Since we visited Boston for Tuesday’s LIT80s, let’s stick around there for the ’90s and take a look at one of the more unique bands from the Boston scene during that decade, the Dambuilders. I mean, any alternative rock band that puts a violin in the mix on par with the lead guitar is worth a second look — right, Camper Van Beethoven?
Led by bassist and vocalist Dave Derby, the Dambuilders specialized in edgy power pop, honing their songwriting skills with four indie albums before signing to EastWest Records with their Encendedor album in 1994. The band was a nice counterpoint to all the grunge happening in that period, the songs driven more by the melodic bass lines, with the guitar and violin shredding out riffs in tandem, eschewing the typical verse/chorus/verse song structure. Strangely, in spite of this, the songs were also insanely catchy and memorable. Nice trick to do without a chorus. The band was also notable for their attempt to compose 50 different songs, each named after one of the 50 United States.
Encendedor’s lead single “Shrine,” a tight little tale about new romance with a girl who “doesn’t speak much English,” had some chart action on alternative radio and the video was a staple on MTV’s 120 Minutes for a time. The band followed this up with “Smell,” a track I’m not too fond of — I much prefer “Colin’s Heroes,” an excellent song for driving, complete with lyrics about, well, driving.
The Dambuilders built upon their sound with two more albums, 1995’s Ruby Red and 1997’s stab for more commercial appeal, Against the Stars, a personal favorite which saw the band venturing into more danceable realms, complete with an honest-to-goodness disco song. We’ll definitely have to talk about that one in a future LIT90s post.
However, the band called it a day after Against the Stars failed to generate any heat. Derby continues to record solo, and violinist Joan Wassar has released a couple of projects under the intriguing name Joan as Police Woman. They have yet to reunite and finish that 50 states project.
“Shrine” peaked at #13 on the Billboard Modern Rock Chart in 1994.
Get Dambuilders music (for pennies!) at Amazon or on