After a hiatus of nearly two decades, power-pop pioneers the dB's have reunited and are recording a new album for release next year. For the first time since 1982, the group will feature its original lineup -- including former frontman Chris Stamey, who left the dB's for a solo career.
"The whole world's gone reunion mad," Stamey admits, noting the glut of reanimated Eighties acts. "But this project is driven by the music we're writing, and not by the desire for a high school reunion."
When Stamey, singer/guitarist Peter Holsapple, drummer Will Rigby and bassist Gene Holder -- a quartet of Tarheels-turned-New Yorkers who created the blueprint for innumerable jangly Southern bands, including their old tourmates R.E.M. -- took some of those new songs into the studio earlier this year, the dB's found their old rapport intact.
"It was frightening how easy it was," says Stamey, who, after a decade-long silence, has released two albums of his own in the past year: Travels in the South (featuring dB's disciples Ryan Adams and Ben Folds) and A Question of Temperature. "It was really a piece of cake."
The band's last album was 1987's The Sound of Music, but the reunion actually started as another long-awaited follow-up, when Stamey and Holsapple re-teamed to record a sequel to their acclaimed, acoustic-based 1991 outing Mavericks.
However, after Holsapple played Stamey a couple of his new songs, Stamey thought that they'd be perfect for Rigby and Holder. "If we asked somebody else, we'd have to ask them to play like Will and Gene," Stamey says, "but what'd be the point?"
Reassembling the band was complicated by the live and session work of Rigby, who drums for Steve Earle, and Holsapple, a touring member of Hootie and the Blowfish. But schedules permitted a week's worth of sessions in January, at Water Music Recorders in Hoboken, New Jersey. Seven new tracks were recorded, as well as a somber, piano-based version of the Motown standard "What Becomes of the Broken Hearted" and a cover of Canned Heat's "On the Road Again."
The new songs wound up "faster than Peter and I would normally do anything," Stamey says. "Will and Gene tend to pour a lot of gasoline on the fire." He makes special note of Holsapple's "You Taught the World to Cry," which he compares to the dB's 1984 favorite "Love Is for Lovers."
Other originals tracked include the R&B-flavored "That Time Is Gone," "Send Me Something Real," "Trying to Get to the Chorus," "Lakefront" and "Clever," which includes the line "You're so clever/You probably know this song is about you." "We'll probably have to clear that one with Carly [Simon]," jokes Stamey.
The group plans to finish the album later this year, hopefully with engineer George Cowan, who participated in the January sessions and also worked with Stamey and Holsapple on Mavericks. The dB's would also like to involve another familiar face, R.E.M. producer Scott Litt (he did the honors on the dB's 1982 album Repercussion and Stamey's solo debut, It's a Wonderful Life), and they are currently searching for a label.
In the interim, the dB's may play some live dates. The challenge will be balancing the fans' desire to hear the old stuff with the band wanting to unleash the new material. "If I go see Gang of Four, I'm gonna want to hear 'At Home He's a Tourist,'" Stamey says. "I understand that, and that's a really good reason not to do this. But the excitement we found in the sessions was based on something new."