The Boston-based band Drop Nineteens were darlings of the international shoegaze scene in the early 1990s. Now, after a 30-year hiatus, the band is out with a new album called Hard Life. KEXP’s Owen Murphy caught up with the band’s singer and songwriter Ackell, singer Paul Kelley, and bassist Steve Zimmerman to talk about the things that allowed the band to come back together even though Greg kept saying the band would never happen.
Read or listen to the interview below.
Steve Zimmerman: Greg had made it so clear that it was something that was never going to happen. It would almost just be ludicrous to try to even start the conversation that if ever it was going to happen, it would be Greg first, and then if it had come to that, that means it's really serious. Any conversation besides Greg or that doesn't include Greg would mean that it wouldn't be worth it.
Greg Ackell: I just was sure of that. One thing that I just didn't want to make music anymore. I was proud of those early days and I just figured that I had done it and I didn't see a reason to do it again. I didn't want to revisit it. I mean, I've never been more sure of anything in life that than that, that I was not going to make music again. And here I am. So it just shows you what an idiot I am.
KEXP: In addition to Greg not wanting to restart Drop Nineteems nor make music, other members of the band were dealing with issues that would make any reunion untenable. For Paula Kelley, she first had to get sober.
Paula Kelley: It's the one thing I've done that I'm legit proud of. There's no two ways about it. It's like it was a good thing to do. I was drinking, I was taking a lot of benzos and I overdosed. That's why I got sober. Sometimes (when) people overdose, people almost die and they still don't get sober. But for me, that was rock bottom enough. When I first got sober, I didn't think I was going to do music again because I had a lot of stage fright. I have a hard time networking and ...I would drink and do drugs to be able to ... do all that interface stuff with people. And when I got sober, I was just so confused. I didn't even know how to be a person. And I was working...doing arranging. I'm an orchestral arranger. I could do that, but I wasn't even anywhere near writing my own music ever again. I just thought that wasn't going to happen. I'd given up on it. But then a couple of years ago, just out of the blue, I started getting songs in my head. So I was really grateful that, that happened. (T)hat was around the time when Greg approached me about the Drop Nineteens reunion. And at that point I was like, you know what the hell, I'm doing music again. This is like, it's really good timing. It seems like I can handle life.' So I said, 'yeah.' You know, it's so much different than when I was 21. We've all matured a little bit just by dint of having been alive for 30 more years since that happened, so whatever interpersonal issues are going on, then it's just like we were young and stupid and now we are old and stupid.
KEXP: Interestingly, as the years passed and the band went on with their lives, fans young and old discovered Drop Nineteens and fell in love with their debut, Delaware.
Paula Kelley: There was like a little online community of people who like Drop Nineteens ... and I think that was inspiring, that people give a shit about us. Ppeople much younger than us give a shit about us. And that was worth following up on. But also, I mean, it's like we we never got to finish what we started.
Greg Ackell: My friend Craig Rich got me on the phone and he just said, 'Greg, before you hang up, I think that's the first thing he said, you know?" He says 'I have this idea....why don't you just come up to Gloucester...and let's let's make some music.'
KEXP: Although he didn't end up making music with Craig, the call lit a spark that had been dormant for years, and suddenly Greg was ready to write songs again.
Steve Zimmerman: Text came in asking the question, What would a modern Drop Nineteens single sound like in your opinion? And I will say from the moment I saw that text, from the moment I read that sentence, I knew game on.
KEXP: But there were a few problems. One, Greg hadn't written music for years, and two...
Steve Zimmerman: He didn't have any guitars. And I do have a bunch and so I sent him a Jazzmaster almost immediately. It was that weekend that his girlfriend was gone (and) a lot of songs got written. I remember thinking when I sent it to him (that) it's going to take him a little time to get back into this. And the weekend finished and he sent some voice memos over and some ideas, and I was just like, you (bleepity bleep) how did you already come up with these? Like, they already had a solidness to them. They were already core ideas that could be worked with.
Paula Kelley: I knew it was going to be good just because, you know, Greg and Steve are good. They just don't suck and it wasn't going to suck. I was curious as to which direction it was going to take. Was it going to be like a follow up to more of a National Coma thing? They did say (it would be a) follow up to Delaware, but, it's been so long, it's like, how is that even going to sound? It evolved but it made sense and it was something I could actually hear myself participating in.
KEXP: Hard light is what the band considers to be their follow up to their shoegaze classic Delaware. But after making this record, the band wondered is it even shoegaze? Here's Greg.
Greg Ackell: You know, in our early demos,...we were...getting started and more derivative. You know, you're inspired by things, but then you want to get out of that shadow and you start going the other direction...to try to carve out your own identity, your own sound. And the whole shoegaze thing, by the way, is interesting. I just didn't set out to make a good shoegaze record. I probably the last person, someone should ask to do that because I'm I'm not really an authority on it. I set out to make a good record. We were sitting at Secretly the distributor, in a circle at a listening party, which is a very kind of tense thing to do,...sitting there listening to these songs really loud (and) everyone's staring at you. They're all very kind people, very talented people, but there'd be these little gaps between the songs. Well, it was the only time it be quiet in the room and I would just try to say something because, you know, everyone's looking at me and...seven songs in I said, 'is this shoegaze?' And everybody laughed because I really don't know (if it's shoegaze) and clearly I don't I don't really think it matters. But, I got a lot of nods yes when I asked that question and chuckles. They do feel like shoegaze, but it's our iteration of it, and that is a good thing. I'm not a fan of listening to things that just sound like eachother. Some people just want what they want as listeners, right? They know what they want and ...they want you to deliver it like exactly how they want to hear things. I look at things a little differently. I don't know if I really want to give people exactly what they want. I want to give them something that maybe they weren't expecting and that once heard, they needed.
KEXP: And maybe the band also discovered something that they didn't realize they needed.
Greg Ackell: One of the things that we did not anticipate was how comfortable it would be getting back together with with these people. You know, a lot of years have passed. I was asked recently if if we had to sit down and have some kind of talk (to) resolve former differences, former ancient anguish, and the answer is no. It just wasn't necessary. I was also asked, 'are you you guys going to continue to to make music?' And there's a lot of ways that that might happen and a lot of ways that it won't. But one thing that I realized answering that question was that the hardest thing for me would be to...say goodbye to these people, again. And that's surprising to me. I wasn't longing to be with these people all of all this time and being back together has been has been a delight in our lives.
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