Normally, when it comes interview time, the lead singer of the Barb Wire Dolls handles the press, and it’s not hard to understand why. Isis Queen is a woman made for the rock ‘n’ roll stage, from her royal pseudonym to her attitude-heavy roar of a voice to her ripped-jeans-and-leather style. But when Charleston comes calling, guitarist and band co-founder Pyn Doll takes over, because for him, it’s personal.
“I moved to Charleston from Crete in the ’90s,” Pyn (who was then known as Tasos Taiganides) says. “I had a band called Eurogression. We played the Windjammer and the Music Farm and everywhere, really. It was a really good scene — then Hootie & the Blowfish broke really big and it kind of changed everything. The places we used to play, they didn’t wanted loud, distorted hard rock anymore. They wanted Hootie & the Blowfish-type stuff.”
Luckily, Pyn also had a teaching job at Porter-Gaud Tennis Academy, coaching both men’s and women’s tennis teams to make ends meet, and he temporarily put his guitar away while working there. But a near-fatal accident (“I actually died in the ambulance on the way to the hospital, and when I woke up three days later, I was blind in one eye,” he says) made him realize that music was his real goal. So he quit Porter-Gaud and, after a two-year recuperation in his homeland, moved to Los Angeles. That’s where he met Queen and formed the Barb Wire Dolls.
“We wanted to do something really fun and different,” he says. “We wanted to be an answer to the music we couldn’t stand.”
The Dolls’ debut album, 2012’s Slit (recorded by Steve Albini) was pure punk attitude combined with heavy-metal aggression. Queen spits furious venom and screams over Pyn’s basic-but-brutal riffing, and their pure-noise aesthetic (aided by merciless drummer Krash Doll) covers the fact that there’s no bassist.
The band eventually added a bass player and a second guitarist and spent some time gigging on the Sunset Strip, which helped them cross paths with the legendary Lemmy Kilmister of Motörhead. Their fiery, take-no-prisoners performance style and straight-ahead sound (not to mention Queen’s charisma) attracted Kilmister immediately, and he signed them to his label Motörhead Music in 2015.
“He saw that we had that rock ‘n’ roll vibe he liked,” Doll says. “And he liked that we were a DIY band. All these labels wanted to sign us after the first record, but they wanted us to be different from what we were. There was a label that said we couldn’t use the F-word live. And we almost took that deal, because we were desperate. But we couldn’t do it. When Lemmy saw us last year, he said he loved our band and wanted to put us out. We didn’t even ask what the deal was. He was disgusted with the music he was hearing, and he thought Isis was a rock star. He just knew it when he saw her. We were going to tour with him, but God rest his soul, he passed away.”
What’s perhaps most interesting about the band’s new album on Lemmy’s label, the aptly-titled Desperate, is how much their sound has changed since their first record. Slit was a relentless scream of rage; Desperate is more varied, with less emphasis on punk aggression and more on solid hooks and choruses, though the amps are still cranked to 11. In fact, there’s a distinct glam-rock vibe in the band’s sound now, a certain stiletto-heeled strut that fits the band better than one might expect.
“We couldn’t help it,” Doll says of the band’s more mainstream sound. “Being in L.A., playing the Sunset Strip and the Viper Room on Sunset, we saw a lot of hair metal bands; they’re playing those places all the time. When you hear their music so much, you’re influenced by it a little more, and before long you realize, ‘This song was influenced by Guns N’ Roses!’ It’s not one of our go-to bands, but it just happened. Whatever we listen to, we’re sponges. It came out a lot more on this album.”
Perhaps the band’s change in circumstances helped, as well. “When we recorded Slit, we were so desperate,” he says. “We were getting stuck in cities for months at a time, playing residencies to make enough money to leave. It was really tough, and we were really angry, so all these songs came out. Desperate is more melodic, because we found more melodies in our lives. We found an audience that was inspired by the band. Slit was like the baby coming out screaming and Desperate is like the teen trying to find their place.”
A change in the studio booth probably helped as well; Albini’s no-frills approach was out, and Grammy Award-winning producer Jay Baumgardner (Bush, Evanescence, Lacuna Coil) was in. “Steve Albini isn’t really a producer,” Doll says. “He records you how you are. Jay is a producer. He suggests harmonies or more guitars, and he makes the sound bigger. We went with him because he came to our show and said, ‘Let’s make a great rock record.’ He wanted to do it because he loved the band. He’s a really talented guy.”