This month of April 2023, Little Steven’s Underground Garage celebrates 21 years of life, and in that time it’s gone from purely an online show to a full channel on Sirius XM (where they are channel 21!) with a number of shows and DJs spotlighting different corners of music. It’s also been a time in which Stevie Van Zandt’s label, Wicked Cool Records, has expanded and continued in its mission to find the coolest songs in the world and bring them to audiences. One of those shows you’ll find on The Underground Garage Channel is called “Sunrise Surprise” running from 4AM to 8AM and is hosted by Kelly Ogden of the Punk band The Dollyrots. The Dollyrots are also celebrating an anniversary in 2023, the 20th for their debut album, Eat My Heart Out.
The Dollyrots, who consist of Kelly Ogden on vocals and bass, Luis Cabezas on guitar, and Justin McGrath on live drums, released a compendium of b-sides, rarities, and cover songs from throughout their career in 2022 called Down The Rabbit Hole, and ahead of their Spring 2023 tour unleashed a 7-inch vinyl double single with “Hey Girl” and a cover of The Divinyl’s “I Touch Myself”. Now, there are rumors that they’ve been in the studio cooking up new tracks for an upcoming album. It seemed like an opportune time to talk with Kelly Ogden about her role as the youngest DJ on The Underground Garage and how she came to embrace the darkest hours of morning, as well as to hear more about what’s been up for The Dollyrots, who have already done some epic touring in 2023.
HMS: I know it’s a cool anniversary for The Underground Garage, celebrating 21 years this month, but I also heard it’s a big anniversary year for The Dollyrots. Is that true?
Kelly Ogden: Yes, it’s the 20th anniversary of our first album, Eat My Heart Out. It’s kind of crazy to think about that, but somehow we’ve done it and still do it. We have another album coming out at the end of the year. We’re thinking about doing something for the anniversary for our first album, and we’re considering doing a string of dates where we play the whole album. That would be awesome because those songs are all pretty simple Punk Rock ditties.
HMS: That is so awesome. Congratulations. I saw on Instagram that you had been working on a new album, so given your UK tour and your American touring already, I thought, “Wow! This just doesn’t stop.” This must be the busiest year of your life!
KO: [Laughs] They all kind of feel like that now. Luis, who is my partner in life as well as in the band, and I have been married 22 years and we also have a nine year old and a six year who have their own lives. We are just running. And it’s great. We’re very lucky that we get to do something creative for a living.
HMS: I have Sirium XM, and I have for a number of years, but I’ve also been aware of Wicked Cool Records, Steven Van Zandt, and The Underground Garage as a music lover and as someone who lives in New Jersey.
KO: I was born in Jersey! I was born in Teaneck in Bergen County, in the same hospital as my dad was born in and where my parents met. My dad was my mom’s patient when she was a nursing student. It’s the sweetest romance ever.
HMS: That’s amazing. What is that book, a Farewell to Arms, where there’s a nurse-patient romance?
KO: Yes! [Laughs]
HMS: But you are the queen of the darkest hours on Underground Garage, right? Your show is from 4AM to 8AM and it’s called “Sunrise Surprise.” How did that time slot happen?
KO: The band has been familiar with Underground Garage since our second album came out, Because I’m Awesome, which was on Blackheart Records. Joan Jett had a show on the station and my parents always had Underground Garage on, so we’d been familiar with the Garage for years. They started talking about doing a 7 inch at Wicked Cool Records and we started working with Stevie’s label.
Then something unusual happened, and I’m not kidding. We were driving our kids to the first day of school in mid-August, listening to the Underground Garage, and I said out loud to Luis, “Man, they really need someone in the morning to give some energy. I need someone to keep me company because mornings suck.” That same day, I got a phone call saying, “Stevie feels like we really need a DJ in the mornings now, not just music. Kelly, would you be interested in auditioning?” I said, “Yes, please.”
I started the audition process, and then I did a whole bunch of test shows to see what I would be doing. Stevie, and Dennis, who runs the station, gave me some feedback and I would try again. Eventually, I think my first show was October 13th in 2019, and that timed very nicely in my life.
HMS: Wow, you kept going through the pandemic period, too, working from home?
KO: Yes, we were home and weren’t touring, so I got to figure out how to do the radio thing. It was new and I was definitely nervous at first. I thought, “This is terrifying!”
HMS: It is a totally different thing. That must have been a ton of exploration and experimentation. Do you have anything that you can share about what conclusions you came to? What you found was necessary to create the show you wanted?
KO: I grew up listening to NPR and when we were younger, driving around the country in our tour van, we always listened to a lot of coast-to-coast AM and a lot of talk radio. I did, at least, listening to people speaking on the radio. My family always listened to Casey Kasem’s Top 40 on the records. I was familiar with it, but putting myself in that position was really weird.
I think the hardest part was letting go of the idea that I needed to do it like anybody else and find out who I was on the radio. I needed to care less, because I’m a very careful person when it comes to do anything where I’m putting myself out there. That can be a fault of mine. I’m terrified of being embarrassed. It’s my number one fear in life. I hate that feeling, so sometimes I’m cautious. It took me a while to settle in and find some confidence in it.
HMS: I was trying to think of people I have listened to at 4AM, and I did remember that going for early flights at the airport, I would listen to Alice Cooper. I loved it. The thing about him, the more I know about him, is that he’s very therapeutic. He’s very approachable. Does that play into it for you? Do you think, psychologically, about affecting people in a good way?
KO: For the band and myself as well, we consciously try to put out positivity. In the morning, I’m kind of saying, “Hey, I don’t want to be up, either, but let’s be up together!” I try to always be positive, regardless of what’s happening in the world or in my life. It’s important to well up positivity inside ourselves, so I try to always present that. I’m just a cheerful person by nature, so it’s not a big stretch, but we can joke about things. I try to just be good, positive company.
HMS: How much research and preparation goes into the shows for you? As a journalist, I’m thinking that it might be quite a tall order to fill that many hours of programming. It really sounds like a lot of work.
KO: We get to pick from all of the music that Stevie has collected, but it’s also important to him that we always teach about music as we’re listening to it, which is part of what makes it fun to listen to, I think. I’m constantly learning things about the bands, where they recorded them, what happened in the studio. It keeps it interesting. Most of us have heard many of these songs before, but it’s cool when the DJ has something to say about it.
As for new music, I constantly send it over to the station, and on Tuesdays, I do a new music spotlight where I talk about newly released music. On Wednesdays, I do “Woman Crush Wednesdays” where I highlight a woman in Rock ‘ Roll. Sometimes I give several minutes to a quick bio of a woman who has influenced me. This is always at 7am Eastern.
But, yes, when I started, it was taking me nine hours to prepare a four-hour show! I was doing five of them a week, and it was really hard. It was during Covid, which was great because I didn’t have to go anywhere, but it was also challenging, because we had our two kids home from school doing Zoom school. I have a friend who has become my partner in doing the show, called Tom Calhoun. He helps me out with the research now and we’ve amassed our own database to which we add facts. And we can pull from it. I try not to repeat things too often on the shows, but most people join the show for 20 to 40 minutes at a time.
We started off with basic facts that I’d gather from the internet, but Tom has an amazing collection of records and Rock ‘n Roll books, so he’s been bringing so much information to me which makes the show that much better.
HMS: I’m reminded of some stuff that I learned about Stevie that I didn’t know until a few years ago, which is that he’s involved in these educational music programs for schools. He’s very into education. I’m not surprised to hear that he wants an educative aspect brought in here. There’s nothing wrong with just listening to and enjoying a song, but this is an extra aspect that helps keep music culture alive.
KO: It was a lot to learn, actually. I felt like I knew about Rock ‘n Roll, but having started in 2019, I now feel like I’ve finally absorbed enough to make connections between the bands and the things that were happening in the world around them. It took a while to familiarize myself. I’ve definitely been growing as a DJ. I’m actually the youngest DJ on the station, so I didn’t grow up with a lot of the music that I’ve been playing, which means it’s a learning curve.
HMS: All my respect to that. I’ve been trying to read more music history stuff the past few years, and I do sometimes feel like I sometimes have these eureka moments where I can see the connections between bands and albums. It’s a great feeling. But there’s so much to know!
KO: It’s never-ending.
HMS: You’ve released the single “Hey Girl” along with a cover of “I Touch Myself”, and you’re recording a new album. How has songwriting and recording been for you the past couple of years? Did you have to work differently than for previous albums?
KO: There was a period in the pandemic when it was hard to write because we felt we were running on empty without being able to play live. But we started up again last summer on new music. We really started trying again then and we found that a lot of stuff that we had started and set aside was actually really good and thank goodness we hadn’t deleted things. We had a lot of good starts. At this point we have 25 solid songs that we like and lots of parts of other songs. We started recording in January for the full-length coming out, but “Hey Girl” is something we actually recorded with Stevie at Renegade Studios in New York when we were playing New York City.
We had played the night before, and we drove to see my family afterwards in New Jersey, left the kids and the crew there, then Luis, me, and our drummer went back into the city to the studio the next morning. We recorded “Hey Girl” and “Missing You.” Stevie popped in and we got to spend some time being creative with him, which was really cool, then we left the city in time to go play our show in Teaneck that night! That was wild. That’s how the 7 inch came about.
As far as the cover song, we’re always asking, “What cover should we do?” There was this thread on the internet with both Brian Ray of The Bayonets and Kathy Valentine. We play the Bayonets a lot on Underground Garage. Of course, Kathy’s from the Go-Go’s and she’s someone I talk to sometimes about Rock ‘n Roll and being a mom. They both said that we ought to do The Divinyls and “I Touch Myself.” We put together that 7 inch in the hopes that would be out in time for the March tour, since we always do a tour of the Midwest in March. That plan came to fruition and it also got us started recording new music again. We are officially back!
HMS: When you started looking at songs and getting writing again, was being able to play for audiences part of what energized you?
KO: Definitely. We felt grateful and motivated. We are so excited to go and do all the things again that we didn’t get to do. That’s what the songs are about. The new album is definitely not about Covid. I don’t want to do that album!
HMS: I’ve listened to “Hey Girl” a few times and I’ve looked at the lyrics on Bandcamp. I think that even though this is a Rock song, it’s also a kind of story song. It really is about these two people.
KO: We typically start out with a guitar part for a song, or even a full instrumental of drums, bass, and guitar. Then I’ll make it out to the studio and we’ll ask, “Okay, what’s it about? We’ll listen, and the first bits of a song are always a grunted melody. Slowly, the themes come to us, then the words come after that. I’m not a poet and I don’t really even consider myself a lyricist. I try to capture the things in the ether that the music is implying. At this point, we’ve had a lot of life experiences to pull from. “Hey Girl” is a little like the song “My Best Friend’s Hot”, but grown up, in a way.
“My Best Friend’s Hot” was on the album Because I’m Awesome. It’s a song that’s about having crushes, but this one’s a particular crush. I have been married to Luis for 22 years, but it doesn’t mean that both of us don’t sometimes think that someone’s beautiful! It’s part of being human, and this is kind of a playful song about that.
The whole bridge part is made of experiences that we’ve literally had, like being in a hot tub with a judge on tour! [Laughs] We have lived our years together in a really funny way that’s always been full of respect and love.
HMS: There’s a lot of possibility in that song about how people can relate to it. And it’s kind of a sweet song about feeling inspired by someone else, too.
KO: I think a kid in high school can take something from that song, but someone celebrating 22 years together can also take something from it.