A group of childhood friends launched Dramarama in 1983 in the basement of a New Jersey record store, put out a 45, played every dank bar in the Tri-State area, and built a loyal following. When KROQ's Rodney Bingenheimer got his hands on their first album, 1985's Cinema Verite, the media whirlwind began. And then the band almost folded.
"We moved to Los Angeles in 1986," recalls master lyricist and singer John Easdale. "Rodney was playing us on the radio and invited us to play a show in LA. We got out here, and KROQ was playing 'Anything, Anything' all the time, and in Southern California, we were selling hundreds of records. We literally just came out for vacation, and the next thing you know, we're selling out the Roxy, opening up for the Psychedelic Furs, getting calls from record companies. At the time, it felt like falling out of the sky and landing in Hollywood. We thought, 'This is the life! Let's move here!' On the one hand, it was immediately brilliant, but on the other hand, we were immediately seen for what we were—a bunch of kids from New Jersey who weren't all that seasoned and not veteran stage performers. We had all these record companies turn out for our first few shows in LA, and they all basically just left."
But the band played on, eventually releasing four more albums through the small Torrance label Chameleon Records. "As we kept making records, more money got involved," Easdale says. "We spent more on Vinyl than we did on the first three records put together. And they encourage you to spend as much money and take as much time as they let you have."
Did the money produce better music? "Our first record probably cost less than the lunch budget for those records. But it still sounds good on the radio, so I don't know."
Instantly catchy and beautifully crafted, Dramarama (including guitarists Peter Wood and Mark Englert and bassist Chris "Breakfast with the Beatles" Carter) has always produced straight-ahead rock & roll, sparkling with echoes of '70s glitter and glam. Think modern-day T-Rex. "Everything we sound like comes from what we grew up listening to," says Easdale. "Take almost all of the records from 1971 to 1974, and I like all of them—the drum sound, the artwork, everything. Aside from Kraftwerk and things like that, there hasn't been much in the past 30 years that's blown me away and got me thinking, 'Wow, someone came up with a new way of doing this!' But I'm just old and jaded."
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Dramarama's mega-'80s/indie/modern/college/whatever KROQ hit "Anything, Anything" is one of the most-requested songs in the station's history. Because of that and an appearance on VH-1's Bands Reunited, the band has resurrected itself, playing sets at the KROQ Inland Invasion, South By Southwest, and a big, packed venue near you.
Even if the latest wave of Dramarama love doesn't last, Easdale is happy to be creating music—whether producing John Lydon's syndicated radio show, Rotten Day; working on a solo career; releasing a CD of new Dramarama material (available from Easdale's website, johneasdale.com); or picking up a guitar and singing his kids (he's got four daughters) a lullaby.
"I'm not trying to kill the world anymore," the OC resident says with a smile. "I'm a real believer in the . . ." He pauses a moment. "I'm a real believer in the magic of music, as silly and corny and ridiculous as that sounds. But something touched me when I was four or five years old and the Monkees were on television. I lived through the Beatles, Bowie, T. Rex . . . that was my whole life. Long before I picked up a beer, a cigarette—or any kind of mind-expanding, -altering or -destroying substance—it was all about the rock & roll."
Dramarama perform with Handsome Devil at The House Of Blues, 1530 S. Disneyland Dr., Anaheim, (714) 778-2583. Fri., 8 p.m. $18-$20. All ages.