Charlie Grover

Soakin' It Up Like a Sponge

Detroit's Sponge

Interview by Michele Martin
Live photography by Michael T. LaRivière

38-second excerpt from "My Purity" (various formats)

I recently had the opportunity to listen to the new CD from Detroit rockers, Sponge, entitled Wax Estatic. Much to my delight, I was blown away by the music, sensing that I was hearing something provocatively and profoundly different. Thus, I was pretty excited about my interview with Sponge bassist Tim Cross and drummer Charlie Grover when they were in town for a recent show at the Town Pump.

Originally, Wax Ecstatic was planned as a concept CD, one which would look at the underbelly of the South in a style their promo package describes as "...Memphis sounding R&B, Al Green meets Ziggy Stardust." Yet the end result is a provocative melding of many different musical sounds and styles. How did they account for the final product?

cover of 'Wax Ecstatic' Tim explains: "That was an avenue we were thinking about going down, but we made a left turn and didn't go down that road. We felt that it would be a little bit confining to follow that concept so we decided to veer to the left a little bit, although a couple of tracks [such as "The Drag Queens of Memphis" and "Velveteen"] still made it on the record." "We'd all have to be in dresses every night, right into the drag queen thing," Charlie pipes up, amid much laughter.

Sponge are everywhere these days, and in speaking recently with some youngsters and older folk, I was surprised to find they were all familiar with the band. Tim comments on how they manage to attract such a diverse audience: "We aren't set in one demographic. We all know people of all different ages that like something on either one of the records..." Charlie interrupts: "When I think about some of the bands I really loved, you were able to grow with the Stones." Tim continues, "Hey, you don't just like them when you're a kid, you like them throughout your whole life!"

The musical influences are many and evident throughout the CD, including lots of southern slide and blues guitar, wailing horns, and bits of David Bowie and the Stones thrown in for good measure. How did they manage to incorporate the influences of other musicians, yet still maintain their own distinct sound? Says Tim, "We all have a variety of different influences musically and maybe we were fortunate enough to get the right blend to where it wasn't pigeonholed to a 60's or 70's or 80-ish sounding band."

live photo Charlie shares his thoughts on the changes in the band's sound: "I think that the band's grown and the songs, maybe 'Wax Ecstatic,' a couple of other ones could have been on Rotting Piñata [the band's previous CD], but there's stuff that the band's never touched on, like 'My Baby Said,' with all the horns, 'Drag Queens of Memphis,' which is so Stones-ish it's not even funny, which is great... I think it takes people just a little longer to get to like, to enjoy the album so that it grows on them a little more." Tim adds in, "It's not one of those things that smashes you over the top of the head, it kind of sneaks up and attacks you."

I shared with them my analogy for the band: a sponge soaks up whatever is around it, but no matter how saturated it becomes, it will always remain a sponge, thus accounting for Sponge's distinctive sound even with all its musical influences. Tim and Charlie's response? Appreciative laughter. "I like that," from Tim. "I do like that," from Charlie. "We may want to steal that one from you," adds in Tim.

band promo photo What's happening with the band these days? Tim replies, "We're kinda like taking a half step back so we can take a couple of steps forward. Last year we had progressed fairly far in the U.S. at a touring level, playing some decent sized venues, we had a couple of buses out for the band and the crew and things like that."

He hesitates, then continues: "This year we have new management and we're making a conscious effort to hit some places that we weren't able to cover as well on the last touring cycle, Canada being one of them, Europe a little bit more extensively, hopefully we'll do some dates in Asia and Australia, as well as covering the U.S."

So what would they like to say to the thousands of fans who'll be reading about them in Drop-D in print and on the 'Net? "Buy our record, please!" laughs Tim. In a more serious vein, he continues: "We're really happy to actually get a chance to come through Canada the way we should have been able to do last year... we're getting things on track this year, and hopefully you'll see us a lot this year."

Charlie adds in a final comment: "I just feel really fortunate being able to do what I'm doing and the band's great, and hopefully we can continue to do this."

First published in Drop-D Magazine on August 23, 1996

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