Talking MTV with Superdrag’s John Davis

Written by J.T. Leroy on . Posted in Posts.


They
were MTV darlings, four cute Knoxville boys with Beatles cuts snaggin’
Buzz Clips. And I hated them. Their hit song, "Sucked Out," drove
me nuts, the way the singer screamed like Kurt. But the song had an undeniable
pop sensibility, like the La’s, and of course I start singing along despite
myself. Then I see them open for Weezer. It’s hard to fall in love with
a band without knowing their songs, just seeing them live, but Superdrag made
a believer out of me.


Two
albums later, after parting company with their major label, they have their
best album out yet, In the Valley of Dying Stars, on Arena Rock. Next
Tuesday, Feb. 27 they play Village Underground (with the Mink Lungs). I interviewed
singer John Davis on the phone.



So
first let’s boast about your record. I hear it’s kicking ass on CMJ.


Well
yeah, it may be on its way back down.


No,
it’s just resting. What’s its highest position?


Highest
position was six on CMJ. This last week on the Billboard independent
chart it was number 10.


You
make a lot of smoking references in your songs. Still smoking?


Yeah.


Is
it true Superdrag is a front for the tobacco industry?


I
wish. Pretty sweet. Get a lifetime supply.


You
guys party pretty hard?


If
we’re playing we usually end up drinking.


Does
that get hard?


Kind
of becomes part of the routine.


Yikes.
How did Superdrag come together?


Well,
I knew Brandon, ’cause he dated my cousin Kelsey. Brandon was the other
guitar player. But he was in a band with Tom. Tom was the singer and guitar,
and Brandon was guitar. I ended up playing drums with them. I was starting to
write more and more. They were doing New York Dolls, Iggy, Stooges. I wanted
to do more pop, sort of power pop, and then met Coffey, the drummer.


How’d
ya get a record deal?


We
got a chance to put out a 7-inch with Darla Records in San Francisco. We put
the 7-inch out and CMJ put us on their monthly sampler, which before had lots
more unsigned bands. We were touring, we booked more and more shows, we’d
get calls from labels, we’d showcase deals in New York where five or six
bands play, a lot of label people hanging out. Once we got interest, it’s
kind of a grapevine effect. One thing led to another, we talked to a bunch of
different people, and we had to kind of choose.


Like
a bidding war?


Never
got to that. Several were interested. We didn’t sit back and try to stir
up shit. Maybe we should’ve, but we thought that was a bad idea. It just
escalates the more records you have to sell–if it doesn’t sell five
million, you end up racking up some debt.


You
rack up debt?


Anytime
you have a big advance you do.


You
guys ever fight? Like "Go wash them stinky feet!"?


Nothing
that bad. Sometimes we’ll sit around after a show, bitch about something.
Next day we’re over it. We really get along.


How
old are you now?


Twenty-six.


Which
major label were you on?


Elektra.
We put out two records, Regretfully Yours and Head Trip in Every Key
on Elektra.


How
many copies of Regretfully Yours did you sell?


Shy
of 150,000. I don’t know the exact figure. Second one just shy of 20,000.
Might have done better since then. For Head Trip we didn’t make
a video. Regretfully Yours had videos. See, that’s the difference
in selling 20,000 and selling 150,000.


Why’d
they not make videos? MTV played the shit out of your videos.


Well,
they went through the process of sending treatments back and forth, wasted the
director’s time, then all of a sudden we’re not gonna make a video.
I don’t know why. Maybe they had a new head of programming, or only for
certain ones that only had X number of spins on the radio. By some whatever
strange set of circumstances, we had this song MTV was willing to play. I always
felt kind of weird about it. That was a whole ’nother way of–I mean,
going to the MTV Beach House was strange. For one thing, you had to drive
forever to get there. It was out in Malibu, somewhere out in the middle of nowhere,
this big fence you drive through, and this prefab beach party, like a set, really
strange, and all these people hanging out playing volleyball, like extras.


Why
did you guys get dropped?


Lotta
legal negotiations, we had delivered the two records in the contract, plus they
had option periods which they picked up. After a long time it was pointless.
They didn’t like anything we were doing, and they wouldn’t send us
back to the studio to finish the record. So finally our A&R guy said if
you want off, you can be off.


Y’all
must have felt freaked out.


Not
really freaked out. It just got really frustrating after a while. Well we got
25, 35 songs here, they’re telling us there’s not a record, so we
said, "Let us go. We’ll put it out with someone else." We ended
up being entitled to a little bit of money, which we invested into our studio
here.


Were
you worried you’d have to go back to day jobs?


Only
time we had to do that was during the whole standoff. They weren’t sending
us anything to help us out, we weren’t in the studio, we couldn’t
tour ’cause Tom quit and no bass player. I mean during that time, I worked
at a record store for a while.


Was
anyone harsh, like, Hey big rock star dude, what are you doing here?


No.
If they had been, wouldn’t have mattered. Just a matter of time, just kind
of like turning a corner and getting things moving again. We would write a few
songs, kept writing, doing demos.


I
saw you perform on MTV, "Who Sucked Out the Feeling." And in the chorus
you changed the lyrics to say, "Who sucked out the feeling, Music Television."
Do you regret that? Do you think they got pissed?


I
don’t know.


We
heard that–were like, oh my God, God man that takes balls. But Jesus Christ,
that’s like seeing someone shoot himself in the foot. Did anyone ever say
anything?


It
was like 9 a.m., had to get up at 7 a.m. It’s pretty miserable to try to
rock at 9 o’clock in the morning. That was like the fifth or sixth time
we had played the song.


We
noticed. One minute you were all over MTV’s shit, then after you did that,
we hear crickets chirping. You ever see yourself in that VH1 Where Are They
Now?
Or does your family ever say, "What are you gonna do now?"


If
I got to the point I wasn’t writing or doing my own records, I can see
going to Nashville and doing sessions instead of selling insurance. Can’t
see not playing music. I don’t care about doing anything else.


 

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