The alt-rockers revisit their blues roots and reinvent their sound
While touring in England behind the 2011 release of Pocket Full of Kryptonite: 20th Anniversary Edition, the Spin Doctors made a discovery: Their future lay in their past. Before the band hit the charts in the early ’90s with peppy, poppy alt-rock tunes such as “Little Miss Can’t Be Wrong,” “Two Princes” and “Jimmy Olsen’s Blues,” their stock in trade was the blues—honed by playing the New York club scene.
Two decades later, the band is returning to those musical roots for their latest release If the River Was Whiskey. “On the England swing of our tour, we had a couple of über fans who taped everything we did,” says lead singer Chris Barron. “We asked these guys what they wanted to hear, and they were naming some of our earliest songs. I didn’t even remember all the verses to one, but of course they had a tape of it. It sounded amazing. We did it in the encore that night.”
Fan reaction was so strong they started playing their old blues music at shows. As the tour came to a close, the band—Barron, drummer Aaron Comess, guitarist Eric Schenkman and bassist Mark White—started talking about their next record. “It didn’t take us long to take the jump to making a blues record,” says Barron. “We said, ‘Hell, let’s just do it. We might as well make the record we want to make.’” They soon gathered in Comess’ home recording studio to demo songs from the band’s club days and began writing new material.
“It all came together really fast,” recalls Barron. “We went in on Tuesday and nailed five tunes, went in on Wednesday and nailed five. Then we went out to dinner and said, ‘I think our demo is our new record. It’s a blues record—and it’s fantastic.’”
Embracing their early music created a rift of sorts among fans of their mainstream hits and those drawn to the blues. Barron remembers “looking over at parents and their 10-year-old kids and thinking, ‘This isn’t really my scene anymore.’” But the instinct to return to their blues roots was bolstered during the London run. As Barron says, “We went for a drink after a show in London and there were two blokes telling us, ‘We saw the show and figured we’d hear ‘Two Princes,’ which was my favorite song when I was 12, but I really wasn’t expecting much. You guys really caught us off guard coming out and playing all that blues stuff.” Barron and the band are energized about their new-old direction. “This is our music,” he says. “This is who we were before Pocket Full of Kryptonite. This is like a new band.”