"I got over it pretty quick," says Pink Spiders drummer Bob Ferrari regarding the conflicts that prompted him and bassist Jon Decious to leave the band in the summer of 2008. That's where the Scene last left off the with The Spiders' sordid saga of sex, drugs, spent money, major-label rollercoaster rides and rock 'n' roll — detailed in the July 31, 2008, cover story "Oh, What a Mangled Web We Leave."
As Ferrari sits beside frontman Matt Friction following a basement rehearsal for the band's current 2 Legit 2 Quit Tour, it's clear just how over his grievances he is. The Pink Spiders are back, and for anyone familiar with the band's make-it-come-hell-or-high-water tale — which seemed to end in a little bit of making it and helluva lotta high water — their re-emergence is something of a shocker. Even more shocking to locals who loved to chide the band for their embrace of kiss-my-ass capitalistic bravado is the fact that money isn't the motive for The Pink Spiders' reformation. Fun is. "We aren't at a place where it's [about] money," Friction says.
For newcomers to The Spiders' story, here's a primer: Straight outta Nashville, armed with a calculated, Clash-meets-Three-Stooges pop-punk image and a sound boasting a power-pop pastiche of '50s doo-wop, mid-'70s glam, late-'70s punk and '80s hair metal, The Pink Spiders hit the ground running. "We're not the best band, but we're the greatest," is how they touted themselves. A trio of veteran but baby-faced local rockers, the band displayed a near disdain for credibility, gunning with tunnel vision for mainstream, rock-star glitz and glamour while living out a debauched, hand-to-mouth, 250-shithole-road-gigs-a-year DIY existence, before swan-diving into the major-label wood-chipper. All this came after a sweaty industry showcase at LA's Viper Room — birthplace of many a paparazzo's career, and death place of actor River Phoenix — thrust the band into a now-unfathomable 11-way bidding war. Ultimately, they signed with Geffen Records.
"We knew it was too early for us to sign to a [major label]," says Friction. The singer likens the band's attitude to that of rappers assimilating their lifestyle into the mainstream. "The way our band was lent itself to being over the top and extravagant. We thought it was hilarious to be in a cell phone commercial."
Living it up in Hollywood off Geffen's money and poised to be the label's "next big thing," it seemed as though The Pink Spiders' plan had worked. Until it didn't. Despite getting The Spiders a big-budget video for the single "Little Razorblade" — which debuted on TRL and made regular rotation on Fuse — prime slots on The Warped Tour and even a gig at LA's Dodger Stadium, the label fumbled its front-loaded campaign for the band, delaying the release of their Ric Ocasek-produced Geffen debut Teenage Graffiti. The album was eventually released, selling 80,000 copies — a shuddersome number by major-label standards, but respectable by any other. After Geffen failed to "hear a single" on the follow-up they bankrolled — Sweat It Out, which Friction later released via his own Mean Buzz — the label dropped them. Their management, The Firm, showed them the same kind of loyalty, and shortly thereafter, their school-bus-turned-tour-bus caught fire, taking most of their possessions with it. And so the band who'd hit the ground running had crashed and burned.
"You don't just get knocked down like that as much as we did," says Friction, "It was just like, 'Fuck. What's the next thing that happens? This isn't lookin' good.' "
Next came the departure of Ferrari and Decious, who at the time cited money disputes as the motivating factor for their exit. Principal songwriter Friction was seeing revenue from a publishing deal, while the others had exhausted the label-advance money they'd been living off of for three years. Now, three years after their split, Decious and Ferrari both agree that, above all, they were just burnt out. When asked about a rant against Friction he posted on MySpace immediately following the split and comments he and Decious made to the Scene shortly thereafter, Ferrari chalks his anger up to the frustrations of living through what a VH1 Behind the Music narrator would describe as "dizzying highs and staggering lows" in the span of a couple years. "You're on top one minute, then at rock fuckin' bottom the next, and you get pissy," he says.
"When they wanted to leave, I definitely empathized," says Friction. But a desire to honor previous touring commitments and see Sweat It Out released got him on the road with an interim lineup he says "felt like a Pink Spiders cover band."
Humbled by the collapse, life after their heyday of eight-legged freakishness wasn't easy for the three founding Spiders. Ferrari struggled with bouts of post-stardom depression and the difficulties of navigating a dismal job market, while Decious quickly realized that the various industry contacts he'd established as a Pink Spider held little for him in the way of future opportunities. "It was bleak at first," he says. "I was hoping the work I'd done for so long would pay forward, but it sure as hell didn't."
At the same time, Friction's temporary Spiders gave way to a solo effort: Matt Friction and the Cheap Shots, who made a record in California with former Talking Heads guitarist Jerry Harrison. That gave way to The Dozen Dimes, a baby-blue suit-sportin' four-piece homage to classic doo-wop.
Most impressive, though, is that through it all, the core trio never stopped being friends.
"I'm not gonna do it unless Bob and Jon are gonna do it," Friction says of his response to an offer to play a Los Angeles super-fan's bar mitzvah last year. His former rhythm section jumped at the idea. With that, last June, the band once again headed west, but for a very different reason than they had five years earlier — although they did stop in to Viper Room for a one-off gig, perhaps for old time's sake. "We realized how much we'd missed it," Ferrari says of playing the bar mitzvah, word of which caused the band's MySpace, Twitter and Facebook accounts to resurrect with various gig offers and inquiries.
What began casually as a random smattering of one-offs and a recent pair of self-released singles ("Cherry Chapstick" and "Sad Style") has quickly brought the band back to full-time status — for all founding members but one. "When we did the bar mitzvah, [me and Bob] both just realized that this is what we love doing," says Friction. "I think Jon had a really good time, but it's just not his passion anymore." Decious — now trying his hand as a Music Row songwriter — says he's on great terms with his former bandmates and wishes them well, but he's "moved on" from The Pink Spiders. "I don't [want] to go back to a place I've already been," he says, "I just [want] to write country songs." Longtime friend and fan (and the Scene's 2010 Best of Nashville pick for "Best Lovable Attention Whore"), Brandon Jazz, will assume Decious' role as bassist.
When asked what piece of advice he would offer if he could go back to 2005 with the benefit of hindsight, Friction says he'd tell himself to be more patient with his options, while Ferrari — who has no regrets — says his words of forewarning would've been futile, joking matter-of-factly, "I wouldn't have listened."
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