Vinnie Dombrowski on Sponge, Detroit, and His Vocal Mechanic

Had the opportunity to talk with Vinnie Dombrowski, lead singer for Sponge a short time ago, thanks to Caitlin over at The End Records. As a longtime fan I was pretty excited for this, especially coming on the heels of such a great album in Stop the Bleeding, which is out now. The band is currently on the road with Spacehog, and you should expect to see a lot more of them in 2014. Here’s my chat with Vinnie:

StopthebleedingAmps: How’s everything going? The album (Stop the Bleeding) is out and you had a nice run over the summer with Everclear.

Vinnie: Well, the record just came out and we’re at the beginning of the campaign. Like any of our records it always comes down to hard work and time. I really feel that there’s no such thing as overnight sensation when it comes to Sponge. The first couple of songs that hit the radio took a lot of work from a lot of people, and we just keep working hard.

Amps: This new album has a really unique sound, and I noticed the use of sequencing/programming. I think it really adds to the songs. I really like it, I do. Tell me about how this record took shape.

Vinnie: Thank you. The first five songs were included on an EP that we released a couple of years ago. We had some serious doubts about making a full-length record ever again. Because the song-buying world today, they purchase a song on iTunes, and they typically don’t go to a store to buy a CD. And the evidence of that is the lack of space devoted to music at some of the big chains as well as the disappearance of the Mom & Pop record stores. People just don’t buy records anymore. But, long story short, we keep recording, so we figured we have all these songs, let’s pick eleven, and let’s try this one last time.

As soon as we made that decision some funny things happened. We get the call for the tour with Everclear, and then we get the call from the record label, The End out of Brooklyn that wanted to partner up with us to release this record. So I guess the decision to make a record was probably a good one. Although we weren’t going to, but we did, and here we are!

Amps: I have to ask as a longtime fan…how was opening the KISS Alive Worldwide Tour at Tiger Stadium in 1996? Detroit, your hometown!! If I wasn’t a starving student at the time, I would’ve booked a flight!

Vinnie: Oh yeah, man. That was nuts! Tiger Stadium has long been closed, so to have been part of a historical event with KISS and Alice In Chains, that was a big night for us. We didn’t expect it, but because of Stone Temple Pilots’ troubles at the time, our manager who also managed Alice In Chains asked us to do it, and the stars aligned perfectly.

Amps: Well, with that in mind how does it feel that all these years later, people still want new Sponge music, and still want to see you guys tear it up live?

Vinnie: It’s mind-boggling to tell you the truth. With the way things are these days people’s fifteen minutes of fame has been whittled down to seven, and there’s so many distractions out there these days that weren’t there years ago. You’ve got the media, social networking, and people looking to YouTube for their music now. So going to shows, most people sit with their phones up in the air these days at the show so they can post it on YouTube. So after all these years, people still wanting to come to Sponge shows and hear our new music is mind-boggling. We feel privileged.

Amps: You were here in August and I missed it, unfortunately. Since we’re at the start of the new album campaign, any chance of you swinging back through Texas on a coast-to-coast run?

Vinnie: I’m sure we will. We’re going out with Spacehog in the fall, and then of course getting into spring/summer of next year I have high hopes that we’ll be included in something good. We’ve always been blessed with a lot of good fans in Texas. And that’s the one hot spot, no pun intended, for us, so I KNOW we’ll be back there in the spring.

Amps: When I got the record “Star”, “Destroy the Boy”, “Dance Floor”, the Croce cover, “Time In a Bottle” all jumped out at me. Do you have a favorite track?

Vinnie: I’m very excited about “Dance Floor” and “Come In From the Rain”. Those songs keep coming back to us when people give us feedback.

sponge band

image: courtesy of The End Records

Amps: As the longest-tenured member of Sponge, does that influence the writing dynamic, or no?

Vinnie: A lot of times it starts with me demoing some things at home. And then face-to-face with the band, some of the other guys will come up with some parts. Some of the earlier stuff, we leaned real hard on Tim Patalan who worked on our first three records, and he co-produced many tracks on this new one, and has several writing credits as well. But it usually starts out as a demo at the house, then we finish up in the studio with Tim.

Amps: As a longtime singer in a rock band, do you have any do’s/don’ts vocally?

Vinnie: These days I just stay away from the whiskey when I’m singin’. And I know that’s hard for a lot of people and it sounds shameless, but it’s true. It’s one of those things that I go see my “mechanic” if you will because I was havin’ some issues
and he put me through a series of questions:

“Are you doing drugs?”

I go, “Not anymore.”

“Well…are you drinking when you’re singing?

I go, “I’m playin’ bars, man. How would I not?”

And he says, “You gotta stop that. If you wanna have a couple of drinks afterward, go ahead. 
But don’t do it while you’re singing. It’s like pouring gasoline on fire.”

So since then, I’ve backed off of that and I’ll be damned if he wasn’t right!

Amps: Why do you think you’ve managed to make it work all these years when a lot of your contemporaries have fallen by the wayside?

Vinnie: I’m not sure what happens to a lot of those bands, actually. Maybe it’s a desire, a need to do it, and a love for it that keeps us going. There was no Plan B many years ago, this was it. Plus, we’ve learned HOW to do it now. We show up on time, share rooms, maintain our bus/van. Hey, if you love what you do, go take a seat in the van!

Amps: What’s next for Sponge?

Vinnie: Shooting the video for “Come In From the Rain” and booking dates.

Amps: What do you do for fun outside of Sponge?

Vinnie: If we’re not on the road I’m typically in a studio recording for my various projects. I have a band called the Orbitsuns, we’ve been together about thirteen years. It’s, I don’t know, outlaw country, and it’s always a blast. We do a ton of gigs. I have another band called Crud, too. If I’m not doing any of that then I’m changing sparkplugs on my ’67 Chevy Impala. That’s what I do for fun.

Amps: What do you listen to when you’re working on the car or just relaxing?

Vinnie: That certainly is all over the map. In our van we had an iPod with studio speakers in the back, so on tour we were crankin’ everything from D’Angelo to James Brown to the Sex Pistols to Hank Williams to George Jones and Johnny Cash. You name it.

Amps: What would you like to say to your many fans, both longtime and newer ones?

Vinnie: Don’t buy songs, buy records. The bands depend on it. Not just Sponge, but all bands. If you wanna make sure that the music you love keeps comin’ back atcha, buy full records, not just songs. And I’m not against iTunes or anything like that. I’ve bought more albums than ever since I got on there, but that’s just it. I buy the whole album, without having to leave the house. Only ten bucks!

He couldn’t be more right. There are a lot of great ALBUMS out there, people, starting with Sponge’s Stop the Bleeding. Check it out today, and see what it’s like when a band puts out an entire album’s worth of great songs. Vinnie and the boys are on the road as I write this, so be sure and catch them live, too!

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