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No time for cake: (l-r) Lilley, Sunday and Carlton of Dryer.

Photo: Leif Zurmuhlen

Back in the Van

The Saratoga Springs indie-rock trio are reuniting after eight years—so what took them so long?

By Kirsten Ferguson

The dreaded Metroland “curse” finally caught up to Dryer two years after the Saratoga Springs indie rockers appeared on the paper’s cover in August 2000. The smiling faces of guitarist Bob Carlton, bassist Rachael Sunday and drummer Joel Lilley had appeared above the headline “Loud, Proud and Sarcastic,” while the article inside credited Dryer’s seven-year staying power to the band’s shared sense of humor and refusal to take themselves too seriously.

But, like many of the local bands granted a Metroland cover in recent years, Dryer too went down in flames—in their case after a January 2002 tour across the South and Midwest that was plagued by snowstorms, canceled and nonexistent shows, an unsupportive record label, and motels crawling with cockroaches. Their label, Gig Records, had loaned them a van and trailer wrapped in decals for bad rap groups and nu-metal band Sevendust, which they hated. Carlton got the van wedged on top of a curb in Alabama, putting a big dent in the trailer. And Carlton and Sunday couldn’t stop squabbling.

“I think anything would set us off at that point,” Carlton recounts. “She would sit on one side of the van and I would sit on the other. In Chicago, we got into a shouting match on the street at two in the morning.”

“I was thinking, ‘I wonder if I can walk back to New York from here,’” Lilley says. The drummer, the most mild-mannered member of the band, absorbed some of the tension by sitting in the back of the van making spaceships out of pipe cleaners.

The following night, Carlton and Sunday got into another fight at sound check in a Detroit club, in a neighborhood so dangerous that club workers forbade the band to leave to go get pizza. “There was no one there but the soundman and one drunk guy sitting with his feet up on the stage,” Sunday recalls. That was the last show Dryer ever played. They broke up not long after, and didn’t speak to each other for years.

While together as a band, the members of Dryer had been especially close. They lived and practiced at the same house, a crumbling cottage on Saratoga Springs’ Franklin Street that had been passed down from previous musician- tenants, including the Figgs. They drank pitchers of cheap beer together at their favorite local hangout, Desperate Annie’s (im mortalized in a Dryer song). And they made music together over the course of three full-length albums, seven tours and a multitude of singles and EPs.

Musically, Sunday and Carlton—the two primary songwriters—were very different. Sunday’s songs, influenced by the Beatles and ’80s and ’90s indie rock, had a deep- seated melodic sense and from-the-heart lyrics, while Carlton’s songs—inspired by punk and postpunk—tended to be faster and more abrasive. To some, the discrepancy between their songwriting styles could seem a bit schizophrenic. At one point in the ’90s, the band passed on potential interest from an Atlantic Records rep who reportedly was interested in signing them only if they focused exclusively on Sunday’s songs.

But to others it worked. “Never have I experienced so many contradictions that worked so well together,” says Dominick Campana, founder of Albany’s Paint Chip Records label, which dominated the local rock music scene in the ’90s and put out several of Dryer’s releases. Campana produced the first two Dryer albums, Saturday in Vain and Out of the Loop, and recorded the third, Everything in Static. “They were all equally critical parts of that band. I think it was that sense of unity that impressed me the most. And they seemed to all be true fans of each other. They were the quintessential definition of the word ‘band.’ ”

Their loyalty to each other only made the breakup that much worse. After the tour from hell, Lilley and Carlton decided among themselves that it was time to break up the band. “Nothing was working out,” Carlton says. “The band wasn’t working out. The fact that we were on Gig Records wasn’t working out. Even practice became weird. We literally stopped hanging out.”

But he and Lilley told Sunday only after their decision had already been made. “I felt betrayed,” Sunday says. “I was pissed no one actually asked me about it. I’m not saying I was blameless. I wasn’t as into the band at that point. Bob was more career-minded about it.”

“When I look back on it, we ambushed Rachael,” Carlton says. Sunday’s feeling of betrayal was compounded when Lilley and Carlton formed a new band, the Sixfifteens, without her some months later. That band ultimately didn’t last, and Carlton and Lilley eventually stopped playing music for personal reasons: Carlton was going through a divorce, and Lilley and his wife were expecting a child.

“I was having a kid, so I left my drums outside in the rain,” Lilley says. “I put them out on the front porch and they stayed there for three years. I killed them on purpose. That was my way of saying goodbye to music.”

Although the three members of Dryer continued to live near each other and socialize with many of the same friends, they largely avoided each other during the years that followed. (Sunday and Lilley even resided two doors apart in the same West Side neighborhood.)

“In a place this small, you two managed to end up in the same place very few times,” Lilley says, to Sunday and Carlton. “I was there for a few of those times, and it was like, ‘Oh shit.’ ”

Everything changed recently, when the Sixfifteens’ former record label, Fake Chapter (run by Mike Gilligan, a onetime A&R guy for their old label, Gig) approached Carlton about releasing some of Dryer’s out-of-print material digitally. He also wanted to know if they’d be interested in playing a reunion show to support the release.

“I said I haven’t talked to Rachael in a long time,” Carlton recalls. “I wrote this e-mail to her and Joel, but I didn’t send it for two days. Over the years people would ask me about a Dryer reunion and I’d say I doubted it would happen. I figured they’d come back and say they didn’t want to do it.”

Sunday’s reaction to Carlton’s e-mail was positive. She initially wondered why anyone cared about old Dryer material, but a face-to-face meeting to discuss the arrangements went well. Last week, Fake Chapter released a collection of both previously released and unreleased Dryer songs, Strut and Fret: 1993-2002, on iTunes, Amazon and other digital-download sites.

“We’re not thinking of it as a ‘Best Of’ or ‘Greatest Hits,’ ” Carlton says. “It’s a collection of songs we wish you heard the first time around. We put a lot of work into those nine to 10 years. It’d be sad to see the music unavailable.” To commemorate the occasion, a reunited Dryer will play their first show in years at Saratoga’s Putnam Den on Friday night.

As the three members of Dryer gathered in Sunday’s living room last week to discuss why they broke up and why they are anxious to play music again, the scene was part therapy session, part lighthearted reminiscence. Sunday rifled through a Dryer memorabilia box she kept all these years, filled with band recordings, articles torn from local papers, an e-mail from an admiring fan, and lists of fake song and album titles concocted over many late drunken nights: bad names like “Boba Fettish” and “No Time for Cake.”

It’s clear they’ve largely picked up where they left off as friends and as a band—only with less pressure this time. “Getting back together, my biggest fear was that I would not enjoy getting together and playing these songs,” Carlton says. “For the first couple of weeks, it was sort of weird. But I realized that I did miss playing and hanging out with these guys. The best part about it is I can hang out with Rach and we can laugh and joke around.”

“We all have similar senses of humor and interests,” says Sunday, who hadn’t really found kinship with any musicians after Dryer. “For me, it’s good to play with people I don’t have to feel nervous or self-conscious around.”

The music came back to them fairly easily, and they found their fingers remembered the old songs. “We put a lot of work and care into the songs,” Lilley says. “That’s why we still remember them.”

Future plans are up in the air, but so far band members are happy to take things as they come. “We’ll see what happens. I think it will be fun to write new songs,” Carlton says. “Someone’s got to write ‘No Time for Cake.’ ”

Personally at least, the new Dryer is a tad kinder and gentler than the old Dryer: the band of wiseasses who had a T-shirt for sale that read, “Dryer rocks. Your band sucks,” and were known to heckle fellow local bands on occasion. “I’m a much different person now,” Carlton says. “When my divorce happened, I stepped back. It made me realize I was not a nice person. If I was known to be confrontational before, I’m not anymore. I might be a little sarcastic still though. But all in good fun.”

“We’re definitely older. Maybe wiser. I’m not so much of a drama queen anymore,” Sunday admits. “Joel hasn’t changed.”

“I can’t change if I try,” Lilley says.

Driving home in the dark from the interview at Sunday’s place, over some railroad tracks near the Skidmore stables outside Saratoga, Lilley and Carlton return to discussing the breakup of the band. Although deep down they knew Sunday had felt betrayed by them, they never actually heard her say it until that night.

“I felt so guilty about ending the band that way,” Carlton says. “That’s why I didn’t talk to Rachael for a long time.”

“At the time we felt it was our only way,” Lilley says. “But it was a crushing thing for Dryer to go away—a huge chunk of my life disappeared overnight. It hurt everybody. Everybody’s glad to have this chunk of their lives back. The three of us are all happy to be playing.”

“It’s like getting a second chance,” Carlton says.

The Dryer reunion show is tomorrow (Friday), April 16, at 8:30 PM at Putnam Den (Saratoga Springs). Admission is $7 for those 21 and over, $12 under 21. Sugar Eater and Matthew Carefully open.


ROUGH MIX

Sgt. Dunbar and the Hobo Banned

TV PARTY One of the Capital Region’s own got an opportunity to sing on late-night network television last week—and boy, did she ever. One-time Metroland cover subject Erin Harkes happened to be at last Wednesday’s (April 7) taping of NBC’s Late Night with Jimmy Fallon. That evening’s show was to feature a segment called Battle of the Instant Bands, which would pit two impromptu bands against one another. According to Harkes, “While waiting in the entrance line, a producer scoured the crowd for musicians. I mentioned that I played guitar, but that I thought myself a better singer. He pulled me aside.” After 20 minutes together, Harkes and her new bandmates—dubbed Fallon Angels—played their just-written song, “Free Jimmy,” on the air, and handily beat their competition. “It was a surreal, yet invigorating and visceral experience,” says Harkes.

I’m a Ferguson man myself, so I’ll fess up to not having caught this in real time. But that’s what the Internet is for: See the Fallon Angels strut their stuff at latenightwithjimmyfallon.com. And catch Harkes in person at Savannah’s tomorrow (Friday, April 16) for a happy-hour gig at 6 PM.

FESTIVAL OF FESTIVALS So, you might have heard that Wilco are putting on a little festival. And that their Solid Sound Festival is being held not only within driving distance, but just over the hills, at MASS MoCA in North Adams, Mass. And that the three-day fest features music by Wilco and all their members’ side projects (of which there are several), as well as special workshops and installations. You heard about this, right? Wild, man.

This would seem like the cap to a summer that’s seen upstate New York overrun by music festivals, from the recurrent Mountain Jam and Camp Bisco to upstarts like Truck America and The Big Up. But there’s more: A few enterprising young gentlemen have launched the Mountain Man festival, to be held Saturday, July 24 at the Saratoga City Center. The indie-focused event features bands like Islands, Health, and Saratoga’s own Phantogram—but it won’t happen at all without a little support. Check out kickstarter.com for details on how you can help make it a reality.

FUN DRIVE Speaking of Kickstarter, one Albany band’s experience using the site got them onto the pages of The New York Times last week—the business pages, but, still. Alex Muro of Sgt. Dunbar and the Hobo Banned was interviewed about his band’s experience with Kickstarter, for an article about the various fan-funding sites available to musicians. Though Muro’s quotes revealed a certain depressing truth about the music industry (if my math is correct, they made less than $90 a show last year), the article did feature a photograph of the band. Which is, as they say, priceless.

END OF AN ERA Alternative-rock station WEQX 102.7 FM said goodbye to operations manager and program director Willobee Carlan last week. Carlan, who was with the station for five years, is off to Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, Pa., where he’ll oversee the Shamrock Communications group of stations. That familiar voice you now hear in the afternoons belongs to longtime WEQX’er Jason Irwin; he’ll also take over as the station’s music director, while midday DJ Amber Miller serves as interim program director. Irwin has fronted Glens Falls band Phillips Head for 15 years and is the host of the station’s local-music show EQX-Posure, so this can only mean good things for the Capital Region music scene.

AM RADIO The University at Albany radio station WCDB 90.9 FM celebrates a pretty cool milestone this month: The longest running show in its history, The Saturday Morning Edition of Jazz, marks its 25th year on the air. Hosted by Bill McCann, the show ran on Saturday mornings periodically from April 1985 through late 1994, beginning while McCann was still an undergrad at UAlbany; and he’s kept it on weekly ever since. This Saturday (April 17) the show’s anniversary will be celebrated with a free live concert at the Campus Center Assembly Hall, from noon until 9:30 PM. The killer lineup of area performers includes the Lee Shaw Trio, Brian Patneaude Quartet, and Keith Pray’s Big Soul Ensemble, to name a few. There’s more on the show at albanyjazz.com.

LEFT OF THE DIAL One last radio note: Metroland’s own Josh Potter will program an hour of music as host of My Exit on WEXT 97.7 FM this Monday (April 19), from 8 to 9 PM. I’d tell you to call and request “Stairway,” but the show is pre-taped.

—John Brodeur

Let us know about local-music news and happenings for inclusion in Rough Mix: E-mail tips and information to tigerpop1@yahoo.com or metroland@metroland.net.



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