I learned what an amplifier was because of the dB’s. I remember being a little kid and watching VH1 with my mom and the video for “Amplifier” by the dB’s came on. That video is still pretty iconic in my life, and so are the dB’s. They’re a highly influential power pop band made up of incredibly talented musicians. This is an interview I did with Peter Holsapple recently.
Are you working on anything new right now?
I play bass with Baron Von Rumblebuss, a children’s rock band led by Tray Batson. I’m playing bass in a little trio with Bob Northcott (from Little Diesel) and Terry Anderson (from The Fabulous Knobs, the Woods and the OAK Team), which is a bunch of fun. I am a five-year charter member of Radio Free Song Club, a podcast featuring other writers like Freedy Johnston, Victoria Williams and Wreckless Eric & Amy Rigby.
What bands did you tour with in the dB’s early days? What were your favorite bands and do you have any particularly memorable stories from tour?
We obviously did a bunch of tours opening for R.E.M. over the years, but the first band we did a real tour with was Dave Edmunds Band through England and Wales in 1981. He’d just released DE7th, and while we didn’t get a lot of time together with Dave himself, his band were lovely gentlemen like Geraint Watkins. We toured with Squeeze for about two weeks. We spent a lot of time in our dressing room, blasting Le Mystere Des Voix Bulgaire and pouring non-dairy creamer on cigarette lighters…
North Carolina has a very specific sound, which you contributed to. What are some of the best parts of playing in NC?
Here’s how I see that: all of the members of the band grew up together in Winston-Salem in the 60s and 70s, and we played in bands with each other from the time we were teenagers on; we utilized the same musical and regional vocabulary. That fairly predates any “NC sound” although that’s how we cut our teeth. By the time punk and new wave were starting up, we’d been playing and making records for years. We loved coming back to NC to play for our friends and family. We were happy to see other bands had sprung up in our absence and were making some noise, like the X-Teens and Secret Service. We were glad there were places for bands to play that didn’t require obligatory Allman Brothers covers.
Did living and playing in New York and New Orleans affect your sound at all?
I’m sure New York did. We were there for almost a decade. I’d been a closet New Yorker since I was a kid, laying on the living room floor, reading the second section of the Sunday NY Times and looking at Bottom Line ads. I knew, in my heart, I would end up in NYC. We had a demi-monde of bands with whom we were (and are) friends; there never seemed like much in the way of competition between bands like in LA, with only a couple notable exceptions who shall remain nameless. New Orleans began figuring in the history of the dB’s somewhere in the early 1980s when we began playing there and were associated with a manager from there. We loved the Meters and James Booker, and while we didn’t sound like a NOLA band, we tried things like a rhumba beat behind a cover of “Message From the Country” by the Move. So I guess we were influenced by everything we heard everywhere we went.
What did Mitch Easter contribute to the dB’s as a soundman/producer/friend in general?
Mitch and Chris were childhood best friends; their moms were also friends. Mitch had a couple years on us in terms of professional musicianship. Chris and I played with him in an early (for us) band, and we learned a bunch of Mitch’s complex songs while writing our own in his wake. I can still play a bunch of those songs today, almost 45 years later. I learned about song structure from those songs. Mitch has always been ‘one of us’ even without being a member of the band. In the studio, he’s always been generous with his time, energy and imagination. We all of us speak the same Winston-Salem parlance.
What were some of your post dB’s projects?
After The dB’s, I played for a couple of years with R.E.M. as a touring adjunct on the Green World Tour in 1989. I recorded the Out Of Time album with them, and I’m featured on acoustic guitar on their hit “Losing My Religion.” After I finished my tenure with them, I joined Continental Drifters, with whom I recorded 4 albums and toured the US and Europe. I also recorded two duo albums with Chris Stamey, Mavericks in 1993 and hERE aND nOW in 2009. I was musical director for three shows at The Arts at St. Ann’s in Brooklyn, New York. For over 20 years, I have served as touring and recording adjunct with Hootie & the Blowfish.
What made you decide to record and release Falling Off The Sky after a 25-year hiatus?
Chris and I had written songs that seemed like they’d benefit by being dB’s songs rather than duo album ones. We didn’t know if Gene and Will were interested or available, but they were both and we did some tracking a few years ago. Little by little, over the course of several years, we had an album that was strong enough to stand alongside the ones we made before. I love the record and am very proud of how it sounds.
Are there any future dBs related plans? Do you have any musical plans of your own?
Nothing on the table for the dB’s, and I’m playing solo showcases at 30A Songwriters Festival in Florida in January 2016. Writing and recording all the time, though.
What music are you currently listening to?
Just heard a great band last night, Loamland. Soulful, emotional and intuitive playing, great songs at first listen. All good things. Listening to middle-period (Bob Welch, Christine McVie) Fleetwood Mac and really enjoying it for the first time, having been a snob before. I try so hard to listen to educate myself now. Sam Smith was a revelation live. Life’s too short to not attempt to hear everything.
What do you think upcoming bands need to know about touring/playing/being in a band in general?
I think that the sooner you can get really good at writing and playing, the better off you’ll be. If you’re young AND good, that’s going to help your chances at trying to make a living as a rock band. Learn how to record your shit well, like how you place what mics you use and how not to overdose your recordings with reverb and compression. Make recordings you can pull off live too. Own your masters and lease them. Hold on to your publishing. Do your best to love your bandmates and treat them with respect. If you get to where you have a tour bus and driver, always thank your driver for getting you there safely when you leave the bus. Every time.