The Riot Fest Interview: Isis Queen from Barb Wire Dolls
Barb Wire Dolls are a great classic sounding-and-looking punk band from Greece. You don’t see that every day, so take a deep dive with us ahead of the band’s Cobra Lounge show this week, and find out how a punk band from such a beautiful Mediterranean locale looks, smells, and thinks.
RIOT FEST: τι κάνεις?
ISIS QUEEN: Γειά σου Alex, Πώς είσαι?
RF: Καλά! So why don’t you go ahead and introduce yourself; your name, and what you do for Barb Wire Dolls?
IQ: My name is Isis Queen, I’m the singer of Barb Wire Dolls.
RF: Cool! You and Pyn [Doll, Barb Wire Dolls bassist] met at the Ikarus Artist Commune on the Greek island of Crete. What brought you to Ikarus, and how did it influence the band?
IQ: Well, I met Pyn on the island of Crete while I was working there. My parents were hippies and they were part of a big cult, in a way. A religious cult, and you know, it was something very intriguing to me from the beginning. So when I went there it was a big eye opener, because I had never really been artistic before, even though I’d always attract myself to those things. And when I went there my mind started becoming more aware of so many different types of artists, and there would be parties every day where the songwriters would come together and show the song that they had written that week at the Artist Commune.
I eventually started to start singing along with their songs, and I turned to Pyn at some point and said, “We should start a band, I wanna start singing because it’s something that I think would be really fun to do.” He was all for it, so we started the Barb Wire Dolls. At the time we couldn’t really play anywhere, because the rock scene wasn’t really interested in punk rock. We started doing punk rock because I’d never been musical before, so it was the easiest thing to do, and we were both influenced by a lot of the old punk rockers. Old bands from the first wave of punk out of the ’70s, so we’re like, “Okay let’s do a band like that,” because there are no rules—it’s not about trying to sound like another band, it’s about just taking what you have and showcasing that.
The commune was an amazing experience. Flogging Molly has been there; one band that formed there at the time was Grouplove, and they’ve gone on to become huge. So there’s a lot of energy flowing from that place, and that’s where Barb Wire Dolls comes from.
RF: That’s awesome. You were then discovered by the KROQ DJ Rodney Bingenheimer, who put you on the radar—at least in the Los Angeles scene. What can you say about how then being discovered by Motörhead changed your career, and how influential all that was? Can you tell us the story about how that happened?
IQ: Well, Lemmy [Kilmister, bassist of Motörhead and deity to millions of rockers] was one of the first people we met when we first came to LA, coincidentally. Over the years he kept getting our music, and I guess that was the cherry on top, because he’d been looking for bands to put on his new label, Motörhead Music. He wanted to showcase who he believed to be the future of rock ‘n’ roll. When he saw Barb Wire Dolls, I guess that just triggered something, because we were the first band that he signed—and pretty much the last. That’s a huge honor and it means everything. I mean, whether it’s changed the band or not, being signed by Lemmy Kilmister pretty much says it all—he’s what rock ‘n’ roll is all about.
RF: Do you have any funny anecdotes or cute stories or anything that you can tell us about your knowing Lemmy, and of your experience while he was still with us?
IQ: He always had this massive, amazing energy encircling him; and you were intimidated just being in his presence because of it. And I remember the first time I met him, he hugged me, and just the pure… I don’t know what it was, but my knees buckled. Just because he had so much strength in his arms, you know what I mean? It wasn’t that he was gripping me tight, it was just something about him. There’s a reason why Lemmy Kilmister has the reputation that he has, and it’s got nothing to do with what he does. It’s just the energy about him, and ever since then, I put him in a very high caliber because I experienced that energy first and foremost.
He told us it’s all about growing musically and being true to your art, and to never compromise that. So this last album that we just put out, Rub My Mind, was released on Motörhead Music. We dedicated it to him, because the recording process was all about us being true to whatever music was coming out of us, and not being afraid of the genre that we’d been pigeonholed in—which is punk rock.
RF: Speaking of interesting rock people, what was recording with Steve Albini in Chicago like? How long were you here? Did you leave [Albini’s Avondale studio] Electrical Audio to explore the neighborhood, or were you totally focused on being in the studio? What was that like for you?
IQ: Well, Steve is a really important person in the music world, and Chicago should be very proud to have him as a part of their history. Because he’s really an icon in keeping music raw and pure, and true to it’s form. And that’s what we wanted to do with our debut album: We were a three-piece at the time, and Pyn was playing a very complex setup through two stacks of Marshalls, and we knew that Steve would understand it and get the sound of what we were expressing naturally. And so it was an easy choice to go with Steve, because he gets the soul of the band and what they really do. So we went and recorded, and he only had two days to record an 11-track album. We stayed at the Electrical Audio compound, and we did go out once. That was only because Steve told us, “You guys gotta check out the joint down the road that names hamburgers after metal bands,” I can’t remember the name of…
RF: Kuma’s Corner!
IQ: Kuma’s, yeah! So we did go to Kuma’s, and we went to Greek Town also.
RF: Oh, nice! [laughs]
IQ: Naturally. But Steve was such a cool cat, man. I mean, he’s such a cool cat, and he was so fast. He tracked everything on analog gear, and his studio is just absolutely amazing. He has a floating room for the drums that he created himself, and we used all of these microphones that he had invented and made himself. And it was such a cool, surreal experience. It was mastered by Bob Weston who is also in [Albini’s band] Shellac, and we mastered it on analog also. So the whole album was recorded, mixed, and mastered on analog and it went straight to vinyl without ever touching digital, so that was really cool.
RF: Your current tour is like an “international worldwide tour package” with the Svetlanas from Russia and the 57s from Korea. Have you toured Korea or Asia? How’d the tour come about, and what’s the dynamic with amongst this cool multicultural tour package that you’re carrying?
IQ: Well, the first time we met the Svetlanas was when we played together in Italy. We then became friends, and had invited them to come play with us in the U.S. many times, specifically at one of our monthly residencies at the Whiskey a Go Go, one dominated by female-fronted bands and the energy they bring. It was a cool way to give back to our fans while starting a special scene all its own, and it was great for the Svetlanas too.
57 opened up a show for us on our last European tour, and it was a very surreal experience because it was in Middlesbrough, which is kind of in the middle of nowhere in England, and it was very strange to see these two Asians walking around amongst all these pale English faces. They’re very sweet people, but they got on stage, just blew our minds with something really cool, really special. They’ve never played in the U.S. before, so we wanted to help them out. Thus, we thought it would be a very cool package with Barb Wire Dolls from Greece, Svetlanas from Russia, and 57s from South Korea to bring an international flair to the U.S. markets.
RF: Is there a certain food that you can all agree on when dining together, or is it kind of all over the place? What’s that dynamic like?
IQ: 57 are traveling with us on the bus, and we’re very Greek in the way that we cook our own food—we make it all ourselves. So they’ve eaten everything that we made and enjoyed it, so that’s a good thing. [laughs] And we’ll share our food with the Svetlanas as well one we get to the venue. I don’t think they really like spicy food, which we tend to make a lot of that even despite it going against our Greek heritage. It’s a mixture of Latin, Mexican, and Greek, I don’t know. [laughs]
RF: It’s fusion. You could start a pop-up restaurant where it’s Korean, Russian, Greek, fusion… tacos or whatever. That would be a very L.A. thing to do.
IQ: Next tour we should do a food truck, and sell our mixture of foods at the shows.
RF: Kimchi, saganaki, vodka pairing or whatever!
RF: That would be cute. And I could ask you about your musical influences, but we all know it’s punk rock, and all of the amazing bands that Barb Wire Dolls have shared the stage with worldwide. What I’m most curious about is, do you have a fashion style icon, and what are some of the brands or things that you look for when you’re dressing yourself?
IQ: It’s all thrift store knock offs I guess. [laughs] If it’s got leopard print and looks flashy, then I’ll buy it. As for brands, none of that really means anything to me. I love what Vivienne Westwood did in the ’70s, how she just ripped apart everything that everyone had seen beforehand and created a new style, and I respect her for that. I don’t wear brands; I make most of my clothes, amd I make all of the merch that we sell. I sew it together and I create it myself. And a lot of that has to do with that punk rock ethos. So yes, the main influence is punk rock: Doing it yourself and creating something new in the process.
RF: That’s very punk of you to say. And I was hoping that you would say Vivienne Westwood just because you have that early punk flare of her shop SEX in London in the ’70s. Plaid, leopard print, safety pins, all with an awesome authentic feel to it. Your Instagram is outfit after awesome outfit, as well as your whole band of course, but I feel like you really lead that style. That makes you recognizable, where people can see a picture of you and they’ll recognize you on the spot without reading the caption.
IQ: Yeah, I don’t think any of that was intentional though. Due to finances, go to thrift stores and put things together ourselves. It happened naturally because it’s all about dirty sex at the end of the day. We are Europeans, so we have a very sexualized energy behind us, but at the same time those financial constraints prevent us from taking many showers, so a lot of that combines itself together.
RF: That’s hilarious. And that makes me feel very American with my twice a day showering… just kidding.
IQ: You know how it is on the road, you know how it is. [laughs]
RF: I smell bad I have to shower because I stink after shows. But with all of that being said we’re really really excited to have you in Chicago again. Before we part, what else do you have to say in terms of what you’d like us to check out or to know, or anything else about Barb Wire Dolls that you’d like to conclude with?
IQ: With everything that’s going on politically in the U.S., Europe, and all over the world for that matter, you’ve got to be true to what you do. Do it wholeheartedly and love what you do, because at the end of the day none of it’s really worth it unless you can put your heart into it. The world could blow up at any moment right now, and it’s all about what you left behind—and that’s yourself. It’s not being fake or trying to follow a trend, it’s about being who you want to be and showcasing that. So we’ll bring that to the Cobra Lounge in Chicago, and we’ll rock the socks off the crowd, the crowd will love it.
RF: Just one quick question that people might be wondering worldwide. What advice do you have for a band that might be in Europe right now, reading this, that has the American dream of touring? Do you have anything to say in terms of advice or what the first step would be for a band that might have been like you 10 years ago?
IQ: Yeah, just do it! No excuses, no compromising, no apologies. It’s about getting your art out there and sharing it with the world, and you gotta just do it. You can’t care what other people think, what your family thinks, what your friends think, or what anyone thinks. You just gotta be out there and be open to the fact that you’re doing what you love, and that’s all that matters. So for all of those people that are reading this: Follow that dream, go out and achieve it, and don’t be afraid of what might come from it. Just know that you’re doing it for yourself and that’s all that matters.
RF: Perfect! We’ll see you at the Cobra Lounge!
Barb Wire Dolls are playing Cobra Lounge in Chicago this Wednesday, October 25th, with Svetlanas and 57. Tickets are available here.