30-years ago, The Clash had already taken an early Mick Jones song called 'I'm So Bored With You' and, inspired by Kojak and McDonalds culture, turned it into 'I'm So Bored With The USA'. It's that kind of song and, staying true to the spirit, the Devildolls Rock n Roll Street Gang have covered it, adding to the lyrics to give some topicality, and shot it full of the sort of gleeful, rampant energy that comes from true fans in their element.
The Clash always inspired their followers to use their impact as a launch pad: the Devildolls carry on the tradition which sparked fanzines like '48 Thrills', 'London's Burning' and countless bands and painted Oxfam shirts.
I'm flattered to hear that the Devildolls' leader Billy Nowhere was prodded to write 'Radio London' after reading in my Strummer book that Joe used to listen to Peel's Radio London show. It's a good move, putting that on the flip, because it shows that the group can come up with their own anthems, even if the Clash’s influence still shines through the 'Police On My Back' guitars [with a bass-line that actually reminds me of 'Babylon's Burning'!]. Again, all belted out with passion and a spirit - which can only be healthy at time when Muse selling out Wembley Stadium creates an uncanny sense of deja vu recalling bands like Yes, who, of course, made records like this necessary in the first place!
Strummerville is Joe's legacy - and proceeds from the single are going there - a major point of the release. I shot over a few queries to Billy and this is what he had to say:
trakMARX - Tell us a bit about the group. How it came together: where & when, why - and who's in it?
Billy - The first incarnation of the group came about in 1999. My mate Danny Frye was singing for this band at the time called The Vacancies (currently on Joan Jett’s Blackheart Records). Danny was also swinging double duty playing guitar for Sylvain Sylvain's solo stuff as well. I thought Danny was the most amazing musician, so I approached him about working on a recording project with me that would stray a bit from what he was doing in the Vacancies, so he agreed and we dove immediately into the studio working on what then became the 'Hellbent' LP. When we started there was no intention to it being more than a studio project because he was so involved with the Vacancies, but as we got deeper into the sessions we both felt we were onto something special, different and exciting - so he quit everything he was doing to dedicate 100% towards the Devildolls project.
Basically, those ‘Hellbent’ sessions were Danny, (current Devildoll RnR Street Gang member) Eddie Tomecko, and myself playing all the instruments, and singing all the BVs. Of course, Danny took on lead vocal duties. That wasn’t much of a band! So we began hunting down the right pieces to the puzzle.
At the time we noticed that The Yo-Yo’s had split up so I contacted Neil Philips and Tom Spencer from the group about being Devildolls….. I sent them some of the early mixes of the record and they agreed. We flew them Stateside and began working on material and rehearsing. Also we cut some tracks that would later become a rare EP that was released on the Changes One label out of Newcastle. After touring the record once in the UK, Tom left because of some personal stuff and Neil went full steam ahead with his B-Movie Heroes band along with Drummer Scott Garrett, and we were back at square one. We then were on the hunt once again. Put together another makeshift unit to do some Stateside gigs. Danny was becoming ever more reclusive though and didn’t want to do much, just write and go on these binges and stay up for days writing and playing guitar. At that point he and I were becoming more distant, and though we were still working on things it wasn’t the same. He surrounded himself with leaches that were sucking the life out of him. For one last hurrah I thought I’d be able to shake the dust off of him and light the flame again by getting him to play a gig with Glen Matlock at the Rock n Roll Hall of Fame and Museum. I had been in contact with Matlock and said, hey let me get the Rock Hall to bring you over for a one off gig, and he agreed. I talked Glen into having Danny Frye and another friend Justin Sane of Anti-Flag join him on stage for 'Stepping Stone' and 'Pretty Vacant', which went over wonderfully… it was unknown at the time it would be the last time that he stepped on stage. Two weeks after the gig he was dead at 30 years old! He was a long time diabetic that lived a fast life and his heart, though big and powerful, couldn’t take everything that he threw at it! I was so angry with that, I was angry at the music industry in general. So we packed it up at that time. I didn’t want to go on without being able to work with him so…. We shelved the Devildolls. Then in Sept of 2006 I began talking to some old friends and through these conversations we began pulling the group out of mothballs. We’re going to do it differently though. We were going to shelve all the material that we did with Danny just out of respect, and the fact that none of us sorry lot can sing like him. Start from scratch with the same name but just adding a little twist to it…We were now the Devildolls Rock n Roll Street Gang. We were the gang rallying around the memory of our fallen leader! We inked a deal with new Indie upstart Not On Your Radio recently. We know the owner Dave Robinson well, and he’s been supportive since day one so it was a no brainer.
The current lineup consists of:
Billy Nowhere: Vocals and other rants; Eddie Tomecko: Guitar/vox; Tom Spencer (ex-Lurkers/Dogs D’Amour/Yo-Yo’s): Guitar/Vox; Mike Andrews: Guitar; Drew Tomecko: Bass/vocals and Joey Cypher: Drums.
Nothing is set in stone with these fella’s though. We’ve gone with that Street Gang mentality and will most likely have a revolving door type thing minus myself. This new lineup hasn’t gigged out yet. We’re keeping it under wraps until the full length is complete. We’ve tossed around doing some one off’s but decided we'd rather concentrate on the studio effort, and then hopefully get on a support slot for an Autumn UK jaunt.
trakMARX - Any particularly memorable moments of lunacy and chaos here [I always have to ask!]?
Billy - Anytime I’m around that lot the entire moment is lunacy and chaos! You know the games that come about after being locked in a recording studio after hours on end. I think I recall reading about a fella that spent a session wrapped up in gaffer tape listening to playback, you recall that?
Needsy - Vaguely - it was six in the morning!
trakMARX - When did you first hear The Clash? What dragged you towards them?
Billy - I don’t recall the first moment I heard The Clash, actually. It was eons ago! I will never forget the feelings I had when I first heard them though; I still feel the same when I hear them today! Every time I listen to that band (which is about daily) they stoke up a fire in my gut like no other band around. Their songs aren’t just empty shells of crap; they attack each subject with their hearts on their sleeves and let it all hang out. I love the diversity in their sound actually. They’re all great musicians. They draw from about every influence you can thing of and melt it all together in this pot and the end product is just brilliant! They never get old for me; the music is just as fresh now as it was when it was recorded.
trakMARX - Favourite Clash song?
Billy - It depends on the moment actually. To put one over the other is unfair. My tastes are so catholic and vary from day to day all depending on mood. I’ve been listening to the S/T album a lot now. It’s raw and straight to the point, simple, right down your throat. That’s what I’m about right now. It mirrors my own writing style a bit.
trakMARX - Tell us about the single. Why that song, what was it like doing it and have you had any reactions?
Billy – Well, we remade 'I’m So Bored With The USA'. We did that song really because of Mark Helfond. He and I had been having back and forth conversations about us re-doing a Clash song, and he suggested that. You know the history behind the tune? It was Mick’s song and Joe basically took it reworked it, and really it’s officially the first Clash song which makes it appropriate for it being tied into the whole Strummerville thing. Reactions have been great, actually. I took the liberty to rework a few of the lyrics and bring it up to modern times. Dealing with the Middle East and such. Actually the biggest critics were Mark Helfond and Bernie Rhodes who think we should have really strayed further from the original. My mentality was: if it ain’t broke don’t try to fix it. The song works as it was, I brought it up to 2007 lyrically, but the Clash really did all that needed to be done to the song originally. Yeah, our drums are a bit more flash and it’s all just a bit tighter but everything else the Clash gets all the credit for.
trakMARX - Proceeds to Strummervile - how did that come about? Why them?
Billy - I wanted it to go to Strummerville because of what Joe and the Clash have given us. Unfortunately I’d never gotten the opportunity to meet him face to face so it’s a thank you of sorts from us to him. The whole Strummerville concept is just great. Helping out young artists that otherwise wouldn’t have the financial means to expand their art, and provide them with a place to practice, and record or whatnot. I just hope that we could help them out to the fullest of our abilities. It would be great to see these Strummerville locations around the World someday!
trakMARX - Joe Strummer - what does he mean to you?
Billy - To me he’s much more than the front man of a great rock and roll group. The guy was salt of the Earth from beginning to end. I’ve never heard a negative word about him; only thing is that he couldn’t be with us longer. It might sound funny but he’s a muse for me. Listening to his lyrics, or hearing him play, or even reading a book about him or watch a film, all of this gets my creative forces working inside me. Something of a magical quality about him. He brings out this feeling in more than me obviously. Something about the guy that just draws you in. I just hope he knew how much he was appreciated and loved before he passed, and how much he inspired through both his work, and just as a man. As I say these words I hope he knows wherever he is how sorely we all miss him . . . A BIG THANK YOU to you, Joe, for all you gave and continue to give!
trakMARX - Tell us about the B side [which I like just as much].
Billy - 'Radio London' is the B-side. Oddly enough I penned it shortly after laying down your “Joe Strummer and the Legend of The Clash” book. I was reading the chapter where you were talking about how Joe used to tune into Radio London. Another one we lost, John Peel, also loosely inspires it. He championed bands that would have never made it to commercial radio at the time, and really introduced them to the masses. So that’s basically who and what the song is about.
trakMARX - What do you think of the current scene, where do you think you fit in your Rock "n' Roll Street Gang?
Billy - The current scene shows some hope, I guess? I mean, anytime there are kids out there trying new and different things to shake it up, it’s great. I think you still have to dig for the good stuff; the majors still don’t get it and are trying to cram homogenized crap down our throats. But if the kids are keen enough and scratch the surface there are really good bands out there! They don’t have to dig as hard now either with the advent of my space and You Tube all this great music is only a click away! Shit, do bands even need to play live anymore with those two tools one can rule the World at the click of a mouse? Where do I fit in to a Rock n Roll Street Gang? Well, right at the front of course! The World better watch out, Billy Nowhere is coming at ya full tilt with his rants and raves - so listen up!
trakMARX - What are you up to next?
Billy - We’re tracking the full-length, and it’s titled “Anthems of The Lost and Forgotten”. Also we wrapped a video shoot a couple weeks back for 'Radio London', which was shot around Camden. That should be edited in a few weeks and ready to roll out to the public. Actually, Mark Helfond and Ray Gange (if you can believe it) both make appearances in the video at points. It will be interesting to see what kind of reactions it gets. I know some of the Clash inner circle fella’s have some strong opinions on Ray and the film Rude Boy, but the bloke has been nothing but supportive of our project, and he’s been nothing but golden to us! So to all the neigh sayers . . . Fuck off; he’s now officially part of the gang! So, if all goes as planned, the album should be out sometime in October and then we should be causing some chaos on a stage in a town near you in the fall.
Kris Needs – tMx 29 – 04/07