engineer at the studio introduced us to the saxophonist who plays on the record and suddenly this New York Dolls album turned into a homegrown affair made in Newcastle! We never made any plans or had any meetings – it all just happened. It was so organic.
rushonrock: Why did you choose to play your live shows first and then record the album?
SS: As soon as we arrived in the city we did three straight nights at The Cluny just to iron out a few kinks and try out the new stuff in the most natural of environments. That crowd was either going to like it or tell us it sucked and that’s what we needed. Once we’d done those gigs we were straight in the studio and we didn’t actually get out much!
rushonrock: Did you enjoy the imtimate nature of the shows?
SS: For the people at The Cluny it was a chance for them to see a band that they knew up close and personal. Some people actually travelled far and wide to see those shows. The minute the first show started there was just this big wave of emotion and love which lasted the whole time we were in Newcastle. I was just overwhelmed. It was a personal high for me. It reminded me of when we started out in New York and the shows were small and the crowd was right there. It was all a bit unplanned and a bit crazy. That’s what we brought to The Cluny. It was like Woodstock at The Cluny.
rushonrock: How did you find living in the city for four weeks?
SS: We stayed in a house up the hill on the Gateshead side of the river and we had a great view looking out over the city. One morning I pulled back the curtains and the Red Arrows were flying past. I woke up David and we couldn’t believe it. We knew the people of Newcastle liked us but to celebrate us being there with a flyover by the Royal Air Force! Wow! After that we found out it was because of some run – the Great North Run? Well it felt like it was for us.
rushonrock: Your new album was savaged by Classic Rock Magazine but how do you feel it stands up to the band’s back catalogue?
SS: As far as the new album is concerned who knows? You never know with your babies how they’re going to work out and our records are our babies. Nobody expected this album would sound so good and right now we’re very proud of it.
rushonrock: So is their life in the old band yet?
SS: I think the Dolls will be around for some time yet. When we came back in 2004 we never wanted to be a heritage band. We wanted to write new music and we’re still doing that now. We all have our solo careers too but the Dolls is a big part of all of our lives again. This is the third album after the reunion and I’d like to think there are more to come.