When he answers the phone to talk to Westword, Pyn Doll, lead guitarist for the Greek rock band Barb Wire Dolls, sounds like a man who is both worn to a frazzle and spilling over with excitement.
That’s understandable. At the time, Doll was just ninety minutes removed from playing his first set on his band’s first-ever Vans Warped Tour, the traveling pop-punk and hard-rock festival that has crisscrossed America each summer for more than two decades. That’s where the excitement comes from. But the journey just to get to the tour took its toll on the band, Doll says.
“We were lucky just to get here, because our van just broke down, and it’s stuck in a parking lot somewhere waiting to get fixed,” he says. “We didn’t think we were going to make it. But we found a way!”
Barb Wire Dolls’ whole career has been about finding a way. Originally from the Greek island of Crete, the band moved to the United States in 2010 at the invitation of legendary L.A. radio DJ Rodney Bingenheimer, who pointed them to the Sunset Strip rock dive Whisky a Go Go. That’s where Barb Wire Dolls met Motörhead frontman Lemmy Kilmister, who took a shine to the band and signed them to his burgeoning label, Motörhead Music, not long before his death in 2015.
Now, Barb Wire Dolls are gearing up for the release of their new album, Rub My Mind, and they’re playing every date of Warped Tour this summer, bringing to the historically dude-heavy festival a much-needed dose of woman-powered, politically minded, punk-rooted throwback rock and roll.
Westword caught up with Pyn Doll shortly after Barb Wire Dolls’ Warped set in Seattle. Here’s that conversation, edited for content and clarity.
Westword: Is it true that Barb Wire Dolls was the first punk band in Crete?
Pyn Doll: We’re the first rock or punk band from Crete that ever played America. At one time, we were the only punk band in Crete, but now there’s like three or four.
What’s the scene like there?
There was no scene at all, but we loved music. We were living in an artist commune in Crete. One day I showed Isis this movie The Song Remains the Same, about Led Zeppelin touring America. After watching it three times in a row, she said, “Let’s start a band.” I said, “I can’t play like Jimmy Page.” She said she wanted to sing, and I said, “You can’t sing like Robert Plant.” But we can start a punk band. So we started a punk band. Then when we would try to play shows, no one would book us because they’d never heard a punk band. They didn’t want a punk band. They were afraid of us because they assumed we were anarchists and were gonna blow the place up.
So we took the overnight boat to Athens, the big city. Nobody would book us there, but we found a club that let us take over Sundays, and we played for free and booked other bands and had punk-rock matinees. We did that for six months, every Sunday, with a packed house every week. It was great, but we were going nowhere.
How did Rodney Bingenheimer of KROQ find you?
We happened to find a DVD called Mayor of the Sunset Strip, a documentary about Rodney. He was the first in America to play all these great rock bands, and we were like, “Wouldn’t it be awesome if he discovered us? What a dream!” Two weeks later, his assistant e-mailed us and said, “Rodney would like you to send your CD.” They’d found us on MySpace. So we sent him our demo and he started playing it, and he invited us to L.A. And we didn’t have much going on back home, so we sold everything we owned, bought tickets and came to L.A.
And you guys have been touring like crazy ever since?
That’s right. We’ve played hundreds of shows now.
Tell me about meeting Lemmy.
We met him at the Whisky a Go Go and made his acquaintance, and then we’d see him every few months for a while and say hi or whatever. In 2015, when he was looking for a band to sign to Motörhead Music to be the first release on his label...he looked at 64 bands, and he came to see us and asked if we wanted to put our record out on his label.
When was that?
That was the fall of 2015.
And he died at the very end of 2015.
Yeah, he passed away right after that.
So in that short period of time between signing to his label and his death, what did Lemmy do for Barb Wire Dolls?
He was such an amazing, giving person — very humble, but very powerful at the same time. We were his music love child. He was like, “You’re gonna carry my legacy.” It’s not like he didn’t know [he was going to die], and he wanted to find someone to carry his legacy. He was looking for bands that are more like Motörhead, but it just so happened that when he saw us, he was like, ‘That’s my band. That’s the band I want.” That will always be our biggest honor. So we’re going out every night trying to make him proud.
Speaking of which, you’re spending the summer on Warped Tour. How’d that happen?
Kevin Lyman, who’s the founder of Warped Tour, is an old punk rocker who’s been around the scene since the early 1980s. And he was struck by our story, and he called our (team) and said, “We want Barb Wire Dolls on this tour." He wanted it to be more diverse and have some new bands, because the scene is kind of stagnant, and you need to put new blood into it. And we’re it.
Warped Tour has been criticized in the past for being too male-dominated. Do you think your 60 percent female band is a needed presence in the lineup?
We have three women in the band and a very powerful female frontperson who’s a role model for a lot of girls, you know. They see a powerful woman on stage who doesn’t take crap from anybody. So we’re filling that void that they obviously need to fill. And they need to put some bands that are more influenced by the first wave of punk and real rock and roll, so it’s nice that they chose us.
In your publicity materials is this quote from Isis: "Vans Warped Tour is where we will reach the youth who have the potential to change the world. It's time to inspire, and activate their thunder!" What does that mean? How are you going to change the world through Warped Tour?
I love that quote! We’re playing to the youngest audience we’ve ever played to out here, because 99 percent of our shows are over 21, and even then the average age is 25 and up. The youth know how to use social media. They know how to speak their mind. They haven’t reached the point where they’re like, “Life sucks. I’m stuck in a dead-end job, and I’m already finished, and I’m just gonna put on my TV and say ‘Fuck it.’” The youth is the energy well that needs to be enlightened on not only human rights, but just the power of music. We are all music and dance. That’s what we all are naturally. And music has always carried the most powerful messages. Music can start a revolution.
That’s why they try to keep down music and bands with powerful lyrics and powerful frontpeople. And a lot of our music is definitely about standing up for your rights and about finding the power and freedom within. It’s all about self-empowerment. It’s about letting go of your ego and freeing your mind so that you can become a powerful person and live the dream you wish to live. We’re examples of it! We’re living our dream. No one’s telling us what to do.
Is Isis the kind of frontperson who’ll go out and talk directly to the girls and women in the audience about this kind of stuff?
She’ll go out in the crowd and see someone who wants to shout and dance but they’re too embarrassed. She’ll tell them to be free and dance, and she’ll dance with them, and then suddenly they’re dancing. And later they’ll come up and say, "Oh, my God, you activated something in me! I feel so free.” Yes, you are free. You are a free being. Break the chains! No one’s gonna break ’em for you. You’ve gotta break ’em yourself.
Vans Warped Tour with Barb Wire Dolls, 11 a.m. Sunday, June 25, Pepsi Center, 1000 Chopper Circle, $40-$50, 303-405-1100.