Linus Dotson / Linus of Hollywood
You can argue about it till you're blue in the face but at the end of the day, pop music is always gonna be king. It's a simple fact. Sure it's cool to shun your favourite band's biggest hit just because it's the one everyone knows but for the most part that song is popular because it's good! I guess a huge marketing campaign and a shit load of money can make any song sell a bunch but it's unlikely it'll stand the test of time for too long afterwards. A good chorus though will outshine everything. Linus Dotson knows that. He ain't afraid to boast about how good Hair Metal was because some of those tunes had a great hook no matter how ridiculous the band might have looked! This is something he's brought to every project he's involved with - it's all about the song no matter how it's packaged. Evolving from lead singer of quirky alt-pop maestro's Size 14 to fast becoming one of LA's most sought after songwriters and producers, Linus spoke to TrashPit to give us the full lowdown on how melody outshines everything... plus a little bit of fret-shred never goes a miss here and there!
Do you remember the first band or musician that turned you onto music when you were younger? How long was it before you wanted to try your hand at songwriting for yourself and did you find it came naturally?
I've always been into music. My mom has a photo of me at two years old falling asleep on a couch with these giant headphones on listening to KISS' 'Rock And Roll Over'! I taught myself how to play guitar when I was five, and then learned piano and drums shortly after. I think the first band I was obsessed with was The Police. I was also really into Adam & The Ants and Musical Youth (!). My family moved to Florida when I was in fifth grade and I met an older kid on the beach named Marshall Ostovich. He turned me on to Van Halen and Rush, and after that it was all over for me. All I wanted to do was music. I formed my first real band Nightfall with my friends when I was fifteen and we started by playing covers of Poison, Faster Pussycat, Guns N' Roses, etc. After a while we thought it was time that we should have some originals so we wrote a song called 'Hungry' (very original!) that just had a simple metal riff and some lyrics about doing it. At that time I was really into practicing guitar and 'shredding', but when we accidentally wrote a catchy song (called 'I Don't Want To Leave You Baby' - also very original...haha!) I really saw people (and GIRLS!) connecting with our music. That's when it dawned on me that songwriting was where it was at, rather than trying to impress everyone with guitar technique.
You moved to LA in 1994 - was that a huge deal for you or was you pretty, happy go lucky and took it in your stride? Did you have many friends or contacts out there or was you on your own? Did it take long to fit into your new surroundings?
That was kind of a big deal. I had just turned 21. I was working at a Subway sandwich shop and had to save up just to get a plane ticket. I didn't know ANYONE in LA. I packed up one suitcase and brought an acoustic guitar, that's it. I moved in with a friend of a friend who I had only met for about five minutes before that. The first job I got was a telemarketing job, and it turned out to be a great way to get plugged into the music scene very quickly, as all my co-workers were in bands as well. I formed Size 14 (www.myspace.com/sizefourteen) and within a year we had a record deal (offered by an A&R guy who used to sit next to me at the telemarketing job!). When I look back on that, I'm so happy I had the guts to move here. I was very homesick at first, but I stuck it out and have loved living in LA ever since.
Who were some of the first bands you got to see out there? I'm sure in 1994 it was a pretty mixed bag of Old School Rock vs Grunge vs Alternative, etc??
As a hair-metal guy, I was having a real hard time in the early 90s with bands like Pearl Jam taking over the airwaves. Gone were the big choruses and hooks that I've always loved. I was very happy when Green Day and Weezer came out and brought those things back. When I moved to LA, the music scene was amazing. I would go to the Whisky or Club Lingerie and see bands like That Dog, Red 5, Campfire Girls, Supersport 2000, Shufflepuck and Lunchbox (who later turned into Ridel High). They all sort of had that Weezer-y vibe...I saw Weezer at Club Lingerie the week before their first album came out and witnessed their quick rise to fame. It was pretty amazing. Those were the bands that got me excited and influenced my work in Size 14. I just wanted to be a part of that scene.
You've become a good friend to Paul Gilbert, and toured with him as bass player. Because of this I automatically asummed you were a GIT student at somepoint but couldn't find any reference to that - did you study out in LA or have I totally made that up in my head??!! Where do you stand on the whole technical side of things versus 'playing from the gut'? Someone like Gilbert seems to have a great balance - totally shredding but also way out there with great ideas?
Paul is an amazing guy and an awesome friend. I met him backstage at one of my solo shows in Japan. I was like "Why is Paul Gilbert here to see ME?" I used to sit with a metronome and learn his guitar solos when I was a teenager. He came backstage and we talked about all the pop music we liked - Beach Boys, Del Amitri, Jellyfish, Enuff Z'Nuff, etc. and I think he was impressed with my metal knowledge. We became fast friends and he asked me to produce his 'Burning Organ' album. After that he asked me out on tour, and I had to get my metal chops back! It was so much fun to 'woodshed' again, since I've spent most of my adult life songwriting and producing...shredding doesn't come in handy very often, so it was fun to get to do it. I never went to GIT or anything like that. I was just really into playing guitar when I was a kid and practiced all the time. I was probably better at seventeen than I am now in some ways. Paul DOES have a great balance. He is a really great songwriter who just happens to also be one of the best guitar players in the world. If you listen to his solo albums, they're just really well written pop/rock songs...until the solo comes in and then ZING!!!! As for me, I always like to hear a little flash and shred, but I get bored if that's all there is. I like to hear choruses and lyrics...and Paul is the same way.
Your recorded output sits comfortably in the Melodic / Power Pop / Pop Punk categories but I know there's a Metal Head in there as well! Will this side ever get put to disk? Perhaps in Jarinus form (the partnership with Bowling For Soup singer Jaret Reddick) or is there some other outlet for that?
There will definitely be some metal leaning on the Jarinus record. I had a band awhile back called Pintsize (that Paul Gilbert was actually in) that was pretty metal-ish. We put out one record called 'Five Feet No Inches'. Overall, though, I am a pop guy. Even when I was into metal, I always liked the really melodic hooky stuff.
You've worked a solid split between performer and producer. Where did you cut your teeth with the producing side of things. Was that something you always had a hand and interest in?
Producing happened by accident. It was 1997 and Size 14 had just got dropped. I was back at my telemarketing job and feeling super discouraged. I was reading 'The Fountainhead' while I was riding the bus to and from work and it really inspired me. I decided to record my first solo album on my own in my bedroom 8-track studio. I didn't know if anyone would like it, but I didn't care. I just wanted to do it for me. I started my own label (Franklin Castle) to put it out and to my surprise, the album sold well. After awhile, I started signing my friends, producing their records and putting them out on my label. I produced a record for Kim Fox (who had just gotten dropped from Dreamworks) that caught the ear of a lot of A&R people around town, and before you knew it, labels were calling me to help develop new bands and to produce and write with them. Ever since then, I've just kept on making records. And if no one was hiring me to do them, then I would just do a solo record or produce a record for one of my friends.
How do you choose bands to work with in the studio - how much of a view do you take from it being a 'job and filling studio time' as opposed to 'I really like this band and think I could make it sound great' - is it mainly the latter?
If I'm doing a full album project, I have to like the band or artist I'm working with. It would take a lot of money for me to endure a month in the studio with a band whose music I wasn't into, and fortunately that hasn't happened yet. I think most people that hire me know what I do and what I bring to the table and they have common musical influences and direction.
The past few years have seen you work heavily with Bowling For Soup. Was the chemistry pretty instantaneous between you and the band? It seems to be a great partnership.
Have you ever met someone and you felt like you've known them all your life? It sounds cheesy, but that's how Jaret and I felt when we first met. We had very similar paths in life and music (he was a former metalhead, too!) so we have a lot in common. He e-mailed me to write (I guess he and BFS were big Size 14 fans)...he came out to LA and we wrote 'Hooray For Beer' and 'A Really Cool Dance Song' (from their 'Sorry For Partyin' album) right off the bat and the rest is history. We love working together, and we write really fast. I think we wrote their new single 'S-S-S-Saturday' in about fifteen minutes. We're going to do the Jarinus record later this year, and we've already been writing for other artists. We've done a lot already, but we're just getting started.
Who are some of your favourite influences at the moment or bands that are impressing you?
Right now, I'm just really into POP songwriting...I mean the actual true definition of pop - 'popular'. I'm more a fan of the songwriters than the artists though like Max Martin and Dr. Luke, so I find myself listening to stuff like that and feeling inspired...Katy Perry, Avril Lavigne, etc. I've been running a lot, and when I do I have a playlist on my iPod that has bands like The Maine, All Time Low, The Starting Line, Artist Vs. Poet and Forever The Sickest Kids. I love all that stuff. It's just good, high energy rock with big choruses and hooks. It reminds me a lot of what I loved about the better hair metal bands as a kid. On the other hand, when I think of my solo stuff, I am more influenced by singer/songwriters like Justin Currie (my all-time fave), Mike Viola, Gilbert O'Sullivan and Ben Kweller.
You've had some chart success in the UK after working with The Charlatans but will this be your very first visit? What are you most looking forward to and what have you been told to expect?
I did come to the UK (London) briefly to meet with A&R people shortly after I produced the Tim Burgess (Charlatans) record but I didn't get the full experience. I've sold a decent amount of solo records in the UK without any record deal there or promotion, so I'm excited to finally get to play there. And it'll be fun to spend two weeks on a bus with my friends! I expect lots of laughs and fun, and I'm excited to meet the UK fans!
What can we look forward to from your live set in April - will you be mixing things up from all your past projects?
I haven't given it much thought yet, but yes I think I will. I'll definitely be playing a Size 14 song or two, and now that you mentioned the Charlatans song, I might throw that in, too!
I really dug the Palmdale 'How To Be Mean' EP, the band you formed with Letters To Cleo singer Kay Hanley - what's the situation with that band at the moment? www.wearepalmdale.com
Thanks! Kay and I are so busy with other projects at the moment that we're taking a little break, but I'm hoping we'll find time to do more music in the not-so-distant future. Palmdale has been one of the most creatively fulfilling projects I've ever done and it means a lot to me. I'm excited to do more.
Finally, I saw a comment on the photo of your first band Nightfall where you talked about sneeking out to catch a Southgang show back in the day - true story? Have you bumped into Butch Walker at all over the past years? I imagine you walking similar paths?
HAHA! Yes, I did see Southgang back in the day. I was a huge fan. Their bass player (who was also in Marvelous 3) used to play in a band called Tickled Pink and my band Nightfall used to open up for them. He gave me my first shot of whiskey when I was fifteen. He said "Here kid, this'll warm up your voice!". I ran into Butch backstage in Japan (I guess that's where all the action happens) at a Paul Gilbert show. I don't know him well but he seems like a nice fella and he certainly has managed to have a great career 'post-hair'.
Linus will be over in the UK this April supporting his good friends Jaret Reddick and Erik Chandler from Bowling For Soup.
For more information visit www.linusdotson.com or www.twitter.com/linusdotson