With over two decades in the game, Sponge has proven to be one of the Motor City’s heaviest hitters after gaining international notoriety with their debut album Rotting Piñata (Sony). Emerging from Detroit with hits like “Plowed” and “Molly (16 Candles)” Sponge received massive airplay on radio stations from coast to coast and were in heavy rotation on MTV. Both “Plowed” and “Molly” hit #5 on Billboard’s Modern Rock Charts, catapulting Rotting Piñata to Gold-certified status. Having shared stages the world over with Guns N’ Roses, Nickelback, Iggy Pop, Soundgarden, Alice in Chains, Kiss, to name just a few, Sponge continues to be one of rock’s most sought after live acts. Showing no signs of slowing down, Sponge recently inked a deal with The End Records. The Detroit-based group, featuring vocalist Vinnie Dombroski, Billy Adams (drums), Tim Patalan (bass), Kyle Neely and Andy Patalan (guitar), and continue to carve their own place in today’s modern music scene.
Scheduled for a September 17th release, Sponge’s self-produced, seventh full-length studio album titled – ‘Stop The Bleeding’ incorporates the traditional “Sponge sound” in addition to exploring edgier, industrial grooves. The eleven tracks on Stop The Bleeding include such songs as “Come In From The Rain”, “Dance Floor”, “Star”, “Destroy The Boy”, “Fade From View” as well as their own rendition of a classic Jim Croce song “Time in a Bottle.” To commemorate the release of ‘Stop The Bleeding,’ the band will be honored back in their home city of Detroit with ‘Sponge Day.’ The inaugural celebration scheduled for Friday, September 13 will include a VIP barbeque/meet and greet with fans and a special, all-ages live performance from Sponge later that evening at the Diesel Concert Lounge in Chesterfield Township, Michigan (Detroit suburb).
Jason Price of Icon Vs. Icon recently had the opportunity to sit down with charismatic Sponge frontman Vinnie Dombroski for a no-holds-barred discussion his life in music, the creation of Sponge’s dynamic new record, moving the band forward in the new digital age and much more!
Let’s go back to your early years, Vinnie. What was it that opened the door for music to enter your life?
Wow, man! I really have to say there was just a lot of music in the neighborhood. It was my older sister bringing records home; things like Bob Seger’s “Live Bullet” record and things like that. I have always been a fan of 70s rock. There was a big flood in Detroit where everybody’s basement got flooded and as a result, everybody had to throw everything out of their basement. It was terrible but it was good for me because we found amplifiers and guitars! Getting that stuff to work, being able to plug it in and make more noise than you had ever made before was just the greatest thing! Volume was the greatest thing. I didn’t really know how to play at the time but being able to make a big racket was cool. I think that is what spawned everything!
Who would you cite as your biggest influences as a musician?
I had some of the obvious Detroit influences like Alice Cooper, being part of the Detroit scene at one time. There was also Iggy Pop, many years ago, even before I think I should have known about Iggy, he was doing what he was doing. Those were the big influences. Branching out from Cooper, doing the whole garage rock thing, it branches out to [David] Bowie and what Iggy did with Bowie and connecting those dots. I think everything really jumped off from there.
What was made you pursue a career as a professional musician?
Again, first and foremost, it was volume! I love feedback and loud amps. From that point on, I can honestly tell you, there was nothing else I wanted to do. There was nothing else I could do. I think, certainly because of the lack of opportunity in the city of Detroit at that time, when I was actually old enough to say “What do I want to do with my life?” There really wasn’t anything there career-wise. There was no Plan B! It was always music, music, music!
You have been at it for a long time with quite a bit of success. To what do you attribute your longevity?
[laughs] Like I said, there was nothing else I really wanted today. Even today, I still have that same mindset. However, you start to wear different hats. There is the performer, the writer, the guy in the studio recording and that kind of opens up a lot of things. Years ago, you wanted to be a guy in a band and record records and that was about it. I think with the major labels going away for bands like Sponge, when one door closes, another one opens. The opportunity to go out there, own your own masters and be part of licensing songs to TV or movies, is something I wouldn’t have thought of doing twenty-five years ago but here we are! We have come full circle with everything and I think there are still opportunities. I say, “You know what? I can go out and play gigs and have a ball but there are there these other things like licensing that keep me in the business of music.
You definitely show no signs of slowing down. Sponge is about to release a brand new album called “Stop The Bleeding”. What does the title mean to you personally?
The original title, which I think is relevant to the question, was going to be “In Closing.” That was what we were thinking about doing. The reason being, at the time, was the whole question of selling an album seemed crazy. Everybody buys songs now. Everything is downloaded from the internet, so people don’t often go out to the store and buy a CD or the vinyl these days, they buy songs. My mindset a year to a year and a half ago was “Do we really need to make a record?” At the time we had released an EP and I thought we would just continue to make songs. We had made enough songs to finally make this record and I thought “Ya know what? Maybe this will be the last record and we can call it In Closing.” Looking at it, it really sounded like such a downer! When we started to think about it, we knew we still wanted to play music and get out there and do shows. The next step was finding a title that still had relevance and we were excited about. We thought, “You know what? We have backslid enough in this business; let’s call it Stop The Bleeding.” From there, we had the title, we finished the record and low and behold a tour pops up! The Summerland tour popped up and the timing was just perfect. We were done with the record and we were going to do a whole campaign with Pledge Music at the time. However, we got in contact with The End Records, who had much more experience working a record and got them to do that. When we finally made the decision, we said “Ya know what? Let’s change the title of the record and actually put out a real record.” That is when everything changed — I think it was a great decision.
Absolutely! What can you tell us about your songwriting process for this record and how you brought it to life?
The early writing style for Sponge was five guys in a small, stinky storefront, hammering out tunes. There is a real value to that in if you had a shitty idea; it got shot down pretty quick. What you are trying to do is concentrate on the best ideas. That was the band then. Fast forward to today — some of these bands members have been with me longer than the original members. Now, the writing process is all over the map. Sure, there is some of the type of thing where we get in a room with a band and record a song but there is also me hashing out things in the studio at home and then bringing them to the band, as much as it is anything else. Many years ago, it wasn’t like that. It is a combination of those two worlds these days.
Where do you find yourself looking for inspiration these days?
If I am paying attention, I will be writing songs. When you are young, you tend to be very self absorbed and focus on things you think mean a lot to you and hope mean something to other people. I think as you get a little older, you start coming out of that and begin to start looking around and seeing things around you to write about and you hope people can relate to. I think that is the big difference. A song like “Fade from View,” is a good example. Over the last few years, we have had a lot of friends pass away, some way before their time and very suddenly. It seemed like we were going to a lot of funerals, so a song like “Fade from View” happens. A song like “Life’s Bitter Pills” happened. It really comes from paying attention from what is going on around you.
When you started putting the album together, did you have an expectations going into the process?
The big thing was trying not to punk out and make a shitty record! [laughs] It was more of a “Let’s just put it out there!” kinda thing. We spent a significant amount of time on the tracks. Tim Patalan, who essentially helped produce our first three records, has been with us here every step of the way, in some way, shape or form; whether it is recording, writing or mixing. We spent a lot of time pushing each other’s buttons and asked ourselves the hard questions, like “Are we doing something good?” That is a really valuable process. The result is I am really proud of the record! I can say I think we have a couple of tunes I think will really resonate with people and the process has brought something really positive to it. I feel really confident when we go to the label and talk about becoming partners with them or going to radio and saying “We feel strongly about this song. Let’s go with it!” I think we did a really good job and did what we are supposed to do. Now, we need to get everybody out there, working together to promote the thing!
Looking back on the recording process, were there any particular challenges you had to overcome?
It was really all about making the best record we could. Years ago, you have to understand, there was some money to spend. With the money flowing back then, you could really take your time back then and not be looking at the clock. That is a real challenge today. You want to do the best job you possibly can do in the allotted time. We made this record on our own dime. You sit and go, “We are making this on our won dime and we don’t want to skimp.” I think a lot of bands have learned how to make records these days on a budget that doesn’t exceed twenty grand, where years ago we were spending one hundred and thirty grand jut on hotel rooms, ya know!
The band seems to be in a great place creatively. How do you see it progressing or evolving musically in the future? Is there any particular ground you are still anxious to cover?
Well, I have seen the band progress as a live unit for over ten years. This particular lineup has been playing together for close to a dozen years. The band has taken it up to a new level live. It is great to see that evolution. Personally, I would like to collaborate with other artists, producers and mixers on stuff we have done; whether it is creating a hybrid of a track with another singer or working with people who do remixes. We could put a whole new twist on what we have done! We have a ton of tunes and have some tunes that are part of the landscape of rock ‘n’ roll radio. I think the next thing to do is modernize some of that stuff. I whole-heartedly welcome that to bring it to a whole new audience, people who may never have heard of Sponge before, via a remix or collaboration with another artist. That would be a real blast!
As you mentioned, you took part in the Summerland Tour this year. I imagine that helped expose you to a younger audience as well. What was that experience like for you? And what are you looking forward to when it comes to touring on this new album?
Some of the younger folks knew the songs we played but didn’t know the band. I’ll be damned if some of them didn’t think we were playing cover tunes! Ya know what I mean? They go “You are the band that wrote that song? That is the song we hear on the radio all the time!” Obviously, the older fans, who were in high school and college, at the time we were cutting our teeth on “Rotting Piñata,” there are out there as well. Of course, they are out with the chairs, out on the concrete and further from the stage; there aren’t too many mosh pits left! [laughs] But they are out there and they are having a great time! They might even be bringing their kids to the venue, I don’t know. We have seen a lot of younger people who I think understand we are a rock band who goes out there and we mean what we say. People pick up on that; the fact we believe in what we are doing. As far as what we have cooking from this point forward, we are ramping up like we did years ago! We are doing the press and we are doing a campaign to radio. We are trying to ramp this thing up the best we know how to do, to make music, bring it to the fans of all the Sponge records, and I know we will make some new fans with the new stuff. There is no question about it in my mind.
None of us are getting any younger. How has your approach to touring changed from those early years?
Do you mean “Am I starting to feel the creaks and cracks of the bones?” [laughs]
A little bit! [laughs] But is there anything you to prepare yourself for these cross country outings?
To keep myself vocally on point, I have to stay away from the whiskey! [laughs] I had a doctor tell me that once, “Vinnie, you have to stop that bullshit!” He said “Have a couple of drinks after the show and definitely do not drink whiskey when you sing.” I said “Well, I think that has helped a lot of singers!” He begged to differ with me on that particular point. As far as the performance, we are out there and we love the music. Ya try to stay in shape, ya know what I mean? You got a guy like Iggy [Pop], who we toured with in 1997, during what I would call his comeback years and he looked great! I know he worked at it! I try to take care of myself a little bit but the pre-show ritual is some wild ass AC/DC on the bus to get us revved up to make us want to play music! You don’t want to party too much before the show, so you are too hammered to give the people their money’s worth! We just get out there and we like to have fun! First and foremost, it is about the music and we are pumped up about music.
What can you tell us about Sponge Day, which is being held on Friday, September 13th, 2013 in Detroit.
A good friend of ours, who is a promoter in Detroit, has put on some great shows with us and we trust him with this whole thing but it was his idea. I think it is a great way to have a great night of music at the club. We want to have fun. It is a little embarrassing because it is called Sponge Day, ya know? It just sounds cocky! Ya know what I mean? It’s not like I am saying “We as a band deserve Sponge Day.” I guess we are going to get it whether we deserved it or not. I’m on board. There is a lot of great stuff playing and I think it is a great way to launch a record. We are going to do a BBQ earlier in the day, we are going to do some TV with the local stations, some radio, an in-store at a record store, taking a nap and then doing the afternoon BBQ and the show that night! We have our work cut out for us!
Looking back on the journey so far, what do you consider your biggest milestone?
Ya know what? Every gig is a career milestone! We get through that gig, do a great job and people feel like they got their money’s worth, that is a milestone! Every gig, every stinkin’ gig! Sometimes people ask us about our favorite gig or milestones and I have to say “It is the one we are going to play tonight!” It is hard to look back, man! I am only as good as my last gig, so I am going to get out there and kick ass the best way I can!
How do you feel you have evolved as a musician over the years?
I certainly like to think I am better at presenting the songs, singing the tunes and performing the songs. I just want to get there every gig. I mean, going out there, it not just about singing a song. I just can’t go out there and sing a tune. I have to believe in the tune and that is what it comes down to today. I can’t punk out with this new record and I can’t punk out with a performance. I it has to be 1000% in or it ain’t gonna happen because we aren’t out there looking to make a payday. We would be ripping everybody off if we were thinking like that, ya know? I think the evolution is just maintaining that idea. It is a real idea to have. There is no other reason to do this. If you are going to go out there and sing a stinkin’ tune — anybody can do that! It isn’t about singing songs, it is about getting out there, believing in it and kicking ass! The evolution is there and I think it is alive and well. If I have evolved in any way, it is maintaining that concept.
You are a man who has been part of the music it industry both before and after its collapse and find yourself rebuilding in a whole new world. What would be your advice to young people looking to pursue a career in music in its current climate?
Pay attention to the songs, first and foremost. It is crazy where the right songs can take you! Also, follow your own vision. You really have to know what to do, you have to feel it but you have to pay attention to the songs. You have to be as pro-active in your career as you possibly can be. I think there is a great advantage to being pro-active because at that point, you own what you do as opposed to giving it away to labels, publishing companies or managers. Is I had any advice to pass on, that would be it.
What is the best way fans can support you and this new climate?
There has been so much said about file sharing of music. If you aren’t paying for it, you shouldn’t have it. People come out to show, they buy a ticker and we are going to kick ass for them. They spend ten bucks on our record; they are going to get their money’s worth. Don’t file share. Don’t just buy a song, buy the whole damn record! What we all like to do is go see shows and we love to hang out. I like to play shows to but for this whole thing to survive, ensure the shit doesn’t implode, everybody has to do their far share with the thing. We made this record and we will continue to make records but people have to get back into the mindset of buying the whole record, not just the song or go to YouTube and listen to the whole record. Buy the music, own the music and support what it is that you love and it ain’t gonna go away! If you do, there will be shows coming around, musicians creating music, places to go see music and everything will be ok!
Thank you very much for your time today, Vinnie. It has been a pleasure!
Thank you, man! If you are coming out to a show, hit me up! We will take care of you and you can drink our beer! [laughs]
I would offer to bring some whiskey but I don’t want it messing with your voice! [laughs]
[laughs] I am looking at a bottle right now, man! It’s calling my name! I don’t have to sing tonight so maybe I will! [laughs] Thanks again, man! take care of yourself and we will talk again soon!
For all the latest news, updates and tour dates on Sponge, visit their official website at www.spongetheband.com. ‘Stop The Bleeding’ is available via The End Records/Three One Three Records on September 17th.
Jason Price founded the mighty Icon Vs. Icon more than a decade ago. Along the way, he’s assembled an amazing group of like-minded individuals to spread the word on some of the most unique people and projects on the pop culture landscape.