To listen to the dark, aggressive rock on Verbena's new album, Into the Pink
, you'd never guess that five years ago the Birmingham, Ala., band played bubbly indie pop. Guitarists Scott Bondy and Ann Marie Griffin, and drummer Les Nuby began their turn away from that sound on 1997's Souls for Sale
, where sleazy blues-rock riffs replaced the jangly ones of their early singles. The new, down-and-dirty Verbena found a fan and advocate in Dave Grohl, who took the band on tour with his Foo Fighters in '97, and later wound up producing Pink
"That guy is so f---in' Kurt Cobain, it's not even funny," Grohl once remarked, watching Bondy perform during one of the Foos' shows with Verbena. That sentiment has since been echoed by both the band's supporters and detractors, not just because Pink
's songs bear similarities to some of Nirvana's, but also because the gaunt, bleach-haired Bondy has been the unfortunate subject of rumors about depression and drug abuse.
His band's reputation as a perpetually feuding lot, though, found support in July, when a squabble led Griffin to refuse to join the band on its extensive U.S. tour, which will continue well into October.
Talking on a cell phone while en route to another gig, Bondy sheds some light on Verbena's new album, their image and the future.
Souls for Sale is so much more rockin' than your early singles. How did that happen?
It was conscious, just to get away from like the twee-ness of indie rock at the time, which was all really WASP-y, white, relationship, "my-girlfriend-doesn't-love-me-anymore" crap. We just kind of got over it and started listening to the Rolling Stones and stuff like that. And we went through this period where we liked really heavy blues, which I still listen to a lot of now, like Otis Redding. More than anything, the songs we had before weren't that fun to play live. It wasn't like we wanted to do rooster struts or anything on stage; we just wanted to have fun, and the songs we wrote for that record were fun to play live.
Were the Stones and blues influences something that you were into before but just didn't use in your music?
No. It's the weirdest thing; my mom is really young and she had all those records in her record collection. And I just didn't listen to that stuff. The other day I went home and looked through her record collection and found a copy of Black Sabbath's Paranoid
and Alice Cooper's Love It to Death
. I don't know many people's moms who have those records.
This new record is more of a contemporary rock record. Were there certain discoveries between Souls and this record that made the style change in that way?
Um, I dunno. Not to be like a bummer or anything, but life just kinda gets a little tougher. The f---ed up things your friends do to you become more f---ed up. And it's not like it got harder and it was like a reaction to that, it's just that I guess we wanted to make a harder record, more meaningful, attitude-y record, but also try to make it more of our own than the last one was, as far as really wearing our influences so prominently on our sleeves.
But some people would say, and have said, that this record bears the thumbprint of Dave Grohl and has Nirvana similarities.
But I think that were his name not attached to the record, it wouldn't be said as much as it is. And it's more the Pixies. I'm a huge fan of that band, too. But if anything I hope we're just influenced by like the spirit of [Nirvana], the bands that they were inspired by. You know, people always act like music history only goes as far back as grunge. Well, what happened to bands before like the Sex Pistols and the Stooges and all that stuff, you know what I mean? If you sound like Mudhoney, you must be a Mudhoney rip-off and not a Stooges rip-off.
How do you feel about the idea that bands sort of have to cultivate a particular kind of image to succeed?
I think it's so ingrained in musical history as far as rock & roll goes. Certainly I think some people have been able to avoid it, but if you're a certain band, it helps. Like, for some people to add to the mystique and legend of it to think they're drug addicts or to think that they're f---ed up or depressed or whatever. And some of those things, I think with bands I've known, are self-fulfilling. But at the same time, I think some of those things are really real and true, not even just in music, but like even like painters and stuff. I dunno, would the Who have been as cool if Keith Moon hadn't done all that f---ed up stuff? And Pete Townshend? I don't think they would have.
Do you think that people who are familiar with Verbena have a certain concept about the band's image?
What do you think they think it is?
I don't wanna talk about it. [Laughing] I mean, there's just like the drug rumors and stuff like that. Like, on my birthday a couple of years ago, I had cut my arm all up on a window in a door and I had, like, twenty-six stitches in my arm. And we had to go on tour and we played in Seattle and before we played I had to tape my arm up so it wouldn't get hurt more from bumping into my guitar. And I got home and heard rumors about myself that I had tried to kill myself and all this stuff. It's just ridiculous.
But don't you think that if people have certain ideas about your band's image, that means that they're familiar with you and then maybe it's a good thing?
Yeah, I do think it's a good thing. It's like the music industry in general, like I've seen it happen with bands, where it's OK for people to think you're on drugs, as long as you're not f---ing up. Including your label. Like that whole thing when all those people died a few years ago of O.D.'s, it was like there was gonna be this big revamping of how they were gonna deal with drug addicts in the music industry. And there were all these articles about "What are we gonna do about it?" and all this crap. And they put a band-aid on it for a few months and then it goes away again because if you're selling a million records or half a million records and you're f---ed up on drugs, no one's gonna stop you unless it's starting to cause problems like shows being cancelled and stuff like that.
What is the short-term long-term goal for Verbena?
To do what we want to do when we want to do it. To be able to put out at least a record a year, so we could get more stuff out and get certain things out of our system and move on to something else. I mean, that was the great thing about the Beatles and the Rolling Stones and those bands. They were able to do so many things in shorter periods of time, because they were allowed to put out more records. And you'd think advances in technology would facilitate quicker releases but it's completely the opposite. I'd like to be able to put out a record, tour six months, make another record, put out the record, tour six months. And be able to jump around from genre to genre whenever we felt like it. I don't think we'll be hemmed in to any one particular thing.
Written by JENNY ELISCU for RollingStone.com News