20 years of Kryptonite for Chris Barron and the Spin Doctors
JPG: I’m thinking of that time period and interviewing bands, Phish, for example, that were trying to figure out how to make a studio album versus just documenting a live performance in the studio, and I could tell that they were kind of torn up as far as making a concise song. They went one way success-wise whereas Spin Doctors and Blues Traveler were accepted by the mainstream with commercial success. But, then, like you said, you lost your core audience and the fickle tastes of the mainstream left you, too. It must feel special that now everybody comes together.
CB: It’s a great moment for us and I tremendous admiration, particularly for the way Phish has conducted their career. I know those guys personally and, in particular, I’m friends with Mike Gordon, an extraordinarily dear fellow. And Trey is a really, really interesting guy. They’re all deeply devoted musicians. They’ve just done a great job of communicating with their fans and staying very true to their mission statement and just being freaks, and keeping it really interesting and being so creative at the shows and offering their fans so much more than any other band has ever done before because they have these tools at their disposal with the internet and stuff like that. They’ve just been able to be on the forefront. What they’ve done is fantastic.
To go back to your other question, it would have been nice to have maybe handled things a little more along the sort of Phish’s line of handling things. At the same time we instinctively, and also through study, we did a pretty good job in the studio, particularly Pocket Full of Kryptonite. We managed to make a record that has stood up really well over time. I wouldn’t trade that. I wouldn’t change anything ‘cause things have worked out.
JPG: I don’t know if they’ve ever admitted it but I believe it was around the time of Rift where the idea of making a studio album was discussed. I hate to use the word ‘envy’ but I’m sure there must have been some degree at that time among your peers of ‘How did they do that?’
CB: While we were really successful, I think those guys were definitely looking over at us and being like, tremendous amount of mutual respect between the two bands. But, I don’t know. I think that, maybe, things could have worked out better. Could have worked out worse.
JPG: I’m not saying it worked out bad for anyone; just interesting the two different directions. Now, before all this happened you attended the New School Jazz Program along with John Popper. Let me see if I get this right because I was a little confused when reading the band’s history. You got together with Eric [Schenkman]. And it was Aaron [Comess] and Mark [White] who were in the funk band, Spade.
CB: Yeah. Eric and I sort of started the band, and then Eric heard Aaron practicing.
JPG: And then Mark came in after that…
JPG: What I was getting to with all that, was it a conscious thing as far as writing hook-filled songs or was it the elements coming together but due to the jazz background there was a desire to tweak the material a bit?
CB: I’ve always had a real hooky sensibility as a songwriter. Growing up, we were all writing songs — me and my friends — and so it’s funny, I got in trouble because I like to make fun of people’s songs. I’ll be on the road and I’ll sing a filthy or stupid version of their song. First it sort of hurt, but where I grew up we would all write songs and play ‘em for each other. When somebody started singing your song the grosser and iller they started doing it the more you knew they had it stuck in their head. So, it was like a badge of honor. Somebody would be singing a filthy version of your tune. ‘Ha, ha, ha…you’ve got it stuck in your head.’ It was like a compliment.
I wanted to write people’s favorite songs. I was, obviously, very psyched with the idea of writing hit songs.
JPG: Catchy tunes. It reminds me of a description of how at its core Beatles music was like children’s music because it contained hooks that would grab you at an elemental level. With “Two Princes” it’s almost like a nursery rhyme as far as how the melody moves along and sticks in your head.
CB: Yeah. I just wrote that way because I was trying to write stuff that I liked. Like I said, I just wanted to be a career musician. I wanted to write songs, and my objective as a songwriter was to write people’s favorite songs. So, I was trying to come up with a unique and cool perspective and I always liked stuff that was rhythmically captivating. It brought me to writing hooky kind of stuff like that. Then, Eric and Aaron and Mark are all infectious players, too.
It wasn’t a conscious thing but another dynamic was that we were playing these clubs in New York and the proprietors were like literally saying to us, ‘Play funky music and make people dance and make them drink a lot or you’re fired.’ So, we were coming up with tunes like “Big Fat Funky Booty.” You’re always writing to this imagined audience. Our imagined audience was drunk people in bars that were partying their brains out. We were also writing tunes like “Shinbone Alley” and crazy whacky stuff like that. But it all had to have a beat. It all had to have something that you could focus in on. At the end of the night we were told how much booze we had sold and compare it to Blues Traveler who were working a lot of the same bars with us. They would be like, ‘Good job. You guys sold $6,500 worth of booze tonight. Last week the Blues Traveler sold $6,900. You’re still behind them.’ There was a friendly competition. We never beat Blues Traveler. They always sold more booze than us.
JPG: Listening to Kryptonite and then going to the demos on disc two. I found it interesting that the versions aren’t very different. Is that a result from all the live dates, a strong vision or A&R support that allowed you to go in and not drastically change the material?
CB: The songs were pretty fully-formed by the time we went in to make Pocket Full of Kryptonite. We definitely played those songs hundreds of times before we recorded them. We never rehearsed a lot. There was a lot of stuff that just got worked out in the gig and funny little bits that crept into the song, all kinds of little hooks and things like that. It evolved as we were playing them live.
JPG: By the way whose idea was it to put out a 20th anniversary re-issue?
CB: I’m not exactly sure where the initial impetus came from. I think that it was Jason Richardson who is like our assistant manager, sort of like a fifth member of the band back in the day, who was like, ‘Hey, you know the 20th anniversary…’ or Eric. I think it came from inside the band or the band organization but then we approached Sony about it and Sony was totally into it. Legacy Records was into doing a re-release and putting some thought and resources into it and getting creative with it, adding some extra stuff. Everything fell in. It was really nice how much affection there is out there for the Spin Doctors and for the record. We went over to England. The people were so excited to hear the record played live.
The band, everybody’s musically at the height of their powers now. We’re all playing together really well. It’s really nice to have everybody working so well together. And the thing about the Spin Doctors, and the reason we’ve been around, stayed around, is we just have this wonderful musical chemistry. None of us can explain it. None of us can understand it. We’re all very different people and there’s been times we have not gotten along very well, but we’ve all gotten to a point now where a great thing about this 20th anniversary mark with the record is that it worked out. Timing is very good for us personally because we’ve all gone and done solo things and we’ve all made projects on our own and they’ve been very gratifying. We’ve all come full circle and we’re just like, ‘Wow! We’ve been out there doing this stuff for awhile and none of us has encountered this kind of chemistry outside of the Spin Doctors.’
There’s something about the four of us. When we start to play there’s this magic thing that happens. Impossible to explain but it feels amazing to be a part of it and, you know, when we started listening to things and live stuff, it was just really fun how good everything sounded and how powerful it was. I was driving a car in Swampscott, Massachusetts where my grandparents had lived and there was some classic rock station and they played “When the Levee Breaks,” Led Zeppelin, on the radio and right after a live version of “Shinbone Alley.” It sounded really good. It held up. I was like, ‘Wow! I heard “When the Levee Breaks” and our stuff came on and it didn’t sound like pukey and insignificant after John Bonham, Jimmy Page, Robert Plant and John Paul Jones.’ I’m not saying we’re as good as Led Zeppelin. It’s just nice to be in a band that you feel really proud of. We’ve come full circle. We all had our different stuff, but now we have laughed everything off and we just see how valuable the chemistry is. Everybody has traits that annoy the other ones but now we know how to work together to get around that stuff and place the good of the band ahead of the stuff that really was burning us up back in the day when we weren’t getting along.