Don Bolles Talks Junk Shop Glam, Classic Past Projects, Fancy Space People, and More
Don Bolles is a mainstay not only in the world of WMF, but also that of several other corners of the musical universe. Fans across the globe are familiar with Mr. Bolles through his work over the years with projects like The Germs, Ariel Pink, Celebrity Skin, 45 Grave, and Fancy Space People, among others. Add to that his involvement with radio, record production, and live DJ nights, and it's clear that Don Bolles' track record as punk rock legend, taste-maker, and unique music personality is undeniable. With a packed upcoming schedule that boasts junk shop glam nights, a new radio program on dublab called Kitten Sparkles' Glittberbox, an international Ariel Pink tour, and a Fancy Space People show all on the horizon, we jumped at the opportunity to speak with Don about all these endeavors, his classic body of past work, and more.
Bobby Weirdo: You have a new night called Wired Up. That name comes from a Hector song, right?
Don Bolles: Yeah, do you know that song?
DB: It’s pretty good. What’s really amazing about it is that when you play the record and don’t hear it on a comp, it sounds like shit. It’s the worst recording. There’s no bass or anything even resembling bass [on it], and there’s a weird low-frequency noise that’s a synth they didn’t know how to use. It sounds like they recorded it in the back seat of dad’s car back when he was driving a ’57 Kaiser or something, and there is no reason on earth it should have worked at all. But there’s something so great about it, too. The B-side is one of those songs where the chorus is not nearly as good as the verse. It’s the opposite of the way songs usually are.
BW: You’ve mentioned a song a couple times to me, saying that it captures the sound that Celebrity Skin was going for.
DB: “Poser” by Frenzy.
BW: What is it in particular about that song that makes you say that?
DB: It’s just got everything that we were trying to do: clever lyrics and the fey glammy delivery. And it’s a later one too; it came out in 1976. It should have been punk - it came this close to being born a punk song, but instead it is [what it is], which is fucking rad. The synth leads, the double guitars, and the harmonies were like Sparks, Queen, and Cheap Trick, and almost textbook what we were going for. “When you see her standing there about 6‘1” - run!”. That’s a song with a message.
BW: You’ve also told me before that you saw the vocals in Germs as being punk, but that on the whole the band was closer to being what you’ve called “hard glam”. Is that idea something you were thinking at the time, or is that something you’ve realized later?
DB: I kind of thought that at the time because we came a lot more out of Bowie than we did out of punk. Glam sort of killed itself so it could be reinvented with a snarl and a leather jacket as punk rock. “Forming”, for instance, is the chords for “Panic in Detroit”. And we used to cover “Hang on to Yourself”. We also covered “Back in the U.S.S.R.” for some reason, and we covered “Rock and Roll All Nite” by KISS because KISS was popular.
BW: Looking back at your discography, 45 Grave had connections to a type of glam as well.
DB: Oh yeah – very Alice Cooper. We were that kind of glam. We didn’t really know any other kind. You didn’t know about this [junk shop glam] stuff until later unless you went to Europe, and we didn’t go to Europe.
BW: We’ve spoken about that before. Why weren’t people in America tuned in to this kind of music?
DB: It never came here. There was no point in sending it here because nobody here liked it, and nobody here was going to like it because of the manly, homophobic thing. It was really tough on some people. If you liked David Bowie and people found out, you got beaten up.
BW: You weren’t aware of most of these glam records at the time?
DB: No, we weren’t aware of it at all. I would have fucking loved this shit.
BW: So what were you referencing in Germs and later work? Bowie?
DB: The Sweet, and Bowie for sure. Definitely Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars, The Man Who Sold the World, and Aladdin Sane. That kind of tough glam sound – that Mick Ronson, manly glam sound.
BW: Leading into punk rock?
DB: Yeah, and The Stooges were pretty punk rock, but it was produced so poorly. And you couldn’t really believe in Black Sabbath, because their lyrics were a little bit dumb. Black Sabbath was a Christian band.
DB: Mm-hmm. I mean, couldn’t you tell? All their lyrics were Christian lyrics, from a Christian point of view, so it’s ironic that Christians would single them out and say they were satanic. Every song that talked about the Devil [did it] in an unfavorable way. [Those songs] talked about the Devil being vanquished by God and Christ. [It was] a total Christian band, and everything they said was pro-Christian and anti-Satan, so it’s really strange that they got vilified.
BW: Following up on a conversation I had with Robert Lopez, you and I have talked about how the early punk rock scene in L.A. was more weird and diverse than you might hear about in retrospect.
DB: Well, of course it was. It was all the smart, weirdo people who didn’t fit in, and made a place to fit in. I guess that was punk. I don’t know how many of those [situations] you’ve had that have come along in your life, but it was this thing that came along that was going to be giant, and we were in on it when it wasn’t giant yet. It’s like these people that made a few million on the Bitcoin thing, and then got out. That’s what we did – we went in, and we made punk rock. We thought it was going to be the biggest thing in the world, like Green Day. We thought the Buzzcocks were going to be big like Green Day, and all that shit was going to happen then. We didn’t know it was going to be twenty years – or whatever it was – before [it got big].
BW: Robert Lopez also said you were a part of a group of people called the Cactus Heads.
DB: It was just people from Arizona…
BW: Was that you, Paul Cutler, and Robert Graves…
BW: Robert said you were all very smart and very funny.
DB: Yeah – we were weird, too. Arizona people are weird.
DB: [Checks phone and reads a text message] We’re going to have Phil King on our radio show.
BW: Which one - Kitten Sparkles’ Glitter Box?
DB: Yeah – Phil King came up with the Velvet Tinmine concept, and its name. And he came up with the term "junk shop glam", so he’s an important guy in all this. He put all this together.
BW: So he put together junk shop glam comps?
DB: Yeah, and he also helped put together a book called Wired Up, which is a book of a lot of the sleeves from these [records].
BW: Will the Glitter Box radio show be all junk shop glam?
DB: It’s going to have some sound collage too, so we’ll be able to explore the glambient phenomenon.
BW: Will it just be you?
DB: It’s going to be me and Noah Wallace, once a month on Saturday.
BW: Listening to some of the old junk shop glam records, there’s a sense that the bands are getting something wrong some of the time, and that’s part of the charm. Is that accurate?
DB: Yeah – it’s like glamor in another language. The thing is, glam is kind of psychedelic. Suddenly anything goes, just like psychedelic [music]. You could write about a purple armadillo, or a diamond machine gun, and everything would be great. With glam, you could be completely absurd, but act like you’re fucking hot, and then it’s cool. And everyone knows that’s what you’re doing. There was Gary Glitter, for fuck’s sake. People worshiped him, and he was this fat old guy.
BW: You’ve mentioned a connection between Donny Osmond and glam…
DB: He came over to England, and the Osmonds were huge with “Crazy Horses”. They fucking nailed it to the wall with that song. The Osmonds kicked all the ass. These Mormon children from Salt Lake City did the best song of the year. Then Donny went on to be a teen heartthrob. He was a little, white Michael Jackson. But so was Michael Jackson later.
BW: Listening to “Crazy Horses”, or “The Witch” by Casuals, there’s sort of a proto-metal thing going on with some of these glam records.
DB: Definitely. And Marc Bolan and The Sweet had kind of a metal thing to them.
BW: On your first Wired Up night, you’ll be playing with your own band, Fancy Space people, and that band is coming from…
DB: From space.
BW: Well, yes.
DB: We’re doing a greater metropolitan space tour.
BW: Excellent. To date, Fancy Space People only has one official release, right?
DB: Yeah, and you found one. That’s great.
BW: There’s only a hundred of those, right?
DB: Yes – only a hundred of the white ones. There were like five hundred or a thousand of the regular ones, and only like twenty left.
BW: It’s probably surprising to a lot of people that Billy Corgan was involved with that record.
DB: Yeah. I limited his involvement because the things he did weren’t that good for the most part, although there were some things he did that were pretty rad.
BW: And Fancy Space People toured with Smashing Pumpkins as well, right?
DB: Oh yeah – big mistake. What a fucking joke. He warned us. He said, “I hope you’re ready to play for a bunch of people going like this [raises middle finger]”. I said, “Yeah, I know – I’ve done it before.” And it was like that.
BW: Speaking of touring, soon after your first Wired Up night, you’ll be leaving on tour with Ariel Pink for the Desert Daze Caravan, and then Europe, right?
DB: Yeah, and the rumors are true – Jorge Elbrecht will be in the band. And in Europe, Tim Koh is going to be tour managing, so we’re really happy to be hanging out with him.
BW: That sounds like a great summer.
DB: And you know we’re going to see Harry Merry.
BW: Yes! Going back through your history working with Ariel, the first thing you worked on together was the Phoenix “SOS in Bel Air” remix, right?
DB: No, the first thing I did was a voice-over thing at the cemetery. It was a huge show; there were so many people there. There were all these crazy vignettes with actors portraying the deadly sins. Dave Gebroe and I wrote a narration, and I was a character that was somewhere between Satan himself and Vincent Price. It was like a Dante’s Inferno kind of theme, and then Ariel’s band would play a song. I would say something like “And now look over here – why, it’s Gluttony, that fat slob.” People were acting, and there was film in the background by Alex Moyer.
BW: You used that kind of voice on “Nighttime is Great” from Ariel Pink’s Non-Sequitur Segues/Dedicated to Bobby Jameson bonus disc, right?
DB: Nah…well, sort of. That’s the standard cheeseball horror show host [voice].
BW: Was that song in any way connected to the Bad Vibes movie?
DB: No idea. I know so little about Ariel and his music. I know a lot now because I’ve been hanging out and I learn a lot of weird stuff from doing things the Ariel way. I have to be like Ariel Jr., being his extension larynx.
BW: Before Fancy Space People, you were playing with Nora Keyes in Sarcophagus Lint…
DB: Yeah, that’s what Fancy Space people was for about five minutes – it was just me and her.
BW: Are you still playing with the Snowsnakes?
DB: Some of the characters in that are so volatile. Oddly enough, I’m the most easy-going guy in that band by far. Everyone else is really a maniac – and impossible to have a band with – but they’re so good.
BW: You’ve also been involved with Zolar X, right?
DB: Yeah, I just played drums on their new record. Basically it’s Ygarr [Ygarrist]. That’s when I really learned to play double kick [drums], but I had already played double kick in Death Bred because Deathy insisted.
BW: Speaking of space stuff, are there any recordings of Citizens for the Exploration of Deep Space?
DB: Yeah, CEDS. I’ve got a cassette somewhere; I don’t know where.
BW: You have songwriting credits with the Go-Go’s...
DB: Yeah, I wrote the music for “London Boys” and “Living at the Canterbury” while we were all living at the Canterbury [Apartments].
BW: You and Noah are compiling twenty-three glam songs for the Glitter Box radio show, right?
DB: Yeah, I gave Noah my top twenty-three, and he probably agrees with most of them. Then he’ll change the ones that he doesn’t think should be there.
BW: Where does the number twenty-three come from?
DB: I was an early part of Thee Temple ov Psychick Youth, and I was a big William Burroughs and Brion Gysin fan, of course.
BW: What accounts for the connection between 45s and the junk shop glam genre?
DB: They sound better; the intent is more intense. You capture human emotion in the vibrations on the tape, in the way the particles are arranged, and in the grooves of the records. You can feel those vibrations.
BW: Specifically on a 45?
DB: On a 45, it’s more intense. That’s why we did the Fancy Space People record that way – it sounded so much better at 45 RPM in those giant grooves.
BW: That record is 45 RPM on a 12-inch, right?
DB: Yeah – it was too long to put on a 7-inch. You get better fidelity because it goes faster. You have larger grooves, so there’s more information contained, and it’s less blurry. It’s got more room to breathe. It’s less compressed in a way, and more compressed in a way. It’s like an aural exciter – it jumps out more at you.
Listen to Kitten Sparkles' Glitterbox one Saturday a month on dublab 6:00-8:00 p.m. (PST). See and hear Don play live with Fancy Space People and DJ with Noah Wallace at Zebulon on April 20 for Wired Up.