Katie and Annie Dolan combine their comedy and musical skills with their super-fandom to create a destination where NRBQ’s Terry Adams is mayor, John Sebastian is nature photographer, Spongebob’s Tom Kenny is tour guide, Howe Gelb is dogcatcher and Eric Clapton has his own line of women’s fashions
A new breed of super fan has hit the rock ‘n’ roll streets and very soon they’ll be contributing to these very pages. “Making the mundane fundane,” Katie & Annie Dolan, otherwise known as Sister Town, have been raising rock ‘n’ roll consciousness in cities across the U.S. One sister a comedy insider, the other a vicious axe wielder, two ferocious lion’s manes of hair – Sister Town lives to shove the FUN back into rock ‘n’ roll. In a lucid phone conversation, we investigate why Howe Gelb calls Sister Town his “church,” why John Doe exclaims that these two “are so cute!” and why Tom Kenny cries, “Sister Town: One of the Top Ten Places to Live In the U.S.”
B: Brendan Toller
S: Sister Town
S: Hey pasta head.
S: Hey pasta head.
B: Oh this is – I’m just gonna have to credit all the answers to Sister Town. I can’t even tell one voice from the other.
S: Haha. That was the first thing I was gonna say. It’s gonna be impossible for you to tell our voices apart.
B: Well, that’s Katie.
S: NO, it’s ANNIE!
S: Well, I tend to use words with more than three syllables, so… Yeah, as a rule of thumb anything that’s sort of thought-out and really nicely put and sounds good to the ear will be Katie, and all the dumb stuff comes from me, haha. Who was that talking?
B: Uh, that was Katie with Annie laughing. I think.
S: NOOO! Haha. This is gonna be great.
B: Yeah, I’m excited for it.
S: Annie, Brendan’s hung over. Are you hung over? I’m sorry Brendan. On a scale of 1 to 10, how hung over are you?
B: Oh, like three. Nothing. I had a good night.
S: Oh OK, that’s doable.
B: Yeah, how about you ladies?
S: I feel like it’s a Wednesday. I should have a beer I’m all jacked up on coffee.
B: Should I start asking questions?
S: Oh, you have a question?
B: Yeah, um, how about you explain Sister Town to the uninitiated…
S: Uhhh, uh well, WHY? Uh, it’s essentially a lamination service at this point. At this point it could be a million different things we don’t know if it’s gonna end up being a musical – Sister Town The Musical ™ or Sister Town the Themed Restaurant Chain™, or Sister Town the Children’s Television Series ™, but either way it will eventually be an actual town that people can come live in or visit.
But I meet different people and when they ask this question and you can kind of tell what answer you’re supposed to give them. Like if they work in finance, I’ll normally say, “Oh, it’s just a place for music and also the things I write.” But then if someone’s like, you know, you can tell that they get it, we’ll tell them that it’s a town where the patron saint is Steve Harwell and our favorite painter is Thomas Kinkade. So, you can give different answers for different people. But eventually it’s gonna be a real town, that’s for sure. Yeah, the other day someone tried to compare it to Pee-wee’s Playhouse and I thought that was an honor. That was Katie talking by the way.
B: I know that, yeah-yeah.
B: Well, whose taken up the Town Official posts? Name them!
S: Oh, you mean like mayor?
S: OK so, this is a great question. We know who our mayor is officially. He even has a badge and everything. It’s NRBQ’s Terry Adams. And he received the badge – I believe we might be very close to the anniversary two years ago, so yeah, he was initiated. He accepted the job right away, right? Yeah, he’ll see us at a show and he asks if he needs to do anything for Sister Town, and we’re like ‘Nah, no, you’re basically a figurehead.’ When he took the job, he didn’t really ask any questions. All he said was ‘So, does this mean I get to tell you girls what to do now?’ And we said ‘YES!’
So yeah, the legendary Terry Adams is our mayor. But then we meet people who are our heroes and we tell them about Sister Town and then they tell us what they want to do in Sister Town so. For example Spongebob’s Tom Kenny who – he knows you, Brendan.
S: He’s our TOUR GUIDE! OK, yeah, so he’s our tour guide, but he also runs the underground comedy nightclub called Sharkey’s.
S: Sharkey’s. Yeah, Sharkey’s is on the outskirts of Sister Town.
B: Why on the outskirts?
S: Cuz that’s kinda like the club where – it’s the dive bar. You don’t tell your parents you’re going to Sharkey’s.
B: THE FRINGES OF SOCIETY, right?
S: Right. Then recently we were very excited – our Courtroom Artist was appointed; his name is Joel Paterson – and if you know anything about the music scene in Chicago you know who he is. We don’t let him play guitar in Sister Town because we don’t think he’s quite good enough. Joel’s our Courtroom Artist and we’re really thrilled to have him living in town now.
B: Sweet. And the dog catcher is Howe Gelb, right? Did he self-appoint himself or did you guys appoint him?
S: That was one of those ones where he really wanted a certain position and it happened to be open and we just signed him up right then and there. He chose his career.
B: Do a lot of people come to you asking for positions?
S: We get a lot of emails that we need to field. John Sebastian’s always trying to get a job. Well, John Sebastian is our Nature Photographer in town. Well, he isn’t on salary. He takes a lot of squirrel photos because around town there’s a lot of squirrels. And so, it’s basically just squirrel photography.
B: Well, you guys are just citizens of Sister Town, or, what’s your role?
S: We’re the cofounders. I’m sure there’s a statue on Main Street, or whatever.
B: What’s the liquor store like?
S: Well, you’ve seen the map it’s the biggest building in Sister Town, the largest square footage. Everything is FREE.
B: That makes sense. Why can’t we go to your museums, or we shouldn’t go?
S: Oh yeah, well they’re a rip off, I mean, I mentioned squirrel photography before and everyone’s seen a squirrel. We kind of just feel bad for John Sebastian so we kind of put his pictures up, but, they’re a rip off, don’t go to them. We overcharge, I mean, the people don’t know any better, but we tell our close friends not to go to them. To offset the freeloaders, we charge a lot at the museums. We don’t like museums in real life either so.
B: You don’t?!
S: Everyone just pretends to like museums. Annie and I were in Paris a few summers ago and we were looking at each other going ‘God, I wish we were just in New Orleans or something.’ We were walking by the Louvre looking at the giant triangle and we’re like ‘We can’t do this!’ and I think we went to Disneyland Paris like two hours later. We did!
B: Hahaha. Whoa.
S: Yeah, these are really great questions, though; you’ve really done your homework.
B: Well, I got a good one, so, I also think you are kinda like super fans right? And um-
S: Uh, I’d say so.
B: Yeah, in spending all that time with Danny Fields he would always talk about how Johnny Ramone said the fans are the most important thing – they’re the reason you exist and I feel like that’s been undermined or dismissed for the past 30 years?
S: Just, the idea of the super fan?
B: The idea of – yeah, exactly, yeah.
S: I think at the end of it all, all we are, are super fans of our favorite things. But we’re lucky that we get to hang out with the people that we’re super fans of, not everyone gets to do that.
B: It’s true. Are you aware that rock stars could have peanut butter allergies?
S: Hahaha. How did you know?
B: Uh, TWO PEOPLE thanked you for peanut butter sandwiches the other night.
S: Well, I didn’t, um – I forgot to do it at the last few rock ‘n’ roll shows we went too, but usually we reach out to the manager and make sure, first, that no one in the band has a peanut allergy.
B: What’s the sandwich like. How do you make it? Who do you make them for? Walk us through here…
S: OK, so, that peanut butter sandwich idea just came from, honestly, just walking through after a show and seeing those disgusting carrot and broccoli plates that they have in every green room ever. And no one’s gonna wanna eat that after a show! We were like, why don’t we just bring our friends peanut butter sandwiches after their shows?! So, it started with Jon Spencer and he gratefully accepted it and Brendan and I saw him two days ago and he told me it was great – really hit the spot. It’s kinda like we don’t get why everybody doesn’t do that at every show that they go to? I mean they’re up there giving it their all up on stage for you. They’re gonna be EXHAUSTED and they’re gonna be HUNGRY. Why doesn’t everybody bring a peanut butter sandwich?
B: That’s a lot of peanut butter sandwiches.
S: We’ve given them to Kid Congo, Ian Svenonius, um I brought one to Jonathan Richman. They were so happy to wave their empty zip lock bags at me!
B: Can you tell me about the Eric Clapton Ann Taylor collection?
S: Hahaha. OK so we – everyone respects Eric Clapton so much and we kinda don’t understand why? So, I was bored one day and Annie and I were looking through bad pictures of Eric Clapton. There’s a famous one of him in a huge fur coat! Just poor women’s fashion choices. So, he wears this polyester black button-down with a crushed shell statement necklace over it like he’s a REAL housewife. And it really just looks like those necklaces that you buy for $19.95 at Ann Taylor that come with your pantyhose, or whatever, and that photo was too perfect. It was a LAY UP! The Layla Collection! So yeah, in Sister Town there’s Eric Clapton’s Layla Women’s Wear Collection that we sell.
B: And the Donald Fagen furniture, of course…
S: Ummm, yeah so that’s like the same sort of – that was more fully executed that joke, but we LOVE Steely Dan, we love Donald Fagen, but we love making fun of them more than anything though. We love how grumpy and off-putting he is in person, so of course, his furniture is all stone and concrete and not comfortable to sit on or look at. And it would all be very named after his own songs because all he thinks about is his own music! Haha. So, that’s where that came from. Also, Brendan thanks for going all the way back into our archives.
B: I really did my research I think, yeah. How did you two discover rock ‘n’ roll?
S: Our dad, I’d say. Our dad. We have a cool dad.
B: Yeah, everyone’s got a cool dad.
S: We have a particularly cool dad. Sunday morning we’d wake up and he’d be cooking eggs, but Easter would be playing at full volume, Patti Smith’s Easter. And we were ten and watched Rock ‘n’ Roll Circus and stuff like that on VHS tape, what a concept.
B: I just had to buy one on DVD.
S: Oh yeah?
B: It was essential.
S: You guys do Taj Mahal’s “Ain’t That A Lotta Love” from that.
B: We do. That’s one of my favorite – we’ve talked about making a rock ‘n’ roll circus movie.
S: Whoa, no.
B: Since we were like 15, but it has happened yet, so.
S: Whoa. Do you also skip over the Yoko parts? Or is that just us?
B: No, I love when she comes out of that bag.
S: Ohhh, oh boy, that’s OK. Our first disagreement, that’s OK.
B: And uh, wait you live in sort of the same town as Paul McCartney?
S: Uh, Tucson? Yep. Paul lived there in the late 90’s with Linda because – do you know Linda grew up there and went to University of Arizona?
S: Um, yeah so when she got sick, she wanted to move back home to Tucson so that’s where they spent her last years and she passed away there. But Annie and I would drive out to their ranch and just kind of hang out there when we were in college together. Write Paul notes and leave them in the dirt.
B: And by hang out – you mean – sit in a car on the street.
S: No! We’d park the car and go walk up to the gate. We’d go as far as we could go, as close as we could go to the property. I actually fell on a cactus once and had to pull my pants off outside of their place and pluck needles out of my leg, but um, yeah and supposedly his estate still owns that ranch and it’s just empty. But honestly, we tell people that and they think it’s weird, but it’s no different than their childhood home in Liverpool which is a full money-making – I KNOW! It’s NO different, people need to wake up.
B: Well, you were saying last time I saw you that, um, stalking is just being a big fan.
S: OK, we’re not psycho, we just love you and are on your sidelines. We’re not psycho, WE JUST LOOOOVE YOU! Haha. But ALSO, stalking is such a different thing in the 21st century because of the internet and people who are actually FULL psycho. But, back in the day if a girl knew the Beatles were coming to your town they’d frickin’ ship themselves in a box to the theater and wait for the Beatles to cut the ribbon and pop out. I’m paraphrasing a thing that actually happened, but how are we any different from those maniac Beatle girls? We’re not!
B: Exactly. There’s needs to be more of that. It’s what rock ‘n’ roll is MISSING!
B: Everybody’s too smug.
S: Everyone tries to act too cool about it.
B: Yeah and it takes the fun out of it.
S: I know, where did all the fun go? That’s why NRBQ is so great.
B: Totally! So wait, Annie did you really get on stage with Paul McCartney?
S: Yeah I did, um, five years ago. I think the five-year anniversary is coming up in August.
B: How did it happen?
S: Um, well this is Katie’s least favorite story in the whole world. Yeah, it’s bit of a touchy subject because we had just spent the whole summer living in New York together, and like doing everything together, and listening to the Beatles everyday together. And then I go home to Phoenix and, within a few days of me getting back, that happened to me — the one day I’m not with her in the summer – she wasn’t with me. And the whole summer Katie just kept saying ‘It’s OK, just have fun at the concert without me. I’ll be thinking about you,’ and then that happened!
Long story short – I was saving up money to get three tickets to go with me and my parents. Three crappy tickets. But when I was online at Ticketmaster one really good ticket showed up right up front for the same price as three tickets combined. So my mom just said ‘You should just get that and go get up front. Go by yourself.’
So, I was in front with all the rich asshole people, all the fuckers who are just sitting and not doing anything. I’m the only person who’s standing up and going insane, let alone standing. So, obviously Paul is looking at me the entire time and he kept looking at me! And I kept almost getting kicked out for things. This usher would take my shoulders and push them down to make me go back in my seat. All these ladies were whispering in my ear saying I was making a fool of myself. So, I was crying because it was so weird.
And finally, I feel this really strong arm grab my arm. I didn’t even turn around I was like, ‘Welp this is it, I’m getting kicked out, here it is.’ Like a security guard’s arm on my hand – and I turn around and its Paul’s head security guard. And we KNEW it was him because Katie and I have done our research. Prior concerts that we’ve gone to we know when we see this guy that Paul is not far – White-haired Mike. So, I see this guy and I think that’s weird and I looked down at him because he’s really short and I’m kind of tall. And he goes ‘Are you ready to go on stage?!’ And I’m like – I started crying right away. I was crying and I said ‘Yes’ and he brings me up to the side of the stage. There were two songs before I was brought up. I was just standing in this weird little area. And all the producers had their headsets on and they’re looking at me like ‘DON’T FUCK THIS UP WHEN YOU GO UP THERE!’ And I was crying the whole time, but at some point I stopped because I couldn’t be too annoying and crying, so I pulled it together. And he asked me to dance with him to “Get Back” which is my mom’s favorite Beatles song and it mentions Tucson so that was a cool full circle thing.
B: And then that was that, huh?
B: They whisked you offstage. Did he say anything to you?!
S: I kind of just walked off on my own; nobody whisked me off. It was really laid back. Hahaha. My shoelaces were untied the ENTIRE time too. It’s a miracle I didn’t fall on stage. Like when you look at the photos my shoelaces are all in the air.
B: I know, who took the photos?
S: Oh, they’re just like super fans who go and film EVERYTHING and put it on Youtube. Those are just screenshots from Youtube videos that still get taken off Youtube. We don’t know why.
B: Ooooh! Yeah, cuz I was trying to look for it and couldn’t find it.
S: Yeah, they keep taking it down. We think it’s because they were documenting that night. So every time someone tries to put those back up from the Phoenix concert they get taken down right away, which is interesting.
Q: Do you believe in any rock ‘n’ roll conspiracies?
S: Paul is definitely NOT dead. That’s not true. Katie and I did listen – when the creator of Spongebob passed away, we listened to Spongebob The Yellow Album backwards and nothing happened. Yeah, nothing happened.
B: Well, at least you tried…
S: Is that our new tagline? “We’re always trying?!” “Making the mundane fundane,” is the classic one that we’ll probably never get rid of because it kind of says it all. Yep, that’s the big one. That’s the umbrella tagline – everything else falls under that.
B: What’s on the griddle for Sister Town?
S: Annie’s making bacon, or something’s cooking right now. Well, it’s like vegan bacon. Annie’s getting in touch with the vegan lifestyle.
B: Annie, you play in Giant Sand, you’re in the Tucson music scene?
S: I think I’ll be touring with Giant Sand again this summer in July, just festivals in Europe.
B: How did you come to meet those guys; just Tucson?
S: Just um, Tucson yeah Howe Gelb came to see me play guitar in a band that I was in, and what’s the right word?
B: He discovered you.
S: Howe was really obsessed with how I was playing guitar and it was really weird but flattering and just got me in the band. We’re just kind of best friends. Oh, and my guitars were stolen in Tucson from my house and Howe threw a big benefit he’s just a super supporter and he’s also a super fan of his favorite things too.
S: But with Sister Town we want to start doing our employee spotlight videos where we kind of go around town and interview our employees on the job. It won’t be unlike a Christopher Guest type interview. We’ve always talked about a web series and maybe a variety show in New York. Those are huge things that if we could get our act together. We’ll just keep writing poems in the meantime. Next time you see us on the streets of wherever ask us for our trading cards. We don’t need your money, but we do need your love. We also want to do SisterCon where all the fans of Sister Town can meet and we’ll have bands play and Smash Mouth listening stations. Brendan, you might have to host and moderate a lot of it – you and Noam Chomsky. He now lives in Tucson so that’s an easy sort of deal.
B: Does he come out to the Kid Congo DJ nights?
S: Yeah, I’m sure he tears it up there.
S: I was lucky enough, well not Annie, but I was lucky enough to be a producer on an Adult Swim show, Joe Pera Talks with You, and they’re heading into a second season and filming in Milwaukee this summer and I think I’m going out to the episodes that I helped write. The show is about a choir teacher who lives on the Upper Peninsula and has very specific interests and it’s a very sweet very charming comedy on Adult Swim. I was a producer on season one and then they asked me to come back and write for season two. That was very fun and dream come true sort of job. Yeah, yeah, yeah. But Giant Sand is kind of a dream come true kinda thing for you Annie, so? Yeah, yeah, yeah!
B: You’re living your dream.
S: We’re trying! I’ll be happy once we get the town up and running.
B: Are you guys devastated about the Stones concert?
S: OK, so why is no one talking about how Mick Jagger is all alone in a hospital bed right now – recovering from valve surgery? Looking out the window waiting for someone to talk to. Wait, but do we know the status? I haven’t looked today. He has surgery in New York and I’m sure he’s in recovery. Is Keith Richards checking in at the little desk and walking in? No, he’s not! No one’s visiting him, right?! Nope. Wow. Tragic!
B: I think he could use a peanut butter sandwich!
S: Does he even eat bread is the question.