It’s been about 30 years since the original members of the alt-pop band the dB’s have released an album together, but according to band member Peter Holsapple, returning to the studio with the three musicians he grew up with back in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, was easy despite the years.
“It was just like picking up the same conversation we had when we had last been together,” Holsapple said. “We had new things to talk about, but we still spoke the same language.”
It wasn’t ill feeling that divided the group, as seems to be the classic tale. In fact, Holsapple said, he and his fellow dB’s – Chris Stamey, Will Rigby and Gene Holder – have remained close friends since the group split up in the late 80s.
The dB’s formed in 1978, when the four North Carolinians had moved to the New York City music scene. Albums Stands for Decibels and Repercussion followed in 1981 and 1982, earning the band some attention from critics and planting the seeds for a devoted cult following which still persists. Commercial success, though, evaded the group. Stamey left the band to try something new, stepping away from the dB’s format and pursuing a solo career.
The group released two albums after Stamey left, Like This in 1984 and The Sound of Music in 1987, but neither were received as well as those produced by the original band.
“We made two records after Chris left, and those were good records too, but the records that people really like are the first two, and I think that’s reasonable,” Holsapple said. “There’s something about the chemistry between Chris’s songs and my songs that people like a lot.”
Holder was the next to part ways with the dB’s, leaving to play guitar for another group. Rigby and Holsapple held on until 1988.
“We called a halt to it because it was time,” Holsapple said. “It just seemed like it had gone on, and if something was going to break, it would have been by then.”
All four continued to make music – just not with the dB’s. In addition to his solo career, Stamey was producing music in his Chapel Hill studio with various artists. Bassist Gene Holder, like Stamey, segued into behind-the-scenes production and mastering work. Rigby backed several acts on drums, among them Steve Earle, and Holsapple has played with acts like R.E.M. and Hootie and the Blowfish since the dB’s split.
Stamey and Holsapple began recording and perform as a duo, releasing Mavericks in 1991 and hERE aND nOW in 2009.
“As we were writing songs, and as we were compiling songs, every so often something would pop up and the thought would occur to us that this would sound really good with Will and Gene on it,” Holsapple said.
The group didn’t officially reunite until 2005, when they were asked to perform a few shows in Chicago with the original lineup. It was about that time that the band embarked upon recording a new album, balancing the commitments of the band members by booking time at several studios, and doing much of the writing, overdubbing, and mixing independently.
“The hope really was to present ourselves to the audience of the 21st century and say this is a really good band, and you may have missed us earlier because you may have not been born, or you may have been listening to something else at the time that was also worthwhile, but we’d like to give you the opportunity to make your decision on this, and see why we were considered critics faves or whatever exactly we were,” Holsapple said.
Logistics aside, the band also had to consider what they would sound like. For it to sound like the jangle-pop made by the 20-somethings the last time they were in the studio would be “disingenuous,” Holsapple said, and the group was deliberate in determining what they should sound like decades after releasing their last album.
The result was Falling Off the Sky, which is set for release later this month but has already made its way to several fans via the internet, with some outlets streaming the record.
“I think that actually this record is a sensible thing for the dB’s to have made,” Holsapple said. “It makes sense where it falls. It does take into account the life changes and everything that has been going on, which I’m very happy to say, but we did put a lot of thought into how we would make that sound.”
The dB’s will be playing the Iota Club and Café June 14, and Holsapple says audiences can expect “a much more consistent-sounding dB’s … [with] a renewed sense of purpose.” Fans will surely hear old favorites from the dB’s, but the band will also play from Falling Off the Sky, and Holsapple thinks that whether or not audiences have heard the record, they won’t be disappointed when the band plays some of the new tracks.
“A lot of people are saying they think it’s the best dB’s record yet, which is very exciting to hear 30 years on,” Holsapple said.