A Brand New Beginning: New Pop Sunday
New Pop Sunday isn’t just some flavor of the month. According to Sponge’s burgundy-haired lead singer, Vinnie Dombrowski, it’s “the Sponge version of a pop record.”
And why not? They’ve been labeled everything from modern, to alternative, to glam rock (well, drag queens mostly).
Forming in 1992, right at the tail end of grunge, they got needlessly lumped into the post-grunge fold, lasting several rounds in MTV’s Buzz Bin (via 1994’s Rotting Piñata and its follow-up, Wax Ecstatic ). “So, all of a sudden, I’m a Stone Temple Pilots guy,” says Dombrowski.
Mentally, Sponge teeters between rock star and garage band status, a fate that could only exist in a band that still insists on keeping the noise in their hometown of Detroit, Michigan, coming up for air only to tour.
Earlier this year, the band found themselves on a ten-city tour of Guitar Centers on both coasts — and almost everywhere in between — in support of The Musician’s Choice: Vol. I compilation album for which they performed (dare I say it) the alternative-sounding “Chameleon.”
The album is comprised of mostly unknown musicians across America who also dare not to go Hollywood. Inspired by the Motley Crue single “Kickstart My Heart” (also making an appearance on the album) as part of a contest with Guitar Center and local radio stations, its main purpose: to help struggling bands “kickstart their career.”
Armed with a new record deal, and a new bass player (Tim Krukowski, replacing original member Tim Cross) Sponge hoped to do the same.
Let’s talk a little bit about the Musician’s Choice album that you worked on earlier this year. You talked about trying to make it in Detroit, and that’s not exactly the place where A&R people are falling out of the woodwork. What was it like before you got signed?
Vinnie Dombrowski : To be honest with you, there wasn’t a whole lot going on here before we got signed. Certainly, there were some bands that were making some noise…
Why didn’t you relocate?
We had plenty of clubs here. Rehearsal space is really cheap. And I never felt like I was missing something, musically. As a matter of fact, I felt like I had something to contribute. So it wasn’t like I felt like I had to go to L.A. to “get in” on something, y’know? I think that the idea of people needing to relocate to New York or L.A. to make it — that idea certainly got stale in the early ’90s because, all of a sudden, A&R people did start coming to town. And did start coming to Detroit. Look at the [Smashing] Pumpkins. The Pumpkins are from Chicago. It was a great scene going on in Chicago, the whole Wax Trax thing, at one time. People ask, “What’s in Detroit?” Most of the time, they go, “Well, Kiss used to play there.” I mean, if you really look, aside from modern rock/alternative bands, the whole techno scene really influenced the whole world, certainly, far before we got signed. As far as rock is concerned, there wasn’t a lot going on. But Detroit was very influential in the whole techno thing. Right now, what’s going on is incredible, with the Insane Clown Posse, and Eminem, and Kid Rock. Bands like the Suicide Machines are out there.
You guys have two members that have come and gone. Yet it’s still the same few guys that were in Loudhouse.
Yes. As a matter of fact, Mike Cross and I were original Loudhouse members. Then Joey Mazzola came into the fold right at the end of the band. And that’s when we transformed into Sponge.
Loudhouse got dropped from Virgin after one album. Were you going into a second album and decided to disband? What happened?
After we lost the deal with Virgin, we went right back into the studio. We started a whole second Loudhouse record. We were a very powerful thing. Just the way it goes, people start to get restless, especially holding something together after you’ve lost the deal. It’s like, “What do we do now?” That’s why the original singer in Loudhouse, Canny, left. He was fed up. It’s too bad. Timing-wise, it was not a very good time to leave because, right at that time, everything was changing in the business. Basically, the timing of the situation necessitated the whole Sponge thing.
Were there any songs left over from that Loudhouse album that you incorporated into your first Sponge album?
No, not a thing. We started brand new.
As Sponge, a similar situation occurred with your record deal on Columbia.
We were given the option to either go — the record company wasn’t satisfied with the record we delivered. Don Ienner said to us, “You can go and continue recording and possibly use some outside writers. Or you can take your masters and go to another label.” We talked it over and we felt we delivered the best record we could under the circumstances. And we were ready to move on. So it was kind of a mutual parting.
Are these essentially the same songs on New Pop Sunday that were on that album?
No. They’re quite different. There are some songs, like “Live Here Without You,” that were untouched from the Columbia recording sessions. We remixed “Lackluster Love” and “1,000 Times.” The new additions to the record were, “When You’re On Fire, Baby, Roll,” “Radio Prayer Line,” “Lucky,” and “All American Girl.”
Getting back to your saying that was the best record you could do just before you were making a deal with Columbia to either stay or leave, why did you decide to change a lot of things if you thought that was the best record you could do?
What we did — and that was the first time we’d done this: What happened was our first two records, we made in Ann Arbor, Michigan, which we co-produced with Tom Hadlen. And because the sales of the second record weren’t as strong as the first record, the record company felt it was time — and these are their words — to “grow up.” So they wanted to stick us in a “professional” type of studio, use a “real” producer, and an “official” A&R-type person. Of course, all of these people were top-notch in their own right. But, as far as us being satisfied with making the record that we felt we needed to make, we fell short in that there were certain compromises we made in order to facilitate a new producer…that we had never worked with before.
I notice that you’re pulling back on the disfunctionality in your lyrics (on New Pop Sunday ). As part of your quest toward pop music, they seem a little more optimistic. Recently, I talked to Dez from Coal Chamber, and he said he was tired of expressing anger in his music because he had other facets within himself. Do you find that you’ve made a similar decision?
I know for a fact that that was a conscious effort that I made on our second record released in ’96. I wanted to specifically write a song for that idea: “It Got To Be A Bore.” At that point, I was ready to move on. And, on this record, we’re doing love songs for God’s sakes [laughs]. There are some things that are definitely optimistic. At the same time, songs like “Lucky,” that’s not the case at all. “Pollyanna” hopes for something. At the end of “1,000 Times,” it’s like an optimistic song, but the last line gives that away. So I’m trying.
How good are you at expressing yourself in real life?
Not as good as I would hope. I can sure piss some people off because I’m just not articulating myself properly. Why do you think we lost the bass player!
Is songwriting therapeutic?
It’s certainly something that I enjoy doing. I know some people may find it cathartic. Especially in the performance of it, I find a place where I enjoy myself. But, going into the writing process, sometimes you’re really opening up a can of worms: How far do you really want to go with it…? It’s really the same thing with life: That’s why I can be optimistic to a certain point, but I think I’d fooling myself if I walked around in a catatonic state of artificial happiness when there are certain things that don’t jibe with me.
What would make you truly happy?
I don’t think that’s possible. I think being satisfied is one thing. Being happy: that’s a moment to moment thing. The more honest I am with myself, that’s when I become satisfied.
Judging from a picture I saw recently in another magazine of a nude woman on-stage [in Tampa], you must have come across to her pretty well.
Yeah. That was the third day of a three-day festival [Livestock]. They were completely overcome by the music and alcohol, and whatever else was going on. It was wild.
Do you like a mild-mannered crowd, or do you like for them to get a little bit revved?
It’s the nature of what we do. We’re a rock and roll band. We go out there and throw down. That’s all we’ve ever done. We did a tour with Neil Young and Patti Smyth one time, and the crowd was really cool, but they were mellow. When you get off the stage, you go, “Yeah, it went well, but did we do what we planned to do?” We’re used to seeing people get revved up. Just because they don’t doesn’t mean they don’t dig us, so I’ve got to keep that in mind.