Dollyrots play fast, could go pretty far
October 22, 2008
Never underestimate the power of sarcasm.
A hit song is what separates one band from thousands of others. The Dollyrots gained acclaim with their song “Because I’m Awesome.” It’s an appropriate tune for the sardonic pop punk band from Los Angeles to gain entry onto music’s national stage.
“We pulled off a semi rock ‘n’ roll swindle,” said the trio’s guitarist, Luis Cabezas.
Cabezas and lead singer and bassist Kelly Ogden have been pals since they were eighth-graders in Florida. With a dream of the rock ‘n’ roll life, they moved to L.A., where they struggled mightily until catching some unlikely breaks.
The Dollyrots were at their lowest point when “Because I’m Awesome” was written.
“It was a sarcastic song, but it was interpreted as a self-affirming sort of pick-me-up song,” Cabezas said. “It was written about high school experiences and living here in L.A. It’s about being the outcast and observing the popular kids.”
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“Because I’m Awesome” highlights unabashed self-confidence and shallowness, which is celebrated and rewarded in places like campuses and La-La Land.
Why is the singer so smart? Because her “brain is super-sized.” And she smells good because she’s “self-deodorized.”
The song repeated last fall on a commercial for clothing retailer Kohl’s. It also appeared on the television programs “Ugly Betty,” “Greek,” “Picture This,” “Bad Girls Road Trip” and “Reaper.”
“Most of the reviews were really good, but 10 percent of them pointed out the idea that this singer is so full of herself and this song is the most arrogant song ever,” Cabezas said. “We were really surprised by that. How could you take that literally? I mean, we say the word ‘neato.’ It’s so tongue-in-cheek.”
As a child, Cabezas wasn’t all that happy to enter the world of music. His parents forced him to take piano lessons. As a teenager the unhappiness turned to anger. He wanted a guitar, and after learning a certain musical piece on the piano, Cabezas’ parents rewarded him with a guitar on his 15th birthday.
“There is a subset of population that when you turn 13, 14, 15 that you hate the world and everything in it,” Cabezas said. “You want to do something with your energy, like spend all your time in your room screaming and playing distorted guitar. Nothing feels better than that when you’re in high school.”
Cabezas had taught himself the entire Nirvana catalog when he became close with Ogden. The couple found common ground when Cabezas taught Ogden the song “Come As You Are.”
“She was kind of a hippie girl who brought an acoustic guitar to school and was into Melanie,” he said. “We were completely different people. I was a skinny, angry, long-haired kid. I really liked the Sex Pistols and the Clash.”
Cabezas and Ogden contrast, hence the band name Dollyrots.
“Kelly’s voice is really high-pitched and cute-sounding, and when we started out it was even higher,” Cabezas said. “The music is really aggressive and fast, and Kelly’s voice was girlie and cute, so we literally took a hat filled with negative dirty words and positive cute words. We came up lot dumb combinations like the Bubbleguns. It’s amazing how creative you can get with just a hat and a bunch of scraps of paper.”
Upon moving to L.A., the Dollyrots discovered it was easier to get a music license than to get on a label. The license did, however, lead to a label.
One day at 1 p.m. the band received a phone call requesting they come to an audition at 4 p.m. The invitation came about from a favor from a friend of a friend.
The Dollyrots, who had nothing to lose, drove to Santa Monica, set up their equipment in a conference room and played a song in front of a group of advertising executives. They were chosen to play a song on a commercial for Hewlett-Packard.
The commercial aired only in movie theaters but its recording at the prestigious Capitol Records Studio B brought about the first big break for the Dollyrots.
After finishing the song for the commercial, the producers told the band members they had what they needed and left, adding they could use the studio which was booked until midnight.
“So the engineer turns toward us and says, ‘Do you want to make a record or what?’ ” Cabezas said. “We did 12 songs in four hours. We had been (preparing to make an album) so we were all ready to go.”
The engineer was John Fields, who later produced albums for the Jonas Brothers and Miley Cyrus.
The studio session led to the 2004 album “Eat My Heart Out” and a short-lived label deal with Lookout! The Berkeley record company went out of business, again leaving the Dollyrots without a label.
The band, which in 2006 added drummer Chris Black, decided to make a record on their own, again using Fields as the engineer. They put everything on a credit card.
The Dollyrots had recorded the instrumental part of what would become their big hit when they were at their lowest point.
“We were despondent,” Cabezas said. “I asked Kelly, ‘How does this make you feel? Why is all this happening? Why don’t we have a label? We’re here in L.A., and we can’t really get any traction.’ I posed the question to Kelly. ‘Why is this?’ And she said, ‘Because ‘I’m awesome’ in a really sarcastic kind of way.”
Cabezas discovered the song’s hook, and the lyrics came easily. The song was complete two days later.
The Dollyrots now had a demo but no label. That situation led to an act of temerity which paid off.
During the 2006 Vans Warped Tour, Ogden mustered up the courage to approach Joan Jett and give her the demo. Ogden was surprised when Jett, who has her own label, Blackheart Records Group,told her she knew about the Dollyrots. There were not many female-fronted bands on the Warped tour, and Jett could relate to Ogden’s situation. Moreover, Jett liked the demo and signed the Dollyrots, who released the album “Because I’m Awesome” in March 2007. Jett’s longtime partner, Kenny Laguna, produced the album. It includes one of Ogden’s favorite songs, “Brand New Key,” Melanie’s No. 1 hit in 1972.
“We just did it at the last minute and we put a Ramones spin on it,” Cabezas said. “That’s the way we do every cover, whatever genre it is. If you play it like the Ramones, its gonna sound cool.”
“Brand New Key” used metaphors to show a young girl’s sexual desire for a young boy. She has a brand new pair of roller skates and he has a brand new key.
The song continues: “I ride my bike, I roller skate, don’t drive no car/I don’t go too fast but I go pretty far.”
The Dollyrots’ version of the song has become a YouTube sensation. Ogden’s cuteness isn’t limited to her voice.
The Dollyrots have been getting airplay on Sirius Satellite Radio’s “Little Steven’s Underground Garage.” Cabezas disagreed with categorizing the band as pop punk.
“Over the last five years the whole emo thing has kind of happened,” he said. “So pop punk now invokes emo music, which we’re not at all.
“It might be better to say rock ‘n’ roll. That’s all it is. It’s not like dirty rock ‘n’ roll. It’s drums, guitar and bass. It’s crunchy guitar with hooks. If rock ‘n’ roll isn’t that I don’t know what rock ‘n’ roll is.”