5 Questions With: Dramarama
The frontman for the iconic modern rock band stops by to discuss the band's rise, reunion and resilience.
Today we’re talking with Dramarama frontman John Easdale.
In the mid-80s, I was just entering the phase where you’re far too self-conscious about everything. What you wear, your hair, what you’re listening to. The pendulum would swing the other way soon enough, but at this point, I was leagues away from the older kids I went to school with. They were only 3-4 years older than me, but with their new wave band t-shirts and Ray-Bans, they might as well have been adults. They talked about films with odd-sounding names and bands I’d never heard of. They were effortlessly cool, and I was…not.
Enter Dramarama. Their 1985 Cinéma Vérité record was the perfect bit of pop and chunky rock riffs for my taste. It was accessible (“Anything, Anything” saw decent success) but felt like a record the cool kids would all share amongst themselves.
“Scenario” was poppy with a sunny hook that would spend the next few decades occasionally popping in /out of my head. “Anything Anything” was a straight-ahead rocker. The title, was, well, Cinéma Vérité. I didn’t know it then, but “Femme Fatale” was a Velvet Underground cover. Edie Sedgwick was on the cover. It was a modern alternative record before anyone knew the term. Even resident grump Robert Christgau liked it, rating it an A, describing it as:
…six guys who salute their roots with Reed and Bowie covers are like unto a breath of springtime--and so unfashionable that though they reside in Wayne, New Jersey, they had to put out their album in Paris, France. One John Easdale would seem to be the auteur, if you'll pardon my French. Sounds a little like Richard Butler without the delusions of Vaughan Monroe, and the main things he has going for him are an acerbic but not self-serving way of describing his woman problems and a band that rocks without hyphens--in other words, plenty.1
It was an effortlessly cool record.
We don’t run ads here. On Repeat is made entirely possible through the support of our paying supporters. If you enjoy what we’re doing, please consider becoming one.
Originally formed in the basement of a record store founding member Chris Carter owned, the band released its first single in 1982. The Comedy EP followed two years later, and it got a lot of attention in France, of all places.
Cinéma Vérité was their first LP and was released on the French label New Rose Records. A US release followed after “Anything Anything” found its way into heavy rotation at LA’s KROQ radio station. The band released a few more records, including 1993’s Hi-Fi Sci-Fi. It would be their last release until 2005.
Dramarama eventually split, citing the usual list of uncool things that bring bands down (power struggles, drugs, etc.), and for the longest time, that record served as a capstone on a brilliant if not long career.
By the mid/late 90s, Frontman John Easdale had begun performing again, assembling a band he called The Newcomers. Dramarama members Mark Englert and Peter Wood (re) joined him, among others.
In 2004, VH1 featured the band on its Bands Reunited show, and following the publicity/popularity of the episode, Easdale decided the name Dramarama should be resurrected. While on a short tour, they even recorded an EP, Absolutely, 100% Made in N.J.. Those tracks would find their way onto 2005’s Everybody Dies record, their first in 12 years.
the band still actively performs, and after recording tracks in 2020, the Color TV LP was released. There’s more history to mine now, and the songs reflect a singer-and band- that have seen some things. That also allows a group to make a record on their own terms.
“Some of the songs were written even before the last album and some of them, in particular, were kind of hard to go back and look at because they dealt with substance abuse, which is something that I know very well from firsthand experience,” he said. “And so, I think they were still a little too close to the bone when I was making the last album, and so they got left off back then. This time, it was just leaving out the ones that didn’t carry the story forward. I don’t know if it’s a story, but just so much would have been superfluous to what I was trying to accomplish.”2
The record also features covers of both Elliott Smith (“Half Right”) and Bob Dylan (“Abandoned Love”), and plenty of the same grooves the band is known for. Christgau loved this one, too, calling it “the finest of an impressively consistent career.”
In other words, it is another effortlessly cool record.
I recently had a chance to catch up with John Easdale via email. In a wide-ranging chat, we talk about New Jersey, Vh-1, Spotify, and, of course, about the music.
Our chat has been lightly edited for clarity/flow.
KA: Growing up, was there a specific band– or moment– that convinced you to be a musician?
JE: I was hooked at a VERY early age…When I was 5, The Monkees TV show came on, and that was it! From then on, being in a "group" was my dream. Of course, as I got older, I became more realistic, and when we started the band, I never expected it would actually become a career!
KA: Dramarama was originally formed in the basement of Chris Carter’s Looney Tunez record store. Is there any more to that story (besides what people might find on Wikipedia)? Did any of you work there? Were you customers? Friends from the block?
JE: Mark (Mr. E. Boy) Englert lived two doors down from me; we've been friends since I was three years old. Peter, Mark, and I all went to school together and were already jamming long before we graduated high school in 1979. I was two years behind Chris and (Looney Tunez co-owner) Tom Mullaney in high school and knew Tommy from our days on the Wayne Hills football team.
I first entered their store very soon after they opened in 1979 and soon became a permanent fixture, eventually rising to the position of "third man." I had the keys to the store and would guess I spent at least 60 hours a week there until they sold it in 1982.
What we lacked in inventory, we made up for in attitude, sometimes to our financial detriment. For instance, we probably could have sold 1,000 copies of "Kenny Roger's Greatest Hits," but we were too "cool" to carry it.
KA: With the number of record stores significantly reduced, do you think you guys could’ve met over a Spotify playlist if you lived 40 years in the future instead of the '80s?
JE: I honestly have never listened to music on Spotify and don't know how playlists work, exactly, but since I’m guessing it would have something to do with similar musical tastes, I suppose it’s possible. However, I can’t imagine it would be anything like growing up on the same block as Mark and sharing so much both by what was on the radio and what was in his older brothers’ and sisters’ record collections.
KA: VH-1’s Bands Reunited certainly got you back on many people’s radar. How did that come about? Who did the show contact in the band’s universe to kick things off? Any memories or tidbits from taping that we, as viewers, didn't get to see?
JE: There is no question that it changed the course of our “history.” I had continued playing with Mark in my band, and we would have Peter join us whenever we went back to NJ throughout the 90s and early 2000s. The VH1 thing came about as a result of my friendship with radio DJ Richard Blade, who had played us on KROQ in Los Angeles (and still plays us on the First Wave channel on Sirius).
He called me one day and asked if I’d be available for a conference call with VH1 about one of their specials on 80s music. I was sitting in my garage waiting for the phone to ring when Richard showed up with a camera crew and ambushed me! I honestly don’t know how they figured out where everybody else was! I don’t think the show went too deep into the drama and interpersonal conflicts that still existed among the band members, and there was still a lot of resentment between various individuals, but we were willing to put that aside for “one night only,” as they say.
When it came time to play more shows, Mark Peter and I decided to keep it going with the players in my band (bass player Mike Davis and drummer Tony Snow, who are still with us today).
KA: I want to double-click on your newer work for a second. For a new listener or someone just coming back to the band, what should they expect from 2020’s Color TV? What do you hope they take away from it?
JE: You know, they say talking about music is like dancing about architecture…it’s not always easy to put into words. I am really proud of Color TV and hope it displays a natural progression of me as a songwriter and the band as musicians. The subject matter has changed a bit, much as the interests of an older person differ from those of a younger person. I’d like to think I’m a little bit more mature now, and the songs reflect that. But it’s still rock and roll!
KA: What’s next? What does the rest of 2023 look like for you and/or the band?
JE: We’re still out there playing. 2022 was one of our busiest years ever, and I made a conscious decision not to work as hard this year, but we have a bunch of shows in October with Oingo Boingo Former Members and The Tubes.
Dramarama | Color TV, 2020
Click on the record to listen on your platform of choice.
To connect with the band and purchase their music, click here:
1. Describe your music style in one sentence.
Rock and roll, particularly influenced by 1960s British Invasion, early 70s “glitter,” and late 70s punk and new wave.
2. What music played in your house(s) growing up?
Mostly whatever was on the “Hit Parade” at the time, pretty much “easy listening”; I remember hearing soundtracks like “The Sound Of Music” and “Mary Poppins” and singers like Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett, Eydie Gorme and Vikki Carr.
3. What are you listening to these days?
Born and raised on the music of the 60s and 70s, now I find myself going backward, first through the 50s and 40s and now the 30s and even the 20s!
4. What are your 5 Desert Island Discs?
It changes from day to day…I can’t even limit it to 5 Desert Island artists, including Bob Dylan, The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Kinks, David Bowie, Ian Hunter/Mott The Hoople, and Elliott Smith. Heck, I couldn’t even narrow it down to only 5 Dylan albums!
5. If you could collaborate with any artist/band, who would it be?
I don’t play well with others…no, seriously, we have had the pleasure of having some legendary musicians join us in the studio over the years, but I’m drawing a blank on this one.
Thanks to John Easdale for stopping by, and thank you for being here,