Interview with Syl Sylvain of New York Dolls: ‘Cause I Sez So’

Retaining their ruffian outlaw stance, the Dolls returned for ’09s inordinately diversified Cause I Sez So. Johansen’s snootily pouted demands toughen the smokin’ title track and his great emotional depth reinforces the twin guitar-fueled “My World.” Hysterical broken-down romantic dalliance, “Better Than You,” recalls pre-Beatles balladeer Gene Pitney. Lowdown broke-dick rudimentary post-World War II blues dispatch, “This Is Ridiculous,” and twanging spaghetti Western-informed whistler, “Temptation To Exit,” offer two extremes. And if the cryptically surreal “Drowning” reminds some of the Animals early R&B recordings then the harmonica-doused “Nobody Got No Bizness” surely recaptures J. Geils Band in their prime. Strangely, a becalmed ska version of “Trash” revisits the Specials giddily portentous Brit hit, “A Message To You Rudy.”

What changes differentiate Cause I Sez So from One Day?

SYL SYLVAIN: We adapt songs from our live show and performing arts period. Some people spend a whole day on one note. We try to finish an entire album in one day. We procrastinate right down to the last minute-get in the studio and play whatever feels good. We work organically. It’s not rocket science. We know the blues. If you take the Beaujolais what you get is three chord blues progressions that could be interpreted forever- improvised solos. The show’s different every night like the blues.

Eddie Cochran was the real deal. He could write ’em, sing ’em, play guitar. He looked good doing it. When punk started, Sid Vicious did ‘C’mon Everybody.’ ’50s rockers stretching from Little Richard to early ’60s girl groups like the Shangri-Las and Ronettes mixed with T. Rex. When David first introduced ‘Looking For A Kiss,’ it wasn’t like when he first played it. I T-Rexed the shit out of it. We mélanged everything together and became this skyscraping soup of things we loved. It turned out to be the Dolls. We opened up doors and smashed the walls.

The norm was stadium rock operas. It got so damn boring. We had a Little Rascals approach. What could we do? We got makeup and put on a show. We thought if it lasted two weeks, it’d be great. We became East Village darlings. England put us on the centerfold of their biggest papers. We became stars overnight. But we got our asses kicked and it took three years to get a record contract. Once we got signed that was it-Talking Heads, Blondie, Patti Smith, the Ramones. And that’s only New York. Across the pond, Joe Strummer watched us on BBC. The whole scene changed. We spawned bands and a whole generation of clothes, style, fashion. Clubs opened up. We now have longhairs next to super-punks who’d never talk to each other at shows.