The years in Washington's punk underground pay off for Gumball

August 05, 1994|By J. Doug Gill | J. Doug Gill,Special to The Sun

While the D.C. punk rock scene of the '80s couldn't quite match the explosiveness of the New York scene of the '70s, those Washingtonians making noise during that era still developed quite a cult following. Even if their opinions were formed by the music of the Big Apple's punk pioneers.

Just ask Don Fleming, frontman for D.C.'s punk valedictorians, Gumball, true survivors of the anti-mainstream rock movement.

"When people look back [at music], they tend to be nostalgic," Fleming relates. "They have a tendency to label everything as retro. Whether it's 10 years old, five years old, or if it just came out last year, fans need a comparison."

That last statement is more than ironic because, musically, Gumball is hard to pigeonhole.

"Probably because we draw from them all," Fleming says with a laugh. "This band has always felt that there was great stuff from the '50s, '60s and '70s. We use what we consider our favorite sounds, regardless of where they're from. We just blend them all together to get the Gumball sound."

Ambiguity aside, the Gumball sound has as much to do with individual backgrounds as it does the generations from which they draw.

All four members played in a plethora of influential punk-rock ensembles, in many instances at the same time.

Fleming, keyboardist/guitarist Malcolm Riviera and drummer Jay Spiegel became fixtures on the D.C. club scene as members of local punk legends, the Velvet Monkeys.

"Washington was really happening then," Fleming continues. "The whole scene was just starting to erupt."

And exploding along with it was Gumball. That is, after Fleming and Spiegel spent time in the critically acclaimed Dinosaur Jr. That association lasted through one release on the infamous Sub Pop lable before the duo decided to start their own band.

"Working with Dinosaur was great, but as a band situation it was a bit weird. Just two guitars and two drummers. No bass! But it was a blast while it lasted."

Fleming finally got his bass. Enter bassist Eric Vermillion, a friend of Spiegel's family since his childhood.

Gumball eventually made enough noise to catch the attention of the independent label Caroline Records, which released the band's first full-length album, "Special Kiss."

Thanks to the work of yet another friend, Jim Dunbar, a major-lable agent who also signed the alternative band fireHose, Gumball was set to escape the underground.

"I don't think we expected the response to be so immediate," Fleming continues, "but as soon as we hooked up with him we were recording for Columbia Records."

The result of that session was Gumball's major-label debut, "Super Tasty." Fourth member Malcolm Riviera joined the band shortly after its release.

"With the addition of Malcolm," Fleming explains, "our sound is a lot more filled out; a lot fuller."

And that fullness has translated well to Gumball's most recent Columbia release, "Revolution On Ice," a straight-ahead blast of punk energy coupled with smart pop melodies.

"We run into that a lot," Fleming says. "Are we a pop band? Are we a noise band? Well, we do both, and that's what we lay out there for you to hear."

And you'll hear it during their current club tour, which is leading this year's Lollapalooza Festival across the country. "I guess you could say that the Lollapalooza bands are following us across the U.S.," Fleming kids.

Not unlike the hundreds of punk rock offspring that will most assuredly be following Gumball's lead when it comes to making albums.

See Gumball

What: Gumball/Pre-Lollapalooza Party, with the opening band, Rust.

Where: Eight By Ten Club, 8-10 E. Cross St.

When: Saturday, Aug. 6. Doors open at 9 p.m.

Tickets: $6, $3 if you show your ticket to Lollapalooza

Call: (410) 625-2000

Hear "Revolution"

To hear excerpts of Gumball's "Revolution on Ice," call Sundial, The Sun's telephone information service, at (410) 783-1800. In Anne Arundel County, call 268-7736; in Harford County, 836-5028; in Carroll County, 848-0338. Using a touch-tone phone, punch in the four-digit code 6129 after you hear the greeting.

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