By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Alice Laussade
By Scott Reitz
On March 13, 2005, Slobberbone was done. Singer Brent Best, guitarist Jess Barr, drummer Tony Harper and bassist Brian Lane finished their decade-plus run with a three-hour concert at Dan's Silverleaf in their hometown of Denton, and a remarkably international crowd visited to say goodbye to fan favorites like "Billy Pritchard," "Pinball Song" and "Dunk You in the River."
The end of the roots-rock quartet's run, though sad, wasn't the most unexpected news in town. Lane had moved to Florida more than a year earlier, and the band had made it clear that no members of the group would ever be replaced. Fewer gigs with the original lineup played a part in the breakup, but something else was afoot.
Last year, Best put the finishing touches on a home studio and began running the boards for projects by Budapest One and Baboon bassist Mark Hughes, among others. Downtime from those sessions (and lack of Slobberbone gigs) gave Best time to fool around with solo demos of his own.
"I needed to back away...just write tunes and stuff," Best says. "Now that I have a studio, I can try stuff out before taking it to the band. Once I knew we were shutting Slobberbone down, I thought about what kind of band that could be."
Best's new material may have started as a lonely affair, but his new songs were designed to branch much further beyond Slobberbone's guitar-bass-drums formula, and Barr and Harper made it clear that they weren't done making music either. After announcing the band's final concerts late last year, Best invited longtime friends and Budapest One songwriters Keith Killoren and Chad Stockslager, who had filled in on older Slobberbone gigs when Lane was absent, to join his new venture.
"Those guys are just great to be around," Best says. "We have very similar aesthetics about what turns us on musically. It just seemed real natural."
Stockslager immediately boosted the group's sound with backing vocals, pianos and organs; what had been a cursory portion of Slobberbone's studio output was now a central element of amazing new songs like the heartbreaking, coming-of-age "Robert Cole" and the lush "Humalong." Killoren was forced into a new position--the bravado-filled lead singer of Budapest One switched to bass and backing vocals, but he welcomed the change.
"Right now, all I can think about is playing the bass," Killoren says. "I love being that part of the band--shoveling coal in the engine and not being the engineer."
Only a week after closing the door on Slobberbone, the new quintet debuted at Austin's South by Southwest festival, under Best's name (the band's name later changed to The Drams) and playing only new songs.When the venue quickly reached capacity, fans crowded around windows on the street to watch the show.
"I couldn't believe the response from the crowd that night," Stockslager says. "You'd have thought we were playing the old Slobberbone favorites, but they were freaking out over all the new songs. I'd never seen anything like that before."
"To be honest, it wasn't like, 'Hey, we're gonna put a band together, make records and tour like Slobberbone,'" Best says. "But songs came together really quickly once Keith and Chad were on board, and then we played a few shows and I realized I was having a shitload of fun onstage, which I hadn't in a while."
Slobberbone had become a situation where "you're still going and going because that's what you do," Best says, though he is adamant that even if Lane had stayed in Texas, the original foursome would've evolved with extra members and an emphasis on more fleshed-out songwriting. But with new members and a new name, along with a forthcoming European tour and a deal with New West Records, Best calls The Drams a chance to start over.
Even with age and experience, a new recklessness is evident, especially on rockin' new single "Shortsighted": "Let's buckle under to the pressure, let's fail miserably / let's play the shit joints, let's just make up the songs as we go along."
"Slobberbone fans have already made a big deal about [The Drams] being markedly different, but really, I still love the same things I've always loved musically," Best says. "I'm just finally able to incorporate the other aspects that weren't really incorporable [in Slobberbone]. I've been writing songs and touring and doing this for a pretty long time. As you keep growing that sort of stuff, some things become less important and you have to...no, you just naturally begin digging in areas where you didn't dig before."