When Peter Holsapple decided to reunite with the rest of the original dB’s, they vowed to take their time.
Having spent nearly three decades apart, with all of life’s attendant joys and heartbreaks in between, there was certainly a lot to say. But there was also, Holsapple tells us in the latest SER Sitdown, a dedication to upholding the legacy of a band that — despite its commercial obscurity — is now thought of as one of the early 1980s most consistently entertaining and challenging jangle/power-pop groups.
One year of recording then turned into two. Which turned into five. Then seven. Holsapple, and fellow principal songwriter Chris Stamey, even issued a stand-alone duo project in the meantime. When the dB’s Falling Off the Sky finally appeared on Tuesday, issued by Bar None Records and also including bassist Gene Holder and drummer Will Rigby, it ended up featuring at least one track (“World To Cry”) that had been available on the dB’s site as early as 2005. “Write Back” was originally previewed in April 2011, as part of Record Store Day.
Still, the results of this measured approach speak for themselves. Falling Off the Sky is being heralded (well, by us, anyway) as one of the best dB’s records ever.
Today, Holsapple talks about the band’s long journey back, and some of his own personal challenges. On Thursday, he went in depth on his lengthy tenure with the dB’s, talks about working with R.E.M., and details the role Mitch Easter of Let’s Active has played in his music life.
NICK DERISO: For so long in the album era, people would take years to work on a project. This new dB’s record is a throwback to those pre-Mp3 times, where bands focused on making sure the project holds together.
PETER HOLSAPPLE: We debated any number of marketing techniques — like putting it out as EPs, or individual downloads — over the years. But we’re all album guys, so we felt like we needed to do it that way. We ended up recording about 30 songs. We picked through a bunch to find the ones that fit together and made the most sense together. A number of things conspired to make it take as long as it did, but I am grateful that it’s actually out. I’m glad I actually have a copy of it in hand.
NICK DERISO: Was there some pressure to live up to the standards of your earlier work?
PETER HOLSAPPLE: We just wanted to make sure we were putting our best foot forward. We wanted to make sure we had the right songs, we wanted to make sure it sounded correct. We wanted to make sure it was a reasonable facsimile of what we wanted. It’s easy to rush a record out, and a lot of people do it now in the world of DiY. That’s nothing new. But we didn’t really feel any compunction to move it along at any particular schedule. We are reasonable enough human beings to understand that there’s always a chance when you put out a record that someone is going to like it or not like it. We’re not living and dying by it at this point, though. We all have other things that we want to do. So, while we want to put it out, we wanted to make sure that we had the right record to put out.
NICK DERISO: Stints with R.E.M. and Hootie and the Blowfish followed after the dB’s dissolved, but one of your most fruitful collaborations was the roots-rocking supergroup the Continental Drifters, which started in Los Angeles but eventually landed in New Orleans. What drew you there?
PETER HOLSAPPLE: The dB’s had gone down there since the World’s Fair. Our manager at the time, Jimmy Ford, was intrinsically involved with the music scene there. We also played Mardi Gras a couple of times. We ended up recording a bunch of stuff at a studio on Paris Avenue, which was owned by another friend of ours. Then somewhere about 1993, the Continental Drifters’ drummer and guitar player decided they had had enough of L.A., where we were all living, and they wanted to move back to New Orleans. Susan (Cowsill), who I was married to at the time, and I thought: We could actually buy a house, if we moved. We were never going to be able to buy one in Los Angeles. (Laughs.) So, we continued our world down there. The Continental Drifters were certainly a drinking club with a band attached, a lot of times. (Laughs.) We just loved it. It was musical, and we had good friends in New Orleans. Jeff Beninato, who was our bass player for the last five years of the band, brought a lot of the New Orleans element in, too. (Beninato would later found the New Orleans Musicians Relief Fund, after the Hurricane Katrina disaster.) We loved the Meters, we loved Earl King. All of that stuff was important to us. We were big listeners to good music, no matter where it comes from.
NICK DERISO: You’re back in your home state of North Carolina now, but Katrina hit your family particularly hard.
PETER HOLSAPPLE: I still visit a lot. My 18-year-old daughter lives down there with her mom. We lost our house and possessions in Katrina. We lived right across the parish line in Araby. It was heartbreaking. But that was stuff. Susan’s brother died in the flooding, too. (Barry Cowsill, also part of the 1960s hitmaking family band the Cowsills, was found dead on a wharf nearly four months after he disappeared as the storm came ashore.) That put everything in perspective. The New Orleans where I lived, for me, is sort of confined to history at this point.
NICK DERISO: I thought it was telling that not only was this the first project to include the original dB’s lineup since the early 1980s, but we also find Will Rigby getting his own showcase. Was it important to you, after some late-period lineup changes, that everyone return as members in full?
PETER HOLSAPPLE: They were never anything but members in full. Will just never had really written much for us before. He had, in the time since our last records together, put out two really fine solo projects. He is a great songwriter, without a doubt. He’s lyrically gifted and melodically sterling. It was important to us to have him be a part of this. That song seemed to really fit. I’m just glad he’s represented as a writer — very, very glad. That’s certainly one of my favorite songs on the album.
NICK DERISO: After so long away, what was different about the songwriting process?
PETER HOLSAPPLE: Life changes. You get married, you get divorced, you get married again — you get divorced. (Laughs.) Kids, moving places, deaths in the family. It all contributes. I would be remiss to be writing something like “Bad Reputation” in 2012. First of all, there’s the fact that I am too old to be singing about girls in school. (Chuckles.) The accumulated experiences of 30 years make it so that you have to adapt. You have to change, I think.