Although it’s been 15 years since the release of their last album, Dramarama are telling a lifetime’s worth of stories on their new LP, Color TV.
“When I ended up picking the set of songs that I ended up picking, yeah, it takes you from childhood right up almost to the present day,” frontman John Easdale told SPIN.
Color TV is the band’s first new record since 2005’s Everybody Dies, but it has actually been loosely in progress all that time. The band – frontman Easdale, guitarists Mark Englert and Peter Wood, bassist Mike Davis and drummer Tony Snow – recorded on and off across the last decade-and-a-half when they were able to.
“Yeah, we recorded a bunch more than we ended up using. You take them all and then you get selective,” Easdale said of narrowing available material for this effort, due out on Pasadena Records. “And it was about trying to put them together so that there was some sort of thematic constancy running through the album.”
A couple of tracks, though, date back two decades and offer glimpses at a previously difficult time in Easdale’s life.
“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.”
There’s an album-closing cover on that theme (Heatmiser/Elliott Smith’s “Half Right”) and Dramarama’s own “Swamp Song,” which features a dirty, bluesy groove set to a chorus of “Oh, give me something.”
“That’s one of the older ones. That’s one of the ones that deals most personally with addiction. And it’s kind of the mindset of an addict, who was me … and tries to put yourself in that position of what it’s like to feel that way and be that way,” Easdale said. “That song’s 20-some odd years old. And I wrote it back then, but that recording of it is more recent.”
In the early ’90s, Dramarama made a splash in the alt-rock world with what the now-radio staple “Anything, Anything (I’ll Give You).” On Color TV, though, Easdale is showing a softer, happier side of love on cuts like “Hold Me Tight.”
“As you get toward the end of the record, there is a little bit more lovey-dovey stuff, if you will,” he said with a laugh. “In our body of work, as they say, there’s not a lot of happy love songs, and I don’t know if it was because I was more selfish, but it took me a while in my life to come to an appreciation of what I had and how lucky I was,” he continued.
The album also features a cover of a Bob Dylan rarity – “Abandoned Love” – which tightly nestles into the record’s lineup with its driving guitars and bright piano lines.
“A friend of mine played it for me off a bootleg when [Dylan] played that at a folk club in Greenwich Village in the ’70s,” Easdale said of how he discovered the gem. “The song blew me away. It was just him on a guitar and he just got up and played a song. It was Gerde’s Folk City or one of these places. I think there’s a YouTube video of it. I didn’t realize, I own the record – because he recorded it later and changed some of the words and it’s on Biograph, which is one of the first boxsets that ever came out and I didn’t realize it. It has a different vibe than the acoustic bootleg version that I first was introduced to.”
Although the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic has made record release shows impossible, the band members are looking into doing something for fans to celebrate the impending release of the LP – that is if technology plays along.
“We’re trying to do something where the whole band can play together,” Easdale said. “I’m technologically challenged. … I’m still learning and I’m on the fast track. I’m trying to figure some stuff out and apparently – I’ve started doing things with Zoom and stuff like that – there’s a lag and a delay and it’s hard to all play at the same time, so it’s the kind of thing where we’ll all have to do our parts and kind of put it together after the fact.
“That is the plan,” he added. “If not, it’ll just be me in a room with a guitar, which there will be countless others doing that right now.”
And after that, possibly touring. What that might look like, though, is something the frontman has thought about of late.
“People are going to be cautious – some people anyway … especially in the nightclub where there’s no chairs or anything. People who are elbow to elbow, rubbing elbows, aren’t going to want to be that close to other people, I think. Certainly, a certain portion of the population is going to, maybe the rest of their lives might think twice about getting into that sort of situation. So, it’s going to be weird,” he shared. “I’ve given it a great deal of thought. I certainly don’t know what’s going to happen. I can’t imagine. We have some shows scheduled for later this summer and I don’t know if they’re going to take place, but if they do, I don’t know how they’re going to have people sit. Two chairs apart in those places where it’s a theater? And nightclub0s where you just stand around, are you going to have to practice social distancing and stay six feet away from your neighbor? I don’t know how that’s going to work.”