From the very first show N.J. Racket has covered, The North Jersey Indie Rock Festival, to the latest and greatest show we’ve covered, The Front Bottoms Present Champagne Jam, dollys has been one of our favorite bands on the scene. The trio of Jeff Lane, Natalie Newbold, and Erik Romero have been on a tear throughout 2016 and are looking to carry the momentum into 2017 with a new album release and upcoming east coast tour.
Recently, I had the opportunity to ask guitarist Jeff Lane some questions about the band, their performance rituals, philosophies, and future aspirations. Jeff goes into detail about the vulnerable and “naked” feeling of performing on stage, his experiences being approached by fans and being a fan approaching other artists, and what he loved about Nirvana.
Thank you, Jeff, for taking the time to talk to us and for giving such detailed and honest responses.
N.J. Racket (NJR): How did this show come to be and how did you guys become a part of it?
Jeff Lane, dollys (JLd): We’ve been crossing paths with The Front Bottom guys for a while now. Natalie told me that she had played shows with them years ago, back when they were still playing basements. In 2014, Erik engineered their Rose EP and we played a show at the Asbury Lanes with Big Neil. Natalie contributed guest vocals to “Jim Bogart” and “Lipstick Covered Magnet” while they were recording with Erik, and then periodically after that we would see Brian and Mat at shows or around town. We got a very brief e-mail in May ’16 asking if we wanted to play Champagne Jam and we obviously jumped at the opportunity.
NJR: As far as other bands on this lineup, I’ve seen you play Hodera before. What kind of history/familiarity do you have with the other bands?
JLd: Whoa, there’s a lot of history here. We met LVL UP when we played together at The Saint, and they’re just a great sounding band live. We’ve played a bunch of shows with Secret Mountain and Hodera all over NJ. Natalie had seen Screaming Females a bunch of times when they were playing basements in New Brunswick, and we had a show with Marissa’s side project Bad Canoes a while back at Paradise Lost. We crossed paths with Diet Cig on a surreal bizarro tour night in Harrisonburg, VA. They were actually playing with PWR BTTM that night! I think I may have worked on one of Brick + Mortar’s basses once or twice at my old job, but I don’t think Brandon would recognize me or anything. I have definitely worked on Joe Michelini’s (American Trappist) instruments and we’ve had a few conversations. I’m actually pretty elated because I think we’re in the process of planning a hip local show or two with American Trappist this year.
NJR: You guys have been having a ton of success recently. Low Year just won Best Local Album at the Asbury Park Music Awards. In your mind, what do you have to do to keep that success rolling and what do you think the band needs to do to take that next big step?
JLd: Thank you! Yeah, we’re usually so focused on trying to improve everything and work more efficiently that we rarely get a chance to peek over our cubicles to see if what we’re doing is actually working. In all seriousness, I think whether or not we make it over this next big leap will be determined by our next LP. We’ve still got to do all of the normal band things, namely, we have to make sure we’re booking, playing, and promoting great shows all year long, releasing new video, photo, and audio content periodically, and saying funny things on the internet. But, I think the core of it all is the music, and our latest ten songs are more thoughtful and honest than ever. I can’t wait to get it out there! I hope people like it because we had so much fun making it.
NJR: I’ve seen you guys play a few basement shows, including the Meat Locker. Now playing Champagne Jams at Webster Hall on a huge ticket, speak a little about the duality of being a true underground, indie band and balancing that with emerging success and popularity.
JLd: This question really makes me think of the first band I ever obsessed over, Nirvana. They were totally themselves whether they were playing Spank Thru at Reading for thousands or an early version of Smells Like Teen Spirit for dozens at some dive bar in the boonies. I aspire to be like that. When we play some of our more emotional songs, like “I Know” or “Cornerstones,” I feel just as naked playing to two people as I do playing to two hundred people. Smaller crowds are definitely tougher, but that’s how you get experience. If you can make a crowd of five people feel at ease watching your band, then you can probably handle 30 minutes with a larger crowd. Somehow, I think that nervous energy and honesty works for us.
NJR: How is your preparation different for a show like this? Do you practice differently? Do you play differently?
JLd: We usually only practice once a week if we can, but for Champagne Jam we practiced a bunch, yeah. We timed our set, we recorded everything, made sure all of our gear was in tip top shape, figured out what Nats wanted to say in between songs, and thought about making little changes to songs to improve the set. For example, we changed the intro to our song “Friendly” from the intro you hear on the recording to a stripped down guitar-accompanied vocal. It made the song a little less repetitive and did a good job of diversifying our set, I think.
NJR: After your set, it was pretty obvious you had made some new fans and I saw that you took time to talk to every person that approached you afterwards. What is that experience like and how/why is it important is it to you to have that interaction?
JLd: A few weeks ago, Nats and I went to see Andy Shauf at the Boot & Saddle in Philly. His set was incredible. Honestly, we walked up to Andy after the show and we could barely squeak out a “thank you for playing here and making music at all” because we were so in awe of him. Even though we completely embarrassed ourselves, it was so, so cool of him to make himself available like that. It made us like his music even more somehow, despite only exchanging the most average, everyday showgoer remarks. “Hey, great set dude.” But that sort of thing meant a lot to us. We love meeting people who like music enough to go to underground shows. We feel a kinship with them. If somebody wants a hi-five, why leave them hanging?
NJR: Dollys is definitely one of the busiest and hardest working bands on the scene, playing a ton of local shows, touring, recording, working with S.I.K., side projects like Well Wisher, etc. and it seems like that hard work is paying off for you guys. How much of your success do you attribute to that work ethic and what is it that really continues to keep you motivated?
JLd: Thank you! That’s really kind of you to say. Whatever success we have is directly attributed to our work ethic. We’ve been at it for a while, whether in this band or in others, and not a single practice day goes by without mentioning improvement of the finer details of what we do. We just really want to play music, and do it well. It’s addictive. The bigger the response, the more we want to play and write and make art. We’ll keep writing songs until we run out of things to talk about.
NJR: Where can all the new dollys fans see you play next?
JLd: We’re playing a house show on Jan 7th in Red Bank (message dollys for the address). We’re at the Meatlocker in Montclair on Jan 14th, and at Asbury Park Music Foundation (APMF) in Asbury Park on Jan 18th with Sinai Vessel. But we’ll be getting back into touring the east coast this February.
Adam gave man-birth to N.J. Racket and is as close to an "editor-in-chief" the site has. He's a god awful photographer.