Houstonian Tales: MyDolls
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.