Sponge: Through The Passages of Time

sponge2013_400xThe year was 1994 and a song entitled Plowed was being played incessantly on the radio airwaves all across the country.  The band who created the infectious rock anthem was called Sponge, a collective from Detroit, Michigan, whose major label debut Rotting Piñata would eventually be certified Gold.  Sponge never really went away after that – although subsequent records would not make the same impact, the passion and integrity of the band remained intact through the thick and thin of a tumultuous career.  Tours with KISS and appearances at Lollapalooza kept the fans soaking up the Sponge’s sonic reveries.

Stop The Bleeding is their seventh magnum opus, displaying a wondrous sense of urgency and introspection with their spirited lyrical content and driving melodies.  Now available via The End Records, Stop The Bleeding also features a hard rocking cover of the Jim Croce classic Time In A Bottle – one that is sure to thrill the senses of all whom encounter this unique interpretation of the song.

Prior to the release of Stop The Bleeding, we met up with Sponge’s front man Vinnie Dombroski at The Pikey on Sunset, right in the heart of Hollywood, for a beer and good conversation. In this interview, we discuss the compelling new record, a tour with the iconic KISS, their famous song Plowed, thoughts about candy corn and Rotting Piñata, plus other timeless topics.  Read on…

Stop The Bleeding – where did that title come from?
The title was initially going to be In Closing – which would have been obviously dark – and people would have been like, “well, what do you mean In Closing? Is the band going to be over?” But man, you know what? I wasn’t ready for the perception to be like “the band’s over” – you know what I mean? Over the last ten plus years man, going from Columbia to Beyond – doing stuff on some other independent labels – people just don’t know that we’ve been out there. But it’s almost like we’ve been backsliding over the last ten years. But the idea was “Let’s not call this In Closing. Let’s draw the line here and call it Stop The Bleeding.” And making the decision to change the name of the record – and having made the decision to make a record – all these great things started to happen. We got a called to do Summerland. We got a call from a label out of Brooklyn called The End to help us promote this record. So some good things happened out of changing our disposition with everything.

Compare Stop The Bleeding to your earlier albums like Rotting Piñata. How does that compare?
It doesn’t really. I would make a comparison to perhaps New Pop Sunday and this record – because songs like Dare To Breathe, Come In From The Rain, Before The End, Destroy The Boy – those songs are reminiscent of that third record. However we’ve done some things on this record that we’ve never done in the past – which was like the production approach of Time In A Bottle, Life’s Bitter Pills, Fade From View – these things have taken on a little different twist in production. And no one’s ever seen that particular approach on a CD with us.

spongestoptheb1Before we talk about your new songs, let’s talk about the Jim Croce cover Time In A Bottle. What made you decide to record that song? Do you have any affinity towards the lyrics at this point in your career?
Yeah, of course. It’s obviously a beautiful song. When I was kid, I listened to that song. But as time passes and you grow older, what better song to think about – “If I could save time a bottle, the first thing that I’d like to do…” As we made this record, songs like Fade From View and Life’s Bitter Pills – those songs were written because we’ve been to a lot of funerals over the last couple of years for some reason. As you get older, a lot of your friend’s pass – they pass unexpectedly – and this Time In A Bottle thing was just rolling around in my head the whole time. How to approach it was a real challenge. But lyrically speaking and melodically speaking, it was rolling around in my head – we just kind of packaged it different into a rock song. It’s the difference between growing old gracefully and not growing old gracefully. Who wants to grow old gracefully?

I wonder what Jim Croce would have thought of the song if he was alive to hear it today…
I’m not sure. Ingrid – his wife – we met her. She’s got a restaurant in San Diego called Croce’s.

Has she heard it?
Not yet. We sat down and we discussed it with her though. I told her I would write her a letter and send her the CD. The version is obviously really different – and I know it takes a lot of absorb it. But I want to sit and write her a letter and explain to her that we did it with the utmost reverence in mind. But it needs an explanation, because if she hears it – it’s not at all like her late husband’s version. Again, we did it with the greatest of reverence – and I think she would appreciate the fact that we spent so much time and energy doing the song.

Let’s talk about some of the songs on the new album. What is the single Come In From The Rain about?

Select any other two songs and what inspired the lyrics.
Fade From View and Life’s Bitter Pills. As a matter of act, Life’s Bitter Pills – that song came about – I was on my way back home – a friend of mine passed away. This was a guy that was full of life – he was at a concert where his daughter was playing – he went up onstage to accompany her and he was playing bongos – he was a drummer. He got offstage, he sat down – and in a second, he slumped over and he was gone. That’s it! After the viewing – like I said I was driving home – I had this idea – this Life’s Bitter Pill thing rolling around in my head. I had the guitar in the van, so I pulled into a parking lot for about an hour and started hammering out some chords and some lyrics – and that’s where that song came from. And for that matter, Fade From View was cut from the same cloth – both of those songs. Not about that exact same situation, but similar stuff.

Vinnie Dombroski at The Pikey on Sunset - Photo Credit: Ken Morton

Vinnie Dombroski at The Pikey on Sunset – Photo Credit: Ken Morton

How did the Summerland Tour go? What was it like being on such a big tour after all of this time?
It reminded me of what we used to do. Like we’d wake up in the morning and there’s a Day Sheet there and they tell you what time you gotta sound check and what time you would play and where the food is and where the dressing room is. You walk out of the bus in your pajamas and you have coffee and I go, “Oh, this is how it is in the real world!” Our real world is getting very different. Don’t get me wrong – I love it! I love talking to all of the club owners and I love what they’ve done for us. I really enjoy that part of it! It’s been a long time since we were on a bus though – and the bus parties and all that kind of stuff. And I’m not talking about the chicks, man – we’ve been all through that. I’m talking about the other bands coming on our bus and drinking all our booze and sitting around and talking –that’s good stuff man!

Speaking of touring, how was it touring with KISS, and what was it like to be on the road with such an iconic band?
When you see KISS fans in KISS makeup singing Plowed – it just blows your mind! That is just stunning! That blew my mind, and that’s what it was like! When you think the kids are going to be singing Doctor Love and Rock N Roll All Night and Party Every Day – instead of throwing things at me and my band, they were very accepting and were just singing along.

Did you get to hang out with any of the members of KISS or did they keep to themselves?
You know, no not much man. We did one date in particular in Detroit where it was Alice In Chains – they played right after us and right before KISS. We had a barbecue that day with Jerry, Shawn and Mike – so yeah, we hung out with those cats, but not too much with KISS.

Do you have any upcoming tours, now that the new album is coming out?
Well, we’re already headlining dates on the East Coast. We’re working the single. The release date for the record is September 17th, so we’ve got all this stuff lined up. Obviously touring’s a big part of that, so yeah, we’re just ramping up dates.

If Sponge could tour with one band either now or from the past, who would it be and why?
Not a tour – but I gotta tell you about this one show. We got a call to play the University Of Las Vegas. Check this out – the lineup was going to be Tom Jones, The Cramps and Sponge. They go “Do you want to do the date?” And I go “Absolutely!” So we get to the venue – there’s The Cramps – but where’s Tom Jones? “Oh he’s not going to make it. They called him to do The Tonight Show.” If there’s anything that I could look back upon – we’ve played with The Ramones, Soundgarden, Iggy Pop – I’ve shared a stage with everybody I think I would want to do dates with. And we shared a stage with The Melvins at the Second Stage Lollapalooza in 96 – it was stunning – Buzz was a real gentlemen. I wish we could have done the show – because we played with The Cramps that night – but Tom Jones was not there. If I could do a date with anybody, it would be Tom Jones with Lux Interior (in The Cramps) and Sponge – God rest his soul Lux Interior. We’re going to be opening up for MC Hammer on Monday – we’ve done stuff with The Fugees and Black Eyes Peas – but this is going to be really different man!

Sponge-Rotting_PinataDo you like candy corn?
Nah, I’m not a big fan.

Of course, candy corn is all over the iconic Rotting Piñata album cover. What do you think when you look back on that cover art now – it’s an iconic cover art for the 90s…
It’s up to you to say it’s iconic. I look back and I can’t comment on it. I think the folks that put together the artwork did a fine job. I guess I’m still not far removed from it enough to go “What it is? I don’t know…

When you look back on the music from Rotting Piñata, what do you think of it now? Do you ever listen to that album anymore?
You know, it’s funny – my kids want to listen to it. We get in the car – they want to put it on the CD player – and it’s the first time I’ve really sat far removed from it and listened to it. It’s been many years and I just go “Who were those guys? Who was that guy that sang those songs at the time?” And the content lyrically, I just go, “This seems like a whole other guy in a whole other world away.” I’m that far removed from it. And I can see and respect the quality of it – it was just a different mindset back them.

Do you still like playing Plowed after all this time?
Yeah! I think it’s a solid song. I’m proud of it and I have no problem playing it. I’m a lucky guy. People still want to hear that damn song. It’s still on the radio after all these years – despite all my fuck ups and all the bullshit, they still want to hear it. So I go, “If they want to hear it, I’ll sing it!” And thank God I could still sing it to them!

Do you have any messages for long time Sponge fans who are reading this right now?
Spongetheband.com – go to our website and you could see whatever we have going on. And to longtime fans – thank you for coming to the shows – for hanging out – for the requests at the shows – for buying the CD’s. For riding it out with us, man – because it’s been a hell of a ride.

(Interview by Ken Morton)

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