Davis LeDuke rolls up his left sleeve. Like so many American rock gods in waiting, he has a tattoo. But this is no fake sleeve of random color-splurge that marks out the common or garden emo, this is ornate script curling around his forearm from elbow to wrist, reading thus: ‘I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked’.
“This is a Ginsberg quote, the first lines of ‘Howl’,” he explains. “He’s definitely my favorite poet but I read Burroughs, I read Robert Frost, I read a lot of philosophy, I just read the Communist Manifesto just because I felt like it. I got to the end of the book and thought ‘Wow, if only people could be perfect’.”
Billy Boy On Poison’s erudite and literate singer isn’t your average LA rock freak, but then Billy Boy aren’t your average LA rock band. Their glam sparkle is gleaned from Bowie, not Motley Crüe. Their garage punk crunch is Hendrix, New York Dolls, The Strokes and The Stooges, not 70s Aerosmith and Dogstar. Their lyrical inspiration is beat poetry, not breast enhancement. And unlike the Sunset Snort Set, Davis had his sex and drug years already; as a moody and reflective artist he did his teens entirely the wrong way round.
“I matured very quickly,” he says, a fallen product of the US school system. “I’ve been told that I have an old soul from an early age and that I grew up quickly. I started to get in trouble at twelve years old, smoking pot, doing drugs, having sex.”
You were, to quote your debut album title, a ‘Drama Junkie Queen’?
Davis laughs. “Maybe not the drama, but a junkie queen, yeah. At that young an age I didn’t get that bad but I’d fuck around in school, I’d piss my parents off, not things where I’d get arrested, I just felt rebellious towards everything, I cut God out of my life and do to this day. I chose the completely opposite side of life.”
So, having been brought up on John Griffin, Glen Miller, Miles Davis (after whom he was named) and classic rock (his abiding childhood memory is of his father sitting him and his brother down and air-guitaring along to Led Zeppelin’s ‘Immigrant Song’) at the age of thirteen, Davis sold his old soul to rock’n'roll. With three songs written with mentors Michael Gurley, Chris Sorenson and Stu Brantley, Davis started Billy Boy On Poison at the start of 2006 on a mission to meld his childhood influences with his favorite bands – The Velvet Underground and The Brian Jonestown Massacre. Psychedelic glam rock, it transpired, would never sound so modern.
Shunning the original idea of a solo project because “I didn’t want the focus all to be on me”, he roped in guitarist Ryan Wallengren (a true child of Aerosmith) through a musician friend and saved his cousin Jessi Calcaterra from the mile long mountain town of Middle Park, Colorado (they’d play baseball against South Park) by recruiting her on drums.
As Davis gradually developed the skills to write songs without his svengali trio, in Hard Drive Studios in North Hollywood the threesome and a revolving cast of guitarists and bassists pieced together a debut album, ‘Drama Junkie Queen’. They wrote songs about girls (‘Saturday’s Child’), sex (‘On My Way’) and being attracted to people who’d had the fucked up childhoods they never had themselves (the staggering Weezer-esque epic ‘Four Leaf Clover’). Davis was a precociously talented melodic virtuoso singing unreconstructed rock hog lyrics like “I’ll make it to your bedroom honey/I can make you wet” to songs that took in The Hives, The White Stripes, The Strokes’ “Last Night”, The (International) Noise Conspiracy and Weezer’s “Pinkerton”.
And playing music live over the following year, Billy Boy on Poison dazzled. Decked out in full make-up, bleach blonde locks and spandex and covering ‘Suffragette City’, Descanso’s ‘Heart Is A Whore’ and ‘Speaking In Tongues’ by Eagles Of Death Metal, a Billy Boy show at Silverlake’s Safari Samʼs club understandably drew the eye of Ironworks Music in 2007, a label co-owned by habitual foiler of terrorist masterminds Kiefer Sutherland and producer/songwriter Jude Cole.
In the time since signing with Ironworks, Billy Boy on Poison have changed in all but Clockwork Orange-inspired name. Guitarist Greg West was lured away from a course at the Berklee School Of Music to join the band, hooked by the Myspace page that described Billy Boy as sounding like ‘hot, wild, abusive, dirty, hair pullin, ass spankin, pillow bitin, moanin, groanin, howling sex!’. Bassists came and went like Spinal Tap drummers and they finally decided to remain a four-piece. They became the first band to be signed to the UK offshoot of Geffen Records, toured the US south, wrote a potential single called ‘Doctor Danger’ with the DeLeo brothers of Stone Temple Pilots and had one of their raw early songs ‘Dirty Bomb’ used as the theme to a VH-1 show and released on the limited ‘Sweet Mess EP’. Furthermore album opener and single ʻOn My Wayʼ featured in the hugely popular US TV smash ʻGossip Girlʼ. And, most pivotal of all, they have begun to grow out of their glam postures and started mining a rich seam of brooding darkness.
“I used to try and go for the whole Bowie thing,” Davis explains, “and something clicked in my mind ‘Why are you doing this? What sort of role are you trying to play? This has already been done’. When we all started getting depressed and went through this dark time when we were switching members I wasn’t feeling it as much anymore. One day I was like ‘Alright, I’ve had my fun’. We went from bright colors to black. I don’t want these kids to look at us and be like ‘oh just another one of those bands’. If you see a band that’s wearing all black you don’t know what to expect.”
So the glitterburst of youthful punk energy that is ‘Drama Junkie Queen’ arrives.
And so it stands, a wonderful record of filth, fury and overt exuberance alongside the artfulness of their more recently penned tunes and the creative lyrical depths that Davis now dredges daily.
“I’m writing poetry every day and eventually I’d like to write books,” he says. “I feel like the songs on this record are good songs because they’re hooky and they’re catchy and they mean something, they have a message. And now I have a different way of approaching it, I can look more outside the box, use my art and test myself. Now we’re moving forward because we want to move forward, not because people are telling us to.”