bill bodkin interviews John Easdale, frontman of 1980s rockers Dramarama …
Bruce and Bon Jovi weren’t the only New Jerseyans rocking radio in the ’80s. Hailing from the north Jersey suburb Wayne, Dramarama scored a pair of alternative-rock hits during the era: “Anything, Anything” and “Last Cigarette.” B&B’s Bill Bodkin speaks with the band’s frontman, John Easdale, about the band’s revival, the Garden State, crazy rumors … and Dunkin’ Donuts.
Bill Bodkin: I’ve read on your Wikipedia page that the band is releasing a new album in 2010. Is this true?
John Easdale: Unfortunately, we’ve been held up in the studio. We are hoping the new album will be coming out in the beginning of 2011. The sooner the better, but not soon enough. I like to tell people in the audience that we’re playing a new song, so they can go to the bathroom … I’m kidding, man. Basically, we’ve been doing the same thing since the ’80s. We write songs and make new music — it’s a continuation of what we’ve been doing our whole career.
BB: You’re playing the Wonderbar in Asbury Park, N.J., on Friday, Nov. 5. Since Dramarama is a band born in New Jersey and now located in California, this is kind of a homecoming, isn’t it?
JE: I live in California, but I consider myself a New Jersey person. I lived there for the first 25 years of my life. I mean, I just happened to fall in love with a girl from California and set my roots there and have kids. But I still I consider our band as being from Jersey. That’s our home — we’re a homegrown Jersey band. I can always remember as a kid that Asbury Park was a thriving destination as popular as Seaside and Wildwood are today. Every time we come to Jersey, we play Asbury Park. In fact, when we came back on tour, we played more in Asbury and down the Shore than Passaic County, where we’re from.
BB: You said when you come to Jersey, you always play Asbury Park. You’ve also played around the shore a lot, at venues like Joey Harrison’s Surf Club. What is about the Jersey Shore that attracts Dramarama?
JE: It was a natural draw ever since we were growing up. There used to be a radio station WHTG [106.3-FM]. They were very supportive and were one of the few modern rock radio stations in the country to play music like ours. DJ Matt Pinfield was a huge supporter of us and the music. He wasn’t the only one. Jeff Raspe, Mike Marrone, Rich Robinson and many more come to mind. Bands from all over the country and places like England would come and play in New York, but would also play Asbury Park because of the station. And they did really well in Asbury. Asbury Park is internationally regarded as a place not just for classic rock but also the music of the future. It’s known internationally for its good taste in music.
BB: You said before you consider Dramarama a Jersey-based band. What is about bands like yours, Bruce, Bon Jovi and even more contemporary bands like The Gaslight Anthem — they’re dubbed “Jersey bands.” No other state seems to have a tag like that. What’s your theory?
JE: Well man, people from New Jersey are proud. A lot of people — actors, musicians from Jersey — quickly associate themselves with New York City. I mean, Patti Smith and Jack Nicholson are from Jersey, but they associated themselves with New York. But people from Jersey know these guys are from their state. It’s something that people from New Jersey hang on to, and when someone succeeds, they feel like they’re “one of us, the local boy done good.” People from this state are proud of their heritage. Most people don’t realize the beauty, splendor, wonder and magic that is the Garden State.
BB: Kind of shifting gears back to the music. “Anything, Anything” is undoubtedly your biggest hit. And it seems that every year, younger audiences are discovering this song and falling in love with it. What is it about that song that has given so much staying power?
JE: I wish I knew the answer to that because if I did, I’d tap into that and I would do it more often. [laughs] Honestly, the song wrote itself. It came out of an incident from my life. It was very relevant about issues about me “having trouble with my old lady,” as John Lee Hooker would say. It translates to people in relationships. In really intense love/hate relationships, the kind of “I love you so much I could strangle you’ type of love. [laughs] It has a sense of urgency to it. It was recorded on a very primitive machine for probably $100 in 1986 dollars, so it has a very raw, immediate sound. It still gets played in New York and L.A., and kids are still requesting that “Marry Me! Marry Me!” song. Teenagers and people in relationships can relate to this song. It’s been said that the best songs are the ones most personal to writer and ones that becomes personal to the listener. I’m very lucky to be able to have a song like that.
BB: But you’ve been playing this song for almost 30 years. Don’t you ever get tired of it?
JE: I wouldn’t say tired. It’s frustrating because we’ve written dozens of songs, put out a bunch of albums and sometimes in concert, by our second song people are screaming for it. What about the other ones we have to play? It’s like having 12 kids and people only talk about how great only one of them is. What about my other kids? You’re the father of your music and you’re proud of all your songs. With that said, I never get sick of “Anything Anything.” I will always be grateful to having a song that people have a connection with.
BB: Being a Jersey guy, are there places you have to visit when you return to play the Shore?
JE: Oh, absolutely. There’s eating places, watering holes, various places for various reasons. Most places, it’s get off the plane, go to the hotel, go to the gig, go to the hotel, go to the plane. That’s all you get to see of some places. But not New Jersey. New Jersey has dozens, if not hundreds, of places that have meaning to me. And now that my dad is in Toms River, I have more spots to check out. Also Dunkin’ Donuts. I can’t pass one up when I’m in New Jersey. For some reason, where I live [Whittier, Calif.] there are no Dunkin’ Donuts! That is definitely one place I think of and have to go to when I’m back in New Jersey.
BB: Asbury Park has gone through a renaissance over the years. What’s your opinion on it?
JE: There was nothing sadder than being in Asbury Park on a July 4 in the late ’90s. It was a ghost town. It was sad to see it. When I was young, it was a thriving boardwalk shore city. Then, it turned into nothing but crack hotels and The Stone Pony. Now, what they’ve done recently is tremendous and terrific. It makes me so happy. I know they tried to fix it up once before, and it failed. I really hope this time around it’s successful. It’s an amazing and magical place. Asbury Park is full of amazing people, buildings, history.
BB: I heard you ran for Mayor of Asbury.
JE: [laughs] That never happened, and I never heard that before. That’s hilarious. I think the only people who would’ve voted for me was those people who lived in the crack hotels back in the ’90s. [laughs]
BB: Was the scene at the Jersey Shoe more originals-based when “Anything, Anything” came out, or was it more covers based like it is today?
JE: I honestly think it became more original-based after we moved to California. Before, we were unsigned, do-it-yourself types. We released our own 45 singles and 12-inch records. It was hard for us to fill rooms as tribute bands and cover bands ruled — even at The Stone Pony. I mean, we couldn’t get arrested in New Jersey. It wasn’t until we got played on the radio in L.A. that we got recognized in New Jersey.
BB: Dramarama has an ever-changing line-up. Who’s playing the Wonderbar show?
JE: Obviously me; Peter Wood, a founding member from 1982; Michael Davis on bass — he joined me in the mid-’90s; Tony Snow, another guy I have been playing with since the mid-’90s on drums. Mark Englert will not make it out this time, but our New Jersey pals Nick Celeste [guitar] and Billy Siegel [keys].
BB: For those who have never seen Dramarama perform, but love the band, what can they expect?
JE: It’s like a wedding — something old, something new, something borrowed. ([aughs] We don’t play off a list; every night is definitely a toss-up. It’s something different every night. We’ll play old favorites people want to hear and new stuff [including material off the new record]. There’s a good balance — it’s not a nostalgia show.
BB: Thanks for the interview, John — any final words?
JE: It’s a miracle that we’ve been doing this for 28-plus years. It’s great to be talking to a journalist across the country about our music. The shelf life of a rock group is short. We’re living on borrowed time — don’t know who we borrowed it from. To everyone out there: Thank you, and I hope you’ll have a good time at the show as I will.