- Original New York Dolls Sylvain Sylvain (left) and David Johansen. Photo by Yoni Goldberg.
The last 40 years have been a blur for Sylvain Sylvain. Since co-founding the legendary and influential proto-punk group New York Dolls in 1971, Sylvain has seen bands rise and fall and the whole industry fall flat on its face. The one constant has been Sylvain himself — along with his cohort, David Johansen, the New York Dolls lead singer who achieved fame playing the cheeky lounge singer Buster Poindexter.
"Me and David have made music for a long time," Sylvain said in an interview last week. "I just love writing songs. I just want to write a damn good song no matter who's gonna record it or listen to it."
The New York Dolls originally disbanded in 1977, but have found new life after reuniting in 2004, working up three surprisingly-inspired studio albums in the interim, including this year's Dancing Backwards in Heels.
"All the songs I've written are like threads in a curtain, and after 40 years of writing songs, I've got a pretty thick curtain, and I keep getting better and better," Sylvain said. "I don't think we got it quite right until this most recent record (Dancing Backwards in Heels)...If you want to write a good song, you can't think of it as a job. You can't treat songwriting like it's your homework."
While far from a household name, Sylvain is considered a god in punk circles. As a guitarist with the Dolls, he helped lay a solid foundation for what would become the punk movement. The band's garish fashion sense changed the way rock stars dress, with Lady GaGa, Axl Rose and Johnny Rotten all owing a debt.
Renewed interest in the post-reunion Dolls has coincided with a rejuvenation of Sylvain's other projects. His latest one, The Batusis, which features Sylvain alongside long-time friend and punk pioneer Cheetah Chrome (of The Dead Boys), stopped by the Melody Inn in December 2010.
Hair metal clowns Mötley Crüe have enlisted fellow cock-rockers Poison and, of all bands, New York Dolls as openers for their 2011 summer tour.
"We always knew the Mötley Crüe guys were fans of the Dolls, and we're excited to have been asked to tour with them," Sylvain said. "So far, the crowd's reactions to us on the tour have been surprisingly positive. We're playing all our best songs from all our albums, old and new. We really want to sock it to them."