This month I spoke with John Easdale of Dramarama, the 80s rockers who achieved nearly cult-like status. The band broke up over ten years ago, but recently reunited and has a new EP with a full record coming in the future.
New Jersey, may be the butt of many jokes, but it has had an amazing record of musicians succeed on the national stage. Some of the biggest performers in the world (Bruce Springsteen, Jon Bon Jovi, Count Basie, Frank Sinatra, etc..) all hailed from the Garden State. But if there was ever one band that should have made it and just fell short it was Dramarama.
Ask any Dramarama fan (and there are still plenty of them around in New Jersey) and they will tell you that those shows in the late 80s and early 90s were among the best live concerts they had ever seen. Unfortunately, with the exception of California (where the band moved to early on in their careers) the rest of the country failed to get it. Led by charismatic lead singer, John Easdale, songs like "Last Cigarette" and "Anything, Anything" made the all-time lists for alternative stations in New Jersey and Los Angeles, yet barely got noticed elsewhere.
But that may all be about to change. A few months ago, Dramarama took part in a VH1 special that deals with reuniting bands from the eighties.
"The whole thing was a set-up/ambush kind of thing," explained Easdale. "They had told us they were gonna do a series of 'rockumentaries' on influential bands of the 80s who never really made it big...they scheduled a phone interview with me at home, and then instead showed up with a camera crew at my house...'SURPRISE!' well, with the cameras rolling, they ask, 'How would you like to get back together with your band for one show?' I never knew this, but it's hard to say 'no' when there's a camera in your face. They basically did the same thing to everybody else, but they went to their places of business instead of their homes.
"The actual reunion itself was strange...some of the members had hardly been on stage for 9 years...Jesse hadn't sat behind a drum kit since quitting the band in 1990...so it was a weird thing. Everybody played exceptionally well, all things considered, and the mini-show we played was a fantastic success, but it still felt more like a nostalgia trip (which it was) than something new and vital...having fought for the past nine years to NOT get pegged as an 'oldies' act, it was weird."
The VH1 show is expected to air sometime in early 2004.
Ironically, California's wacky recall election may have given John and the band their best press coverage ever. Shortly before the election, the band recorded a version of "California Uber Alles" by the Dead Kennedy's with new lyrics, written by Easdale, relating to Arnold Schwarzenegger.
"Not in a million years did I expect anybody to even notice it," said Easdale. "I just thought it was funny...we recorded it two days before the election...then Arnold won."
People certainly did notice it. Not only did it quickly find its way all over the Internet and then into the playlists of influential stations around the country, but the story found its way on to top music sites like RollingStone.com. Suddenly, Dramarama was incredibly hot. A second reunion show was set, which ultimately led to the band's decision to reform.
"The day after our second "reunion" show...there were 15,000 people going absolutely nuts for this thing called 'Dramarama,' whereas if I had done the exact same show under my own name, the results would have been less spectacular.," explained Easdale.
John Easdale was originally planning to release another solo record, but seeing the reaction by the Dramarama fans changed his mind. Thus, Absolutely, 100% Made In NJ was released under the Dramarama name.
"Since A) Mark (Englert) and Peter (Wood) play most of the guitars on the record, and B) the only difference between a solo album and a Dramarama album would be the musicians, since I wrote all the songs, and c) I really would like as many people as possible to hear the songs, it just seemed to make sense. And also because all of it (the two concerts and the TV show thing) was completely unplanned...it just kind of happened."
Original band member, Chris Carter, has decided to sit this one out as far as the time being. "But I never say never," said Easdale. "Dramarama is the thing we're doing as of now and the foreseeable future...I would never have continued the Dramarama thing, however, if we didn't have new recordings. Like I've said before, I have no desire to be the 'Flashback King,' and over the years have turned down many 'big money' shows because it would have pigeonholed us as this 80s' thing. I'm not a teenager anymore, but I'm still here making new music, y'know?"
With one listen to Dramarama's new CD, it's clear that John doesn't have to worry about being called the 'Flashback King.' The band sounds every bit as good as they did on their best records. In fact, the song "Everybody Dies" will most likely join the most celebrated songs in the Dramarama catalogue.
Other highlights on the new CD include "Goodnight America" and a wonderful cover of the Jim Carroll classic, "People Who Died" - plus those ordering from John's website get a bonus CD containing the new version of "California Uber Alles." Absolutely, 100% Made In NJ is actually an EP containing several songs that will be included on the future full-length entitled, Everybody Dies. According to Easdale, that record is finished but the release date is unknown at this time. It is expected that Dramarama, who has had well-publicized battles and problems with record labels before, will most likely release the record themselves.
"If somebody from a major label came to us with several big old canvas sacks with dollar signs printed on the outside, we might consider signing some sort of deal...but since that's highly unlikely, we'll probably stick with the D.I.Y. thing," said Easdale.
Gary Wien has been covering the arts since 2001 and has had work published with Jersey Arts, Elmore Magazine, Princeton Magazine, Backstreets and other publications. He is a three-time winner of the Asbury Music Award for Top Music Journalist and the author of Beyond the Palace (the first book on the history of rock and roll in Asbury Park) and Are You Listening? The Top 100 Albums of 2001-2010 by New Jersey Artists. In addition, he runs New Jersey Stage and the online radio station The Penguin Rocks. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.