Interview: Kelly Ogden of The Dollyrots Talks ‘Night Owls’

The Dollyrots are, without a doubt, pop-punk’s most adorable family unit. Made up of wife-and-husband team Kelly Ogden (bass, vocals) and Luis Cabezas (guitar), and their ever-rotating cadre of temporary drummers, The Dollyrots release their seventh studio LP Night Owls October 13 on Wicked Cool Records. The latest record from The Dollyrots finds the band dishing out their usual chunky power chords with killer pop hooks, but with a touch more maturity than their previous albums. That sounds strange considering that big, silly songs are a staple of any Dollyrots album, but, on Night Owls, even a goofy song like “Hot Mom With the Skinny Pants On” demonstrates something deeper, namely a yearning for new friendships as an adult, which many people find to be elusive.

Ogden took the time out of her busy schedule as a rock star, mom, wife, and Sirius XM radio DJ to talk to us a little bit about Night Owls and what having a band that’s a literal family looks like.

I really liked the new album. I think it feels like your most mature album, in a way. Which is weird, because I feel like silly fun is a big part of any Dollyrots album. But even the silly stuff just feels like it’s coming from a deeper place. Was there something different about how you approached the writing for this album?

Not really. We try not to overthink things and go with our first instinct. Usually we start with music, and the song dictates what it’s about all on its own. I guess generically, it took a little bit longer to create this album and a lot of the bits and pieces we created over COVID and the past four years. I think we probably have matured just by default. So, it was just as spontaneous as any other album, but I guess it’s just reflective of who we are as people right now.

You do have a lot of range in songs, though, because there’s not a lot of bands that could pull off something like putting “Hot Mom With the Skinny Pants On” and “Trees Sway” on the same album.

I think that’s true. Yeah.

Do you ever worry about having such a wide range of different things on the album?

No, not at all. I think that we just want to make an album that’s cool to listen to, from the beginning to the end. And we had extra songs, and those ended up being the B-sides or songs that we’re going to hold back because–it isn’t that they don’t fit a genre or what our band is supposed to sound like–it’s just that they (didn’t) fit the story when we were trying to create it. And so, I think as an album, it’s perfect, and we really like it. And I also think, unfortunately, most people are going to just be casual listeners. They’re going to hear something on social media or they’ll hear the singles, they’ll hear it on Underground Garage on the radio, but they’re probably not going to listen to the entire album. I mean, a lot of people will, but it’s also important to have solid singles.

Speaking of that song, are you the “Hot Mom with the Skinny Pants On”?

No, she’s my friend. All of them. And I know that I can be her friend because she’s wearing skinny pants, which means she and I see each other.

Ah, okay. “Hey Girl” was a really fun first lead single for the album. Where did that one come from?

Oh, man, that’s one of those songs that kind of came out of the ether. It’s a playful song about being flirtatious, but always going back to home base, and about having fun. There’s definitely nods to our early days of touring. And, the bridge, there’s a story about a judge and we took racy pictures in a hot tub with him to get out of a speeding ticket. And we’ve done a lot of wild and crazy and fun things and, at the end, we always wind up with each other.

Yeah, I’m always fascinated by where you find ideas for songs being a married couple who’s been together since you were teenagers. Obviously, some of the songs are just the two of you writing love songs to each other, because you’re just that adorable, but other than that where do your other song ideas come from?

We definitely steal from our friends’ lives, when it makes sense. There are a few muses throughout the band’s history. Sometimes, you can just imagine yourself as another person. It could be a book. It could be all sorts of things. It’s not always us. But yeah, a lot of the time it is.

You had three singles that were released between “Hey Girl” and the album announcement that aren’t on the album. What happened with those that they didn’t end up on this album?

They just didn’t really fit the flow of the album. I guess they sounded a little bit different. And we still wanted the songs to make their way out into the world, but they didn’t exactly fit. It also meant that we could release them sooner, and put them on special things. We’ve got a couple compilations that have come out. The Punk Rock Saves Lives compilation, we were able to put one of the songs on there and that’s cool, because it’ll be on vinyl and, since it didn’t end up on “Night Owls,” then, otherwise, it wouldn’t have seen a vinyl release.

You’ve always been a big fan of doing cover songs and on the new album you have covered Billy Bragg’s ” A New England.” Why do you enjoy doing cover songs so much? And why did that one end up on this album in particular?

We have always loved that song, in particular, and Kirsty MacColl version is beautiful and different. It’s a song that we’ve just always sung along to. And there have been a lot of great cover versions of it, but we figured we might as well try our hand at it. A lot of the reason that we do cover songs (is) to bring songs to the forefront to new fans that possibly haven’t heard them before. A lot of them are older songs and we feel like the kids these days, maybe they should hear some of those great songs from when we were kids and when our parents were kids, even, because there’s so much great music and people don’t listen to the radio anymore, and that’s where I learned a lot about rock and roll. I listened to a lot of oldies stations and top 40 music when I was a kid, but that gave me a little bit of a rock ‘n’ roll backbone. And now people just listen to exactly what they want to hear. So, maybe we can show a kid who Billy Bragg is and that’d be really cool. And then maybe they’ll go find out who Kirsty MacColl is and (it) spirals after that.

I know it’s August right now as we’re talking, but one of my favorite things about you is you might be the only punks who love Christmas as much as I do. And I can always like count on every year there being at least one Christmas single from the Dollyrots. Why did you decide make that such a big part of the Dollyrots brand?

We both come from families that that love Christmas. And when we lived out in Los Angeles–we grew up in Florida, went to college (there), and then we moved out to LA for 12 years–we missed our families a lot. We always made it home for Christmas, and part of our gifts was always our flights home. So Christmas is a happy time for us. Even through losses and things that have happened in life, it always means that the family will be together, and so we love Christmas. Now that we have kids, we really love Christmas, because it’s fun in a whole new way all over again. So, why not? Why not make it more fun with some Dollyrots music? Sometimes we do covers that we liked as a kid, sometimes we’ll write an original. We put out an album of Christmas music even. I think we should just keep adding to it. We’ll make it a double album eventually.

I am always fascinated by the idea of married bands with kids. As the kids are getting older, does it get harder or easier to tour with them?

I think it’s like parenting: there are a lot of things that are easier now, but there are also parts of it that are a little bit harder. When they were infants, the hard part was making sure that they were fed and not crying and bothering everybody. And they didn’t need entertainment and mental stimulation in the same way that a six and a nine year old do now. So we have to make sure we stave off the “I’m bored”s and make sure that they have fun. When they’re babies, you bring them along and everything’s fine. They’re entertained by spots on the wall. It’s not very hard to entertain a baby, just make faces and talk to them and it’s easy. But entertaining two really smart, really creative kids is definitely a new challenge, but a good one. It makes us go out and see things that we wouldn’t have seen. We had a day off this last tour on the West Coast and, typically, we would have just gone to a hotel and watched movies all day, we would have probably ordered Chinese food and then pizza and just relaxed. But with the kids along we’re like, Let’s go see the redwoods! And so we drove all the way to the coast and we saw redwoods and a gorgeous sunset on the beach in California with redwoods in the background; it was totally magical. And that’s not something we would have done in the past.

Since you’ve never had a permanent drummer for the Dollyrots, have you ever just thought of teaching one of the kids who play drums?

We’re ready! Daisy does like the drums, and so we’re kind of hoping that maybe she just decides that that’s what she’s going to do. I mean, we’re not going to make them. If they don’t even want to play music (that) doesn’t matter to us. We’re not putting them in kids’ rock camp or anything. If they want to learn, they’re going to have to teach themselves. But it would be pretty cool. I mean, they’re there anyway.

So this is your second album now on Wicked Cool records after you put out a slew of them on your own label, Arrested Youth. Why did you decide to go back to using someone else’s label after using your own? And how has that worked out for you?

Well, we were really, really fortunate because we have an amazing fanbase we’ve cultivated over 20 years. A lot of our fans have been along for the whole ride. So it got to the point where, when we left Blackheart records, we knew that we could count on fans to crowdsource an album, which doesn’t really seem to be a thing that people do anymore. I think that fell out probably when the platforms all went kaput. But we’re still able to do a pre-sale and do really fun stuff with our fans, while at the same time partnering with Wicked Cool, who have amazing distribution. They make sure that we get all of our music in the cool brick and mortar stores and overseas, all the streaming platforms. They do a lot of this stuff that it’s harder to do as a DIY band. Luis and I do all of it on our own. We have a booking agent, we have a lawyer, we have a record label that work as a team, we obviously have publicist which is how I’m talking to you, but a lot of the stuff that a manager would cover, the two of us do on our own. So getting help with distribution and making sure that albums get heard by people, that is something really valuable. And Wicked Cool is Stevie Van Zandt’s label and he’s been a musician his whole life and he makes it really, really easy and fun and cool to do music with him. He’s as much a part of it as we want, and is just full of ideas and positivity. We did “Hey Girl” with him and he’s the one that inspired the bridge sounds. It’s like that song goes to some strange magical new land and it’s just really, really cool. We also did “Missing You” with him, which is another one of the songs that came out earlier this spring. But yeah, it’s just been a really positive cool experience. So we’re happy to release music with them.

So what’s next for you right now?

Oh, we’re home for about a week, I think. And then we’re going on another tour. We’re doing the Northeast with our friends in Ohio. I can’t think of the name of the band now. That’s kind of embarrassing and hilarious. Tsunami Bomb! We’re going to go do some dates with Tsunami Bomb. It’s five shows. (It) includes Camp Punksylvania, which is a really cool camp out in Scranton, Pennsylvania. And so we’re going to go do that. We actually got added to a show on the front end of that in Connecticut, with the Smoking Popes, who we met at the Punk Rock Saves Lives festival. And so they’re going to have us play one of their shows and, and then we’ll meet up with Tsunami Bomb. But just we’re going to be playing tour dates. We’ve got another tour of the Northeast coming up right around the album release. We’re going to have an album release party in New York City on Friday, October 13 and get the music out to everybody. We got to set up our little shipping station in the house, because we do ship all that stuff from here. So that’ll be a lot of fun and a lot of chaos.

So you ship everything from there with two kids in the house?

Yeah.

Does that ever become a challenge?

Yeah, by the second week, I’m usually losing my mind because I don’t do really good with visual clutter. I feel like I can focus better and be more productive when everything’s in its place. And when it gets like that, it’s definitely a little crazy. But it’s for a good reason. We sign a lot of the stuff that people get. Some of the items are personalized. And we were shipping out guitars to people, setlists, snare heads from tour, all sorts of things that require a personal touch. So we don’t hire out a fulfillment company to do it. We feel like our fans deserve to get it from us.

Awesome. So that’s all I want to go over is anything you want to add?

People can hear me on the radio just about every day. I am a DJ on Underground Garage, which is Sirius XM channel 21, on the morning show from 4-8 a.m. ET. So that’s five days a week, even sometimes on tour. That’s going to happen for the rest of the year. It’ll sometimes be like, Hello, I’m in Pennsylvania, or I might be like, I don’t know where I am. So it’ll be a lot of fun. But you can also hear me at Channel 721. That one’s around the clock, it’s called “Little Steven’s Coolest Songs in the World.” It’s the channel for the Underground Garage which is a little bit more of the new stuff. A little less Rolling Stones and The Who, The Beatles. So it’s a cool one.

I always see those commercials for Sirius XM with all the music stars living in the mansion together, and I keep wishing they’d have you in there somewhere.

Yeah, they should put us in a little shed out back or something. (laughs) That’d be funny.

Night Owls drops tomorrow from Wicked Cool Records and you can pre-order it from The Dollyrots store. Follow The Dollyrots on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter to keep up with future updates.

Photo courtesy of Jen Rosenstein.

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