Interview with Aaron Comess, of Spin Doctors
Many people have probably wondered what everhappened to popular 90’s rock band the Spin Doctors. Well, they never reallywent away, and are back with the band’s original lineup for a new album, Nice Talking to Me. Bullz-Eye got to talk to drummer Aaron Comess recentlyabout the new record and what they have been up to for the last decade or so.
Bullz-Eye: So you guys have just releasedyour first studio album in eleven years, right?
Aaron Comess: It’s the first studio record with the originallineup in eleven years. We did put out two records in between that period with aslightly different lineup. Eric (Schenkman, guitarist) left the band in ’95. Wedid another record called You Gotta Believe in Something with a guy namedAnthony Krizan on guitar. And then we did another record in ’99 with a differentlineup as well, and then basically left it alone for a few years. All fouroriginal guys got back together about three years ago.
BE: Yeah, I was kind of wondering the timeline there, because the pressrelease said you’ve had renewed excitement about songwriting the last threeyears. And I’m like, Okay, what have they been doing the rest of that time?
BE: So were those other two albums on a label?
AC: Yeah the first one, well You Gotta Believe in Something, whichis our third studio record, was on Epic Records. Then the follow-up to that wasa record called Here Comes the Bride, which was on Universal. And then weleft that, and obviously the band was on indefinite hiatus at that point. We gotback together in 2001, just to do a one-off reunion show at the Wetlands in NewYork City. And you know, we had a great show and we kind of just left it alone. Then we started to get some more offers for the original band to do some gigs, and we started taking to them. And one thing led to another and we started doingsome songwriting, etc, etc. It kind of built up to the point where we decided togo for it and make a new record. Now we are on RuffNation, the label that putout the new record.
BE: And that’s distributed by Universal?
AC: It’s distributed through Fontana, which is part of Universal.
BE: Okay, gotcha. So I guess my second question doesn’t really applythen. I was going to say: did any of you during that time get out and get a“real job”? (laughs)
AC: Luckily, no. (laughs) I’ve always been lucky enough to make a livingwith music. We’ve all kind of kept busy with other projects. And I’ve alwaysdone a lot of studio work and I’ve done producing and gigging and stuff likethat. So I’ve always tried to do other things. Even now, even with the SpinDoctors around, I always try and do as much as I can. I enjoy doing all kinds ofmusic and playing for other people.
BE: Right, like you played with Saul Zonana, which is how I met you.
BE: How has industry response been to the new album so far?
AC: It’s been pretty good. I mean, the sales are a little slow. I don’tthink any of us expected that we would come back after years of being away andsell tons of records like we did before. We all knew it was going to be a slowprocess to get the word out there. The good thing is the response to the recordhas been very positive. We’ve gotten good reviews on it. People who hear it seemto really like it. And we’ve gotten a decent amount of airplay and stuff likethat. I think we’re all a little disappointed with the awareness that there’s arecord out. We’re out there touring and doing shows and playing in front of nicecrowds and a lot of people aren’t aware that we have a new record out. It’sfunny, ‘cause ever since our first record, Pocket Full of Kryptonite, wassuch a huge success, we found that from the minute we put out our follow-up tothat and we’re out there playing in front of big crowds, we’ve always beenamazed by the amount of people that just don’t know you have a new record out. It’s just so hard to get the word out, and then you become known for a couple ofsongs or a certain thing, whatever it is…it’s always so hard to live that down, and people come to see you for whatever it is you’re known for and a lot oftimes they just don’t realize that you’ve actually continued to put out new workalong the way. I think it’s something that a lot of artists will tell you.
BE: Sure, and in some cases I’m sure those people don’t want to hear thenew music.
AC: Yeah, exactly. Luckily, like I’ve said, we’ve been getting veryfavorable reaction to the record and the new songs, when we perform them live, they tend to slip right in there with the old ones. That’s always the hardestthing, especially for a band that has had success. Obviously the majority of thepeople are coming out to hear what they know. It can be challenging to throw instuff people don’t know as well and it’s been working really well, which isgood.
BE: Do you guys do any covers in your set?
AC: Very rarely. We do every now and then. It’s funny, because we justdid one of these radio shows, I think it was an XM Radio broadcast or something, and the guy was like, “At this point in the show we always ask our artists to doa cover,” and nobody told us to be prepared to do a cover. And we’re like, “Ohshit, okay.” And he was like, “Can you do that song, ‘Have you Ever Seen theRain’,” you know the Creedence song, because we did that on the Philadelphia soundtrack, like, ten years ago. And we never once played it live. We basicallywent into the studio, did it and never played it again. We ended up doing aHendrix cover, “Spanish Castle Magic,” which we also did on a Hendrix tributerecord and every now and then we break it out live. We knew it well enough toget through it.
BE: What kind of plans do you guys have for touring right now?
AC: Well we’ve got about ten or so shows booked this month coming up, December. Then we’re in the middle of putting a tour together for sometime afterthe New Year. Probably like late January, we’re going to go out and do a fullswing around the country.
BE: Speaking of touring, is there anything crazy you guys have ever askedfor on a rider?
AC: We have, let’s see… We have socks on our rider.
AC: We put socks, because early on, anybody that tours knows that thefirst thing you run out of on the road is socks. (laughs)
AC: Yeah, so yeah, we put socks on the rider. Everywhere we show up weget socks. Our rider is pretty basic. We got beer, vodka, etc. etc. And socks.
BE: No purple M&Ms or anything?
AC: Advil. Advil! We have Advil on the rider.
BE: The guy from Vertical Horizon said they specifically ask for monstercereals on their rider. (laughs)
AC: Really? That’s funny.
BE: What’s your favorite city to tour through and what is your leastfavorite?
AC: Favorite city? You know, the truth is, it’s funny because in a lot ofways it doesn’t even matter because you don’t get a lot of time in these citiesanyway. You’re in and out. The most important thing is having a good crowd. I’vealways enjoyed going to Chicago. It’s always been a great town. If you’re luckyenough to get a day off there, it’s a great place to be. And as far as leastfavorite cities, anywhere where you just get stuck in the middle of nowhere andend up at some motel out by the airport, which can unfortunately be anywhere.
BE: What is the songwriting process like for you guys?
AC: It varies a lot. All of us contribute to the writing. It can beanywhere from one to all four of us writing. On the album, there are a couplesongs that the four of us all wrote together. There’s a couple that myself andChris (Barron, lead singer) wrote. There’s a couple that Chris and Eric wrote. There’s one that Chris wrote just himself. Chris usually has something to dowith it because he writes the lion’s share of the lyrics.
BE: Do you play anything besides drums?
AC: Yeah, I play guitar and keyboards as well. I tend to write usually onguitar, sometimes on piano. I have a studio, so it really just depends. I try tobe open. I find that there are a lot of different ways to write. Sometimes itmay just start with a drum beat and I’ll build up from that, but usually I endup having an idea on the guitar before I’ll demo it out in my studio.
BE: And then you would bring that to the other guys?
AC: Yeah, I’ll bring it to the band and a lot of times me and Chris willget together and we’ll have a full song we’ll bring in, or sometimes I’ll havejust a guitar riff and I’ll show it to Eric and we’ll work it out together. Andthe same thing with the other guys. Like I said, it’s all just different kindsof combinations. We try to take advantage of as many different ways of writingas possible, do as much of it as we can, and hopefully come up with somethinggood.
BE: Yeah, I dug the record a lot. I thought the lyrics were especiallycool.
AC: Oh, cool. Thanks. That’s great. It was a really fun record to makeand I think one of the reasons why I definitely feel pretty good about it. Ithink the fact that we had a lot of time to get the material together was a bigfactor. So many times, when you’re a new band you have your whole life basicallyto write your first record. And then you better come up with a great record inthree months, because you know we need to put one out. A lot of times that’s whya band’s first record ends up being their best. In this case, we spent the lastthree years just getting together every few months for writing sessions and wewere able to take the material out on the road and test it. And we didn’t evenreally bother getting into the studio until we felt that we had the materialtogether. And then we felt the need to hire a good producer this time and reallyhave an outside opinion, an outside ear. We found that very helpful. MattWallace was the producer, and he was great.
BE: Do you guys view this record as a rebirth of sorts, or do you feellike the band never really went away?
AC: I definitely feel do like we did go away because there’s no doubt wedid. I mean, even though me and Chris kept the band together in the interim orfor part of the interim period, I think anybody will tell you that it’s alwaysdifficult to replace members of a band. The kind of band that we are, everybodyreally has an integral part of the sound, and if you take any of us out of it, it’s going to change. So when the band got back together, it felt likeeverything was there – the music was there, the chemistry was still there. Butit had been a while, and that’s why it felt like a new beginning in a lot ofways.
BE: So, what are the groupies like at your level?
AC: (laughs) Well, um, you know, um…you slipped into that one good. (laughs)
BE: (laughs) I don’t know if you’ve seen Bullz-Eye.com lately, but we’rekind of like an FHM, Maxim kind of site, so there’s girls all over it.
AC: Right, right, right. You know, honestly everyone in the band has agirlfriend now, so at this point the groupies don’t really come into play. Therewas a time when we had our fun, there’s no question about it.
BE: OK. Well, who are your influences as a drummer?
AC: I have a lot of them. As far as rock drummers, I have to say JohnBonham. I think he’s the all-time greatest rock drummer. I also love CharlieWatts and Stewart Copeland. Probably my favorite drummer, period, is TonyWilliams. You know, a jazz drummer that played with Miles Davis. And ElvinJones, who played all that great stuff with John Coltrane. I also love JimKeltner, a studio guy who’s played with everybody.
BE: What do you typically listen to and is there anything right nowyou’re really digging?
AC: I listen to a lot of stuff. I would say I’m always listening to MilesDavis and John Coltrane, like the late ‘60s period of both those guys. As far asnew stuff, I love the Sigur Ros album. I think they’re a really cool, creativeband from Iceland. I listen to a lot of African music, and King Crimson. Allkinds of cool stuff.
BE: How long do you see the Spin Doctors staying together?
AC: Well, I think I’d like to say a long time. I think it’s really gonnadepend on how far we can go with the record and everybody getting along. One ofthe things that has been interesting about the band, and I think this is trueabout a lot of bands, is that we’re definitely a volatile group. It’s not likewe’re all necessarily best friends, we’re not one of those bands that grew upand went to high school together and decided we were going to start a band. Webasically all met because we had a common interest in music. And obviously webroke up for a while because we couldn’t get along. (laughs). So the trick nowis to just try and not let all that same stuff that happened before happenagain. And so far, so good. I think we’re all having a great time playingtogether and I think as long as we feel like the band is sounding really good, and we can sustain it and have a good time and make money with it, then we’llkeep doing it for a long time.
BE: So I guess the key is to treat it as a business, almost. Like youguys are all co-workers.
AC: Yeah, that’s exactly right. There’s no question about it that we arefriends. We’ve become really close friends though music. We’ve shared so muchtogether, and I think the things that we’ve shared, only the four of us share. It’s just four guys that have this experience together so we’re always going tohave that bond. And I think the trick is that when the negative stuff pops upand you don’t agree, or whatever, you just can’t let that stuff bother you. Anyrelationship, whether it is a marriage or friendship or a working relationship, has problems and issues. And the ones that last and the people that can getthrough that have something worth sticking around for.
BE: Obviously you guys have always stayed true to just making good rockmusic and not following any trends. Was that your approach all along?
AC: Yeah, we’ve always kind of had the approach of not overthinking it. We’ve always tried to do what we do very organically. Even in the beginning, wenever sat around a room and said we want to have hit record or have this kind ofband. It was really just organic songwriting and organic musicianship. And kindof just doing what we did and not trying to rewrite the book on anything. And Ithink our sound just developed from playing live. We’re all four very differentpeople and different musicians, even though we’ve share a lot of the sameinfluences, and we all really come from different backgrounds. And even thoughour music is pretty straight ahead, there’s definitely a Spin Doctors signaturesound, I think it just comes from everybody’s individuality on theirinstruments.
BE: I definitely agree with that. Did you ever get any pressure fromlabels to be certain way?
AC: You know, the funniest thing is that in the beginning we gotabsolutely no pressure because they just really didn’t care. We basically gotour record deal with Epic based on the fact that we had a huge following in NewYork. But once they signed us, they really just left us alone and didn’t reallydo anything. We went in and made the record, and they just threw it out thereand didn’t promote it and didn’t do anything. And just by nature of us touringso hard, we finally broke the record. I guess we kind of got a little bit ofpressure once we had the follow-up to that, but we really never paid anyattention to it. We always just kind of did what we did the way we wanted to doit, to be honest with you. And like you said, we definitely never tried tofollow the trends. And you have to remember, when the Spin Doctors came out, andwhen we were peaking in our popularity, it was right in the height of grunge. Wewere like the total opposite of that at the time. The press likes to call youthis and call you that. We’ve been titled every single type of music you cancall yourself. First it was this neo-hippie thing, and then even people wouldcall us grunge, even though we were the furthest thing from that, because it wasin that period. And then we’re a pop band and we’re this band …so we honestlyhave never paid attention to any of it.
BE: That’s about all I’ve got. Do you have anything you want to add? Anything you want to promote in particular?
AC: Not really. Obviously the new record is out and available and allthat good stuff! You can mention our website. It has all the latest informationabout where we’re going to be playing, etc.
BE: It’s just www.spindoctors.com, right?
AC: Yes, and I have a website as well which is www.aaroncomess.com, ifyou want to include that.
BE: Oh cool, definitely.
AC: It’s got naked pictures on it.
BE: OK (laughs)
AC: I’m kidding.