Another college era music story for y’all. One great source of my heavy “discovery” period into hearing new music was working for the college radio station, WKSR. WKSR didn’t have a powerful signal, nor did it have cutting edge equipment. In fact, I used to like to make the joke that the only place you could really hear WKSR was from the actual DJ booth. Hardy har har. Truth be told, you could get it if you lived in the dorm and maybe if you were driving around Kent and you were near the building.
Really, it was a place for us kids to practice our craft, be it editing, DJ’ing, voice overs, blah blah blah. We were there to record our own shows and play them back to try and figure out where you could improve yourself, or possibly even put together a demo tape to send out to local radio stations if that’s what you wanted to do. Basically, it was fun. My first go-around there was my sophomore year, again 1991, and I had a real interesting shift from 6-10am on Saturday mornings – surely a time when many college kids are wide awake and tuning in after a night on the town, right? Right. Hah.
Anyway, it was an April morning in 1991 when I had started my show and was looking through the little section of CD’s that had come in to the station the previous week. My eyes scanned the titles and I came across a band called Dramarama. The name itself was enough for me to give it a shot, so I pulled it out and I got my first look at their new album, called Vinyl, which to this day is still one of my favorite pop/rock albums of the 1990’s. Lead singer and songwriter John Easdale is originally from New Jersey, but moved to Los Angeles in the 1980s just before the whole paisley pop thing started to hit there. He formed Dramarama in L.A. and it wasn’t long before they had a pretty large hit due to some heavy local airplay and things went from there. Their sound is just classic pop/rock – they wear it on their sleeves. They haven’t invented their own genre by any stretch, but Easdale is one hell of a clever songwriter, tunesmith and singer and so many of his songs just get stuck in my brain like chewing gum in your hair.
I really don’t remember which song it was that I heard first, I only remember being really psyched to have discovered this and given it a chance. Easdale just has one of those voices. You know what I mean – you don’t even need 5 seconds to recognize it, you just KNOW it when you hear it. There are not many vocalists who have the privledge of such gifts, but he is certainly one of them.
Anyway, Dramarama stopped playing and touring a few years ago, but there’s been rumblings of a reunion, especially on the heels of one of those VH1 specials which reunited bands.
So in my quest to go out and try to find the musicians who’ve meant the most to me, I just knew I had to find this guy and give him the Item Five treatment. That said, I am proud to say, for the second week in a row, that I got to interview someone whose music played a large role in shaping the 1990s for me. I bring you John Easdale.
1. I’ve been wanting to ask this for a long time: How did you name the band?
The theater…a girl named Lisa came back from college where she was studying drama and used the word to describe some of her classmates.
2. What would be the first thing you would say at the podium if you were speaking at the Republican National Convention?
“What is wrong with you people?”
3. I remember one time, I was on summer break from college and I went for a walk with my new Sony Discman. I had “Vinyl” playing and I was sitting on some rocks at a reservoir listening to “Train Going Backwards.” I was just leaning back and relaxing,
enjoying the music and sights. At that point, two sisters whom I knew from high school came by while out for a run and they stopped and said hello quickly but they were looking at me like I was a little weird. Do you think that’s wierd that I was chilling out to music on the rocks near the water?
Doesn’t sound weird to me, unless you’ve left some key thing out, like you were naked or shooting up or torturing animals or something…
4. Speaking of high school, I always feel odd talking about what I do now in front of people I barely knew 15 or 20 years ago. Do you ever see old high school
acquiantences and do they ever ask what’s up with the music career? Does it make you uncomfortable?
I am always extremely gratified whenever anybody asks me about the music, be they strangers or old school chums…I am fascinated that anybody would be aware of what I’ve done without my telling them about it myself.
5. One of your new songs is called Everybody Dies and the first couple of lines are “Everybody dies, everybody’s gonna die.” Uh, where did that song come from? Are you obsessed/fascinated/scared of death?
My best friend was diagnosed with esophogeal cancer, and I came up with the song as a sort of “Don’t worry, be happy” kind of message for him before we knew how bad it was…he has since departed…and then my mom got sick and died right after that, so what was originally written to help somebody else has helped me deal with things as well…it seems as if death is the ultimate taboo, even more than sexuality and substance abuse (at least here in the US).
6. It seems you’ve always had a neat skill for adding little audio clips here and there in (or between)your songs. Why?
It came from making “cut tapes” back in the good old days of cassettes…it’s a nice way to do segues between things that don’t sound exactly the same…
7. Who is the most underrated band of all time?
10 CC? Willie Alexander & the Boom Boom Band? Actually, probably somebody so unknown that I’ve never heard of them…
8. Why don’t you ask me a question?
Because I already know way too much stuff…my head’s completely oversaturated with useless information…
9. Do you think it totally sucks that Jello doesn’t make those delicious frozen pudding pops anymore?
I’ll tell you, honestly, I never realized until very recently that the whole Jello thing was based on using the stuff inside of cow and horse hooves…I always thought it was some harmless vegetable oil-type product…yuck!
10. Do you ever say to yourself, “Ah, fuck it. Why didn’t I stay in Jersey?”
All the time. I still absolutely love it there. But then I wouldn’t have ever met my wife or had my kids or made all these records and stuff…
11. Do you (or did you ever) think that the world really will end in 2041?
Only more recently…not when I wrote that song…but a few years back, I said to myself, “wouldn’t it be weird if that whole line (which I never knew where it came from or why i put it in the song) turned out to be prophecy rather than just a verse from a pop song?” I’ll be 80, if I’m still alive, and the way we’re going, I wouldn’t be surprised…sad, but not shocked.
12. Please tell us what you’re working on. Solo album? Dramarama? etc etc. Do tell.
“Everybody Dies” was gonna be my next album, and I was gonna call it a “solo” album, even though I used a band, and it already featured Peter Wood and Mark Englert playing guitars…then VH1 came along and did this whole “Bands Reunited” thing, and we also played a few huge concerts which strongly illustrated the power that still doth lie in the band’s name…so I’m gonna put it out as a Dramarama record nstead…
13. What was the last thing you laughed really hard at?
Deuce Bigalow, Male Gigolo last night on TV…(I’m easily entertained)
14. My wife and I have eaten at several restaurants lately that shut down shortly thereafter. Furthermore, we just came back from Captiva and Sanibel Island in Florida, which both had their ass kicked by the hurricane. Are you apprehensive now about interacting with me?
I hardly think so…well, maybe just a wee tiny bit…
15. Would you rather be Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny,Smokey the Bear or Celine Dion?
I’d rather be The Tooth Fairy or The Great Pumpkin or Woodsy The Owl or America’s next Drug Czar…they’re all fictional characters, yes? No?
Big thanks to John Easdale! By the way, the whole “world ending in 2041” is from a song called “What Are We Gonna Do” (from Vinyl). Two things: get “Vinyl” and hit that link which goes to a page of 3 new Easdale/Dramarama songs that are just terrific. Really. Do it.
Song now playing: Drive-By Truckers – “Danko/Manuel”