Interview with Vin Dombroski of Sponge

by Mark Beeson & Karen Yadvish

Detroit is a music town like few others. It has produced rock royalty such as the MC5, Iggy and The Stooges, The White Stripes and Bob Seger, not to mention that it’s also the birthplace of Motown. 

Sponge burst out of the Detroit scene in the early 90’s and hasn’t stopped since. They are currently co-headlining The Working Class Tour with The Nixons which kicks off in D.C. on December 3rd. We were able to catch up with Vin Dombroski, lead vocalist and songwriter for Sponge, and ask him a few questions.

So, Sponge did a show on Tuesday or Wednesday night?

Yeah, we played a show Wednesday in Detroit that’s turned into a yearly thing that we’re doing. A charity is tied in as well, a charity right downtown in Detroit, a stone’s throw from the venue. So, it’s the second year, and it’s far surpassed our expectations, and I think we did a good job. So that’s what we did.

Sponge is kicking off their tour with The Nixons in D.C. on Tuesday.

That’s correct.

What’s new with Sponge? What’s on the horizon? Have you been in the studio or have anything in the works?

Regarding recording, we do have a single that we’ve been pushing around on radio, and the single is something called “Uber and a Fifth of Tequila.” It’s a song that we wrote specifically for a pub crawl that we do in Detroit. That’s something that’s a yearly thing that we do. We have the next pub crawl February 22nd, but the last pub crawl we did was back in March of this year. We thought it’d be cool to help promote the pub crawl on the internet. We put together this “Uber and a Fifth of Tequila,” and there was a label that was interested in a Sponge track, and we gave them a few Sponge songs. The Uber track was included, and we thought they’d pick a rock track, but they flipped out over this Uber track. So that’s the most recent thing that’s out right now. We’ve been kicking around the idea of making a new record, but the Uber track is out there right now at radio, and we happen to be going on the road. So, I think we’ll be kind of showing up the radio visibility with tour dates.

To your songwriting point, has your process changed in how you write songs? Do you still use the same inspiration that you used when you first started writing? Is it any different than when you started?

Yeah, I tend to write things that seem to, I don’t know, affect people in a cool way when I’m not sitting around trying to write something. If I’m trying to write something, it sounds like I’m trying to write, so I tend to make notes, make recordings when the ideas hit me, and that could be anytime, anywhere. So, I gotta be available to it, basically to at least get some ideas together whenever that is. As long as I operate that way, it seems to be more effective regarding just people going, “Wow, that’s a cool song.” And that certainly was the old way it was done. I think I moved away from that to be what they call a more disciplined songwriter, but I just sit and go, the shit sounds like I’m… you can hear the wheels turning, you know what I mean, and it doesn’t seem to be, you know, really from the heart kind of writing. So, I tend to just hopefully stay on track with writing when there’s the proper inspiration and not sit around going, “What do I write today?” kind of crap, you know?

Right, so you get something that’s going to come across as honest and sincere.

That would be the hope, because people sometimes feel the audiences are dumb, this kind of thing, and I just go, “Ahh, I don’t know, they sure know what hits them.” They sure seem to know if it seems to be honest a lot of times as well.

Going back to 2016 to your Beer Sessions, where did the idea come to do that? I’ve seen the videos on your site where you talk about it, but what was the initial inspiration for The Beer Sessions?

We were going to go and record a record, and then talking to a brewer friend of mine, a guy by the name of Eric Briggeman who is the brewmaster at Rochester Mills Brewery just outside of Detroit. He’s like, what’s it like in the studio with a band when they record? I go, come on out, you can come out and see because we recorded that record out in Saline, Michigan, which is about an hour outside of Detroit. And he drove in, and I said, yeah, definitely bring some beer with you when you come, and then we started thinking about it a little bit. It’s a great opportunity because the band is, we’re craft beer fans, Michigan craft beer fans, and to kind of pair up the music and the beer seemed to be something fun. Not to mention the writing process. It made the writing process very cool, too, because it was really from the hip, right, like it was old school style Sponge. We’re going to get in, we’re going to have a song ready, written in the morning. We’re going to track it, by happy hour we’re cutting guitar solos and final overdub backing vocals or something like that, and we were pretty much on track to do one song per day. It was a lot of fun to operate like that, you’re not overthinking, you got one shot to get it right 〈in〉 one day. It was kind of refreshing to do that as opposed to sitting in a studio, over-track guitars or over-track vocals or whatever, so it was really shooting from the hip, and it was a lot of fun.

Yeah, that’s almost old school.

Refreshingly old school. You got one shot to get this right, and we’re not going to have two weeks to cut two drum tracks.

Here’s a tough question for you. I know this is like if you had to choose your favorite child, but which of your albums are you most proud of?

I think as far as what we’ve brought with it – really strong record and a record that we… This record we did spend a ton of time on, but we made it essentially twice. The record was I think put together in a way that it was a band effort, that type of thing. I think it would have been perhaps New Pop Sunday. Wax Ecstatic I felt was a fine effort although it was a record that people go, “This doesn’t sound like the first record.” We were certainly mighty proud of that record. But as far as the record that was pinned together within a band effort atmosphere, I think New Pop Sunday was probably one of those records that I think it kind of encapsulated what Sponge is, what it was, what it could be ten years from now. I think that record did it, but that record, just the timing of that record, I don’t think that record was a hard enough rock record in 1999 to get distillated at radio that was effective to the label. So that record came out, made a little splash, and then it disappeared.

Yeah, the music industry, It’s a tough industry. It’s very different than what it used to be. How have the changes affected the way you do things today? How do you promote the band and get new music out to your audience?

Well, band awareness seems to be social media and going out live. The record is almost a side bar. The record is a calling card to go on tour. But as a record, years ago it was like here’s this music that’s going to be pushed to the masses on radio, and you’re going to go out to the clubs in different cities to play. Now, it’s just for us. We go out, and we tour, we use social media. Radio certainly is an aspect of it, but radio and MTV used to be it. Social media seems to be one of the major components. Radio certainly helps us and getting out there in the live market. And if we happen to have a song, radio can help prop it up, but certainly social media also can help prop that up, not to mention a video. A video that’s not on MTV, a video that  is on – Tada! YouTube! So that’s probably what I feel kind of wraps up what we do for a campaign.

Are you a fan of social media or is it kind of like a necessary evil?

Necessary evil. I’m not good at it. I spent a lot of my time on social media to help promote the shows. Lots of promoters really like the idea of us doing videos personalized with us for the event club, which we will do. We will post them as a promoter posting news content. It’s not like I’m really good at that. I’ve always felt that I’m a guy in a band that writes songs, and that’s what I do. And all these other things, these other hats that it’s necessary that you wear these days, that’s a challenge. I mean, we all gotta grow, we all gotta learn, I get that, but it’s not my favorite thing. If I had my choice, I would just be in the studio all the time cranking out new tunes and just going out there to play shows. That would be the cool thing.

Is there any point in your career that you thought you just wanted to get out of the music business and do something completely different?

I just don’t know what that possibly could be. I would never really had a backup plan when I was a young guy in high school. I never said I’m going to go to college and do this or that. I never had an opportunity to have a job that really… yeah, union job. I come from Detroit, but car companies, when I got to high school, we were coming out of the recession. A lot of my friends were leaving town, leaving Detroit to go work in Texas at a car plant, a car company. There weren’t a ton of jobs in Detroit at that time, but for me at that time, working in a rock band or being in a rock band was a good bet. I didn’t need a lot of money to survive in Detroit, either. I could pay a $140 for a flat in Detroit. Now, a lot of people wouldn’t want to live in a place like that in an area like that, but I did, and I made it work. So yeah, if you don’t need a lot of money and you got a passion to play music, Detroit’s a great place to be.

I never had a back-up plan. That wasn’t my thing. Never had one.

So, Sponge is heading out for a couple weeks. When you’re busy touring, how do you keep things fresh from night to night?

Good question. Honestly, I’m still trying to get it right. I’m out there trying to do the best job I can. The songs from the first album still challenge me. If I can still do the songs and do ’em the best I can, that’s a big challenge for me still. I don’t get bored of that. We still play a lot of the old hits, and we temper the set with new stuff, too. And remembering the lyrics without a teleprompter, I mean, there’s no teleprompter. So, I gotta remember the words, and I know the challenges as time goes on.

Well, that’ll keep you sharp, having to remember all the lyrics.

It’ll keep you sober, too! (laughs)

What artists have you been listening to recently? Any new bands that you think we should all be checking out?

Ahh…new bands? I’ll give you what’s in Detroit. There are some new groups in the city that have yet to kind of bust out, break out, and I’m at odds to even talk about bands like that at the moment. Lately, to me, I just go, well, if Sturgill Simpson comes out with a new record. And I sit there and listen to a brand new Sturgill Simpson record, and I go, “What the hell is this?” (laughs) You know what I mean?

But there you go. The first Sponge record sounded like the first Sponge record. The second Sponge record, we’re branching out. We don’t want to get pigeonholed. The third Sponge record sounds a little different. Whether it was Zeppelin or Pink Floyd, a lot of those bands we grew up listening to, they morphed in the sound. I guess people did that kind of thing as opposed to like…  and I love AC/DC, don’t get me wrong, they’re the greatest rock band on Earth. They manage to always sound like AC/DC. That wasn’t another thing. So Sturgill coming out with the record he came out with, I go, well, a guy can go do what he wants, and he sure did, so you know, I look at that. I think it’s pretty cool.

Yeah, his new record is New Wave.

The record sounds like Sturgill nut. (laughs) I don’t know, man, or like White Zombie or something. That’s pretty cool. I listened to it twice, first listen I’m going, “What the hell is this?” Second listen, I’m going, “Okay, I get it now. That’s okay. That’s acceptable.”

Here’s a less serious question. At various times, you’ve had pairs of brothers in your band. Good or bad?

You know, the brothers that we had in the band, years ago… It can be a challenge because they team up on you. But they don’t always agree, but they team up on you! The brothers that we have currently, both of them, we all seem to get along pretty good. Now, you gotta understand, the brothers that I’m talking about that are currently with the group, Tim Patalan and Andy Patalan, Tim Patalan has produced many of Sponge’s albums. So, he’s always been…as well as his brother Andy, Andy all the way back to being in the studio during Rotting Piñata and Wax Ecstatic, and Andy’s been in the band too since. So, these two particular brothers… I think that it would be tough if I was in a band and my brother was in a band. That’s the Black Crowes out right now. I recently saw them doing a performance on Howard Stern. I go, this is great, to get back together, they’re out there touring. I guess they’re going to perform the whole first album, is it? That’s pretty cool stuff. But yeah, having a brother in a band, like for me that could prove to be a little difficult.

Yeah, it could be Oasis.

Oh, I forgot about that, man. Both those guys have careers right now. They suffered with each other.

So, Tuesday night you’re kicking off the tour. What can fans expect to hear? Are you pulling out any nuggets, any deep cuts?

We’re gonna sit down and talk about this. I think that we have probably 45 to 50 minutes we’re talking about. We wanted to keep it lean and mean. We wanted to keep it up-tempo and just get out there and crush. I think that’s what we plan on doing. There is, of course, the new tracks, The Beer Sessions that we’re talking about playing. There’s a chance we’ll be playing “Uber and a Fifth of Tequila” if the mood strikes us, and of course we’ll play “Plowed” at least once. Maybe we’ll play “Plowed” twice. We’ll get it off the shelf at the beginning of the set, and we’ll play “Plowed” again at the end of night, too.

Sponge will be co-headlining with The Nixons at The Rock & Roll Hotel, Washington, D.C. on Tuesday, December 3rd

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Mark Beeson

Mark Beeson is a musician, songwriter and studio producer/engineer at Fred n’ Elvis’ Guitar Lounge. He grew up in the Philadelphia area and is a die-hard Eagles and Penn State fan. Occasionally Mark will step and out conduct an artist interview when he’s not busy in his role as the art director and content manager for Alchemical Records.

Karen Yadvish

Karen is an avid music fan and guitar player and collector who has performed on stage with Rick Nielsen and Robin Zander of Cheap Trick. Karen is the Editor and SEO manager of Alchemical Records. Many people don’t know that Karen is a former genetic scientist who worked on the team responsible for sequencing the human genome for the first time.

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