John Easdale loves music. In some form or another it’s always been, and probably always will be, a central focus in his life. He has worked in record stores and he’s owned a record store. (And yes, back then they were known as “record stores,” selling vinyl disks that excited Easdale with every turn.) He has been a music journalist and a disc jockey. He had a band and that band tasted success.
But every time Easdale got some momentum going, the music business tended to get in his way more than help him. As a result, he had to settle for a reputation as a critically acclaimed cult favorite instead of stardom.
He takes it in stride. These days it seems like poetic justice. Easdale and his band, Dramarama, are still part of the musical landscape while record companies that distributed their albums have been devoured by the cannibalistic recording industry.
In an interview that the New Jersey Press Association chose as the First Place winner in the Arts and Entertainment Writing category for its 2008 competition, I talked with Easdale about the ups and downs that are Dramarama.
GM: You had some bad luck and timing issues with Dramarama …
JE: (Laughing) I would say that is an accurate statement.
GM: Did you have to do other jobs to make ends meet during that time, besides being a musician?
JE: While the band was going, I was really fortunate in the fact that I was the chief songwriter. I made a little bit more than everybody else.
GM: What about the 10 years between the band’s breakup and the reunion?
JE: That was when I was doing the radio show and working for the magazines out here [California]. The reason we moved to California was because our song was on the radio and we came to do a couple of shows. We didn’t realize that we were going to stay. It was kind of like a vacation that turned into an extended vacation that turned into a residency. That was in 86. From then until 94, I didn’t have to work.
GM: You had almost a hit with “Anything, Anything (I’ll Give You)” and just a cult following. Financially, how were you able to keep going?
JE: The beauty of our stuff has been that the first few records we made—including the cult hit, if you will—it was completely “Do it Yourself.” So we own the masters and we own the publishing. We reap the benefits to this day much more than with the later albums we did that were distributed by Warner. We still probably owe half a million dollars on those things.
GM: So you actually still have money to pay back?
JE: I am sure we do, although our Warner’s records are out of print. But if they ever decided to put them online or put them on iTunes, I guess we’d have to sell quite a few before we see any checks.
GM: When you interviewed musicians for the radio show or for magazines, did you ever get star struck?
JE: Occasionally. The first time I met Brian Wilson I was overwhelmed. One time I was in a room with Ringo and that was pretty wild. I was pretty excited when Bowie called my house at 6 o clock in the morning one day for an interview. But for the most part, having been treated special, [I] kinda know that guys who are in bands don’t really want to be treated like they are special. There are exceptions and guys who are spoiled…But for the most part, I treat everybody like a regular guy and I find that that works the best.
GM: Do you find that people more often than not, do get star struck?
JE: Yeah. I am amazed when people think it’s weird to meet me. C’mon, I am on the Z list of fame and fortune. Agents and publicists make these things much bigger than they are. Having been on all sides, I am aware of the way the machine works.
GM: When you go to a show, what are you looking to see?
JE: Most of the time, if I am buying a ticket to a show, it’s to see something that I have enjoyed. To listen to songs that I’ve heard before…If it weren’t $100 for a ticket, I would go see a lot more shows…I am less likely to take a chance [these days] so I just go to watch the artist play.
GM: Do you feel that the raise in ticket prices puts more pressure on you when you are performing a show?
JE: The first time around, from the 80s up until about 94, I was a lot less concerned about the audience. I was more in that Jim Morrison head of “I am an artist. I am a creative soul and you’ll get what you get from me on any given night.” I am embarrassed to admit that a lot of times when I got up there, I was drunk or not at my best. I didn’t give people their money’s worth, so to speak. But I wasn’t concerned. I was a lot more selfish. Now I am a lot more aware that people went out of their way to take time out of their busy lives and opened up their wallets and bought a ticket. I have a lot more respect. I take the time to do the best I can.
GM: What do you think people come to a Dramarama show for?
JE: I’ve learned that for the most part, they come to hear their old favorites these days. They want to hear songs that they heard when they were younger that they listened to on vinyl and cassettes. That’s not the entire audience and it’s not what we’re about but I try to straddle where I am now and where I’ve been. I try to put myself in the place of the person who bought the ticket when I am thinking about what we are going to play on any given night.
GM: How many songs from your most recent album, “Everybody Dies,” are you doing?
JE: It depends…we are capable of playing half of that album but I doubt that we would subject the audience to that many new songs (laughing).