We are known for sawing pigs' heads off microphone stands. We are known for wearing barbed wire and hurting ourselves," says Chris Smith, singer for the electro shock metal act Razorblade Dolls. But there are only so many people in North Texas willing to absorb that, and almost none of them are venue managers. So Razorblade Dolls are entering a new, slightly less graphic era. "Besides," Smith says, "it was a really big mess, being all bloody."
He helped form the band in 2006, but it had peaked after a couple of years hitting the clubs. Smith and his bandmates were faced with a changing music climate and the prospect of shutting things down.
"We started off as a shock rock band kind of like Alice Cooper and Marilyn Manson," Smith says from his home in Dallas. "But after a long period of time, the shows that we wanted to put on required a bigger stage. We've had to evolve. We went from being extremely theatrical to evolving into something a little bit different."
That has turned out to be a scaled-back presentation and an acceptance of a local band's lot in life. Even though Razorblade Dolls could pack a club, the band had a hard time expanding its fan base. Gigs became more and more infrequent, partly due to the elaborate (and shocking) stage presentation.
"I was working at a haunted house when I formed the band," Smith says. "We all have theatrical backgrounds. We like horror and we like to entertain. But many venues wouldn't let us do what we wanted to do."
Such stage antics as carving up pig carcasses and band members cutting themselves with barbed wire weren't exactly high up on venue managers' lists of acceptable behavior. Fortunately, one venue manager played a key part in the band's transition. "Actually, Clint Barlow from Trees is the guy who really got us to change," Smith says. "I actually thanked him for suggesting it. When he brought Trees back, he told us that they didn't do blood there. He told us not to throw blood and cause a big mess. He wanted the venue to be a nice place."
So Smith and his band decided to scale back on the shock and find ways to deliver the goods that didn't involve offending normal sensibilities.
"We can be a toned-down type of band that still puts on a really good show," Smith says. "Our audience appreciates it. That's allowing us to make new fans. People may want to come to a show and see something not so shocking. It makes us more accessible."
But even though the new and improved Razorblade Dolls no longer pose a significant health risk, Smith says the band can return to the nether regions if need be. "If we have a show that requires more shocking stuff, we can whip that out," Smith says. "It was our bread and butter for a long time."
In either incarnation, the band maintains a solid local following, but Smith has his complaints with the local scene.
"We should be out of Dallas by now," Smith says. "I think with our genre as a whole, people in Dallas are not sure about it. We've been around a long time and we've tried to get any kind of coverage. People are unsure what to think about our music." "These days, it's all about who you know," Smith continues. "It's all about networking. I guess I haven't networked with the right people. We don't have talent scouts coming out to our shows trying to sign us up to their label. It's about who you know. We've been busting our asses for going on eight years and packing the house every time we play. At our shows, it's pretty much asshole to elbow. We're not in there playing for crickets, but we never get any coverage. We keep trying to figure out the missing piece to the puzzle."
While Smith continues to look for that elusive break, he and his fellow Dolls Skar [David Carpenter], Rah Stitchez [Rachel Carpenter], Chris Telkes and Logan Coughran continue, rather hesitantly, to embrace an altered image and try to make a breakthrough on the national scene.
"I guess you could say that I am tooting my own horn, but I am proud of what we've done," Smith says. "And I do get tired of being the big fish in the small pond. I wish there was a way to get out of here, to break through. I feel like the guy on the island in Castaway who is always trying to find that wave that will push him out to the ocean." If anything, Smith has some fortitude.
"I think the people in the Dallas music scene are wary of us," Smith says. "Our music is not safe. People worry about being hurt at our shows. I just want to keep going. We are going to keep the band intact no matter who decides to leave. I have too much invested in it."
Like many bands, Razorblade Dolls have found a niche market, and there's still room to grow within it. Over the course of eight years, the band has only released two albums and the band's former image had them cast as a novelty act best suited to Halloween-related gigs.
"Some people really love that or they hate it," Smith says. "But we had to evolve so that it could be friendly to everyone. We still wear makeup. We don't just go up there and stand around. We move and we present some sort of visual aesthetic. It can't be the same as listening to the CD in your car. It's just not as shocking, not as horror-related. We had to figure out a way around it. Our fans knew what we had been doing around town. We had to come up with other options."
Exactly how those options will manifest themselves should be interesting to watch. But when a band has song titles such as "Chainsaw Enema," "Scream Queen Phenomenon" and "Fucking Beautiful," you won't be hearing them on the radio or even in some venues. Though they've never encountered much resistance at the shows they do play.
"We've never heard from any animal activists," Smith says. "We've had one protest. A guy who made a huge cross was waiting outside of Trees. He was yelling at us. He had six guys with him. Police had to get them to move on down the road. It was a huge homemade cross."
And according to Smith, even the pig heads have been rendered safer thanks to his grandmother.
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"The pig heads we saw on stage were picked up and cooked by my grandmother," Smith says. "So when we toss that out to the audience, it's not just a raw pig head. It's not like someone is going to get E. coli. My family dresses in all black and comes to the shows. It isn't white-trashy black. They all looked like Johnny Cash. My whole family supports my music."
There you have it. Razorblade Dolls: fun for the whole family.