The Dollyrots, Bringing the Fam Back to the Northeast (10/11 at MilkBoy)

“It’s hard for me to determine what it sounds like…  But a lot of the people that have heard it have used the terms, ‘more mature,’ and, ‘a little...

“It’s hard for me to determine what it sounds like…  But a lot of the people that have heard it have used the terms, ‘more mature,’ and, ‘a little darker.’  But it still has that shiny Dollyrots coating!” says Kelly Ogden (also known as Kelly Dollyrot), bassist, lead vocalist, and one-half of punk rock duo The Dollyrots, along with guitarist and Kelly’s husband, Luis Cabezas, or Luis Dollyrot.  Kelly and I are discussing The Dollyrots’ upcoming LP, Night Owls, which drops October 13th on Steven Van Zandt’s Wicked Cool Records.

The Dollyrots have been on the road for much of the summer, and will be returning to our very own MilkBoy on Wednesday, October 11th for their third show at Center City’s last remaining rock bar.  The band have played the City of Brotherly Love and Sisterly Affection countless times over the past two decades, including dates at The Fire, North Star Bar, Milkcreek Tavern, M Room, Kung Fu Necktie, and Silk City, which they played just last summer when they double-headlined with local retro rockers Soraia.

I find out during our chat that Kelly and Luis actually considered basing themselves in our neck of the woods way back in the early aughts: “We love playing the Northeast.  I was born in New Jersey, and raised in Florida, and we really wanted to go to the Northeast, but we moved to LA instead.  It was post-9/11, which I think had a lot to do with that.”  However, they relocated to Florida a number of years ago, where they currently live with their two kids… when they’re not all out on the road, that is: “We’ve been together since we were 17 years-old, and now we have a 9-year-old and a 6-year-old that come on tour with us, and they’re champs!”

Those at The Dollyrots’ stop at Silk City last summer got to see the family happily haunting the Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives spot, a sight far different from what you would see in the days of Kelly and Luis playing the most [and mostly] charming dives of Fairmount, West Philly, and Fishtown.  However, Kelly tells me that touring with the kids is actually far easier than most people seem to realize: “People are always like, ‘How do you do it with your kids on the road?’  But the truth is, tour is more regimented than life at home.  Every day is exactly the same.”  She tells me of days that start in a hotel room, with the band’s tour manager providing the kids with breakfast in bed, before hitting the road, always finding some reason to stop and give the kids something fun to check out: “Whatever there is, we will find it.  It could be the Space Needle or the world’s largest ball of twine [laughs].”

“Once we start to load in, every day I try to do exactly the same thing,” says Kelly, noting a routine that includes, “a small, half peanut butter sandwich,” for dinner, a glass of wine, a nap, possibly another glass of wine or a beer after the nap, and a makeup routine, during which time the frontwoman gets herself into rockstar mode: “I find that person that used to be inside me, before I was Mom [laughs].”  However, she does confess that, despite the routine, rockstar time always finds some way to prevail: “Somehow, I’m never ready on time, even when I get started three hours early [laughs].”

The venues that The Dollyrots regularly play are a mix of barrooms, rock clubs, galleries, and even a handful of outdoor spaces, and Kelly admits that she likes the variety, although she does say that places like MilkBoy are possibly her favorite: “I do love a big neighborhood bar kind of feeling, but I like it to have a stage.  I don’t like to be eye-level with the audience [laughs].  My two front top teeth are chipped, from a long time ago, but every time we play when we’re too close to the audience, someone hits my mic stand and the mic always hits my teeth!”

Even for jaded music critics, who have seen literally almost everything, The Dollyrots’ shows — filled with easily-sing-along-able anthems, major riffs, and pogo-inducing rhythms – always deliver an exceptional excuse to rock out like an angsty teen, somewhere between the raucousness of classic ’77 punk (a la Ramones and The Buzzcocks, who The Dollyrots opened The Trocadero for in 2010) and more recent post-riot grrrl like Potty Mouth and Skating Polly.  And Kelly admits that she and Luis are very dedicated to giving fans exactly what they want: “If Luis and I picked the setlist, probably no one would come to the tour [laughs].  We literally go to Google and Apple Music and Spotify and look for the top 15 songs.”  However, the band have also been doing live premieres of a couple of tracks over the summer, with Night Owls singles “Hey Girl” and “Night Owl” finding their way onto the setlist every night since they dropped.  Kelly also tells me that Philthy might get a special set, considering that the show is only two days before the album release: “We might do something special, because it’s more of a record release party than a regular show.”

Night Owls is the third Dollyrots album on Wicked Cool Records, following 2019’s Daydream Explosion and last year’s Down the Rabbit Hole, a collection of B-sides, rarities, and covers.  “Wicked Cool’s been incredible.  It was started by Steven Van Zandt of the E Street Band, and it’s very obviously run by an artist,” says Kelly, going on to say that Van Zandt seems to be one of the few people who doesn’t pigeonhole the band’s sound: “He totally understands who we are as artists.  We often get lumped into pop punk, but our roots are very deeply set in 1950s rock n’ roll, and ‘60s girl groups, and late ‘70s British and New York punk rock.”

The album also represents the biggest gap between Dollyrots releases, largely due to the pandemic: “It took four years, which is the longest we’ve ever taken to put out an album.  We try to put out an album every two years, ever since we did the first album in 2004.”  Many of the songs began before lockdown, but Kelly and Luis lost interest in many of them as 2020 and 2021 turned into a perpetual drag.  But once they returned to touring in the summer of 2021 (Their September date at MilkBoy was one of the 215’s first great post-lockdown shows.), they decided that fans needed new music: “When we got back out on the road, we got more inspired, like, ‘We have got to put an album out!’”  And, upon returning to their most recent tracks, Kelly tells me that they were pleasantly surprised: “When we went back and listened to it, we were like, ‘This stuff is great!’”

Despite their time in the industry, Kelly lets me know that The Dollyrots still remain truly DIY, so following their most recent batch of dates (which wrapped last night in Amityville, NY) and their October run, they’re going to be busy handling the nitty gritty that comes along with putting out an album: “Philly’s the first show!  But we have to do all the fulfillment for the album pre-orders between getting back from Long Island and then.  All of the albums, all of the shirts all come to our house.”  However, she does tell me that those fans who pre-ordered Night Owls should have their copies in time to learn all of the words for the MilkBoy show, should it happen to turn into a record release party: “You should be getting your stuff before we play Philly and Baltimore and New York (where we’re having an Album Release Show) and New Haven and Providence!”

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During the day Izzy Cihak teaches transgression, subversion, and revolution at Temple University. At night he haunts Philthy's best venues to cover worthwhile acts for Philthy Mag. Morrissey is everything to him and, in their own heads, all of his friends see themselves as Zooey Deschanel.