Nikki Smash Interviewed by Francijn Suermondt
Pictures: Adrian Hextall \ MindHex Media
‘The Rocket Dolls’ a heavy trio from Brighton (just the name of this band fills me with glee) are a tour de grunge force with crunching attitude. Nikki Smash, Benji Knopfler & Joe Constable are influenced by bands such as Nirvana, Alice in Chains, Foo Fighters, Alkaline Trio and many more. MGM caught up with lead singer Nikki Smash after a kick-ass set at Ramblin Man Fair this year to discuss a veritable rock n roll cocktail of subjects … a soupcon of Rikki Rockett, with a dash of grunge topped off with a very large slice of Freaks & Geeks in Brighton!
FS – Hi Nikki how is it going?
NS – I’m very good how are you?
FS – Your set earlier today at Ramblin Man was absolutely awesome, how come you are playing here this year?
NS – Well we signed with our management last year and we also had a chat with the guy who was getting the stage together this year, and we said ‘Hey, we have been trying to play here for the last 2 or 3 years, and we just had a new record out called ‘Deadhead’ that came out in April and the stars aligned a bit for us and we managed to get the slot …. And yeah everyone loved it, it was almost packed full in there’
FS – It was really, really, busy and people were dancing, I haven’t seen that many people dance so far this weekend, but they were to you guys!
NS – Yeah it was crazy and we are not the type of band that you would think people would dance to either!
FS – I reviewed your album for MGM and I thought it was excellent, but actually live, your stage presence is really, really good, all of you three guys are amazing, I think the momentum you built on stage just now was giving people the groove and the need to dance.
NS – I think in a good way it is very intense and high energy, so I think when people get that and go ‘Oh I get it now’, it’s sort of infectious.
FS – Yes, it was almost as if you were giving them the green light to go ahead and have fun, by promoting that on stage … so that’s brilliant!
NS – Yes, we are very active on stage so I think that helps you know, because not that many people I have seen are too active …but we give it the full works!
FS – Yes, I love it …Now I have to ask and I’m sure everyone asks you this, but where does your cool name The Rocket Dolls come from?
NS – Well, 10 plus years ago, it was pretty late at night, as I have insomnia, so I don’t really sleep much. This is going back when there was MTV 2 and stuff was on the TV and I was watching Rikki Rockett, I mean wicked drummer/Poison rad!, and he had some scantily clad ladies with him and he was going ‘These are my rocket dolls baby, these are my rocket dolls!’…and I was like, that’s cool, then I thought ‘The Rocket Dolls’ and I was googling it to see if there was anyone called the Rocket Dolls. And apparently, which is weird, ‘Muse’ used to be called the ‘Rocket Baby Dolls’ years ago, but …yeah…
FS – Ooohhh I like that story, I have a Rikki Rockett story of my own which I will tell you after our interview ….
NS – Not appropriate for this ???
FS – Oh no it’s not rude or anything, disappointingly, I just think it is a fun story, part of my youth in LA.
NS – I will look forward to hearing it!
FS – So as I have said I reviewed your album ‘Deadhead’ and I did find there was a lot of grunge influence. Am I correct in saying this?
NS – Absolutely, grunge is one of my favourite things, I am a massive ‘Nirvana’ fan for obvious reasons vocally and Jerry Cantrell is one of my biggest guitar influences. I love ‘Alice In Chains’ and Chris Cornell is like a god to me, but I’m also a massive ‘Stereophonics’ fan as well. So that’s where the husky, gravelly voice comes from.
FS – I’m not saying you sound totally grunge, I could just hear hints of it ….
NS – But yeah, its very grunge influenced, you know we also like ‘Nickelback’ and ‘Big Wreck & ‘Thornley’, and ‘Bush’ you know Gavin Rossdale is a big influence on me too. A lot of people say, that I sound like Gavin Rossdale and I will take that!
FS – And you were talking earlier about Rikki Rockett, is there an influence too?
NS – In terms of that genre, I like ‘Motley Crue’ and Mick Mars is one of my favourite rhythm players, in a geek guitar way I can drop in that I am a real tone head and he plays a strat and I play a strat, so there is a big wall of sound thing going on and that is what I try to emulate from that side of things.
FS – I like also this mix of influences and I have to say you are bringing a happier feel to the grunge side. I love grunge, but it could get a bit depressing sometimes …
NS – Yeah, yeah, yeah …well we write about a lot of personal stuff, about anxiety, depression that sort of thing…..
FS – Yeah but how you perform it, is uplifting to me …
NS – That’s it, but I think that is when you get the full circle of it …and I have heard this from a few people who have said to me they have heard the record and some of it is quite dark, but then they have seen it live and it all makes sense. They say that I am a different animal live, but it is sort of the missing piece of the jigsaw puzzle if you are not sure about us.
FS – I was going to say that, as a PR person in my day job, I would say that part of your marketing mix is your album and then the other part is playing it live, to get the full picture. You have played with people like Black Stone Cherry on the bill at Hard Rock Hell, do you prefer playing festivals or your own gigs?
NS – It is a different beast, you know what was really cool, the set we played today, the fans chose it …yeah we had a thing on Facebook and they all chose the songs. We normally play a lot of different tunings as well, and obviously normally at a festival, you can’t do that, so we managed to squeeze three in today. So it can be hard to do all of it, but we did the best we could with the most voted for tracks and we played them today.
FS – You are from Brighton, does the vibe there help you creatively?
NS – Absolutely, it’s kind of like your brain is free and there is no judgement there. It’s very cool to be around so many creative people, you know even singer-songwriters there can be die-hard grunge heads and you can take bits and pieces from them. You get so many different stories, I like to say that the Freaks and the Geeks get to hang out together!
FS – Yeah, all the people that got bullied at school are cool now!
NS – That’s right, you get to hang out in Brighton and you get to be one big family, everyone’s like ‘Hey man how’s it going!’ … it’s very cool like that.
FS – So you think you will stay in Brighton or do you have a view to move somewhere else?
NS –Na, we will stay in Brighton
FS – So your fan base, since you started the band in March 2008 …. blimey ten years … you don’t look old enough!
NS – Oh shush!
FS – No, but your fan base now has grown, as I have heard from a few people about your live gigs etc …tell me about them, are they all over the place now?
NS – Yeah, yeah, we even have some in America now as well, probably the biggest request to play other than in the UK, is America…Atlanta, Florida and Los Angeles….and Seattle of course!
FS – They would love you over there!
NS – But it’s so expensive to do it, we just don’t have the budget. And even those that have heard us in Europe they are like ‘Dude you have to come to Germany man!’
FS – So when you are writing your songs, what comes first, the riff, the music the lyrics?
NS – Well, previously it’s always been about writing the riff first, I get a good riff together and then play around for a while with it, in the rehearsal room as well and then it will lead to more, a verse a chorus and then you are like ….oh we’ve got a song together now!
FS – So there is no formula as such?
NS – No, we are very much songwriters and write songs all the time, we write songs about other people, we write songs for people. In fact, soon we will be jumping into the next writing cycle for our next record. With this, we are trying to take a different approach of making up song titles beforehand and my buddy Jimmy Owen is helping me to put it all down on paper. And it is some of the best stuff I have ever written, it’s super dark and super honest.
FS – So when can we expect that to be finished?
NS – We have already demo’ed some things, but I think you won’t probably see a release until the end of 2019. Some maybe October time 2019.
FS- Well you have to let us know because we want to support you guys.
NS – Thank you very much, that means a lot to me.
FS – So my next question was, what other news do you have for our readers?
NS – We are main support for ‘Massive’ in October so we are playing 9 dates across the whole of the UK. And then we are playing Planet Rockstock at the end of the year.
FS – My last question which I always ask people who I have not interviewed before is, if you had a dinner party and you could have six guests, or four if you can’t be arsed with six, dead or alive, who would they be and why?
NS – Ok, Kurt Cobain, Jerry Cantrell, you …
FS – Ah, I’m quite good at a party!
NS – Yeah, I bet you are ripping at a party! So that’s four, including myself right, and my wife obviously cos she will kick my ass if I don’t say that…I love her, and I think Chris Cornell!
FS – Ah yes, Chris Cornell .. gutted
NS – Yes, don’t, I don’t usually get upset about celebrities dying, but when my wife told me, I was devastated!
FS – So sad! But thank you so much for taking time out to chat today !!