DS Interview: Lenny Lashley on Street Dogs, Gang of One, Torr Skoog and more

Lenny Lashley has been synonymous with the Boston punk scene for as long as this writer can remember. So when it was initially announced that the former Darkbuster frontman would take be taking over for Tobe Bean in the Street Dogs, it seemed, while potentially volatile, it could be a match made in heaven. But hey, it’s Boston punk rock, what else would you expect?

I had the privilege of catching up with Lenny outside a local coffee shop on what was the first sunny day Boston had seen in about two weeks. We talked about his upcoming solo full-length debut, the decision to join Street Dogs, the recent passing of Torr Skoog, and the state of the Boston punk scene. Click here to check it out.

Dying Scene (Jay): So Illuminator comes out in a week or so at this point…

Lenny Lashley: Yeah, the 25th I guess…

Any thoughts leading up to D-Day I guess now that it’s here and it’s your first true solo full-length?

Obviously, it’s been a long time…it’s been a couple years since we actually were recording it and I’m psyched that it’s finally out and that people can hear it. Obviously there’s a little apprehension on how people are gonna receive it because it’s kinda different material. But I’m pretty proud of the effort so I’m trying to put it out without thinking about the warts and the wherewithal. It went up for pre-sales the other day. I guess they only pressed 500, and I got a call from Bean at Panic State and he said he had like 65 left. So in a day, that’s pretty good. It’s awesome art. And that’s the thing, it’s come full circle now, people want to collect cool-looking vinyl. It could sound like a bag of potato chips getting crushed and people would buy it if it looks good. So hopefully a little bit of both.

What do you have for expectations for the album? Or do you even have expectations for it at this point more than it being something cool to put out?

Like I said, it’s been a long time so I kinda let go of it. Expectations are a tough thing in the music business anyway, you know what I mean? It’s changed so much. I’ve been working really hard to do music and work and make a living and subsidize my glorified hobby which is making music, so, I mean, ultimately the only thing I would hope is that it’ll help me be a little more into the full-time, making music all the time thing. Whether it does that, who knows?

I know you’ve been doing the Gang Of One thing for a while now. Were the songs on Illuminator written strictly for a full-length or was it sort of a compilation of stuff you had laying around?

I had originally, I have a friend down in Asbury Park, Joe Koukas, he used to work at the Stone Pony and this place called Deep. Darkbuster had been playing down there for years, and after I went through the whole thing in Europe, and kinda got back to the point where I was doing some solo stuff just to get the feeling like, “I can do it on my own” type of thing. Joe had me down there and heard some of the stuff, and that was playing old Darkbuster stuff, some of the Piss Poor Boys things and some new songs I had been working on. And Joe had the idea of pressing a record, a 7-inch. He got me in touch with Pete (Steinkopf) from the (Bouncing) Souls, they’re good friends. It had been a couple years that I’d just been putting stuff on GarageBand, I had a whole bunch of ideas. So within like three minutes of meeting Pete, I said “hey, I’ve got enough stuff for a full-length, would you been interested in producing a full-length?” And he was totally up for it, and it just kinda took off from there. I was playing around with pedal steel and upright bass, and this is kind of more…there’s some soft stuff (on Illuminator) but there’s also some rockin’ stuff going on too.

Were you looking for sort of a central theme musically for it? Because there isn’t one, necessarily…

Well, it depends on your vantage point. I always like to leave the interpretation up to the listener, that type of thing. But for me as a writer, I mean, even sequencing-wise, it deals a lot with the mental breakdown in Europe. So it starts with “Kingston,” that’s where I was born. And then it goes into “Hooligans,” which doesn’t really fit sequencing-wise, but then it’s “White Man,” which steals a bunch of Clash lyrics but basically deals with the tour of Europe and all that. It’s kinda been a healing process from a couple of knocks that I took over the last couple years. Subject-matter kinda wrote itself. And that’s what I do it for, to hopefully get some kind of peace and resolution for it, you know?

You seem to be getting pretty good feedback from the album so far. At least the things that I’ve read so far, my own personal thoughts aside, everything I’ve read so far is that the album is nothing but really glowing reviews. To have gone through all of the stuff you went through and to be using this as catharsis, at least people seem to get it.

Yeah, I think people knowing that it’s heartfelt without having it come off as being heartfelt. That’s the thing I think that everybody keys on, that “wow, you really put your heart and soul into this record.” I think that’s important, and that ties into that expectations thing. I don’t really have any of them, but I wrote the record because I needed to get that out.

So what’s the plan going forward with Gang Of One now that Street Dogs came up? I would imagine that when you were writing the record and first looking to put it out, Street Dogs wasn’t on the radar.

Yeah, originally I had hoped to get this thing together and put a solid touring band behind. And now obviously the Street Dogs thing has kinda become, it has to be priority. But that being said, all of those guys seem to juggle different projects, it’s just a matter of scheduling. They get, obviously, top priority and then you kinda try to squeeze things in. Hopefully, it can do nothing but help me build up some speed, you know? So the third week of July we’re going to Europe for a month with the Street Dogs. Hopefully when I get back I’ll have a little time where I can go out and tour and back this thing, you know?

How did the Street Dogs thing come about? Obviously you guys have known each other forever, but how did the Street Dogs offer come up at this point and how much sort of arm-twisting did Mike have to do?

Actually, it was kind of the reverse. Originally I had read a post about them taking a little hiatus. And having Mike and Johnny and all them in the phone contacts, I think I tossed Johnny a joking text and said like “if you guys are ever looking…” that type of thing. And he’s a busy dude too, with a lot of stuff going on, so I didn’t really hear from him for a while. And a few months later I saw something online that they were coming out of a hiatus and had some European dates. So I texted him again and said “hey.” And then, of course, being the sensitive prick that I am, I’m thinking “oh Jesus, maybe he doesn’t want to tell me no, you know.” So he shot me a text back and said “Jeez, I don’t know how I missed this in the original swamp of texts.” And then he said “if you consider it, I talked to Mike and the guys and we’d love to have you on board.” And I said, “well, I’d love to come down and just try out and if it doesn’t work out…” And he said “no, if you want it, you got it.”

I talked to Mike, I think it was back either right when it was announced that they were coming out of hiatus or maybe that they were putting out the two seven-inches, and I asked him, you know, “what are you going to do now that Tobe’s not around, or is he back now that you’re coming out of the hiatus?” And he said “well, ultimately, I’d like to get Lenny Lashley in the band.” And I thought, “do we know that yet? Is that public?” And he was like “no, I don’t think so, but we’d like to get Lenny in the band.”

Yeah, that might be around the time we were talking. And he may have been talking to Johnny at the time a little bit, putting the idea in his head anyway. But I think it seems like a really logical fit. We’re kinda all from the same area, we’ve done a lot of touring together. I’ve played maybe 60 or 70 shows opening up for those guys. I think we have mutual admiration for each other’s song-writing. And more than that, I think the ability to grind ahead and have a little bit of heart. Touring isn’t easy, you know what I mean? Over the years, that’s been my thing. If I’m a support act, I’m a support act; I’m rolling the headlining band in and rolling my stuff in last. Over the years, they know me and they know how I am as a person more than anything. So it’s probably more my personality than my ability (*both laugh*).

I think, and I hope, that that’s going to be an awesome marriage. I know you saw the comments in the interview I did with Rick (Barton) a while back…

Yeah, yeah. Well, Rick’s got his opinions. And I don’t take affront to that…but in hindsight what he said is true, this could go absolutely brilliantly or it could be catastrophic. Because there is a little bit of pressure on me to kinda not want to let anybody down. Honestly, it’s big shoes to fill because Tobe’s a great guitar player and an awesome person to have on stage. I mean, I’ve never been anything but a frontman in a band before…

Yeah, how’s that adjustment going to be, you think?

Hopefully easier because I don’t have to worry about singing every night as much as a guy like Mike or myself with my personal stuff. That’s the toughest job in the world, being a touring vocalist, you know what I mean? You never sleep as much as you should, and if you party at all, that doesn’t work. If you smoke, that doesn’t work. If you can’t sing, it’s the worst thing in the world. If you play guitar, you can keep your damn mouth shut and play guitar as long as the amp works. So it’s easier in that regard, I’m sure.

When’s your big debut with Street Dogs? You’re not playing over here at all before you go to Europe, right?

Yeah, they’re gonna supposedly be in the week before we take off. The first date is like the 24th (of July), I gather we probably will leave a day or so early. They’re gonna be in for a couple of rehearsals that we’re gonna do. I’ve been trying to bug them about doing a secret show..

I was gonna say, you guys are all spread out. Because Johnny’s in Texas right? And Mike’s in LA.

Johnny and Pete Sosa, the drummer, and Marcus are all in Texas. And Mike is in LA still. So who knows, maybe I’ll convince them all to move to Boston, become a Boston band again.

Speaking of the Boston thing, maybe it’s just sort of coincidence, but it seems like lately we’ve had a lot more buzz and a lot more of an ability to talk to a lot of older guys in the Boston scene that are still in the game. Whether it’s you or Dropkicks guys or Mike or TJ from the Welch Boys. It doesn’t seem to me that there is much of a Boston scene anymore, at least in terms of the younger generations, but, it seems like there’s a little bit of a revival amongst the older guys. I don’t know if that’s accurate or if that’s just weird timing.

I mean, having traveled and seen a lot, Boston used to be probably the greatest scene in the world for a number of years, maybe fifteen years ago. If you wanted to see a good rockabilly band or a good ska band or a good hardcore band or a good punk band, Boston had it all. I think by and large a lot of things factor into that. First, there’s not a lot of mom and pop clubs for people to come play anymore, that scene kinda dissipated a little bit. And it just seems like, I mean, I don’t really know much about the younger generation, as far as what their motives are and all of that.

But when I was a kid, sure in high school everybody wanted to be Eddie Van Halen. But eventually people branched out and latched on to a certain style. Then you get the guys that liked playing ska and became really good at playing ska…there’s thousands of bands you can list, Skavoovie and the Epitones, all these bands in town that really made it a prime scene. And the rockabilly scene as well, all of those guys culminated from guys playing garage-y rock, like the Dogmatics back in the day, they were playing side-by-side with SS Decontrol. I just think diversity, or lack of diversity, is what’s killing the scene. Everybody wants to be in a tough guy hardcore band and there’s only so much of that that people can take.

Yeah, maybe that combined with the gentrification thing. There’s nowhere to play because every place has turned into a Starbucks or a fancy hotel…

There’s always going to be some of that. I mean, you’ve seen the articles about the Boston cops trying to break up underground shows. But there’s always going to be a scene for that. If people want to do that, there’ll always be a scene for it. But I work at a club less than a mile from here, and I’ve been working there for two-and-a-half, almost three years now, I have not seen one group of seventeen-year-old kids dressed like rockabillies in white t-shirts and greased hair and playing rockabilly. The genre’s dead. Nobody wants to do it.

Even the shows that I’ve been to lately, I mean, guys like Chuck (Ragan) and the Revival Tour draw well but an older crowd. I saw Face To Face on Sunday, and I know that the Swingin’ Utters were playing across town and they had The Welch Boys and The Ducky Boys, local bands, on the bill, but it seemed like nobody was there (compared to past times I’ve seen them), and the youngest person there was probably at least 25 or 26. It’s really weird to see that nobody from the younger generation was there or seems to know those bands.

Yeah, it’s strange. I mean, maybe it goes full circle. The world is definitely changing and we are dinosaurs, you know…(at this point, an MBTA bus went by and totally overloaded the microphone for a minute).

…the whole big joke for so many years in Boston was “hey, they’re huge in Europe.” You know? “They’re huge in Germany.” I mean, Slapshot was selling out great rooms, good-sized rooms around here. But to see them in Germany was a whole different thing. Or The Ramones in Brazil. They never got the accolades that they did in the US, but they’re playing 60,000-seaters in Brazil.

I guess that’s probably true of a lot of bands, which is why they still go to places like Brazil every year or Australia every other year.

It’s definitely a different mentality with the youth in Europe and Brazil and other places in the world.

I hope there will still be places like that here. I hope that can happen here.

Maybe it comes back around, you know? Time will tell.

Getting back to Illuminator a little bit, you recorded with Pete from the Souls, right? But it seems like most of the Souls played on parts of the album, right? Plus Joe (Sirois)?

On the Illuminator thing, I think that Pete was the only guy from the Souls that actually played on the record. Brian played on the seven-inch. I think that was a little misprint. Brian was super supportive, (Mike) McDermott played on two of the tracks. But with scheduling and all that, we wanted to add them on a couple more songs. “Hooligans,” that Brian played on, I had a little scratch track and we basically wrote it that day in the studio. Pete did some great playing on it, he’s got a buddy Jesse Skokos that was in this band Gimme Drugs from down there…you wanna talk about a place with a scene, Asbury Park is coming up. Look at the bands coming out of that area…Gaslight Anthem, the Souls, Scandals, Hub City Stompers, all of these guys from Jersey that I’ve been playing with for years, it seems like a real epicenter musically and culturally now. But that’s the thing…the album can’t sound bad with the guys that I’ve got playing on it. if it does, I’m pretty well screwed.

Did you record it down there with them or did they come up here?

Joe and Pete flew in for one session that we did at Wooly Mammoth, (Brian) Minehan from The Neighborhoods’ studio over in Waltham. We did six drum tracks and I think we kept one or two scratch guitar tracks from that. The bulk of it was scheduling for Pete, and I was playing a lot of shows too, and going down on weekends and knocking out some fourteen/sixteen hour days. I think we did maybe three or four session down there like that. The drums that Mike did and everything else was done at Pete’s place pretty much. And he’s got an awesome little studio down there. Dave Hause and The Loved ones recorded there, he produced “The Gold Record” there. I understand, they’ve gone through the big producer thing, but he’s got the capability to do anything those other guys can do, and he’s a great motivator too.

Oh yeah?

Yeah, he’s awesome.

Is there more stuff from the Illuminator sessions that’ll see the light of day?

Because it was a shoestring budget kind of thing, me paying out of pocket, and Pete was really gracious with me. What we recorded was what went up on the album. I’m happy with trimming the fat. It seems like it flows really well. I have, that being said, a fucking surplus of songs on my Garageband. If I get bored with a song or can’t find a part, I leave it unfinished, so who knows with that. Maybe some stuff can go into another solo album or maybe some of the stuff gets tossed into the works with the Street Dogs guys. So we’ll see what fits where.

That’s something I wanted to ask you. Do you write with just one of your voices in mind, like for the Gang of One project or Piss Poor Boys or old Darkbuster stuff. Do you have a project in mind when you sit down to write?

No, never. I’ve never really thought of the songwriting process as anything being aimed. If I’m inspired for something, it goes. Obviously some things with previous work, Darkbuster did some stuff kind of got jammed into that. “Good Times” is one that now I’m playing it acoustically and a little slower, that’s kinda how that song should be played in my mind. But it’s like any good band, it’s a different interpretation of a song. You get the right players together and it gives it a different dynamic. Chuck (Ragan) does that really well. They do that night after night, back stage working up a different version of something. It’s kinda walking a tightrope. I’m not that comfortable with that.

That’s got to be an insane process.

Well, I mean, they play great too (laughs). I really have to practice, I’ve got to hammer stuff down.

Do you have all of the Street Dogs stuff hammered down yet?

I’m still cramming for that test (*both laugh*).

Do they have a couple dozen songs that they want to focus on or is it just, like “hey Lenny, learn everything…”

By and large they do, but Johnny sent me a bunch of their b-sides and other stuff that they’ve made. I’m listening and trying to learn everything that I can. I’m not sure, being the new guy in the band, how much influence or say I’ll have over things. But listening to stuff, to my ear, I hear some songs that’ll be like “why have you guys never played this in the rotation?”. So we’ll see…I’ll do what they tell me. Somebody else asked me the other day, and if those guys ask me to scrub the toilet on the bus, I’ll do that, you know?

I’m sure there are plans to come back to the States and play, but nothing’s been announced yet, right?

I don’t think they’ve announced anything, but I’m pretty sure that the Wreck The Halls tour will take place at some point or another.

Oh right, I think Mike did mention that. You, obviously with Torr (Skoog) passing away the other day. I know that’s been a tremendous loss…any cool stories or any memories that are fun or not too down. Any cool memories of hanging with him over the years?

Oh, I mean, Torr, seriously, I can’t remember one bad memory about hanging out with the dude.

Which is what everyone, to a person, has mentioned

That’s the toughest part about the whole thing is that he was the kind of guy…and there’s guys that I’ve met over the years that are similar personality-wise as far as being all-inclusive kind of guys.. Kevin Stevenson of The Shods was from Torr’s area, James Lynch of the Dropkicks, a bunch of guys over the years. Even The Colonel in (the Amazing Royal) Crowns was like that with me when I didn’t have any notoriety.

But Torr just had a magical way about him. You know he was the kind of guy that was forging his own thing. He didn’t judge anybody for how they were. If you were feeling down, he had a way of making you feel better. I think that’s the devastating part of the whole thing. He was the guy that you just wouldn’t expect it from. Some people like me broadcast everything. Some people are like “look out, Lenny’s gonna jump in front of a bus!” But it’s pretty important for me to get stuff out of myself now and not dwell on it.

Yeah, you can obviously see how some people would be like “Holy shit, what’s Lenny doing…”

Oh I’m unstable, I’ll be the first one to admit that. But I mean it’s like…I think it’s a good thing to get it out there. It probably raises some concerns with friends, I gotta bunch of texts the other day. But I was feeling some raw emotions and wanted to express it. if I’m unstable or feeling the feelings, I’m gonna call somebody anyway and try to reach out.

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