The pop maestro on the
band’s reunion, on their biggest influence (hint: it ain’t the Beatles), and on
giving the fans what they want.
BY RON FAULKNER & FRED MILLS
In July of 2007, the following post appeared at the official
“Superdrag Reunion set for October and November ’07: The rumors you
may have seen online are absolutely true. The original Superdrag lineup (Don
Coffey Jr., John Davis, Brandon Fisher, and Tom Pappas) are reuniting to play 6
limited tour dates in October and November!”
For fans of the Knoxville, Tennessee, powerpop combo, and
for pretty much anyone who’d had a pulse during in the alt-rock ‘90s (re: 1996 Elektra
album Regretfully Yours and ubiquitous
hit single “Sucked Out”), this was not insignificant news. The aforementioned
lineup, after all, hadn’t played together since ’99, following the release of
1998’s Head Trip in Every Key.
Eventually, following a series of personnel changes and in the face of
diminishing returns, Davis broke up the band in 2003 to pursue a solo career
that reflected his newfound immersion in Christianity, issuing a pair of
Faith-themed records, 2005’s John Davis and 2007’s Arigato!, while the other
former members all pursued various projects as well.
Yet all along, interest remained high in Superdrag –
apparently for Davis, too, as you’ll read below – and 2007 brought a pair of
archival projects from the band that helped fuel the fan fires, the demos/live
collection Changin’ Tires on the Road to
Ruin and the two-CD collection of unreleased early material, 4-Track Rock !!! 1992-1995 + Complete Bender
Sessions. After the fall reunion gigs featuring Davis (guitar, vocals),
Fisher (guitar, vocals), Pappas (bass) and Coffey (drums) turned out to be
resounding successes, the stage was set, certainly, for further investigations.
Davis and his
reconstituted Superdrag continued to perform throughout 2008, and by the end of
the year word had leaked out that a brand new studio album was in the works. It
finally arrived this past March in the form of Industry Giants, issued on the band’s own Superdrag Sound
Laboratories. A riotous collision of sound that referenced classic hi-nrg
Superdrag melodic maneuvers alongside big-ass heavy guitar workouts, Industry Giants was everything fans had
come to love from the band. Pop – with power (as Pete Townshend might’ve put
it), and an utterly joyful celebration of rock ‘n’ roll’s manifest ability to
elevate both body and spirit to a higher plane.
What’s that old saying? Free your mind and your ass
will follow? In the case of music that rocks this vitally, let’s flip that one
around: free your ass, and your mind
won’t have any choice but to follow.
Superdrag founder and chief songwriter John Davis
sat for our latest “Blurting With…” grilling.
BLURT: You have
already done some dates to promote the new album. Do you plan to follow
this with a more extensive tour, and do you intend to visit any areas where you
have not been since reforming?
Yes, yes and yes. (Ha-ha.) I think the live
work will be steady throughout the rest of the year. All of us have
family commitments, small kids at home, and other work to do, so it’ll be
somewhat sporadic. More like guerrilla warfare and less like a battle of
attrition. We’ve got dates on the books in several places we hadn’t been
to since 2003 – or in some cases even further back than that.
Many people are
describing the sound of the new album as considerably harder and as having lost
much of the Beatle-y influence of previous efforts, yet one can still hear
certain similarities between Industry
Giants and Regretfully Yours.
Also, I get a Husker Du vibe in places on Industry Giants. What is your take on these comparisons, and how
Superdrag’s sound is, or is not evolving?
Well, arguably, Husker Du has been THE biggest
influence on our band from the get-go. I mean, the SST bands inspired me
to start my own band to begin with. In musical terms, their influence has
been way more out-front on the last couple of albums than on any of the
others. But then again, the first solo record I did, the self-titled one,
was the biggest Beatles rip-off I ever perpetrated – in a long line of Beatles
rip-offs. As a matter of fact, it was kind of the summation of that
pursuit for me. I’m done with it. That being said, though, there
are moments on the new album that sound a lot like The Kinks, The Who, that
whole pantheon of ‘60s British Invasion bands that is just sort of in the
groundwater or the DNA of everything we do.
What are the bonus
tracks on the Japanese release of Industry
Giants? Are they the same as the bonus tracks on Amazon and iTunes in
They’re the same ones: “Filter Out The
Air”, which is another one of mine, and “4 On The Floor”.
Senator Tom Pappas wrote that one.
I love the “Aspartame”
video – the production is just great. What was it like to make it? [Ed note: see below for the video.]
It was probably the easiest time and the most
fun we ever had while shooting a video. Even Don enjoyed it! (Ha!)
I always thought that
your Arigato! solo album sounded like
it could have been a Superdrag record. Were you consciously thinking
about getting the band back together or were you just going for a harder edge
on the songs?
I guess I just tried to write songs that I wanted to
hear. It does sound a lot like Superdrag in places, but as a whole it’s a
lot harder, faster and more aggro than any of the old Superdrag music. I
thought about putting the band back together pretty much the entire time we
were away – for a long time I thought about reasons not to do it.
Are Tom and Brandon
going to write more songs for the next Superdrag record? How do the plans
for songwriting contributions seem to be taking shape, or is it too soon to tell?
As far as I’m concerned. I hope so. I’d
love to get something on record from Don next time around. He’s got some
great songs. I think we’ll just record the best songs we’ve got at the
time. Some people don’t like to hear from other writers and singers on
Superdrag records. I do.
A lot of Superdrag
fans would be really anxious to get their hands on some demos from the
Bearsville outtakes. Do you have plans to release any of these?
At some point in the not-too-distant future we plan
to present a second installment in the series that began with 4-Track Rock !!! 1992-1995 + Complete Bender
Sessions. Essentially [it will be] a 2-disc set that includes all the
4-track demos for the 2nd album on the first disc, and the complete Bearsville
demos on the other. We would love to present those to fans in the best
possible way, in a nice package, from the original source. I’d venture to
guess that most of what’s out there online probably doesn’t do them justice in
terms of the sound quality.
Lastly – what are
your day jobs?
Tom is a contractor—he does home improvements and
construction. I am an audio/data analyst. Brandon does closed-captioning. Don is
a stay-at-home Dad.
[Photo Credit: Jimmy Abegg]