15th May 2018

The Rocket Dolls: the Brighton rockers waging war on indie bands

There can be few musicians on this year’s Rising Stage who have ‘radio weather man’ on their CV. But that’s exactly what Nikki Smash, singer and guitarist with Brighton heroes The Rocket Dolls, was asked to do on Meridian FM.

“I was doing an interview with Guy Bellamy, who does the rock show, and he springs it on me: ‘Do you want to be the weather man?’” says the ebullient Smash. “I did an eight week stint. I’d do really cheesy stuff like, ‘It’s raining in Brighton but there’s Sunshine In Tokyo – here’s Massive Wagons.’”

When he’s not doing his best Michael Fish impressions over the airwaves, Smash fronts one of the country’s most exciting up and coming band bands. The Rocket Dolls give a modern metal a grungey spin, with the singer citing the likes of Nirvana, Foo Fighters and Nickelback as key influences. “They’re all about attitude but tunes as well,” he says. “That’s what we want in our music.”

Former Brighton Institute Of Music student Smash put the band together with drummer Benji Knopfler in Brighton in 2008. Amid the seaside town’s supposedly ‘hip’ music scene, the trio stood out like a sore thumb

“It was very indie heavy,” says Nikki. “Rock just wasn’t cool. I was like, “Let’s just erase that.’ We just sounded nasty compared to everything else in Brighton. We could probably have made more money if we sounded more indie, but what we were doing came from the heart.”

The Rocket Dolls’ debut album, Eyes, was released in 2014. The steel-plated follow-up, DeadHead, was released earlier this year. The period in between was tough for Smash, as he battled anxiety and depression. His experiences fed into DeadHead, from the exhilarating title track to the sweeping Last Thing On My Mind.

“It was the lowest time of my life,” he says. “I hit rock bottom. But making DeadHead was a really cathartic experience. It got rid of all the crap.”

It’s clear that Smash is no quitter. As well as his mental issues, he was struck down by the E Coli virus after going into hospital for a routine knee op.

“That was pretty serious,” he says. “But I’m naturally a fighting guy – I don’t mean physically, just in terms of getting things done. That’s why we’ve been a success for ten years. People say, ‘How the fuck are you still going? It’s heart, it’s determination. Proving people wrong.”

Proving people wrong extends to anyone who accuses the band of being the beneficiaries of nepotism due to the fact that drummer Benji’s dad is Mark Knopfler of Dire Straits. “Sometimes people say, ‘This only happened because of that.’ No man – it happened because we worked our arses off. It’s all about the long game. We never set out to become an overnight success – we’ll be doing this until the day we die. We’re not doing this to make money.”

And in the meantime of course, the singer also has his parallel radio career to be getting on with…

“Ha! They asked me back to do the gardening spot. I don’t know shit about gardening: keep an eye on it, water it, that’s about it. Mind you, I didn’t know anything about the weather and that still worked out OK.”