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Mark Englert of Dramarama

By Gary Wien

Dramarama was an explosive live band that recorded several brilliant records during the late 80s and early 90s.  The band was formed by a group of guys from Wayne, New Jersey who moved out to California around the time they were signed to their first record deal.  Even while they were living on the West Coast the band played a major role in an emerging alternative rock scene along the Jersey Shore.  With sold out shows at clubs like the Green Parrot, the Fastlane and the Stone Pony, Dramarama became one of the most popular bands of its day.

Unfortunately, the rest of the country (with the exception of California) never took to the band the same way.  Although Dramarama songs have reached near classic levels in the alternative music world, the band never achieved the success or recognition they were due.  But to the fans that packed each show along the Jersey Shore, Dramarama will always be one of the greatest bands that nobody knows.

What have you been up to lately? Tell me about Phat Boris.

Oh boy, that’s the big record label I launched.  I just had a bunch of songs and I wanted to put them out on a label.  So, it’s kind of like it’s my mock record label if you will.  I don’t really do that much with it.

Basically, I just play with a lot of different bands.  I’m kind of like a guitar player have gun will travel for a lot of singer-songwriters.  I’ll just come out and do a lot of solos for them and stuff like that.  I’m better as part of a team than I am as a solo guy.

And you’re a member of the John Easdale band, the Newcomers?

Exactly.  Well, we’ve been called everything.  The Newcomers are kind of going through another incarnation.  Basically, whenever John gets back into it again.  He’s been writing and recording lately, which lucky for me I get a chance to work with John in a big studio.  It’s great in that way.

What are the John Easdale Band shows like compared to the old Dramarama days.  How do they differ?

They differ because back then it was more like a career choice or sort of a life choice.  We were putting out records and that was basically putting food on our tables.  So it was like this is what we do, this is our job, this is our life.  Now it’s more like I’m just a regular working guy, you know what I mean?  So, it’s more like vacation.  It’s more fun.  And, in a way, it’s more of a free style.  A lot of it is free form.  We don’t even have set lists with this band.

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You basically stick to your NJ and LA now.  You’re not really hitting the country and playing a spot that doesn’t know you very well...

Gary, I worked in the Whiskey A Go-Go for five years.  I’ve watched bands say, “Could you guys buy our demo so we can have gas to get on to the next town?” I’m not really into trying to get to that point.

I was doing sound and lighting there.  I’m more like a white collar guy now.  But back then I was more into sound engineering.  I did that for a long time though.

Dramarama was first signed by a French label.  Did you tour there?

Yeah, we were out there for six weeks.  It’s something that you’re not going to get in a cruise or from a travel agency.  Go tour France in a rock band in the back of a meat wagon where the only way you can see is by looking straight out.  It was like a converted meat refrigerator truck except all the stuff is completely in the back.  The guy in the front can barely understand what you’re saying and they’re calling you Marky Ramone because they say you sound too much like the Ramones for them to understand you.  That’s what they called me.

France was amazing.  It was really a fulfilling thing.  Even our band was like laughing at them in a way.  A lot of the guys in the band were really nervous about traveling around in places that didn’t understand any English.  But once you got into the whole thing, it was like wow what a trip! This is great!

Talking with fans on both coasts, it really seemed the audiences were just so electric for those two areas.

Oh, it was pretty much like you say. I think if we had better radio airplay or a solidified promotional thing we probably could have gone farther.  But we were just hanging on by our pants a lot of times.  And, of course, we had our secret weapon - Chris Carter.  Honest to God, if everyone said Mark we want you to plan the way we were going to get out to California we’d all still be living in Wayne! But Chris, he was a promotional guy.  He really was.  I kind of provided the product that was my end of the deal.  John wrote the songs.  It really was a team effort in a lot of ways.

You grew up right next to John, right?

Two houses away.

Were you two in a lot of bands together growing up?

Oh yeah.  Well, the first memory I have of playing with John was in junior high school.  We were doing this stage band thing together and he was playing drums.  The thing about John is that if he had a set and it was set up in his house he’d be one of the best drummers I’ve ever played with because his sense of rhythm is so there. 

There was our punk rock band, Department of Public Works.  Well, I worked for the Department of Public Works in Wayne, New Jersey so it was easy to get a bunch of township t-shirts and that became the bands uniform.  John played bass.  Later John said, “I’m not really thinking this band’s going to do a whole lot.” I’m like, “John, we’re playing the Who as good as the Who.  What are you talking about?”

It almost sounds like the punk version of the Village People...

Yeah, except their dancing was way better than ours.  Their choreography was a lot better than ours, that’s for sure.

What do you remember about those early Dramarama shows on the “Uncle Floyd Show”?

Just that it was interesting.  It was a first time experience and being a little nervous around the TV cameras.  But you knew it wasn’t like being on CBS so you could relax a little bit.

A different level than Letterman, right?

Letterman was a total trip for me.  The whole thing of that just came about quickly.  Thursday it’s like, “What are you doing this weekend?” and we’d say, “Oh, we’re flying to New York to play on the ‘David Letterman Show’ and then going back on Sunday.”

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It’s strange. At the Shore, we all knew you guys were in LA but we also knew that you were from Wayne.  There was a little alternative scene during the days of the Green Parrot.  Did the band feel any connection to that or were you an LA band?

No, you can take the guys out of New Jersey but you can’t really take the New Jersey out of the guys.  Even when I go back now I realize how amazing New Jersey can be in the sense that there’s a lot of bands out there.  There’s a lot of talented people and they all play as good as you, but the thing is you were lucky.  You kind of did things at the exact right place at the right time as far as that goes.  I would have to say I just felt like coming back home a lot of times.

Do any of the shows stand out?

I remember an Asbury Park show in which the owners hated the opening band that were friends of ours from Wayne, New Jersey.  Basically, after they played the crowd hated them.  Every time the singer said something the crowd got uglier. After they left the stage the owner said, “Take your stuff.  We’re putting your stuff on the sidewalk right now.  Pack your stuff and get the hell out of the club.  I never want to see you here again!”

It’s stuff like that.  I remember the circus tent in Asbury Park.  I think we were the first band to actually do that.  We were outside under a circus tent and going look at this.  And what you were saying about polarizing was really true.  We could go 90 miles west of Philadelphia and have about a third of the people there.  That radio station down there helped an awful lot.

We had our funeral show.  It was funny, we had two funeral shows.  One was at a place called the Coach House in Orange County and the other one was in Asbury Park at the Stone Pony.  One person wrote about it like it was an obituary.  I was thinking come on it’s not so bad.  For me personally, I was kind of happy when it was done because in a way it was kind of like we had taken this as far as we could go.  Maybe it was a good idea to get off.  

What did you do after the split?

I played with one band up north thinking I have all this knowledge from Dramarama, I know what I’ll do I’ll put out an independent record.  Except at that time everyone had an independent record and you don’t say you’re from California, trust me.  That’s when I really became the guy from Jersey and reinforced it by ordering six packs of Bud in cans, which always freaked them out up there.

But after that I just came back down to LA, put myself through college, worked at the Whiskey A Go-Go, worked at E-Entertainment doing journalism stuff and now I’m kind of doing my thing in LA with different bands.  The thing to me is that music is just part of existing, a part of life.  Whether there’s a record deal or not a record deal it’s kind of pointless in a way, especially when you study what’s going on in the industry.

Speaking of the industry, did you see Dramarama as an alternative band or a regular rock band?

Well, that’s an interesting question.  What is alternative music? I always kind of looked at us as a square peg in a round hole if you will.  We were always kind of out there on the outside.  But when you look at bands like Soul Asylum or the Replacements, I didn’t think we were that much different than those guys.  It’s just we were a song band.  We really based ourselves on our songs and not our crazy lifestyles or anything else.

Looking back, what would you like people to remember about Dramarama?

Good songs, good records...  At least you knew we had a sense of humor.  I like to think at least we had some brains.  Maybe not so much in the way of the cash department.

Any chance that Dramarama will ever record together again?

You never say never, that’s the whole thing.  If it comes together it won’t be a planned thing, I’ll tell you that much.  That’s the way I picture it.  But there’s always the chance.

From the book Beyond The Palace by Gary Wien

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 gary@newjerseystage.com.

originally published: 01/26/2012

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