Andrew H. Walker, Getty Images Nine days after the deadly tornado that touched…
- Posted on Jun 11th 2012 12:00PM by Kenneth Partridge
As a music fan, he's what you might call a missionary, and talking with Spinner about the return of the dB's -- the influential power-pop band he joined in 1978, led throughout the '80s and reunited five years ago -- he uses that very word.
The original four-man lineup is readying the release of Falling Off the Sky, its first album in 30 years, and while there won't be any crazy cross-country everyone-in-the-van touring, Holsapple, fellow singer and guitarist Chris Stamey, bassist Gene Holder and drummer Will Rigby are eager to bring their music to the people.
"We want to give this as much push as we possibly can, within reason," Holsapple, 56, says of the record. "We can't go out and sleep on people's floors and do $50 guarantee nights on a Tuesday, wherever, but we certainly want to play a bunch. We want people to come to the shows."
Certain people -- folks who don't need anyone to give them copies of Radio City, since they already have six of their own -- are sure to come out in droves. In the pantheon of famously non-famous, criminally overlooked power-pop bands, the dB's are perhaps second only to Big Star, Memphis legends who factor into their own story.
Big Star recorded three albums between 1971 and 1974, and after their breakup, main man Alex Chilton settled in New York City to start a solo career. Stamey moved up from his hometown of Winston-Salem, N.C., to play bass in Chilton's band, and in the summer of 1978, he founded the dB's, enlisting Holder and Rigby, both of whom he'd played with back home. Holsapple, another pal from Winston-Salem, followed in the fall, and by 1982, the foursome had dropped two classics, Stands for Decibels and Repercussion.
Despite the promising start, the dB's would never climb as high as R.E.M., They Might Be Giants or Fountains of Wayne -- three of the many groups they inspired. Stamey left in 1982, and after leading the band through two more albums, Holsapple became a successful rock journeyman, fronting the Continental Drifters and playing to arena crowds as a touring member of R.E.M. and Hootie and the Blowfish.
When the dB's regrouped to play some shows six years ago, Holsapple says, they didn't rush into recording.
"It was all a very organic process," he says. "There was no pretense of expecting it to be anything specific."
In the half-decade that followed, Holsapple and Stamey partnered on numerous songs, some of which found their way onto 2009's duo album hERE aND nOW. Others demanded the full-band treatment, and those wound up on Falling Off the Sky -- yet another winning dB's mix of New Wave, '60s rock and Southern roots. It's that rarest of beasts: A comeback album that stands up to earlier efforts and feels like part of a continuum. It's like the quartet picked up right where it left off, then took a leap into the present.
"We do strive for the best," Holsapple says. "We think quality is an imperative. We think, 'What's the point of making a record if it's going to be three hits and a bunch of filler?' We think every song is pretty sacred and needs to be treated with the proper amount of respect."
Asked how today's dB's differ from those of yore, Holsapple points to transformative life experiences -- new bands, marriages, children and divorces. Also, acts of god: On "She Won't Drive in the Rain Anymore," an especially poignant new tune he co-wrote with Kristian Bush of the country duo Sugarland, Holsapple pays tribute to his wife, who drove their children to safety during Hurricane Katrina, becoming his "hero" in the process.
"You look at the first two records, and we're these guys up in New York from Winston-Salem that are the charming, good-looking Southern boys with the cute accents but great songs," Holsapple says. "Now we're in our mid-50s, and we're a little more landed and settled. If we tried to make a record that sounded like it was '82 again, we'd be doing ourselves a disservice."
What they've made is another record more likely to be a cult classic than a bestseller -- the type of album fans cherish and hand off to friend -- and as far as Holsapple is concerned, that's fine.
"I've got nothing but good stuff to look back on," he says. "I don't think I've made a record I haven't been proud of. There's a scant few gigs in my life I'd like to have a retake on, but of the thousands of gigs I've done, it hardly matters. I'm hopelessly grateful for all of the stuff I've got. The cult thing is not so bad. Maybe we would have priced the records a little higher the first time out, if we knew they were going to be changing hands, you know?"