The Ding-Dongs are another project from the ever-in-motion Mark Sultan. Once front-growler for ‘90s Montreal garage-punk beasties, the Spaceshits, then drummer for Les Sexareenos, Sultan shifted to a one-man-band bent with BBQ (and/or various other names), before hooking up with fellow former Spaceshit, King Khan, to make a wider mark as that excellent trash-wop duo you all should know and love. Then it was back to the one-man thing as simply Mark Sultan, and somewhere in there he got this duo going too.
Like the most ‘50s greaser ends of King Khan & BBQ, the Ding-Dongs’ latest full-length, Rang Tang Ding Dong (Norton), is a hollow-body guitar sploogefest so fluently fun it might mean that this is no longer just a sometimes side-project. But probably, as Sultan is a restless soul. While not quite the vagabond Sultan is, Bloodshot Bill—the other 50 percenter in Ding-Dongs—is no less restless, focused on a touring schedule that never quits. His mark on the Ding-Dongs is equally essential via the great gravelly vox and stomping sock-hock shuffle that he’s perfected in his long-stomping one-man band. (Sometimes, the duo add a couple pals and become a 4-piece for live shows, depending on mood and luck.)
Rang Tang Ding Dong dips tipsy into Calypso, mid-century peeler joint grind, and the crooning, under-the-bleachers action of a drag race circa 1957, all seen through some Instagram filter called “cheap hooch.” If you’ve been stuck wondering why no one can seem to play rockabilly without doing that goofy dress-up thing, stand on slap basses, and put “Daddy” in their names and flames on their jackets, then the Ding-Dongs might be just what you’re pining for.
A little Ding-Dongs history, please.
The history is that myself and Bloodshot Bill have been friends for years, but had never worked together. Despite all of the terrible associations with whatever “rockabilly” is today, I’ve always loved a great deal of the classic stuff. Bloodshot Bill is from another time and is a major proponent. And we both LOVE early rock’n’roll. So the music that came out when we were playing in BB’s basement turned out the way it turned out, and I couldn’t be happier. We recorded the first one as soon as we started, maybe three years ago? We only played two shows—one in Calgary as a last-minute replacement for the King Khan & BBQ Show after me and Khan had broken up, and I had just flown in from Asia. It was myself on drums/vox, BB on guitar/vox, Jared (Black Lips) on bass and Dale (Hellshovel) on lead guitar. The other show was in Montreal with what was supposed to be thee Ding-Dongs touring band. But then I moved away.
So have the Ding-Dongs moved beyond the “occasional side project” stage? After all, the last song is called “It’s Only Just Begun.”
I have honestly tried to get this band up and running on a few tours, but there is always some kind of snag. We have the band in Montreal ready, and I’m pretty sure we could hire dudes or get friends elsewhere in the world, but it never works out – and that’s a shame. I hope Bloodshot Bill reads this and we buckle down and get something going this year.
The King Khan & BBQ Show are sort of back in action, right?
Yup! It took a few years before we would even talk to each other. There was some trepidation, for sure. We tested the waters with a few shows, a 45 on my label (Sultan Records)… it was OK. But then we did a big tour and all went back to normal. I mean, we are brothers. A tour will hopefully happen this fall to support a new album. We are recording a new album at my house next week. We wrote a bunch of seriously killer songs, back in the tradition of our ‘no filler’ days. It’s pretty exciting. Our mission is to make sure kids understand Bobby Darin, Frankie Ford, covers of “Runaway,” etc are not doo-wop. Also that rock’n’roll is exciting and is far more repugnant and crucial than some assinine ‘90s grunge tribute. What the fuck happened since we were away?
You want to go into why King Khan & BBQ had the break-up and time away from each other for awhile? I know, you’re probably tired of talking about it…
It’s been covered ad nauseum, correctly as well as comically embellished. But ok: Khan and I were great admirers of Siegfried & Roy, as many people know, having started the band (and our friendship) after meeting at a Las Vegas convention of tribute acts to the “Tiger Twins.” Well, we were in Asia performing as Siegfried & Roy (which sounds strange, but wasn’t really), like a live-action life story thing… Anyway, when it came time for the sequence when the Tiger was supposed to attack Roy (me), Khan (Siegfried) attacked instead. We had a big fight in front of many horrified tourists. It sucked. And we got booted from the continent. We hated each other after that. A lot of personal shit bubbled over. We really are like family. It was one of those situations where you know each other too well, so the fighting is pretty brutal. It took a while for it all to heal. But now we’re back to normal, making shit jokes and laughing like children.
Any new solo recordings coming?
In The Red will be releasing a four-song 7″EP this year. Some stuff I had initially recorded in 2011 or 2012 or something, but had forgotten about. So I added vocals a few months ago. It’s pretty decent. And then, they’ll also be reissuing my album, $, this year. It’s an album I really think is my best or whatever, but originally came out on a label who just tanked it until I stopped the presses on it. The album also was misunderstood. But surely, now that “psych” is so “cool,” some dude who loves “trippy shit” (while actually loving Nirvana, Coldplay and Jay Z) will “get it.”
Now I’m not saying that you fall exactly into this category, but doesn’t it seem like every band has this near pathological need to splinter off and have loads of side projects?
I guess I don’t feel as though any of these things are side-projects. Yes, ok, music is my life. And it can’t be said I haven’t explored a bunch of genres, even within my own solo stuff. But I want to touch upon everything I love that I am actually capable of playing. And I want to play with people I admire who can bolster my own capabilities. I think it’s all magic. I don’t have a “main” project. Yes, KK&BBQ are the most popular, but we each have other things going on. My solo stuff, nobody knows or cares half the time, even though it’s mostly the KK&BBQ music. I often assume it’s due to how people now need a cool visual, or some kind of nod from ill-informed media folks. But I do tour solo a lot. Ding-Dongs are just as important to me, but unfortunately aren’t a touring entity. All of this stuff is as important to me as the next, it’s all from my soul and is all an offering to the eternal beast of rock’n’roll.
Where are you living these days, and why there? You were a bit of a drifter there for awhile, right?
I live in the Berlin area with my wife in a house, and am finally quite happy. Yeah, I was homeless for years. I seriously believed in sacrificing myself to this thing at any physical or mental cost. Still do. It means the world to me.
Where and when did you record Rang Tang Ding Dong?
It was recorded in BB’s tiny basement/practice-space in Montreal in 2013, I think. A few hours, here and there.
I think it’s some of the most straight-up rockabilly you’ve ever done.
I’ve touched upon rockabilly a few times, but within the context of whatever I was doing…My intentions to go greasy are always usurped by a tendency I’ve had the last 2-3 years to go moody. That’s me, anyhow. Bloodshot Bill is probably more influenced by traditional RaB. But having the possibility to sit down and write and play with Bloodshot Bill, it became clear instantly that we’d be on a rockabilly tangent. And it’s great, because I know that stuff pretty well, and obviously BB is a master at it.
Okay, song title validations: Do you actually know a girl who rides around on a motorcycle a lot?
Ha ha, no, not a one. But it sounded good when I was making the song up.
I’m glad you got some Martian action on the record (Too Much, Too Soon, Too Fast), but have we finally moved on to another planet to be leery of?
Nah, we just wanted a classic martian stomp on there. I already live on another planet, apparently.
B&W photos by Connie Alwahsha .