New York Dolls' Sylvain Sylvain Talks Touring with Poison and Mötley Crüe, High Heels, and Happiness

The New York Dolls are widely considered one of the most influential bands in punk, glam, and hair metal. Mötley Crüe and Poison are among the dozens of acts that cite the Dolls as influences. Ironic, then, that the New York Dolls are opening for the Crüe and Poison this week in Phoenix.

But guitarist Sylvain Sylvain and the rest of the New York Dolls take everything in stride -- a big stride in high heels, full of pomp and raw garage pop. We recently caught up with Sylvain to discuss the tour, the new Dolls album, and why guys from one NYC borough don't trust guys from a different borough.

It's been 40 years since the New York Dolls formed. A lot has happened in 40 years. What have been some of the most memorable moments for you?
Sylvain Sylvain: 40 years, my god. That's like a book on its own. You know, just being a musician has been great, to be able to do what you want to do in life. At my age, I'm happy to be able to play guitar and perform for a living.

What's it like touring with Poison and Mötley Crüe? Do you guys hang out before or after shows?
S.S.: We just started the tour yesterday, but I've known those lads for a while anyway, especially the guys in Poison. Whenever Poison played my hometown - which is Atlanta, Georgia now - they'd invite me up to play with them. I just met Nikki Sixx. It's great. They're sweet guys. I'll just say this: the rumors are more reality than rumors (laughs).

The new album, Dancing Backward in High Heels, has a real raw, classic rock sound. How did these songs come about?

S.S.: We got the deal to make the album, and I hadn't written many songs. There was one, which became "Streetcakes," that I'd written and recorded a demo of ten years ago. I sent it in, and they said, "Great! Where are the other songs?" A lot of the songs on this album were written on keyboards. A lot of people don't remember, but some of the old Dolls stuff, like "Personality Crisis," had keyboards. I'm a tinkler, too.

The way the album was recorded was great, and I give that all to Jason Hill, our producer, for taking those closet demos, understanding them, and the arrangements were good...another thing about this album are the lyrics, they're very New York. David [Johansen] went all out.

Do you have a favorite track on the new album?
S.S.: "Talk to Me Baby" is probably one of my favorites, and I'd follow it up with "End of the Summer."

How's the chemistry with the new players, Kenny Aaronson and Earl Slick?
S.S.: They're my buddies. I've known them all these years, but we'd never played together. They're great players. They're from Staten Island, I'm from Brooklyn - which is why I don't trust them. Guys from Brooklyn don't like guys from Staten Island (laughs).

What's the set list like for this tour?
S.S.: Our set is a mixture of everything that's done the best. We take the best of what people loved from the older albums, and the best of the newer stuff, as well. So we'll play earlier songs like "Personality Crisis," "Trash," and "Pills," along with tracks [from Dancing Backward in High Heels] like "Kids Like You," and "'Cause I Sez So" [from the 2009 album of the same name]. We'd play more, but our set is only 40 minutes.

Can you remember the last time the New York Dolls played in Phoenix?
S.S.: Wow....I've done it on my own, but the Dolls...god, it must have been '73. Before you were born (laughs).

What are you most looking forward to on this tour?
S.S.: Looking forward...well, we're kicking off the show, so come early. We don't want to play for people just filing in. And wear your high heels.

The New York Dolls, Mötley Crüe, and Poison are scheduled to perform Friday, June 17, at the Ashley Furniture HomeStore Pavilion. Call 602-254-7200 for more information.

KEEP PHOENIX NEW TIMES FREE... Since we started Phoenix New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Phoenix, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Niki D'Andrea has covered subjects including drug culture, women's basketball, pirate radio stations, Scottsdale staycations, and fine wine. She has worked at both New Times and Phoenix Magazine, and is now a freelancer.
Contact: Niki D'Andrea