"We're all very much into cars," announces Margaret Doll Rod, singer, songwriter and ringleader for the Demolition Doll Rods. "In fact, for this tour coming up, we were like, 'Oh, jeez, I don't know. Are we gonna miss the derby? When's the derby coming? James Brown is coming and the derby's coming, and we want to make sure we're home in time.'"
Appropriately, home for the Doll Rods, whose other members are drummer Christine Doll Rod (Margaret's sister) and cross-dressing guitarist Danny Doll Rod, is the Detroit area, where automobiles are not just a mode of transportation but a way of life. Tasty, the Rods' first long-player, is perfectly in touch with this Motor City obsession: The blistering, raunchy, clamorous music it contains sounds as if it came straight from a garage.
There's another side to the Doll Rods, however--a certain white-trashiness that Margaret associates with Downriver, the area south of Detroit where she and Christine were raised. "The MC5 came from Downriver," she reveals, "and Iggy Pop came from Ypsilanti. People always say he came from Detroit, but Ypsilanti is in Wayne County. It's more like white hicks grow up there. It's very down-home. People hunt up there; they trap muskrat, they turtle-trap. It's very scattered and rural."
Thanks to this environment, Downriver's version of auto fanatacism had its own special character. "Cars in Detroit are, of course, a big deal," Margaret acknowledges. "But once you start getting to the outskirts of Detroit, kids really get into their cars. You have auto shop in school, and it's a really big thing. My brother used to race his car. They would fix up cars and race them at a track. There were dirt roads and there was a strip where the pavement began, and the kids would race on that, too. My neighbors always had car engines hanging from their trees and they had chickens, so you'd get a real natural feel and then you'd get the engine feel." The parallel between these experiences and primitive R&B stomps like "If You Can't Hang..." and "Maverick Girl" is obvious to her: "For our music, a lot of it is very down-home but with a high-revving thing going with it."
The Rods achieve this synthesis using the simplest of tools--specifically, a pair of six-string guitars and a two-piece drum kit that Christine pounds like a cannibal calling the tribe to dinner. Their apparel, meanwhile, is virtually nonexistent. The three generally perform wearing nothing other than car parts, toys or mirrors that they tape to their bodies in strategic locations. "We wear very little, mostly because it's very hot on stage--but also, we're just not inhibited by the societal norms here," Margaret claims. "A lot of people, when they heard that we were dressed the way we were, thought we were like this big sex group, but we are so much like children. We're not very sexual." After a pause, she reconsiders this statement: "Well, probably just naturally we're sexual and don't even realize it. We don't hump the stage or anything like that. We don't go out of our way to be distastefully sexy. We think of ourselves more like kids playing." As a youngster, she reveals, "I thought I was the sexiest thing--in my own world, walking around on dirt roads in high heels."
Birthday suits were not yet de rigueur four years ago, when the Rods came together. According to Margaret, "Danny started dressing like a girl at the very beginning. He would wear full girl outfits, but I think that's just because he feels very androgynous. He's not gay, and he doesn't have anything against people who are. But sexually, he feels that inside of us we all have a little bit of boy and a little bit of girl." Besides, she confesses, "I really wanted an all-girl band, and there aren't too many girls who can play lead guitar like Danny." As for the Rods' original drummer, she preferred jeans and a Gene Simmons mask--but because of a heroin charge, she was not allowed to tour foreign soils. Enter Christine, who shares her sibling's predilection for bareness and back-breaking stiletto footwear.
The women's parents have mixed emotions regarding such exhibitionist tendencies. "My dad's always saying, 'Don't you think you could wear a little more?' The show he came to was our record-release party, where we wore the record. And I was like, 'Dad, I think that's the biggest costume we've ever worn!'" says Margaret, laughing. "But my mom loves it. She'll say, 'Don't tell anybody' and secretly go out and buy us costumes. My dad wishes that we wore more, but they like the music, and they listen to it and show their friends. They're proud of us."
Likewise, the Rods are proud of their physiques. "We take very good care of ourselves, and we love our bodies," Margaret confirms. "We think it's important to show that so that other people feel comfortable and love their bodies, too." To keep their machines finely tuned, the three enjoy a meatless, dairyless diet and regularly flush their carburetors with Smooth Move herbal laxatives. "All three of us are vegans," she affirms, "but Danny will cheat every now and then. I know, because we can tell by the farts in the van."
The group's dietary preferences are belied by the cover of Tasty, on which the trio, clad in skintight vinyl, perkily ride a foot-long frankfurter into the open mouth of Mick Collins, who engineered half the tunes on the disc. ("He likes real hot dogs," Margaret explains.) The other cuts were handled by Jon Spencer, a longtime friend.
"Jon played with another band called the Gibson Brothers, and they came to Detroit and played with Dan's old band, the Gories," Margaret says. "We made friends--and when they came back through town as the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, before they were as popular as they are now, there were probably seven of us in the audience. They came and stayed with us at our house. They were always big fans of the Gories. Then, when we started the Doll Rods, we went out to New York, and they came to see us play and loved us from the get-go. It was so nice to see them and how happy they were when they saw us play. They invited us on a lot of really great tours."
Spencer also mixed Tasty, effectively capturing the live bump and grind the Rods achieve with vintage amps and instruments. "I use a very old Fender Bronco for my main guitar, and for my second guitar I use an Airline," Margaret notes. "And our amps are old tube amps. Dan made our cabinets so that they're replicas of the old Silvertone cabinets.
"We are very particular about our equipment and took a lot of time picking it out," she goes on. "I spent all day at the guitar store and played so awful at the time that I got a really good discount, I think, just to get me out of the store. I got my really old equipment very affordably because the guy had just had it."
Given this passion for retro gear, it's no surprise that the Rods go for groups with similar infatuations. "I saw the Cramps, and I loved them," Margaret reports. "I got thrown out halfway through the show, but I enjoyed that, too. Six guys carried me out like Cleopatra." Still, it was Screamin' Jay Hawkins, one of rock's original wild men, who truly unleashed her naked ambition. "When I saw him I went nuts," she relates. "I actually jumped on the stage and took the Sixties leopard-spotted one-piece bathing suit I was wearing and dropped it down to my ankles and chased the man. His wife was there--I didn't even know he was married or anything like that--and his eyes just got huge. He was so scared. So I've actually scared Screamin' Jay."
Hawkins's influence is evident on a handful of Tasty numbers, including "Psycho Kitty" and "Raw," during which the Rods take turns squealing and purring the song's title. In the future, Margaret hopes that vocal convulsions like these will be accompanied by a wider range of sounds. "I'm learning how to play the harmonica, because we have a new song that has a harmonica part," she coyly admits. "And I would like to learn to play the saxophone. So as soon as I can save up to buy one, I'm going to learn that."
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Christine is also expanding her horizons; her minimal percussion setup now includes a tambourine. But for the most part, she's content to stick with the basics. "Danny tries to teach her drum parts and they get in little fights about it," Margaret divulges. "The rule for us is that we'll listen to whatever anybody else has to say, but our instruments are our own territory. So that's her own thing, and that's just the way she likes it." She adds, "It's just so nice to be able to run in and throw the stuff up on stage the way that it is. And as far as people giving us feedback on that, they really enjoy her drumming more than most people's. I don't think you need all that extra stuff. It confuses everything. That rhythm is so important--to have it solid."
Stripped down instrumentally and otherwise, the Rods tap into a primal pleasure that the lower lobes of the brain translate immediately--something Margaret has understood ever since the band's first truck-stop gigs. "When we started, there were not that many kids at our shows, but they would go nuts," she says. "The next time we would play there, the place would be packed. And in France, kids would be chanting our name and pounding on the stage. We had no idea that we had fans like that in places we had never been."
They always knew, however, that they had such devotees in Detroit. Margaret is especially fond of a certain four-year-old booster--one who just may remind her of herself at that age. "She lived down the street and would come over for rehearsals," she says. "She knew all the words and would walk around in my six-inch platform heels with a wand in her hand and a tiara. And dancing like you wouldn't believe."
Second stage at Lollapalooza '97, with Failure, Pugs, Lost Boyz, Skeleton Key, Demolition Doll Rods and Orbit. 11 a.m. Sunday, August 10, Fiddler's Green, $26.50, 830-