interview : Don Bolles – member of Germs/ 45 Grave and key player in LA punk scene

The first time looking Don Bolles in the face, one gets the distinct feeling he is on a permanent LSD trip. His full pupils tend to occasionally glare at you with a peaceful, yet intense aura of open-mindedness, coupled with the notion that they’ve witnessed one too many campy horror films, which they have, and punk rock insanity. His eccentric style of dress could be deemed part Russian countryside, ‘60s British Military, ‘70s punk and Los Angeles rockstar with a little hippy and glam thrown in for good measure.  Years of vegetarianism and activity have afforded Bolles a slender and fit physique-few would guess the punk pioneer will turn 58 in late July of this year.

When Bolle, very randomly and fearlessly, set sail for LA from Arizona packing his 1972 Chrysler Newport Custom with friend Rob Graves, to audition for what would become one of the most influential punk bands in history, The Germs, he brought with him a seemingly advanced cultural and political awareness at his young age and limited knowledge of drumming-perfect for punk. Fueling his haphazard adventure was a Germs 7” brought to Arizona from L.A. to Bolles in Arizona from a friend of some of the members of The Germs. Bolles was hired, but with the Germs entering the studio days later to record their single “Forming,” he would sit out the first recording offering only hand claps and backing vocals.

“Don Bolles” is Bolles’ stage name, not his real name, something commonplace in the early punk era; and is taken from the Arizona Republic reporter and journalist, Don Bolles, killed in a car bomb by the mafia for reporting on corruption. The journalists murder would affect Bolles and many others in his hometown, for him it represented a part of his home life he brought to Los Angeles where coincidentally, Bolles would go on to write for several publications.  He would also move to collaborating on the, well-informed (highly in-part because of Bolles), and well-written Germs/Darby Crash biography “Lexicon Devil: The Fast Times and Short Life of Darby Crash and The Germs”.

Things have been happening for Bolles’ since randomly phoning the Germs telling them he was going to be their drummer (after only recently picking up drums) and appearing in L.A. like some tripped-out swirl at the age of 21, but mostly because Bolles makes it happen. With the remainder of the ‘80s most notably filled as drummer for horror band Grave 45, these days, Bolles can be found swirling throughout L.A. booking shows for his underground venue, Club Ding-A-Ling, (or whatever it may be called now).  Or indulging in his hobby of collecting far-out, rare records-including an impressive vintage tent-revival preacher/satanic church-themed collection which he showcased at a gallery some years back. Yet his countless musical side projects and band memberships are perhaps what keep him mostly busy: The re-united Germs (featuring Pat Smear [Germs, Nirvana, Foo Fighters], Shane West, [great fill-in, both vocally and with stage performance, West is the actor who played Darby in the Germs movie], and Lorna Doom [Germs Bassist]; playing guitar and writing in psych band The Fancy Space People, who had a single produced by Billy Corgan of Smashing Pumpkins fame; performing as Alice Cougar in an Alice Cooper cover band, Thee Earwigs; plenty of other side projects; and most recently, becoming drummer and entering the studio with neo-goth-pop provacatuer Ariel Pink for his soon-to-be-released new album. Louder Than War recently contacted Bolles to find out what’s been behind those trippy, dark pupils these days.

LTW:Hey, so are you into zombies? Be honest.

DB: Love ’em! {says Bolles perhaps misunderstanding the question)
LTW: What year did you first appreciate zombies?

DB: I think it started when I heard “She’s Not There” on the radio back when it came out in 1964, and continued on through “Time of the Season”, after which I think they broke up.

LTW: The band is great, but what about cinema. Are you still into horror movies?

DB: Sort of. My interest in horror films began even before my appreciation of the Zombies; I had every issue of Famous Monsters of Filmland magazine, built all the various monster model kits available, including the Weirdos (designed by Ed “Big Daddy Roth”; I had a huge collection of monster bubblegum cards, and those Basil Wolverton monster stickers with people’s names on them (like “Gertrude,” for instance). I watched every horror, Sci-fi or monster movie I could (and there were a lot of them then, like all the original Godzilla movies, etc.); before monsters and stuff I was really into dinosaurs. I knew the scientific name for every known dinosaur when I was like 4 and 5 years old, and wanted nothing more than to move to Wyoming to become a paleontologist. I was also a comic book fiend – especially the Jack Kirby 4th World stuff, and read every issue of MAD magazine – plus all the paperbacks.

LTW: You are currently recording an album, with a very successful bandleader and namesake Ariel Pink. Now, you put on several shows for Mr. Pink before joining the band during your years running a private club. Is it great to be drumming in a high profile band again? What other stuff do you have going on?

DB: Yes, Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti. I put on a warehouse show with him headlining (and Fancy Space People opening) for his birthday one year, and another show at Club Ding-a-Ling last year, both of which were the biggest shows I’ve ever put on, and we barely advertised at all. So I guess he’s pretty popular. I’ve known Ariel since he was 18 and just doing weird 4-track DIY recordings in his bedroom, and somewhere along the line there he got huge! We’ve always been pals, but I never really got into his music until I heard the newest lp, specifically the song “Only In My Dreams”, which blew me away with it’s seemingly effortless pop perfection. One day he asked me to help him do a remix for a song by that band Phoenix, called “Belair S.O.S.”, and after we did that (which is pretty cool, BTW – it’s called the “Krystal Bamboo” mix, you can find it online somewhere, I’m sure) we started doing more things. He would have me come in and do vocals for bands he was producing, and then he asked me to come to a Haunted Graffiti recording session. I had no idea what I was going to do, but ended up playing drums and / or singing on like 17 songs. And what songs they are! He cowrote some with KIM FOWLEY (the God of Rock’n’Roll, in case anybody doesn’t know), and I even wrote a bit or three, but mostly he writes everything. IMHO Ariel has been just on fire lately, as a songwriter, and his new stuff is AMAZING!! And so many different styles it’s sick. From proto-punk to yacht-rock funk, Lee Hazlewood / Neil Diamond schmaltz, mid-period Chrome, sunshine pop – you name it. Can’t wait for the new album to be done, so everyone can hear this stuff. He’s really taken this shit to the next level, and I’m glad to be along for the ride. He’s a true weirdo, always trying new stuff, so I do what I can to help that along while trying to keep it all in the “pop” world, somehow.

As far as “other stuff” – I’m doing a lot of session work nowadays. Some drumming, and a lot of vocals. I rarely sang back in the punk years, because I was too good at singing, and when I tried to dumb it down for punk it just didn’t sound “punk” enough, so I mainly just played drums – or bass and guitar, when people would let me. I was not very adept with those things then – I’m only getting good at that stuff now. I have my band, FANCY SPACE PEOPLE, but we’re on a hiatus at moment while I do all this other stuff to hopefully make enough bongo-bucks to finish the FSP full length. The EP was great, but the label went away before they could really do anything with it, so it kinda faded into instant obscurity… But we’ll be back with more stuff soon!!! Also, the GERMS are going to be recording a new album (all Darby & Pat compositions, a lot of “GI”ing the old Germicide era songs that were never done properly cuz nobody could play them then) in Dave Grohl’s studio, mostly Pat and I. And Shane. And Lorna, if we can ever find her again. She’s sort of disappeared. I also have a thing called KITTEN SPARKLES that involves shortwave radio static, a strobe light (as an industrial strength version of Brion Gysin’s Dream Machine), darkness, smoke and huge amplifiers, all working together to put a roomful of people into a psychedelic space-trance. And then there are the “tribute” bands – THEE EARWIGS, in which I play ALICE COUGAR, and we do a bunch of the EARLY Alice Cooper band stuff, as in Pretties For You, Easy Action, Love it to Death, Killer, School’s Out, etc. and the pre-Alice singles; also THEE RAW POWER RANGERS, which is a tribute to the Stooges Raw Power lp. I play drums in that one.

 

LTW: How’s your religious album collection coming?

DB: Great, except a lot of the records I had in a “Religious Record Cover Art” show are missing or the sleeves are misplaced since I got them back and it’s a real pain to try to figure that all out.

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When does the Ariel Pink recording wrap and when’s the release date?

LTW: You have remained very active in the LA music community since launching your career with the germs. It’s hard to keep track of what projects are on, off or on hold. What else is cooking right now?

DB: : Yes. I think I mentioned some of these “projects” above, although there are a lot more, like THEE ANGELS OV AUMSPHERE, which features NO-RA KEYES (FSP), MIRA BILLOTE (WHITE MAGIC), DIVA DOMPE (She’s the daughter of BAUHAUS’ drummer KEVIN HASTINGS), RON REGE JR (LAVENDAR DIAMOND) and JIMI COW (CABEZA DE VACA ORCHESTRA). I play bass in that. I sang on some new AMARILLO RECORDS releases, including NEAL HAMBURGER’S NEW LP AND MAJOR ENTERTAINER MIKE H’S NEW 7″, “Opening Act” b/w “T-Shirts For Sale”. Sang on the latest lp by THE GARDEN, and played drums on 20 WICKER SPIGOT tracks in less than an hour! I also have a weird psychedelic “trip-metal” outfit called DEATH WIZARD, so watch out…

LTW: What genre of music are you listening to lately? 

DB: I listen to lots of different stuff. Lately I’ve been enjoying watching ASMR videos on YouTube.{ editors note:(Autonomous sensory meridian response (ASMR) is a neologism for a perceptual phenomenon characterized as a distinct, pleasurable tingling sensation in the head, scalp, back, or peripheral regions of the body in response to visual, auditory, tactile, olfactory, and/or cognitive stimuli)}

LTW: Your other Germ brother, Pat Smear, plays guitar in the Foo Fighters. Have you talked to Pat lately? 

DB: Pat’s doing really well these days. He won a Grammy, had a kid, and plays in a band with PAUL MCCARTNEY. And we just did a Germs-a-Go-Go show at the Echoplex; The Germs, but with CHARLOTTE CAFFREY fom the Go Gos on bass. We did “London Boys”, one of the songs I wrote for the Go Gos back when they started the band, the same day I taught Jane Weidlin barre chords. It would have gone on their hugely successful 1st album, except they didn’t like the lyrics (the part I didn’t write…). Oh, well.

LTW: As of now are you planning to tour with Ariel Pink? Are you guys clued into who will distribute the record and what kind of support you’ll be getting by way of promotion?

DB: Yes, and the record is on the 4-AD label, which is a fairly large indie label, so they might help out a little. I’ve been told by former band members that the money is pretty good for the tours, so we’ll see how all that goes. The band is amazing now, as are the new songs, so I can’t wait to take the thing on the road!

LTW: Is there a European tour in the works?

DB: Hopefully we’ll be going to Europe next year.

 

Benjamin Tully is a musician, photographer and writer living in Chicago Illinois USA with his wife Natasha and two great cats Varia and Fonzie.  He is an avid fan of British and American rock n’ roll and many other genres.

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5 comments on “interview : Don Bolles – member of Germs/ 45 Grave and key player in LA punk scene”

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  1. I’m actually still in the Germs, FYI.

  2. And I wasn’t there for the Forming 7″ recording – it was the Lexicon Devil EP.

  3. And the “horror band” was 45 Grave, not Grave 45.

  4. Oh, and Billy Corgan was more like the executive producer of thee Fancy Space People EP. I am credited as producer.

  5. Love the comments from Don himself haha…

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