The Deal with the Devil

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The key elements of rock n' roll are danger, sex, energy and anger. If none of these are present you don't have rock n' roll. If all of these elements are present, you've got something extraordinary. When a tough Irish girl from Cleveland grows up on jazz and rockabilly, finds punk rock and mixes it with burlesque and a group of talented musicians that share her vision, you have something that is more than extra-ordinary: you've got the one-of-a-kind, Devil Doll. I had a long conversation with lead singer Colleen Duffy about why she created such a band, and picked her brain on a couple of other subjects as well.

SLUG: When people ask about your music and your live show, how do describe it?

Colleen: I describe our music as jazz based with some blues, a little bit of rockabilly and a little bit of Latin. When people ask about our live show, I tell them Joan Jett meets Jessica Rabbit who might also put on a cowboy hat once in a while. We're also influenced by a lot of old country from the 40s and 50s. These guys were true outlaws and punk rock in there own right.

SLUG: How did you get into vintage music like jazz and rockabilly?

C: I grew up around very musical people. I was raised on Elvis and a lot of Irish music, and a lot of big band swing and even a lot of Motown and soul. Elvis was idolized around our house and by the time I was in second grade, I knew what I wanted to be when I grew up––I wanted to be Elvis.

SLUG: Now you're not a rockabilly band, but that's who has made up a huge part of your following. What do think of the rockabilly scene in America, and how do you feel about being lumped into it?

C: I've listened to a great amount of rockabilly in my lifetime. I grew up on it, and I had a radio show, and started a distribution company for rockabilly and psychobilly bands. A lot of people don't know that Hepcat records started in my living room in Cleveland. That really paved the way for psychobilly when no one knew what that was in this country. Our band is not traditional rockabilly, but we are heavily influenced to preserve that element in our music and in our show. We do it with a punk rock twist, but what you have to realize is that when you're playing an older style of music, you're not reinventing the wheel. But if you put it through our own filtering system and present it in a modern way, that's ingenious, that's art. There is beauty in recreating that music, but there can also be arrogance is saying "I do it the way they really did it back then.'"

SLUG: How did the creation of your band come about?

C: The band was based in Cleveland, and then in New York, and now is based out of L.A. I've found that the best players are the ones that were into punk rock as kids but are now serious jazz musicians. They get the seriousness of having the chops, but also they have dirtyness and grittiness and an attitude. My line up right now as far musicianship is as good as it's ever been; in fact one of my sax player Neil Sugerman has recorded with that artist that needs to eat something and go to rehab [Amy Whinehouse]. I've been blessed with killer players.

SLUG: How did you find your style?

C: I've always had a retro style. Even when I was in punk rock bands in high school I know I was looking at music very differently and by the time I was 18 I was writing full-on Devil Doll songs. I've always gone about my songs like a torch singer. I'm the punk rock torch singer. There's no one that does what I do. From the moment I found punk rock it changed my life, and that's where my delivery comes from.

SLUG: What other women have impressed you out there?

C: I love to support women in music; it's nice to see women that play instruments and write their own songs. Marti Brom is a good friend of mine and she's the shit. Bridget Hanley and the Dark Shadows from Australia, who are rockabilly influenced, but definetly do there own thing, and you know I like the Creepshow. She's cuter than hell and she can sing. That's the important part. If you can't sing I can't give my stamp of approval.

SLUG: What can we expect from a live Devil Doll show?

C: A couple years ago I realized that my view of playing live had changed and that I wasn't getting the same high from playing anymore. It's because I didn't need to be the center of attention anymore, and instead of worrying about myself, I had a job to do. So every night for an hour and a half it's my job to entertain an audience and to make them forget about how much they hate their job, or that their boyfriend cheated on them. Music changed and saved my life, so this is about me giving that back. We draw a mixed crowd of older people, punks, ska kids, greasers and all these people that have picked up on something in what we do that they connect with.

Devil Doll is one of those acts that's dark without purposely being so. They've managed to create something that's accessible and interesting. There is definitely only one Devil Doll and they'll pull through town May 2 at Bar Deluxe. Don't miss the chance to see something truly extraordinary.