Dramarama was one of those bands that never got the radio attention they deserved, but developed a true hard-core fan base that never died. Thanks to the support of those fans and VH-1's "Bands Reunited," the band is back and better than ever with the release of "Everybody Dies" - the first Dramarama record in over a decade.
It's a testament to the song writing ability of John Easdale that Dramarama's latest disc contains several songs that many people are ranking among the band's best ever. And that's a pretty high standard as two very influential radio stations (KROC and WHTG) on two separate coasts had a Dramarama song named as the best song ever. Ironically, it was a different song on each coast. The west coast favored "Anything, Anything (I'll Give You)" while the east coast went with "Last Cigarette."
When Dramarama was featured on a episode of VH-1's "Bands Reunited" show it introduced them to a new generation of fans and got the original band members thinking about the power of the Dramarama name.
"Honest to God, this would have been a John Easdale record even though it had Mark (Englert) and Peter (Wood) on it," explained John Easdale. "But that VH-1 thing happened and then we did a concert in California. And it was just an overwhelming show of love and support from people out there for the band. Dramarama, aside from a few moments in New Jersey when the John Easdale group would play - that was something I hadn't felt out here in California and that I hadn't felt in general.
"It was something that happened real organically in that it wasn't like I was sitting back home saying, 'It's time to break that name out again because I need to get more people to pay attention.' But rather it was between the VH-1 special and the audience reaction at that concert... we looked at each other and said there's still a power of this name. That's the main difference I guess. It was something that was decided for us rather than us being all calculating."
It's certainly been a strange ride back for John Easdale. The CD title gives a bit of a hint as to some of the things that have been going on in his life in recent years. He's seen his mother and his best friend both pass away; had the magazine he worked at for around a decade go out of business; and watched as VH-1 and a cover of an old Dead Kennedy's tune suddenly gave his old band a second chance.
"My mom got sick in May of that year (she was diagnosed with cancer) and then in June Greg Dwinnell (John's best friend) passed away. In August VH-1 came to visit and September was the KROC concert. And then about a month later we did 'California Uber Allies' and that's when we started to keep the name."
Their cover of the popular Dead Kennedy's song (with some scathing new lyrics by John Easdale about the California Gubertorial race) got them national exposure on a level few would have expected. The news about the song made its way around the Internet and into music magazines and newspapers as radio jumped at the chance to play the song mocking the California race for governor. Easdale says he still can't believe that Arnold Schwarzenegger was really elected.
"I'm still reeling from that because I hadn't ever really considered that he had a chance to win," said Easdale. "I don't know why. I had my head stuck in the sand or something, but I really didn't think we were nutty enough in this state to vote for that guy."
The current lineup of Dramarama includes three of the band's original members (John Easdale, Peter Wood and Mark Englert) - something that John is very proud of. He's always dreaded the idea of being a "retro artist" and knew the only way he would ever bring back the band was if they were creating new music. And they've certainly succeeded.
One of the most amazing things about Dramarama is that none of the songs ever seem dated. Songs from their first record seem just as fresh today as they did in the early 1980s. This may be partly due to the fact that the band was never representative of its era. And even though the songs do not sound the same, all of the songs are instantly recognizable as Dramarama - including those on "Everybody Dies." In fact, as people around the country hear the first cuts from the new disc they'll probably wonder if it's a new song or a rarity they've never heard before. Somehow John Easdale's vocals put a stamp on a song in the same vein that Bono does for U2 or Mick Jagger with the Rolling Stones. You just know who the band is.
One of the original band members that declined the offer to rejoin Dramarama was Chris Carter. Chris took part in the VH-1 special but was displeased with how the show treated him. In recent years he's become a popular DJ with a weekly show on Infinity called "Breakfast With The Beatles." He has also moved on to films and was the producer of the Rodney Bingheimer documentary, "Mayor Of The Sunset Strip." According to Easdale, Chris Carter had no problems with his former bandmates starting up again.
"He gave us his blessing when we did that KROC concert," said Easdale. "He opted out at that point.He's moved on and he does so many other cool things now that I don't think being a bass player in a band is number one on his wish list. It wasn't like he was trying out for a band all those years. I think the only band he ever wanted to be in was Dramarama and I think he outgrew it."
"Everybody Dies" is being distributed nationally by 33rd Street Records, a division of Tower Records. As in the past, Dramarama had some trouble with their label. In this case, the deal with Tower happened only a few days after the original distributor went out of business. The disc was officially released in late October. "The label had been kind enough to make the little pieces of plastic with the holes and get them in the stores and I think everything else is up to us."
This record is ironically "toned down" a bit from the way death influenced the EP "Made In New Jersey" which was a preview of this "Everybody Dies."
"That EP was made and created for one purpose - to give to a guy who was dying," said Easdale. "And I had one listener in mind. This was a little more well rounded in that there's things on there about working, about being in love, and breaking up. There are a couple of themes going on that don't have to do with death, but death is always around the corner...
"I actually had an earlier version of this record done when Greg passed away," he added. "Greg had heard it and made some comments. Some of the things that became bonus tracks were in the album itself. He was helping me with sequencing even up to the very end. He was still advising me."
Music fans owe VH-1 for bringing Dramarama back to a national stage again. They were one of the best and most underrated bands that ever came from the New Jersey area and it's great to see them back.
"I had turned down money many times to do Dramarama shows," said Easdale. "I had no interest in cashing in. It's way more about the love and the magic and the music. I really do believe in that. I have a great time every time I get up and do it. I always hope that people are having as good of a time as I am because I'm always having a blast!"
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.