20 years of Kryptonite for Chris Barron and the Spin Doctors
As the jamband scene blossomed in the early 1990s, one of its original artists broke out, achieving success based on units sold as much as touring miles traveled. With constant MTV and radio airplay, the Spin Doctors crossed over into the mainstream with the irresistible hits “Little Miss Can’t Be Wrong” and “Two Princes.” The band’s major label debut, Pocket Full of Kryptonite went on to become an international sensation with more than 10 million copies sold worldwide.
The success didn’t put a salve on strained band relations nor did the added tour dates to support the album’s growing momentum. It wasn’t much of a surprise to find lineup changes occurred several years later. The original members – Chris Barron, Eric Schenkman, Mark White and Aaron Comess — did come together for one of the final concerts at Wetlands Preserve. That led to sporadic appearances before and after a new studio effort, Nice Talking to Me, in 2005.
Now, the Doctors are back in the house as they celebrate a 20th anniversary re-issue of_Pocket Full of Kryptonite_ with a tour that finds the quartet playing the album in its entirety as well as surprising longtime fans with some of the bluesy material that they used to play during their New York club days. Not only does the release find the music aging surprisingly well but it includes a second CD that features the cassette-only demos “Can’t Say No” and “Piece of Glass.”
My conversation with vocalist Chris Barron which began with the two of us comparing notes on remembering people’s names quickly shifted gears into the time period of Pocket Full of Kryptonite and how a band that jams became a favorite act for little kids. Later, it detours to the effect his vocal cord paralysis had on his outlook in life and performing for the American troops and Iraqis as a music ambassador.
JPG: Looking back at some of your initial national touring with the Spin Doctors, I saw you twice at Blossom Music Center. One of the bills you were with Soul Asylum and Screaming Trees.
CB: Yeah, we were headlining.
JPG: That was near the end supporting the Pocket Full of Kryptonite album…
CB: It was the tail end of the MTV Music Nation, some name like that [It was the MTV Alternative Nation Tour].
JPG: And according to the online info I found, it was July 20, 1993.
CB: I think we toured all summer like a bastard. That might have been smack dab in the middle of it.
JPG: I was going to say that that time you seemed like a band that had been on the road for two years and just wanted to go home and sleep in your own bed. I felt bad for you because it seemed like you were just running on fumes. Then, the next year, I saw you at Blossom supporting Turn It Upside Down and it was early in the tour and the band was on it that night. You were out in the middle of the pavilion, walking on the bar that separated the box set section.
CB: Oh yeah, my tightrope walking phase. That was like my thing for awhile. It’s really good exercise.
JPG: I know that all the touring helped make Kryptonite such a success but in hindsight would you do it the same way?
CB: No, we were overworked. We didn’t pace ourselves very well. We were trying to capitalize on everything that was going on. The offers were there, and it was really hard to turn everything down. We would set off time to take off and the five insane things would come in. It would be like we’d have 10 days off and we’d get an offer to do Letterman and some huge gig and some radio thing where they were guaranteeing us heavy rotation if we would do this thing. So, all of a sudden 10 days off turned into a day-and-a-half off.
The band wasn’t getting along great, which was sapping our strength, too. So, there was definitely heavy burnout. We really weren’t emotionally mature enough at the time to be able to bear up under all that pressure. It was definitely like a marathon, endurance game at the time.
I don’t what we could have done anything…There’s two answers to that question. Back then, it might have been cool to do things different. But, from my perspective now I’m pretty content with the way things turned out. We had an amazing run. We, maybe, could have handled it better and capitalized better and paced ourselves better and, maybe, had a longer run and, maybe, been on top of the world ‘til this day, some kind of Titanic crap like that. But considering I’m pretty happy with what I got, what we got.
JPG: With the re-issue of Kryptonite are you ready for success in ways that you weren’t before?
CB: Yeah, we would definitely be. The band’s getting along great. We’re all a lot more mature. It’s funny, I don’t think of it in those kinds of terms. I emerged from that odyssey like a guy who’s pretty much likely make a good living playing music for the rest of his life. I’m really happy with that. And if the band gets bigger and better gigs as a result of this 20th anniversary thing that would be really nice, but I’m not like…From the outside people tend to assume that bands just want to get as famous as they possibly can and that there’s a tremendously high bar that everybody’s trying to leap over. From the inside I don’t see it that way. I see myself as a career musician and a guy who just loves to play. And I have a very nice life. I walk down the street and a couple people might recognize me, but by the time they recognized me I already walked by. I can have dinner at a restaurant and not have 20 people come up to me and ask for my autograph.
When we were, technically, at our most successful it was very inconvenient. Touring constantly, the band wasn’t getting along very well. We were selling 50,000 records a week and making a lot of money but if I went into a mall to buy underwear I ended up signing like 300 autographs, being mobbed by kids and stuff like that. I love the fans, I love everybody who ever bought our record or bought a ticket or just had something nice to say about us or even just got a smile out of one of our tunes. I am eternally grateful to anybody who ever had a kind thought or word about the Spin Doctors, but it was a bit of a pain in the ass not to be able to walk around or eat a dinner without having to sign a million autographs. I don’t crave that kind of fame again for the rest of my life.
I see this 20th anniversary thing as a really great opportunity for the following. We were a band that emphasized musicianship and songwriting, and we jammed but we came from the jazz tradition where these guys were improvising over the greatest songs ever written. And it was about improvising but it was also about improvising over a very beautiful and very interesting and fascinating structure of a great great song. So, we were always about a high level of musicianship and improvising over great songs.
When “Little Miss Can’t Be Wrong” and “Two Princes” became hits, which is something that was a great thing in my life, I’m not saying I wish they hadn’t happen by any stretch of the imagination. But the effect was we had these crazy college kids who were really into the band because of a lot of the same reasons that people are into bands like the Allman Brothers and Phish and the Grateful Dead, for the musicianship. We had them coming out, and then they were looking next to themselves at 10 year old kids who Pocket Full of Kryptonite was the first record that they had ever bought and they had seen us on MTV. I love all those kids as well but what happened was those stoned, tripping hippies were like, ‘Whoa! This isn’t my scene anymore.’ The 10 year olds moved on to something else and the whole thing became disjointed, and we became a band that was more about these two songs that had become huge hits.
Now, people are coming out and this 20th anniversary thing is an opportunity for us to get a little attention and have a terrific opportunity to talk to guys like you about what’s going on. People are coming out and seeing us, and the old guard fans are just psyched that we’re playing again and they’re like, ‘You guys are as awesome as ever.’ And the people who like 10 back then and bought the record, and it was their first record, are coming out and they’re like 30 now and they’re like, ‘I loved your band, loved your record, and I didn’t realize you guys were such awesome players.’
I’m extraordinarily gratified that 20 years later I was part of a record that anybody gives half a crap about still. And in the early 21st century music tableau that really seems to be a rare and special thing, and extraordinarily gratifying. It’s cool that people are looking at Pocket Full of Kryptonite now as a record and not just a delivery system of these two hit songs. And it’s giving us an opportunity to go out and play our guts out and really lay it on the line. We’re going to be performing Pocket Full of Kryptonite in its entirety in order. We did this in England and we were doing deep cuts in the encore. We were playing old blues songs that we wrote before we did Pocket Full of Kryptonite, stuff we never recorded before. And the tapers are all crapping their pants because we haven’t played these songs live in like 15 or years. We’re reaching back into these deep cuts and the stuff that we were jamming on back before Pocket Full of Kryptonite was made and back when “Little Miss Can’t Be Wrong” and “Two Princes” weren’t hit songs. They were just really really good songs that made your girlfriend want to make out with you.