“One-hit wonder” is a dirty name to hang on any band, particularly when most of them become overnight sensations after five or ten years of thankless work. Such is the case with Superdrag, who blew up in the MTV Buzz Bin with “Sucked Out” but took a detour on the way to becoming trivia. Instead of recycling their success, Superdrag made the record they wanted to make in Headtrip in Every Key. The band continued to record and tour on its own terms until going on an indefinite hiatus in 2003. During this time, frontman John Davis took an unexpected turn into Christian rock and then decided it was time to get the band back together. Superdrag’s original lineup to reunited for a few live shows and then to record Industry Giants, set to be released on March 17.
Why now for Superdrag?
Coming back was a gradual process, but I think it was inevitable that we would do more as a band. We always left the door open, and there were never any blanket statements that we had broken up. For about four years, we just weren’t getting together and playing regularly. There were always offers from promoters, which was a pretty big compliment and an indication to us of what the band meant to people. Four years is an eternity in the music business, and if there was still an audience for Superdrag.
What really motivated us, though, was two things. First, we had one option left to fill on our record label and put out Road to Ruin. It was a B-sides and rarities collection, and listening to the old stuff made us think that there were some miles left in those songs. This combined with more, let’s say, high pressure offers from promoters. A lot of these would have put us in front of a lot of people, but playing a show where Papa Roach would headline six hours later wasn’t the right venue. We knew what wasn’t right and made the decision about what we wanted to do. It happened pretty quickly after that.
How has the band evolved during the hiatus?
The shows were always pretty energetic, and we always put in 100 percent, but we’re all clean and sober now and can put more into the shows. Just having wind up on stage is such a big thing. I used to smoke three and a half packs of cigarettes a day. That’s hard on your voice. There’s just a lot of positive energy in our shows, and it comes across that we’re having fun. We’re able to hang out and meet people that have been following the band for its entire existence. We’re relishing the opportunity to be out there and playing after having the time away.
Where does the new album fit in the band’s catalog?
This sounds like an easy answer, but this album at different times references styles of music we’ve always done. Of all our records, I would say that Headtrip in Every Key is the most unrelated to our other albums, but there are a couple songs on this album that would feel at home there. The album also features a lot of loud guitar and up-tempo numbers. We’re maybe rocking a little more than on previous Superdrag records. It’s the logical next step for the band.
Has the recording process changed since the early days of the band?
The biggest change to how this album was recorded is that the group dynamic is split down the middle. Two of us are in Knoxville and the other two are in Nashville. We had to record guerrilla style in two-day bursts. I had about half the songs for the album written before we went into the studio, but Brandon and Tom also made some significant contributions, which was new.
I also think the inspiration for this album is different. I’m trying to live out my faith and spent a lot of time when the band was off-duty. I spent a lot time thinking about music and the space that it occupies. It’s always in danger of being an idol to me, so I’m writing about that. There are some overtly political songs, because that’s the direction my life is moving. As a writer, you have to open your heart and express what’s already there. I don’t now if the fans will care about it, but you have to be honest or the songs aren’t worth anything.
How do you feel about “Sucked Out”?
I think it’s a good song. I would never disown that song. If you don’t like it, don’t put it on the album in the first place. I will say, however, that there was point in 1996 after we had played more that two hundred and fifty gigs in the space of a year, there was a brief period where we left it out of the sets. That was just because we were tired of playing it every night. But since about 2000, we’ve played it at every show. People pay their money, and they want to see Superdrag play that song. So we play it.
Given what you know, would you change anything about your career?
We wouldn’t have appeared on House of Style. It was something set up by the publicity at the record company. A camera crew followed us around New York while we went to shoe stores and vintage stores and tried on stuff. Cindy Crawford, who was the host, wasn’t there so we didn’t get to meet her. We came off a little more fashion conscious than we would like the band to be.
What are your long-term goals for Superdrag?
I definitely don’t think we’re going to put any limits on our output. It really depends how people respond and the splash that it makes. That would point to more Superdrag in the future. Right now we’ve got close to a dozen tour dates, which we’re excited about. We were able to license the album to a Japanese record label, and we’d love to get over there and tour.
Do you always see yourself as a musician?
I wouldn’t consider myself a full-time musician right now in terms of how I make my living. I have a wife and family and that is the greatest joy, so I went out and sought employment to support them. I was able to find work in the music industry with a group of people that I respect, and because it’s in Nashville I can get a blank check to go and tour. You do what you need to do to for what you love. I’ll always be writing and performing as I long as I live; the only thing I might have to do is replace my four-track.
There’s been a lot made of your conversion to Christianity. First off, are you okay with how that’s been represented in the press?
First off, let me say that there’s a lot of bad art on both sides of the equation. If you go and look at my record collection, though, you’re not going to find a lot of “Christian rock.” That type of music exists under a little glass dome, and it’s my understanding of the theology is that’s not the place of the church. It’s not meant to function that way. I tried to enter that world to record solo material, but they didn’t want me and I didn’t belong. I still felt that the statement I wanted to make was bold enough that it needed to be on a Christian label. I could have put out another Superdrag record, but I didn’t want to dupe fans into buying something they didn’t want. I do, though, write some songs that are God honoring, but they stand or fail with the rest of Superdrag’s material. I hate to think that people would turn their backs on music for that reason.
Now that you’ve lived both places, can you settle the eternal debate between Knoxville and Nashville?
That’s a controversial question, but my answer won’t be controversial. There’s definitely a rivalry between the two cities. You have UT and Vanderbilt right at the front, but it really runs deeper than that. I was born and raised in Knoxville, and I see my family and I returning there some day. But Nashville offers so many opportunities to be a musician and be around musicians. I couldn’t have the job I do if I wasn’t in Nashville. After all that, I guess my answer amounts to “No comment.”
The unexpected return of Superdrag happens mere days after the release of the supposedly unfilmable Watchmen. Is there a connection there?
I wish there was some connection. I’m more of a Frank Miller guy, but Watchmen is easily among the top five graphic novels of all time. I will be there in the audience on the first day of the show. What I can say is that the producers of that movie made a huge mistake by not hiring Superdrag to do the soundtrack.