Oral History offers the most comprehensive retelling of a pop culture artifact.
Either you love Dramarama or you haven’t heard of them.
Similar to The Replacements or The Psychedelic Furs, the New Jersey outfit’s brand of alternative power pop burrows deep into your heart, where it can last forever. Vocalist John Easdale sings with the cadence of a hallway hero, spinning tales of fractured love and circumstantial anxiety over infectious hooks and melodies, courtesy of lead guitarist Mark E. Englert, rhythm guitarist Peter Wood, bassist Chris Carter, and, depending on the track, drummer Jesse Farbman.
Chances are you’ve heard their iconic single, “Anything, Anything (I’ll Give You)”, especially if you grew up in the Los Angeles area and worshipped rock ‘n’ roll radio like KROQ, where legendary host Rodney Bingenheimer cosigned the band decades ago. If you haven’t, good news: Your next favorite song is just one listen away, with a few others lingering nearby. That is, if you’re willing to trace the hit back to its original album, the band’s 1985 debut, Cinéma Vérité.
Over 30 years ago, Easdale and Carter assembled the album like an aural scrapbook, pairing the five tracks off their 1984 Comedy EP with six new compositions. As such, it’s a strange assembly of songs — featuring two obscure covers of songs by the Velvet Underground (“Femme Fatale”) and David Bowie (“Candidate”), no less — but one that captures a glaringly innocent narrative. As Easdale contends, “The story of the album is the story of us growing up and putting it together.”
To the best of my knowledge, it’s a story that hasn’t exactly been told — which is one reason why I reached out to Easdale and suggested we talk about Cinéma Vérité in celebration of its 30th anniversary this year. He was game and connected me with Carter and Englert. Throughout the fall season, each of them reflected on living in Wayne, New Jersey, hanging out at their own personal record store, recording at The Barge, making it big in France, and moving out to Los Angeles.
“Memory is a misty kind of mirror,” Easdale admits. “What you remember and what makes an impression on you … even if you go back yourself and go back to those places, the sizes and everything, it’s different. Memory is surreal in a way.”
Having said that, here’s an oral history of Dramarama’s origins and their debut album, Cinéma Vérité.
Dramarama began in Wayne, New Jersey, a humble township in Passaic County that’s located less than 20 miles from Midtown Manhattan.
Chris Carter: Wayne was just a little suburban town 40 minutes outside of Manhattan. You could drive 40 minutes the other way and you’d be going into Pennsylvania, so we were right there. Densely populated. A lot of people in one area. That was Wayne, but now, of course, everyone knows of Wayne because of Fountains of Wayne.
John Easdale: All of us grew up generally 15 miles from New York, which used to have factories and stuff that’s not so much there anymore. My dad was a mailman and my mom was a waitress on weekends. They encouraged everything — my sister and I were real lucky. Dad was a music geek, he played a lot of records, and had the whole stereophonic setup, but [my parents] didn’t play music — they weren’t musically inclined.
Mark Englert: My uncle bought a guitar, a Dobro, from the 1930s, and it remained in my family. When I discovered it in a closet, I actually found myself playing with Matchbox cars, driving them up and down the neck. The weird thing is that other people in my family actually took guitar lessons, but none of them could grasp it like I did. So, in a sense, I always had the gene for that stuff.
Chris Carter: All the kids of our generation, we were like the dividing point. None of us had cool parents. All of our parents had been to wars and really had a different mindset. They were a completely different generation. That was the true generation gap. You gotta remember, this was pre-MTV.
When we grew up, rock ‘n’ roll was still a very mystical thing. You had your five magazines that you read and that was it. You didn’t see, necessarily, rock stars on TV. You would watch Don Kirshner’s rock concert, but that was it. Unless the band came to your town, you had nothing except for these records and whatever you were collecting from the band. It was a different time.
John Easdale: I grew up in that magic moment, ’65, ’64, ’66. I turned five in ’66. All the cartoons, The Beatles thing just exploded. It was a time when my mind was most impressionable. Around when I turned five, The Monkees came on TV. I think that cemented it for me as to what was the coolest thing in the world. That and some band that played on the block party at my house. I watched them do it right in front of me, and I was like, “That’s what I’m gonna do.” Regardless of the wisdom of following that dream, that was when I was put on the path. Regardless if it was going to be financially or commercially acceptable, it was what I did.
Mark Englert: In the fourth or third grade, my grandparents, on my mom’s side, had a 50th wedding anniversary, and I remember this very clearly, because it scared the shit out of me. Some guy from the band said, “Hey kid, come here. Did your mother write this?” And it was a note on a napkin, written in lipstick: “Would you let my baby go up there and play the guitar?” Of course, I didn’t know what the hell I was doing. It freaked me out, but I wanted to do it.
The first song I ever played live in concert was “The Battle Hymn of the Green Berets”. [Laughs] I was losing the words. I was scared shitless. My sister was mouthing the words to me, and I remember some lady laughing hysterically. I managed to get through the song, so I guess it was an accomplishment at that young of an age, a milestone. And what song would anyone want to sing more at a 50th wedding anniversary than “The Battle Hymn of the Green Berets”?
John Easdale: I played the drums when I was real little. I took lessons for a couple of years, and then I was in jazz band in junior high. That’s when I began thinking about what it was like to be a songwriter and started teaching myself how to play guitar — very slowly at first. I’m still just a beginner in a lot of ways. Then I started writing songs. We had an old Magnus chord organ in my bedroom. Air blew through it and it was cool.
Mark Englert: My parents would tell a story that in order to keep me quiet, they’d either put a transistor radio in my hand or else they would put on a Johnny Cash record.
Chris Carter: All the rock stars we liked — Jagger, Bowie, and The Beatles — they came from very strict parents, and they came from a very tough time in England. So they knew the rough side of life, and they kind of appreciated their fame a little bit more than, say, the stars of today, who last about an hour and a half before they burn out. They grew up in a different era, so they perceive their fame differently.
We grew up with those guys kind of as role models. That’s where we’re rooted in rock and roll, and when you have The Beatles and Dylan and the Stones to listen to when you’re nine, 10, 11, you’re pretty seasoned already — the bar is pretty high. So, we only liked great music; we would never listen to a shitty band. You’d never find Uriah Heep albums at our house. We only listened to great stuff or what we thought was great anyway.
Mark Englert: I listened to a lot of prog rock, which was Emerson, Lake & Palmer, Yes, and stuff like that. I kind of got involved in that more because a lot of the musicians I was playing with at that time were listening to heavy types of music: Hot Tuna, Kinks, Jefferson Airplane, and all that stuff. The first time I heard the Ramones, I was in more of “a celebratory state of mind.”
I went over to somebody’s house, and, in true Mark Englert fashion, the stereo system wasn’t set up. Basically, only one side of it was working, so I got to hear the bass and drums along with Joey Ramone’s voice, but I didn’t get to hear Johnny’s guitar. I was like, “This is horrible. This is terrible stuff.” But turns out the joke was on me.
Chris Carter: I was in my room listening to all of the records that no one else in my high school listened to. So was John. We were both kids that had Lou Reed albums, Elvis albums; we had every Mott the Hoople album. We were highly educated musically at a young age.
Mark Englert: I grew up two doors down from John. Outside of my parents and siblings, he’s one of the first people I remember early on.
John Easdale: Mark and I had known each other since we were babies pretty much … as soon as I was old enough to know neighborhood children. Must’ve been three or four years old.
Mark Englert: I remember knocking on his door at an ungodly early hour and his mother said he’d be dressed and come down. It was the early ’60s and we were in a really good neighborhood, so we just kind of knocked on each other’s doors. That’s pretty much how it was. John piqued my interest in rock ‘n’ roll because when he was really young, he was the first person I knew with an electric guitar. It was a toy, the body was made out of metal, but it was pretty cool regardless.
John Easdale: He was already playing guitar by grade school. I know there’s pictures or video somewhere of us jamming; I’m playing drums and he’s playing guitar, lip syncing, or whatever, to records. So yeah, we’ve known each other forever. We went to the same grade school and the same high school.
Chris Carter: I graduated in 1977, so I was older than all those guys. I knew of them in high school, like I knew who John was, but they were a couple of years younger, so you know … I didn’t necessarily hang out with them. John played football, so a lot of the guys that I knew in my grade knew John from football, so he was okay. Our friendship deepened when he started to work at Looney Tunez, which was the record store that I owned coming out of high school.
John Easdale: Looney Tunez opened in August of ’79, which is right after Peter [Wood], Mark, and I had graduated from Wayne Hills. Chris was co-owner with Tom Mullaney, who I had known since I was little. They were a couple of years older than us, but I gravitated to the store because it matched my thing: rock ‘n’ roll and the music that I enjoyed.
Chris Carter: I was going to college for business management, and I had the opportunity to actually manage a business. Looking back, I probably should have taken the course, but we did okay. It was an old head shop, and Tom, who ended up playing keyboards for Dramarama mid-period, was like my best friend. He and I started this store because ever since we were in high school, we’d say, “Wouldn’t it be cool if we owned our own record store? Every day we could go to the record store and listen to records.”
We thought that’s what it was all about. As you learn, with anything, it’s a business, you have to run it like a business; you have to earn a profit. You don’t go there to listen to records. But, of course, we would open the records up when they came because we liked them, and we played them. It was like making dinner for people in a restaurant and then sitting down and eating the dinner. So, we learned a little bit about the business.
John Easdale: It was like MTV three years before MTV, but not even, because it wasn’t MTV. Because there was the Ramones, the Dolls, the Plasmatics, which wasn’t what was on the radio in New York City. They had import singles and they’d have autograph signings. We were trying to do this really cool Manhattan kind of record store.
But it made no sense in New Jersey, except for the days when we had autograph signings. No one was coming over and buying an import of Sandinista!, and we were too cool to sell Kenny Rogers’ Greatest Hits or Michael Jackson’s Off the Wall. We were elitist bastards with great taste, and nothing we enjoyed was on the radio. We wore that as a badge of honor.
Mark Englert: As we were getting out of high school, John and I were in a couple punk rock bands together. John actually did not sing. He played bass guitar, but I always knew he was a singer. He was always much better at it than I was.
John Easdale: Mark and I were in a band called The Fucks; we played our high school graduation. Department of Public Works was the next year and was the first group that had me, Mark, Peter, and Ronny [Machuga], the first drummer in the band.
Mark Englert: The DPW’s band uniforms were the New Jersey township employment things that I got from work.
John Easdale: When it came time for us to hit the road, so to speak, we all wore the T-shirts.
Mark Englert: I was actually working for the Reagan theater program at that time, which involved government agencies. If I had looked straight ahead, I probably would have just stuck with it, because I’d be retired by this point getting a pension as part of the corporate sector.
Chris Carter: I was in Drive-In Sister, a Mott the Hoople-style band, but nothing that made any difference anywhere. Dramarama was the first one.
John Easdale: The band name came from a girl I knew who was an actress. She came back from college and would call her fellow drama students “dramarama people.” I was like, that’s a cool word, I’m going to name my band that.
Mark Englert: After having just played in different bands, I realized that we could put out our own record, and then John put forth the idea of recording a 45.
John Easdale: I had seen Chris play in a band in a gymnasium in ’76-’77. He was a bass player, and I think he sold his bass equipment to buy a car. Then he got the store. I persuaded him to go back and buy a bass and to go make a record, make a 45. He and I were partners, leaders of the pack.
Chris Carter: We were all big music fans. We got together because of music — the record store and everything — so it would only make sense that we end up trying to make some. We had no manager, so I was the de facto manager. I was the one who made the phone calls. I was the one who called the guy at the label. You know, all the stuff that nobody else wanted to do.
John Easdale: He was the businessman and although he was also involved musically, he was co-producer on all the records we made together. As far as the things that we accomplished, he’s definitely a strong catalyst to that.
Mark Englert: Chris and John working together was a very good team in terms of getting all that together. What Chris lacked in musical ability, he more than made up for in terms of managing. He wasn’t that much into bass playing. He was way more into the other aspects of the music industry, putting it together. The production half of it all.
Chris Carter: I think we all figured out what our strengths were, and we went for it. It just made sense to us that we could probably do this. It’s like wanting to make a movie because you’ve seen so many movies, you figure, I can do this…
With all the pieces now in place, Dramarama — specifically, Carter, Easdale, Englert, Peter Wood, and Ronny Machuga — began writing and recording songs at Looney Tunez.
Chris Carter: We had this basement in the store that we could all hang out in. We started the band down there because we had a free place to practice. Looking back, our first recordings were there. We had some guy we were sharing space with who had a reel-to-reel player, real primitive stuff. We were putting stuff onto reel-to-reel tapes.
Mark Englert: We didn’t have very much in the way of instruments. But this guy, Jerry, whose stage name was Bolt, because he actually had a lightning bolt dyed into his hair, had very good equipment. Marshall half stacks, Gibson … a lot of stuff that, to me, was a big thing. I couldn’t afford a Les Paul — I had real shit equipment — so when Jerry wasn’t practicing, we’d squeeze in a practice. We learned how to get stuff moving forward at Looney Tunez.
Chris Carter: I think we all wanted to be songwriters. I wrote one or two in the beginning, but then we realized we had one of the greats in our midst. We didn’t know until we started to hear John’s songs, like how good they were. He played off of us. He knew our taste and what we liked.
John Easdale: We put out a 45 that had “A Fine Example”, “Femme Fatale”, and a song called “You Drive Me”. That came out the same year they sold the record store, so around ’82, but it probably actually came out the beginning of ’83. We made the 7″ ourselves. We went down to the factory ourselves and put it out.
Mark Englert: There was one moment where we were trying to conceptualize the 45 cover, and it involved a record pressing plant out on Long Island. I had to go out there, but a big horrific snowstorm was coming through, and I ended up sleeping on the Cross Bronx Expressway that night. I was driving a 1973 Ford Maverick, which had been leaking gas, and I basically got there on next to nothing and then got stuck because the bridge had shut down.
John Easdale: I don’t think the 45 was big anywhere outside of our families’ houses. But we were lucky enough to get a review in the Trouser Press magazine, and there was a DJ in France, Jose Ruiz, who contacted us because he read the review and he was playing us on his radio show in France. We then went into the studio to record what basically turned out to be the first half of Cinéma Vérité, a 12″ called Comedy.
Chris Carter: The Comedy EP was our first time really, really going into the studio for any given time. We had a little bit more time, and we figured these were the days you could make an EP. We didn’t know what we were doing. We had no distribution whatsoever. We just wanted to make a record. We paid for it ourselves. We couldn’t even afford four colors on it.
John Easdale: We recorded the EP at the Barge. It was a studio in Wayne owned by a guy named Jim Barg, and we added the silent E to call it the Barge, but it was just in the basement of his mom and dad’s house.
Chris Carter: The Barge was a guy’s house that looked like, if you were driving down the street, any other house. It wasn’t like, “Oh, there’s a recording studio!” You went in to his house — he had a sliding door — and instead of going into a house, you had a recording studio. There was a couch, he had a big huge board, it was happening. It was happening for 1984. Just like any studio, you’d walk out of the mixing room and into the recording room. He would have baffles up. There was a big piano over here. The drums would go over there. It was like anything. The Stones and Sticky Fingers was no different, you know what I mean, like when they were at Muscle Shoals or something? This was the same deal. Big room. You never knew you were in a house.
Of course, it was when you left and you’re back in your neighborhood. John’s house was down the street and his mother would call to him for dinner. They were literally two blocks away. You knew you were in the neighborhood. It was cool because we didn’t have to go anywhere. We didn’t have to drive into New York and pay some crazy prices. And the guy, Jim Barge, had some actual real records recorded there. There was this band called City Boy, who were signed to Mercury at the time. They did their fourth album there. Some guy from Rainbow had just been in there. Real people with real careers with real record companies were making records there. We were at a good place.
Mark Englert: I probably haven’t heard the Comedy record since it was pressed, but I would imagine that there were a lot of tracks that were recorded over, so in a sense, Comedy would be the demo of Cinéma Vérité in that way.
Chris Carter: There were five songs that ended up on the album. You had “Visiting the Zoo”, “Transformation”, “Femme Fatale”, “All I Want” and “Emerald City”. The record came out good, the actual vinyl, and the label looked pretty professional. It was pretty classy the way you could look at the label and the sleeve and everything. Again, we did it all ourselves. We wanted to have a record in our hands and say it was us. The next one was Cinéma Vérité.
John Easdale: The same DJ in France hooked us up with this weird little French label, New Rose, which was based out of a Paris record store kind of like what Looney Tunez was like. They mainly put out American music by artists that really didn’t do well in America. Johnny Thunders couldn’t get signed on a solo deal, but they would jump at the chance to put out the solo Johnny Thunders album.
They put out the Cramps. They put out The Replacements’ Let It Be, and they put out a bunch of other things. They put out Alex Chilton solo albums. They had the Comedy EP and were like, “We’ll give you a thousand dollars to go in to add six more songs to make it a full album,” and so that was what we did.
Chris Carter: We returned to [the Barge] for Cinéma Vérité. I remember we were there like a week straight. I remember going every morning or afternoon, showing up. It was studio time.
John Easdale: We spent like $100 an hour, we probably spent $1000 recording, I would say $4000 to record the records. But in those days, it was imperative to have a real studio with a real recording machine that would cost you $50,000. It wasn’t like now where anybody can make an album on their laptop. We were still starving and working day jobs in New Jersey. Chris was working at a record distributor after he sold the store. Mark and I were both working at a record store called Discomat.
So, through ’83 and ’84, we continued to work at record stores and work three jobs and try to play original music in clubs, which wasn’t what was going on at the time in New Jersey. Most of the clubs had cover bands. It was strictly a labor of love and something that we spent our money on, you know, like a hobby. Nothing that we had any hopes of success. Even after the record came out in France, I still worked at the record store. I remember working there when Robert Christgau wrote a really nice review for the Village Voice and gave [the album] an A–.
Robert Christgau (Village Voice album review, 1985): “In these days of acoustic punks and live Paul Revere elpees, 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.”
John Easdale: I always figured that guys who would get an A- from Robert Christgau weren’t still working at the record store. It’s always kind of been weird for me. Imagination is never the same as reality.
Mark Englert: We played a Dobro bar in Patterson, New Jersey, and played a couple of shitholes like that around the area. Success didn’t really come through until we made our way out to the west coast.
Chris Carter: You had to bring pizza otherwise you couldn’t come to the studio. That’s why we would have so many people. It was a way to eat. That’s what Pat Pearson, artist liaison, that’s what he did. He worked in a pizza place. He would bring us, literally, pizza every day.
John Easdale: We would save our pennies and dimes, go in the studio, and spend a weekend in the studio.
Mark Englert: Chris said we needed money to record, and I remember actually taking my student loan and saying, “Here ya go,” not realizing you gotta pay that back later. So that’s not the best idea financially, but at the time, you’re young, you’re ambitious. This was my education. I would never advise anybody to do that with their student loans today.
John Easdale: At that time, we had another new drummer, whose name was Jesse [Farbman]. On the Comedy EP, there’s like three or four drummers, and then there’s one more when Jesse joins, so there’s four or five drummers on Cinéma Vérité, including me. I play drums on “Visiting the Zoo”, and I’m not sure what else.
Chris Carter: “Visiting a Zoo” was our starting song. That’s where we started when we were playing the strip bar in Patterson, New Jersey, before we moved to California. That was our starting song and John would come out. We tried to play it like the Psychedelic Furs. That’s one of my favorite songs ever to play.
John Easdale: The versions on Comedy and Cinéma Vérité are really different. I remember Mark going in and overdubbing guitar on “Visiting the Zoo”. He was overdubbing to the mixed two-track, not to the multi-track. They’re slightly different recordings. They’re the same basic tracks, but there’s a little weirdness that we added, for that song in particular — mostly instrumental passages at the end.
Chris Carter: Honestly, if you asked me to pick a single, I probably would have went with “Scenario”. That’s a great one.
John Easdale: I think we had already worked out “Scenario” in the rehearsal space or onstage as opposed to “Anything, Anything” and “Punishment”; both of those were songs we were working on in the studio.
Chris Carter: John would listen to what we were creaming over in the back of the van or what me and Pat Pearson were listening to and he would just slyly listen to it and never get as excited as we would about any new band. Yet, I knew he was listening because we would get these songs. “Oh, ‘Scenario’, it’s the Furs. You guys like the Church and you like the Furs, alright, here ya go.”
We would subconsciously think, Yeah it does sound like that. John’s no dummy. He knew what was happening musically because he was surrounded by it. He was surrounded by every new record that was coming out. He had this gang of guys around him and one of us would be listening to it. He didn’t like everything we liked, but you could tell with songs like that where it was coming from.
John Easdale: It’s hard to get the players to play it the way you hear it in your head, but most of the time, it was pretty effortless. We all grew up together. You would say, “Play like Johnny Thunders. Play like Mick Ronson. Play like, you know, Ace Frehley from KISS.” And Mark would know what I was talking about. Chris and I, we were always big music fans.
Mark Englert: At the end of “Scenario”, I was playing at different octave points on the actual solo part, which John whistled to me. I had figured out the first part of the lead and John was like, “Why don’t you play these notes in the second bar?” He whistled to me the notes. So if you listen to the song, there was an octave thing that goes on the first five, the second point the leads were played in unison together.
John Easdale: Everyone thought “Anything, Anything” sucked really bad because it was the same chorus over and over. There was no warm up, so they didn’t know what I was going to do. Like when we were going over songs that could be on the album, they were like, “Oh, yeah, that one,” until I sang it, and then they were like, “Oh, wow.” There’s no parts, no verse-chorus. There’s no changes, just full chords. If you listen to the version on the bonus tracks of Cinéma Vérité, the “Punishment” song, you can hear me instructing the band how to play it.
Chris Carter: I could be 100% wrong, but I feel like I remember doing “Anything, Anything” at the end of recording and just having the music and never knowing what was going to be sung over it. It was just four chords. And then John singing it.
John Easdale: I wrote the song in the studio. I had the words and the chords. It was based on true events in our life. We were all living together in an apartment in Lodi, New Jersey, and then I married a little girl; it was literally like her 18th birthday the day I married her. We waited until she was 18 because then she could make the decision as an adult and her father couldn’t come after me.
We got married, she worked at McDonald’s, I was the assistant cassette manager at Discomat, and we moved into an apartment together. Not a one bedroom, a one-room apartment that was in the same building the rest of the band was living in — we were geniuses.
We had fights, and one night a fight brought her dad to the house with a gun. I was looking up at his gun. I was on my knees crying. I was not a movie star, or a hero, so I didn’t try to kick it out of his hand or punch him. I fell to my knees and cried, “I love your daughter.” She jumped on him.
I don’t recommend any of this to young newlyweds. The song definitely reflects the tumultuous times and the ridiculousness and the craziness of that moment. I don’t know how and I don’t know why it resonates in a way no other song I’ve ever written has. But, that’s what that song is about.
Chris Carter: I remember mixing “Anything, Anything”, again I could be wrong, but I’m thinking it was Christmas time or something. I remember being at the Barge with Jim. There was nobody else around. We just whipped it together real quick, that mix. I remember Mark’s guitar made that noise when you pushed it, you get that feedback and the reverb on the amp. And that’s that thing during the bass part. I remember putting that in there. It was a mistake. I think he hit an amp. I don’t think he did it on purpose. I mean why would he?
Mark Englert: I won’t blow that whole thing by telling you that my hand was just actually off the string and I had this thing called an effect rack, and I did what you weren’t supposed to do: I turned up the overall volume of the effect rack that made my amp distort. I’d have these sound engineers say to me, “You know your effects rack is clipping the guitar amp?” I didn’t know what that meant. I just felt that, “Hey, if I turn this up, I get a lot of distortion.”
Chris Carter: All I know is it sounded cool. I remember making the call with somebody else. Should that be in there? I hope we don’t get in trouble for leaving that in there.
Mark Englert: One of the things that was a bitch to me was that click track. I couldn’t dial in. I actually ended up borrowing that from the Barge and ended up practicing. That I can remember. You gotta think, too, that the studio was by the hour so you had to make every minute count. So, I’m sure in one sense it was a couple hours here, a couple of hours there trying to put it together. From my point of view, there was also the ego attached to it. I wanted to be the big cheese with all the guitar playing even though I wasn’t. Unfortunately for Peter, I was focused in getting my sound on there.
That’s how I ended up doing a lot of the tracks on “Anything, Anything”. Getting that thing all set up and the sound effects that went with it, again that was all based on the effect rack, which was a multi-effects unit. That was before you could have foot pedals set up for that. I think we lost that in the south of France somewhere. A bunch of equipment got set up there and left behind. That was life on the road.
Chris Carter: There’s a reason you got two guitar players; you don’t want them to do the same thing. Listen to the way “Anything, Anything” starts. That’s Peter. He plays that like a clock. He plays that the same way every single time. Thank God Peter starts that song, you know. Marky would give it something different every night. He’s like Leslie West [of Mountain]: “Tonight, we’re going to play it like this.” It was unpredictable.
Mark Englert: Peter was a better guitarist than I was. He was Mr. Stable and Steady and that’s kind of how it goes. The young ego in me would say that’s not true, but the thing is Peter really was a better rhythm guitar player in terms of that. But on my end, I was more like the saxophone player of the orchestra, if you will. I could improvise like it’s nobody’s business, and it would just come off the top like, “Where’d that come from?” It came from the inspiration of the moment. That was really my strong point.
Interestingly, “Anything, Anything”, for the longest stretch, was always four of us making the audience work and letting me take a break because I would play the notes pretty much the same but at the end there was always a thing where John would just jump off the stage, so there was actually room to improvise. I never felt like the guy who plays a million notes a second because I’d do that a lot during the show, so basically I would try to stick more to the punk roots and play notes that counted more.
John Easdale: Muddy [Shoes] and the backup singers are all on “Femme Fatale”, which we wanted it to be the song that it ultimately became, which was what carried us from a 45 to a 12” to an album. But we also knew that people would be listening to it because if they were like us, they were Lou Reed guys, they were Velvets guys, you know. We didn’t want it to suck and none of us could play the piano. Those guys, Butch [Justin] and Nick [Celeste], were our friends and they had their own band.
Chris Carter: I always made us do covers because I thought if you could put one cover on the record, that might lead a listener to where you’re coming from. If I knew a band did a T. Rex cover or if I knew some band did an obscure Mott the Hoople song, I would love that band before I even knew about them. Or I would know about them and see if I could love them. But at least something led me to them as opposed to the 14th original song you could put on the record, you know what I mean?
You got 13 originals, you got 10 originals. Whatever, put an Ian Hunter song on there, and you’ll get a whole bunch of fans that you might not ever have just because you did that. It’s like The Beatles putting on Chuck Berry. We want you to know we dig him. We would put a Patti Smith song on an album. We would put whoever we thought was cool. That was definitely purposely done. We did Bowie and Lou Reed on the first album for Christ’s sake. We did two!
John Easdale: We were Bowie nuts, as much as you could be back then.
Chris Carter: “Femme Fatale” came out when, ’66, ’67? Now, it seems like it was a hit song and you wouldn’t want to cover that, but at the time it was really unknown — and it was such a pretty song. It was so different. And that was the thing about the Velvets that we loved. For all the danger they were supposedly involved with, they had such beautiful music, and at times, some great songwriting. So, we just wanted to give a nod to what we were all about. John loved these songs. I guess I picked them, but I would make sure to pick songs John wouldn’t say no to.
Mark Englert: The first Lou Reed composition I ever heard was the song “Heroin”. I thought this was the most amazing tune. Rock & Roll Animal, that’s the version I heard. As I got more and more into the Velvet Underground and Lou Reed, I completely fell under the spell of his songwriting.
Chris Carter: As for “Candidate”, that’s a section of a song. It’s in a song called “Sweet Thing”. Let’s fuck with everybody and instead of doing “Rebel, Rebel”, let’s do this. And that was my favorite part of Diamond Dogs. I loved that. It was a guilty pleasure. I just wanted to play it. I just wanted to hear it. And Marky would play that intro so perfect that we just had to do it. I don’t remember anybody ever complaining. Pete, for instance, might not have had Diamond Dogs, but Marky and John did, and they were huge into it. We were all on the same page.
Mark Englert: If they had an idea, I would just kind of go with it. “The Candidate” was pretty much Chris saying he wanted to take the middle part of this song and make it its own song. Same thing with “Femme Fatale”. They knew the songs but they didn’t know the chords. More or less, I gave them the song structure and then they just took it and made it their own.
Chris Carter: I knew what it would do and it did. There are compilation CDs of all the cool Bowie covers, and you’ll find it there. And it’s in Bowie books. Oh, yeah, Dramarama covered “Candidate” on their New Rose record.
John Easdale: Bowie kept changing and doing different things at a period of my life when I was very impressionable, basically the ’70s. He went through such a wide variety of mutations in a sense, from the musical styles and the fashion and the look. No one compares to David Bowie.
Chris Carter: I loved “Transformation”. I thought we recorded that really well. Listen to the air between the guitars. There’s a lot of space and everything sounds really balanced well. It’s completely unlike “Anything, Anything”. You can tell it’s the same band, but musically it’s a whole different ballgame. Which is good. Mark and Pete were so different you could use them that way, almost pit them against each other. Pete’s rhythm is really great when Mark is playing a lead, and then Pete’s lead on top of Mark’s rhythm sounds completely different. Then you can blend them together. It’s really great having two completely different guitar players in the same band. You just have to use it properly.
Mark Englert: I recorded all my tracks in four days, but I didn’t practice. I just came down there and improvised. Peter practiced a lot on lead. As far as arrangements go, I would have to say that “Transformation” was certainly built on the fact that that’s how Peter kind of operates. “Anything, Anything”, I just willfully jumped in there and said, “Let me start this one off.” The same thing with “All I Want”.
Chris Carter: “All I Want” and “Emerald City” couldn’t be farther apart. That’s what we loved. We loved the White Album mindset, where you could have “Helter Skelter” and “Martha, My Dear Blues” and “Mother Nature’s Son” from the same band. That’s where we come from. You don’t have to sound like The Beatles to do that; that’s just kind of your blueprint. That’s what all the bands and artists we liked did. It wasn’t all Ramones. We’re going to do every song. This is what we sound like, like it or not. Boom. We had all kinds of different styles, yet it was all kind of rooted in one place.
Mark Englert: On “All I Want”, I kept hearing this guitar note that fed back on a higher thing, but I couldn’t get the guitar to actually feedback because I couldn’t get the thing to kick in. I could now. I think what Jim [Barge] did was he recorded the feedback. It was like looping it back on tape. It was our version of cut and paste. You can hear it in the beginning of “All I Want” where that feedback was kind of going on already there. That was my biggest thing at that point.
Chris Carter: “Some Crazy Dame” is kind of like “Scenario” on steroids. It’s that same pulsating verse only it’s more rock and roll. Me and Pete were into the Furs big time and we would do that, you know. We would get that rhythmic pulsating thing going, which is what they kind of did. We just did it louder. “Etc.” was a bitch of a song for me to play the bass on. I remember hating to do that. It was a weird record. It had so many different styles.
Mark Englert: A lot of time was also surrendering authority to John and Chris. There were times they were in the studio and I wasn’t necessarily there because that’s when they started to exert their authority a little bit more.
Chris Carter: More than my talents as a bass player, my real talent, if I had one, would be listening and knowing what sounds right where and when and what not to do. When we grew up making records, it was a dodgy era — it was a horrible time. Snare drums sounded like shit. Everything was horrible. Bruce Springsteen records in the ’80s. Anybody. Even The Replacements. I cringe every time I have to hear great songs with shitty drum sounds.
Whatever band we liked, that awful snare drum would creep in. That’s the way the studios were then. If you were signed to a label, they made it sound like that. I hated it. We hated it. So thank god, when you listen to Dramarama’s body of work, aside from maybe Box Office Bomb, it doesn’t sound overly dated. Which is the case for a lot of records that we liked back then that I can’t listen to now. Strictly because of the production.
It’s like a painting. You almost know how it’s supposed to go; you just have to get it there. It is pretty basic stuff. You’ve heard it a gazillion times. You kind of play live and you keep bass and drums. If you got a good guitar track, great, because there’s nothing better than the live feel. We recorded like that pretty much throughout our whole career. We were basically doing it live and then the overdubs, the keyboards, vocals, and extra guitar parts come later. It’s pretty standard fare. We’re not like Genesis where everybody would go in and spend a week on each part. We were pretty much a 1-2-3-take band.
Once work wrapped up at The Barge, Dramarama found themselves with their first complete album to promote. None of them could have predicted where Cinéma Vérité would take them next.
John Easdale: The album came out November ’85. We went to France. That was when we met the guys from New Rose Records. Chris and I went to do some press and radio and television and to get copies of the record because we didn’t want to wait for the post office just to mail it to us. So we were there the day it was coming out off the assembly line in France.
It was a big import, so we pressed it ourselves in the fall of ’86 in America and sold a healthy number. I have no idea. I was too busy enjoying the benefits of being a singer in a rock and roll band to pay attention to the business side of it. You can imagine. I will leave it to your imagination.
There was no promotion. There was no nothing. Nobody was working the record to get it on the radio. It just kind of organically happened, and then we tried to carry it ourselves. We thought we knew everything there was to know about the music business.
Chris Carter: We were definitely driving our own train.
Mark Englert: Rodney Bingenheimer [of Los Angeles’ KROQ] played “Anything, Anything” on the radio. That’s what got us out there. It sounds really exciting now, but back then I was like, “Well, what else is new?”, not really realizing the significance or importance. I don’t think I realized how important that stuff would be until I actually got there. Los Angeles is not exactly a small town. We were on a radio station that was one of the biggest ones in town. Of course, by the time we got out there and got involved in all that, it was a different story.
Chris Carter: Funny thing, Rodney didn’t go for the Bowie or the Lou Reed song, he went for “Anything, Anything”. He went for the Easdale song.
John Easdale: We heard that Rodney was playing the song in early ’86, started talking on the phone to him, and he came out to New York. It was the summer of the first Monkees reunion and he came with them and that’s when we met Rodney.
Chris Carter: Rodney came to New York and he stayed with us at our house and we got to know him. We took him out and went to a Bangles party with him. I remember Steve Jones [of the Sex Pistols] and the guy from Duran Duran were hosting his show while he was with us. He convinced us to go out to Los Angeles and we went there.
Ironically, when we were on his show, we got this call from a guy named Steve Rennie, who worked for Avalon Attractions, who at the time was the big concert promoter in Los Angeles. “Would you guys like to open for the Psychedelic Furs?” I couldn’t believe it. “What, where? Irvine Meadows? What is Irvine Meadows?”
And then we found out that Irvine Meadows is this big 13,000 place in Orange County. They needed us because we had, it was The Untouchables I believe, Dramarama, and then the Furs. The Untouchables was a real LA staple and favorite. They didn’t have to have a new record out to draw people, but the Furs at the time were in between records, so they didn’t have a current song and we did. They needed a little punch up, and they put us on the bill. We all had plane tickets. We were supposed to go back to New Jersey, as I recall. We just told our parents, “Hey we’ll see you at Christmas.” Then Avalon Attractions became our manager.
So, we had concert promoters as our manager, which meant we would play everywhere. We got to play every venue in LA. It was amazing. We’d play the Palladium; we’d headline. We’d get a gig at Universal Amphitheater opening for Robert Palmer. We would get crazy gigs. Just to play, we didn’t care. The Robert Palmer one was the most odd of all. We also opened for Erasure once; that was pretty odd. Nowadays, I understand you have to because what else are you going to do?
John Easdale: I came out basically for a vacation and I’m still here 30 years later. I’m a California man now.
Mark Englert: It was always my goal to get out to California. I wanted to live in a warmer climate. I wanted to be in a climate where people weren’t so, I don’t if I would say, judgmental of each other, but there were certainly times that felt like the case. I was always a fish out of water, regardless. But I felt like, intuitively, California was just the place I needed to be at. I was loving it, but at the same point, there was the underlying fear of “what if this goes away” because the record label was incredibly unstable.
There was a fear of how I was going to make money. On one hand, California was great; on the other hand, we weren’t like a lot of those other bands. The other bands had this quote-unquote element of coolness, which to me, was always contrived. It never felt real to me. I hated all that shit. That shit meant nothing to me. To me, the focus of it all at the end of the day was music. To me, being cool was not proclaiming how cool you were.
John Easdale: You never expect to get out of your backyard. That was never our goal, but just kind of happened.
Chris Carter: That was kind of how you did it back then. You’d always end up being popular somewhere that you weren’t from. It always seems like people from another place appreciate what you do way more than the people where you’re from because everybody’s like you where you’re from. There’s 20 guys walking around looking like Johnny Thunders in Manhattan, but there’s only one or two in Cleveland or Kansas. That’s why I think we did well in Los Angeles. It’s 3000 miles away. We were so not like Los Angeles and that’s why maybe they liked us.
John Easdale: Outside of Los Angeles, there weren’t too many places to hear the song. I think it got a little play in San Diego, but at the time of its release, only Los Angeles.
Chris Carter: Once it happened, you kind of understood it. We never heard it coming out of the radio. I remember me and Pete driving around in his Mustang in Hollywood. We had just finished smoking a joint and this cop pulls us over and we were just on the radio. We tell him we were just on the radio. He made us dump our pot out. He didn’t care.
John Easdale: When I landed in LA in the beginning of September ’86, it was on the radio every couple of hours. It was a hit on the radio. At that point, I had moved back to my mom’s house. I was not at my best. It was a weird moment. I went from kind of down-in-the-dumps to hearing it on the radio. You’re a rock star all of a sudden, not that I ever earned or sought the title. But it was weird.
Mark Englert: It’s like lightning striking and it still strikes. I still get shows and work because of that. Not I, but the band, obviously.
Chris Carter: Our problem was that everybody knew the song and never necessarily knew the band — like “Louie Louie”. Half of the people know it’s the Kingsmen, or whoever you want to pick to be your “Louie Louie” band, but you know what I mean. They know the song, everybody knows the song “In the Summertime”. “Who was that?” “Mungo Jerry.” “Oh really?”
Chris Carter: When we toured for Cinéma Vérité, Mark sat on a stool and our manager would go, “Why is he on a stool?” And we would say because he has to be. He would just get so wild. But then, of course, he became professional and wouldn’t do that. But I’m talking the early days.
Mark Englert: I think I drove Chris crazy and I completely understand that looking back now. It was insecurity on my part. That’s really what was going on there. I probably should have played a little bit more sober and a little bit more concentrated. I think it was the conflict that I had of trying to keep my mark going as the lead guitarist when there was a bigger picture involved that I missed completely.
In all fairness, there were the reviews that would say stuff like, “Dramarama and the audience were there for only one song,” “they didn’t do anything,” and “they all just seemed to come alive for one song.” They’d rip John apart. They’d rip things I did apart. It really was just a bunch of bullshit about nothing.
John Easdale: When we came to Hollywood to fulfill our destiny, I think we were a shitty band. We had spent too much time in the studio and not enough time onstage. We were one of those bands that weren’t really great to watch. We were more concerned with playing the songs than entertaining a crowd — we didn’t even think about that. And to fight that rather than try to learn how to deal with crowds, we had TV sets. We thought that would fix everything, and if people didn’t want to watch me, they could watch the TV sets, and then I don’t have to worry about it.
Chris Carter: I built the stage and made it a visual experience because we weren’t going to be overly dramatic, so we had televisions. The Cinéma Vérité tour had at least eight of them, then six of them, then we’d break one, and we’d have five. But we also had Christmas lights and candles and boxes of cereal. It was like pop art; Andy Warhol is what we were going for. Strobe lights and TVs. It was cool. We were pretty arty when we started.
Mark Englert: We weren’t confident onstage, and these were the kind of things we did to get around that. Trust me, lugging eight or nine TVs up on the stage and having everyone react after a while like they were at home watching TV in their living room. None of that stuff helped. We played this one place called Maxwell’s in Hoboken. We brought those TVs onstage and Maxwell had a bunch of clique-y people there. That made us a pariah to those people because they were like, “Oh, they’re bringing in TVs, they have no songs,” and that kind of stuff.
John Easdale: We played the Roxy in September of 1986; the record had been out 10 months. We had every record company guy in the world at that show, and they all walked out scratching their head saying, “That’s the band that plays that song on the radio?” We just weren’t that good. We hadn’t played enough shows. We weren’t a live group yet. Over the years, we came to be, but we sucked when we came out. We went from the “Toast of the Town” to “Oh, those guys.”
Mark Englert: We found that if you blow the big chance once, that’s it, it’s over, it’s a done deal. That’s pretty much how it was. It was a horrible show. We did terrible at it. At the end of the day, every record company was running out of there saying, “This is just never going to happen again.” That was the story of Dramarama. The record labels would all pass on it and say, “I’m sorry, we just don’t see it.” So that’s pretty much how it was.
Robert Christgau (Village Voice concert review, July 1986): “Back when there was still a Dive, I dropped in on the Silos, an unknown folk-Velvets quintet who’d sent me a lovely album out of the blue. It was depressing, all that smart delicacy gone limp, and I remembered again how private an obsession albumcraft can be. So I expected no more of Dramarama, an unknown rock-Velvets sextet who’d sent me an astringent album out of the blue, when they played their first live gig in a year and their first Manhattan gig ever July 1 at the China Club, a disco-bar near the Beacon neatly declassed by the suburban motley of fans from the band’s Passaic County turf. But I got what I’d hoped for even if I couldn’t have told you beforehand what it was.
Here was a known style of cool that didn’t think twice about making this very 1986 joint its habitat. Costume was six versions of black-and-white–one guitarist in jacket, scoopneck, and Harpo Marx hat the other in black tie sans tux. Decor included headless mannequins live and on album cover plus a bank of mismatched TV sets nickering the same silent tape: game shows, quick-cut junk collages, soft-core porn, leader John Easdale in his sunglasses-after-dark. Easdale was diffident and in command, putting the same smarts into his low-key gestural dramarama as he does into songs that make rhyming words of “criminal” and reciprocate.”
Sure he’s self-involved, but he’s got ambitions, of symbolic stardom if not the real thing, and the new wave verities of his music connect: upbeat but rarely cheerful, lyrical yet hard and arrogant. Though he’s better-looking and more likable, Easdale’s a familiar type to anyone who’s enjoyed Richard Butler or winced at Steve Wynn–disillusioned already, at 26 or something. Boredom is boring but he wears it well, and I think it’s encouraging that one of the set’s many high points was called “New Dream” and is ready for the second album the band deserves.”
Chris Carter: We haven’t even discussed the most important aspect of the whole album, which is Edie Sedgwick. The fact that we used that photo and we didn’t have any permission to use it. I figured if we made it blue and pink no one would catch us. A couple of years later, while we were out in LA, we got a letter from Gerard Melanga, who worked with the Arts and Park and Recreational department in New York City and Gerard Melanga was Andy Warhol’s assistant. Gerard Melanga was the guy who actually did the artwork that would be sold as Andy Warhol artwork. He was his side kick. He was onstage with the Velvet Underground. That picture we had was from the screen test and we had no right to use it.
But, he said, “We listened to your album. We really like it. You should have John Cale produce you.” And then he said, “For $400 you can have the rights to it,” so for $400 we own that. That’s why Rodney [Bingenheimer] ended up playing the record, because Edie Sedgwick was on the cover. Again, the same concept as a cover song. You wanna draw somebody to you, otherwise why would they be drawn to you? Just put a picture of the band on the cover. What good is that? You think Rodney is going to look at me and Jesse and Mark and Peter and say, “That’s the band for me”? No way. But he looks at a picture of Edie Sedgwick and he looks at the back and he sees Bowie and Lou Reed, he buys the record. That was the whole thing behind it. And it worked.
It worked like a charm because I knew a guy like Rodney in a record store like Poobah’s, and again, he thought we were from France. He had no idea. It’s on this French label. No, they’re from New Jersey. It’s a great story. That was the bait. Show people what you’re really all about. That’s what we were about. We weren’t deceiving anybody. We loved Edie and we loved those things. We figured, “Hey, you’ll like our songs too.”
John Easdale: At the time, I think the George Plimpton book [Edie: American Girl] had just come out. It was out in hardcover; it wasn’t out in paperback yet. I basically cut the picture out of the book itself and used the picture that was in the book to build the artwork. It wasn’t until years later that we were contacted by Gerard Malanga, the photographer, who said, “Hey, I took that picture that you guys used.” We were like Andy Warhol, yeah we’re artists. We’re just going to use this image and put it on our album cover. Put some colors over it.
Chris Carter: I remember we got yelled at by Bleecker Bob. He was a hero who had the cool record store in Manhattan when we were growing up. We would go in from Jersey and buy imports. Anyways, he had a store in LA, so we would go there. We thought we were big shots. We had our first record out and he was selling it and everything. We made our second record, Box Office Bomb, and we walked in to see if he had it and he was like, “Here they are, the idiots who would make two albums with the same cover.” We were like, “What are you talking about? Edie Sedgwick was on the first one. Jayne Mansfield was on the second.” “It’s the same cover you idiots.” I thought we would make every album like that; we would just change the picture, like Roxy Music. Like Chicago. After Bleeker Bob yelled at us, I felt like an idiot. We never did that again.
John Easdale: After Cinéma Vérité, we were being courted by the labels and whatnot. We were talking to Capitol, and they said, “We’ll give you some more money so you can go record some more songs,” and we said, “No. We’re on the radio already,” and we went and made our own second album, Box Office Bomb, which lived up to its name and was full of terrible songs about me not adjusting to California living.
Chris Carter: From the time we started doing Box Office Bomb, which was kind of self-made, we were trying to re-do the Cinéma Vérité thing. But we were all in California. We all had new “special” friends, as they say in Spinal Tap.
Dramarama would go on to record four more studio albums — 1989’s Stuck in Wonderamaland, 1989’s Bent Backed Tulips “Looking Through…”, 1991’s Vinyl, and 1993’s Hi-Fi Sci-Fi — before finally calling it quits in the early ’90s.
John Easdale: When the band broke up in ’95, ’96, I worked at a magazine and I interviewed a bunch of people. I talked to Travis Barker at that time and he said, “I played [“Anything, Anything”] in every band I was ever in.”
Mark Englert: I’ll play “Anything, Anything” until people stop asking me to play it. I will play it until the cows come home. Why? Because not everybody has an “Anything, Anything”. It’s an awesome tune. But hey, if I am just standing there, it’s probably because I’m a little bit winded. I am 54 now. Why would I jump around onstage when everybody else is body slamming and forming slam pits? It’s great to watch people my age get the crap knocked out of them. They feel they need to slam to that song. It’s a blessing. I’m truly grateful to have those things – my musical bank account I can always just rely on.
Chris Carter: Never hated “Anything, Anything” at all, no. If there was any negativity toward the song, it would be by the time we got to Vinyl and Hi-Fi Sci-Fi. We were hoping by then to have another song we would be known for. Technically, well not technically, factually, “Haven’t Got a Clue” was our most successful song. That did actually better, if you look at the charts at the time, whether it was the alternative charts or the hits chart. We made more of a mark with that song because it was an immediate thing. You went out, you put the record out, you looked for ads. We never did that with “Anything, Anything”. See the thing with “Anything, Anything” was we never, ever released it as an official single, that’s the kicker. I take that back, we did release it as a single, we re-released it as a single…
We did this stupid pirate radio mix and they were like, “We’ll play your song, but you’re gonna have to make it hipper for the kids.” Alright, what is it you’d like us to do? And it was the dreaded snare I was referring to earlier. We put a trigger on it and you’d hear this bullshit noise. The record company was paying for it. But you know what, it was in an era that everybody, from the Stones to Bruce Springsteen, everybody was putting out 12” records and dance mixes of songs. I didn’t feel guilty. We weren’t making a dance mix. Here’s a 13-minute dance remix of “Anything, Anything”and on the B-side we have DJ Jazzy Joe with a remix. We didn’t do that. All we did was make the snare a little bit different. Looking back, it wasn’t really egregious or horrible.
Mark Englert: I think we needed to concentrate more on just the music and practice more, because there were times that we were kind of lazy about that. We didn’t practice to the point that we were there. We weren’t like KISS. KISS, they practiced. That wasn’t us, man. We just kind of went along with it as we could. I think practice would have been much better.
I probably should have cut my hair. I hated my hair in some of those photos. That Jersey mullet thing. I think, maybe, we could have looked more like a band — even though we kind of sort of did. It was never really us. It was kind of like The Who. You look at the 1980s when they were doing It’s Hard, that album cover, with the new age haircuts. That was just cringe-worthy, you know?
There are always things you could have done better, but you didn’t do those things. You did what you did and that’s kind of the bottom line. Our story isn’t much different than a lot of bands that came out at that point. They did what they did. It’s not that complicated. We were extremely lucky. We just blew it in natural Dramarama style.
Chris Carter: There was such slim pickings in the ’80s coming off the music we loved in the ’60s and ’70s. There were only a handful of bands. Don’t get me wrong, there were a lot of good bands, but the combination of what was popular … we were on KROC with Depeche Mode and bands we had no relationship with at all other than we were on the same chart or playing the same concert. And, of course, there were rock bands. We liked R.E.M., the Waterboys, the Furs, Hoodoo Gurus. The Church we were big fans of. I think a lot of it was the guys in the band would be fans. Peter and I liked the Church. Marky loves the Kinks. We had to compete with these bands.
You listen to Hi-Fi Sci-Fi, you listen to the opening song “Hey, Betty”. We were in the grunge era. We were competing with Jane’s Addiction and Pearl Jam. You get these songs that are way tougher and a little bit more raw and you have to compete with what you’re doing. I mean, when you’re competing with The Beatles in 1964, you’re gonna sound like “A Hard Day’s Night”; when you’re competing with The Beatles in 1967, you’re going to sound like “Sgt. Pepper”. You gotta evolve a little bit and know where you’re at. But we always stayed very original. In fact, I think Dramarama stayed pretty true to ourselves, and we never really copped out in a way like, “Oh my God, they made a grunge record!” We just kind of acknowledged it a little.
John Easdale: Whatever mistakes we made when we came to California, that has nothing to do with Cinéma Vérité. That album was created in New Jersey and we were all working day jobs. We weren’t in a band that was signed to a record label. It was a total DIY thing all the way up until that point. After we came out here, we tried to play the music business game and tried to learn it, but at the same time thought we knew it when we should have just been paying attention and listening rather than telling people how smart we were.
Chris Carter: If you look at the two places that we are popular, it’s the two places we resided in. There’s a lot to be said for that, and it’s true. If you were from Seattle, from that era, when there was that scene, you will always have that. Even if the bands weren’t necessarily from Seattle, they would always have that loyalty it. Like Dinosaur, Jr. could come play, though not from there. It’s the same for us. Those guys can go play in New Jersey and still fill up a room. And same in LA. The problem is everywhere in between where we never lived.
We didn’t do enough touring when we needed to to get us relationships with other cities. Maybe the band could go to Houston or Dallas or maybe go to New York. It’s tough because we never really toured enough. You look at any band from then, you look at Sonic Youth or The Replacements, pick the band, even the Church, you look at the dates these bands did compared to us, it wasn’t even close. They were doing 100 dates, 200 dates. The Pixies would go out and do four months in Europe. We never did that. That’s why those bands can still get together and go to those places because they had a relationship with those cities.
Mark Englert: We always did well, for whatever reason, in LA and New Jersey was the other one. The other ones kind of fell into place, Phoenix and stuff like that, but I always kind of felt we were our own entity.
Chris Carter: At the time, we were too short lived. We didn’t get popular until Vinyl really. That was the first time where we were doing what we should have been doing or what we strived to be doing, which was touring with a real bus, proper management, proper booking agent, a guy that’s gonna get you to places, proper merchandising thing. You need all those things; this is part of the machine. And then you gotta go out and you gotta go to city to city to city to city. You gotta keep doing it. So we did that; we did a little run. What happens is the deeper you get into the country, you can’t start losing money, so you don’t want to go out too long. So then we went and made another record and toured and then for us, it was over.
We went and did Hi-Five Sci-Fi, did the tour, same thing, we had a bus, it wasn’t quite as successful as Vinyl. Couldn’t quite get the same thing going on the radio. We had “Work for Food”, we made a video, we had a second single, you need that second single. So we were doing it. We just got kind of bummed out because when you’re on the road and you’re playing and it’s not full all the time, you get a little bit depressed. But we had this great ending to this tour. We were going to play the Hollywood Bowl with Duran Duran and the Cranberries — an odd bill if there ever was one. It didn’t matter. It was a great payday and we’d be playing the Hollywood Bowl. That would bring our spirits up at the end of the tour.
Then we found out Simon LeBon had laryngitis and they canceled it. We weren’t going to play the Hollywood Bowl. We were going to have to play a smaller place. And we weren’t going to get the same money. Then we really got bummed out, and that was the straw that broke the Dramarama camel’s back. Then you know, we kind of fell apart after that tour and that was it, we broke up. That is why we didn’t tour. We had one and a half albums, maybe two years, where we were really in the position to do that. We didn’t last long enough. If we made two more albums, we would have cemented better relationships around the country and would perhaps have been able to make a living 20 years later.
Mark Englert: What is life about? Is it about a pension, retirement savings, or is it about living a life? I chose to live a life. The bug was biting all of us, you know. The thing that I love about Cinéma Vérité more than anything else is the innocence; the fact that there were no pre-conceived ideas. We didn’t know what those ideas were, and that’s what we focused in on and tried to make work for us. That’s what I really enjoyed about it, the innocence behind it. The lack of expectation. We didn’t know what to do.
John Easdale: Success depends on how you look at stuff. When is success to be determined? Is it on creation? Was it when I walked out of the studio that day with a tape recording under my arm? That was the act of creation, that was the ultimate moment, and everything after that is just kind of like second-guessing. There are all kinds of things we could have tried to do, but we learned from our mistakes. We’re still learning from our mistakes and from our hubris, if you will.
Chris Carter: Cinéma Vérité will always be a sense of accomplishment because I remember when there was no Cinéma Vérité, and then I remember, boom, there was a Cinéma Vérité. And I remember every bit of how it happened. That’s the romantic part. You don’t remember one bad thing about anything. You only remember the good things. When I look at the record, when I listen to it, there’s nothing cringe-worthy on it.
I can listen to Box Office Bomb and find 25 things I don’t like about it, but Cinéma Vérité, I’d be hard pressed to find anything I don’t like about it. It was well thought out. It’s a nice package. It holds up nicely sound-wise. It was our entrée into everything, meeting Rodney Bingeheimer, getting on the radio, everything was first for that. We got gigs from it. We got a record deal from it. We got a relationship with KROQ from it. It opened a lot of doors.
It was honest. It was just us. It was the record we made, so I’m very proud of it.
Special thanks to Len Comaratta for the endless transcriptions. I couldn’t do this without you.