Mid-’90s emo institution The Promise Ring announced last year that they’d reunite to play a few scattered shows throughout 2012. The band, in its early days, combined the noisy and particulate ideas of guitarist/singer Davey von Bohlen’s previous band Cap’n Jazz with more traditional punk constructions. There’s a kind of insistent, environmental appeal to the style, demonstrated in songs like “Everywhere in Denver” and “Why Did We Ever Meet?”, which feel like an onrush of water.
Before their breakup in 2002, the band released Wood/Water, an album on which they became suddenly expansive and observant, to the perceivable confusion of fans. The band will perform at the Bamboozle on Saturday and at Irving Plaza on Sunday, and The Village Voice spoke with drummer Dan Didier about the nature of the reunion as well as how Wood/Water has evolved in the estimation of Promise Ring fans.
How has the reunion been?
It’s going fine. We’re just doing a bunch of one-off weekends throughout the year. We all have other things going on in our lives so we’re trying to limit the impact that doing this reunion will have on the rest of our lives. We’re going to do a lot of fly-ins and weekends and just kind of hit a few cities. Ever since we broke up and ever since we did that one reunion at the Flower 15 Festival in Chicago in 2005, we’ve always been asked to reunite. Different events would come up or different promoter friends would contact us, but it never really worked out because of what we were doing in our personal lives. But it seemed like everything on that side mellowed a little bit enough that we could give it a go this year, give it a try and kind of see what happens.
I’ve read a lot of accounts of how you were received when you started, and a lot of it had to do with the way you guys interact with each other, musically. Do you guys still feel that chemistry?
Without doing that one show in 2005, perceivably, I don’t think we’d be able to do this one perhaps. That made it seem to us, “Oh, this is totally doable. We should definitely do this again someday.” But just because of our lives it took, shit, seven years after that to actually do it to this extent. [laughs] But the chemistry’s all there. Davey and I’ve been in Maritime and we have that. He’s got all this time because he doesn’t live too far away from me and our kids go to the same school. So I see him frequently. With Jason, it’s always nice. I never see him because he’s been in Brooklyn now. So it’s always great to see him when we rehearse and play shows, because you sort of miss hanging out with “the guys,” you know? Basically it’s just kind of a way for us to hang out again and have fun.
I like that. It seems less cynical than I feel like most reunions can either nakedly or subtextually be.
There’s no way in hell we would be doing this if we had any resentment toward one another. Because then it would be clearly that it’s just the fact that we’re just out there making money. That’s obviously part of it, but it wouldn’t be worth it no matter how much money they gave us, if you have to spend time with somebody that you resent. At least, for me. If The Promise Ring would’ve tried to stay together farther than when we broke up, there’s no way we would ever do a reunion, I feel. We would have just driven each other insane and it would’ve torn apart any sort of fabric of our relationships that we had with each other. We would’ve just killed each other at the end of that, and then there wouldn’t be any reason for a reunion. I don’t think there’s any point of doing anything unless everyone’s still into it and happy to do it and happy to hang out.
The Promise Ring, “Why Did We Ever Meet?”
I was thinking about the Wood/Water material; how have those songs aged in terms of reception now in terms of when the record came out?
It seemed to be a grower for some people. At first they’re like, “What the fuck is this? This is terrible.” But, especially when being on tour with Maritime, people come up, talk to you, and people end up saying the same thing you’re saying. “When I first heard it, I didn’t really like it. But then it kind of grew on me. I hadn’t listened to it for a bunch of years, but then I went back to it, and I really like it. Now it’s my favorite one, blah blah blah.” I think that’s sort of the sentiment I’ve been hearing a lot. It’s one of those records that we really wanted to make but it was certainly not our audience’s record that they wanted to hear. Sometimes the records take people ten years to get into. [laughs]
There’s a meditative quality to the record, and I think a lot of that’s in the approach to the drumming. Was that a conscious approach that you took to the material?
The funny thing about the drums on that record is a lot of times, the way we were recording, for some of the songs I didn’t actually play until we got into… Well, three of the songs were kind of demos on which I played drums, but a lot of the time when we did the demoing, we just had electronic drums on it. When we actually got into England, it was basically the first time we actually recorded live drums to the songs. Obviously we rehearsed the songs all in the same room, and all that. Writing that record was a fun experiment with going between stiff electronic drums and live drums, and how one can learn from the other in a way. I think that blend of listening to the song and then understanding the nuance of it, and then taking that all in and playing it live, either in rehearsing for the songs or recording it–it was definitely the first time that I’ve done that on a record. All the other records previous, there wasn’t really that technology available or we didn’t have that technology. A lot of times, whatever you did at the rehearsal space is what you recorded. The only experimentation happened when you were actually recording it. You couldn’t do a lot of experimentation to fine tune what you wanted to actually record. Overall, the whole Wood/Water thing was that the ability to have ProTools and the availability to experiment before we actually went to England to record it, I think, speaks volumes to the way it ended up and the way those performances were captured.
The Promise Ring play the Bamboozle in Asbury Park on Saturday and headline Irving Plaza on Sunday.