In 2006 Melbourne all-girl band Dollsquad did the classic Australian rock’n’roll thing and headed overseas to try its luck. With 35 shows booked and a solid fan base coming together, Dollsquad was sitting pretty. “Every show was a sell-out show to the point that I couldn’t put my microphone down because the audience was swarming so close to the stage,” Dollsquad singer Joey says. “We used to do a cover of this Vibrators song, Baby Baby, and we’d have everyone, all these kids under 20, singing along. It was just awesome!,” she says.
And then the proverbial hit the fan. “The first line-up of the band broke-up while we were on the road,” Joey says. “We were 18 shows into the tour when we broke up, and three of the girls went home”. Joey decided to salvage what she could from the tour and somehow managed to recruit replacement Dollsquad members to finish the tour. “I went through a list of girl band members and managed to find three replacement members.
Somehow, we managed to play a show two days after the original line-up had broken up,” Joey laughs.
Back in Melbourne, with the surrogate Dollsquad members staying on in Europe and Joey decided to re-populate Dollsquad with local musicians. “It took me about two years to get the band back together,” Joey says. “It took a while, but it was definitely worth it. The musicianship is really strong, and the songwriting partnership between [guitarist] Yolanda and I is really strong,” she says.
The Dollsquad line-up has also been augmented with the addition of a keyboard player which has added an extra element to the band. “I’ve always wanted a keyboard player, but it’s always been hard to find one due to the specifics of the genre we’re working with,” Joey says. One night in Melbourne Joey spotted the perfect candidate – but the question remained: could she also play keyboards?
“I was out one night and I saw this striking dark haired girl,” Joey says. “I went to speak to her and asked her if she could play a musical instrument. It turned out she could play piano, but she was learning to play guitar,” she says. Initially recruited to play guitar, Joey eventually convinced Alice to swap instruments with Yolanda and the current line-up of Dollsquad moved closer to finalisation. With the line-up now comprising Joey, Yolanda, Alice, Lulu (percussion), Ash (drums) and Sharon (bass) – the latter recently leaving to have a baby – Dollsquad has expanded to a six-piece configuration, with a consequent boost in form and substance.
The next piece of the Dollsquad puzzle fell into place when Joey met X lead singer Steve Lucas when Joey’s husband interviewed Lucas for a German music magazine. “My husband is a journalist and he writes for a magazine in Germany. He interviewed Steve, and I drove him to meet Steve,” Joey says. “I found Steve a really interesting guy, and I thought the way he thought about music, and Australia’s place in the international music scene was really cool,” she says.
With producer Steve Lucas in the studio.
Despite Lucas’s absence of direct production experience, Joey approached him to produce the fledgling Dollsquad album. “He asked if he could hear the music, and after he’d heard it, he said he could do something with it,” Joey says. “Steve sat in on rehearsals, and he stared adding tone to the music”. The result, Joey says, was immediate. “I think the album sounds like a real band, not just a disparate collection of musicians. My advice to any indie band is to get themselves a decent producer, and not concentrate on fashion or pose!,” Joey says emphatically. “We had a few demos that we showed to Steve, and he took it up a notch – you need that type of direction”.
The resulting product, "Lethal in Leather", has now been released in Australia. Joey describes her original vision for Dollsquad as influenced by Suzi Quattro, The Pandoras and She; with Dollsquad Mark #2, the band has outgrown its overt 60s origins and embraced a more overtly 70s aesthetic. “This album is definitely a step away from past records,” Joey says. “The last album was very 60s, very retro and very pink,” she says. “This album is more '70s, more Quattro, more Elvis in leather. I think if something looks very 60s then people just know what to expect,” Joey says.
Speaking of leather, I’m compelled to ask the very obvious – but important – question: Is it uncomfortable playing a gig in the heat of the Australian summer while wearing black leather? “It’s actually really cool,” Joey laughs. “You should ask Doc Neeson [lead singer of legendary Australian pub rock band The Angels] the same question – he wore leathers throughout the 1970s and 1980s!,” Joey says.
Prior the demise of the first line-up of the band in 2006, Dollsquad had managed to release an album (which was also released in Italy), plus a single on Cherry Bomb records. While staying in Berlin immediately after the band’s initial implosion, the European makeshift Dollsquad line-up managed to put down a cover of The Fuzztones’ "Bad News" for a Fuzztones tribute album (which also features Sydney stylish psych-fuzz band The Intercontinental Playboys). “That album took so long to be released!,” Joey laughs. “I only got my copy this week. When we were in Berlin we stayed at Rudy’s house, and Rudy said he’d like to get us to record a Fuzztones song, so I said I’d love to do Bad News,” she says.
In May Dollsquad return to Europe. “I think this line-up is going to take it to the next level,” Joey says. “It’s a good thing for things to morph, and I want this band to grow”. So far Dollsquad has managed to spread the word to select northern hemisphere icons. “I saw Paul Weller at the airport and gave him a copy of our last record – I’d love to give him a copy of the new album as well. And we gave the Flamin’ Groovies a copy as well,” Joey says. “We saw them out in Europe – it’s amazing, but famous people get out!”she laughs.