If you don’t think we played our guts out we’ll buy you a pint
AMID a harsh Stateside winter, MALCOLM WYATT spoke to a house-bound Chris Barron to talk about the Spin Doctors’ past and present, ahead of a three-date UK visit which includes a brief trip to Lancashire...
If you reckon the Spin Doctors were something of a two-hit wonder, think again.
Admittedly, this early ‘90s hip US outfit were best known for Two Princes, Little Miss Can’t Be Wrong and multi-million selling debut LP Pocket Full Of Kryptonite.
But while they never quite reached that commercial high again, Chris Barron and his band-mates never really went away.
And the New York quartet’s latest blues-driven album, If The River Was Whiskey, their sixth album, proves their lasting musical worth.
Chris (vocals), Aaron Comess (drums), Eric Schenkman (guitar) and Mark White (bass) play Burnley Mechanics this month, one of just three UK gigs.
When they hit the back time, the Spin Doctors were just four guys in their 20s having a whale of a time playing the Big Apple blues circuit and NYC downtown bars.
Then came the hits, hysteria and mega-stardom, selling 50,000 records a week.
As Chris said: “I’d walk into a shopping mall to buy underwear and 300 kids would surround me.”
Fast forward a few years, and the band feel If The River Was Whiskey is the deep-blues album they almost made before fame called. Yet this is no retro LP, but fresh, honest blues from a band clearly on its game after all those years honing its craft.
Some of the songs are rooted in late ‘80s sessions, a European tour to mark 20 years since Kryptonite leading to a re-visit, the results unfolding with “an effortless magic”.
Chris added: “It’d be awesome if it sold millions of copies, but honest to God, I just want to keep making a living playing music.
“We get up onstage and we turn it on, sing and play our hearts out.
“That’s all I’ve ever wanted to do.”
Two decades on, Kryptonite is as fresh as ever. So is Chris still proud of that debut?
“We got lucky with that record, I suppose.
“It really seems to have held up nicely.
“We didn’t put a lot of effects on that would pigeonhole the sound in a certain era.”
Is it also something of an albatross, the first album you always had to live up to?
Do you find yourself having to say, ‘actually, we’ve made six albums’?
“I don’t know. I tend to focus on how lucky we are to have made something that people still care about 20 years later.”
Was it a bit mad in those days – the fame and all that followed.
“Lots of good memories. Parties, travel, romance… We had a hell of a time.”
Was that album a reflection of that New Jersey/New York blues circuit at the time?
“It was our version of the music coming along at that time.
“We had our own novel style, but were all pushing against the boy band, cheesy pop thing and hair bands - who I actually kind of love now!”
You were known for the onstage jams and lengthy shows.
Was that all part of your musical education?
“Indeed it was.
“Learning to carry off songs no one in the audience knew was crucial. We’ve always been conscious that we’re entertaining people so try to keep that stuff really focused and dangerous so it doesn’t turn into boring finger gymnastics.”
Are you a family man these days, or an early-hours hard-drinking musician?
“A little of both.
“I have a lovely wife and daughter and a couple of cats.
“I do a lot of cooking at home.
“I’m a little obsessed with Downton Abbey but like to drink my Scotch straight.”
How do you compare NYC and its political and social scene then to now?
“The upside is it’s a lot safer but it’s not as crazy as it was.
“I love NYC. I wouldn’t live anywhere else, except maybe the south of Spain in January and February.
“It’s been brutally, brutally cold these last couple of weeks.
“I have some woollen long underwear that I picked up in Norway and it’s come in handy.”
What’s the reaction been to Whiskey, on both sides of the water?
“We’ve had the best reviews we ever received.
“It’s been very nice to go out on a limb and make a blues record and get all this great feedback.
“We’re on a lot of ‘best of 2013’ lists so I guess the record is holding up well.”
The line-up’s changed over the years, and you’ve seen a fair share of upheavals.
Is it good to be back in tow with Aaron, Eric and Mark again?
“Yes, we’re getting along well these days.
“It’s nice considering we were at each other’s throats for a lot on the time.
“We all have kids and really, we’re the only guys we know who’ve been through what we’ve been through.”
Whiskey is a very bluesy album. Do you think it’s opened you up to a new audience?
“It’s always been a big part of our music.
“We were a blues band first, like Fleetwood Mac.
“The next record is going to turn back in the rock direction.
“Sort of Exile on Main Street meets Houses of the Holy.”
I’m guessing you enjoyed making the record? It sounds like it.
“We truly did.
“We thought we were making a demo so just cut loose and enjoyed ourselves.
“In the outtakes there’s a lot of joking around.
“I was speaking in a Canadian accent pretty much the whole session.”
There’s definitely a raw feel. Was this a new way of recording for you?
“We’ve always been better when we didn’t allow ourselves to get too precious.
“When we listened back we realised we were never going to beat that vibe.”
You had to cancel a short tour last year, because of a vocal cord problem, not for the first time. I’m guessing you saw the signs?
“Yeah. I just blew my voice out.
“The band tried to do too much in too little time and I was trying to be a hero.
“No matter how tough the rest of you is, your voice is more delicate than your eyelids.
“You got to rest. No way around it.
“You can’t do a million gigs in a row and fly across the water non-stop and think you’re not going to lose your voice.
“I’m now 100 per cent. I didn’t talk for a month.”
February 20’s date at Burnley Mechanics is followed by gigs in Islington and Croydon then Paris and Amsterdam. Why those three UK venues?
“Hey. I just get out of the van and sing my heart out.
“No matter where it’s parked.
“That said, I love going to a small town where they don’t get a lot going on.
“I wish more rock’n’roll came to the little town I grew up in.”
“We’ve always loved playing the UK.
“I lived in Australia as a kid so grew up with the BBC.
“Classic Doctor Who (Tom Baker) and Are You Being Served?
“I can’t wait to get on the outside of a few English breakfasts.”
So will there be another Spin Doctors album soon?
“Definitely another Spins record.
“I’m also working on a record with my Norwegian supergroup, The Canoes, and a solo record.
“I’ve been writing my brains out. What’s left of them, anyway.”
And what can we expect at the Mechanics?
“If you only know our hits you’re in for a surprise.
“We’re more a blues band than a pop band, a power trio with a front man, who I hope isn’t annoying.
“We work very hard on our songs so you don’t have to listen to a bunch of c*** then finally get Two Princes.
“And if you come out and don’t think we played our guts out, I’ll buy you a pint.”
The Spin Doctors’ only Northern date.
February 20 at Burnley Mechanics
For more details about the UK tour, head to www.spindoctors.com