An Interview with Dennis Diken of The Smithereens

Recently, we caught up with drummer Dennis Diken, of veteran New Jersey outfit, The Smithereens. Among other things, we touch on The Smithereens’ homecoming show at NYC’s Sony Hall, the band’s early years on the college rock scene, The Smithereens’ importance on the early 90s alt-rock scene, what’s next on the horizon for the band in terms of new music, and a whole lot more.

If you would like to learn more about The Smithereens, the link to the band’s webpage is here. Once you’ve checked that out, dig into this interview with Dennis. Cheers.

Andrew:
Dennis, thanks for taking a little bit of time with me today. We’ll jump right in. The Smithereens originated in the tri-state area, so it must be a real treat to play at Sony Hall. Give me a breakdown of what makes this show special.

Dennis:
It’s always fun to play on our home turf. We’re from Jersey, but New York, of course, feels like home too. We made our bones in New Jersey and New York, and it always feels like a hometown gig. And Sony Hall is a really cool gig, I mean, we didn’t quite know what to expect when we first went there, it’s, as you know, a converted, old-style ballroom from an old hotel. After we first played there, we found out that the sound, sightlines, visuals, and everything connected with the venue are really cool. So, we have a great time playing there, and it’s Midtown, so it’s easy to get to by public transportation or driving. We always see a lot of familiar faces, some of the folks that have stuck with us for the forty-two years we’ve been together. It’s always very exciting for us.

Andrew:
What can fans expect in terms of a setlist for the evening?

Dennis:
You know, being that we’ve been together for so long, we have amassed a bit of a catalog, but we make sure that we play the songs that everybody is familiar with. We know that our fans want to hear those songs, but also because we like to play them. People ask, “Do you get tired of playing some of the songs?” And my answer is always, “No, I really never get tired of playing any of the songs in our set.” If you’re a musician that’s been around for a while, you find ways to keep things fresh for yourself, maybe put a slight twist, or even a completely new twist on a song that you’ve been playing for decades. Every night we try to make it a little different, and a little special. We’ll be playing the songs that people know from our albums like “Blood and Roses, “Only a Memory,” and “A Girl Like You,” but we’ll also dip into album tracks that we know have been fan favorites for a long time. We also play some of our personal favorites, and we play covers of some of our favorite songs that we didn’t write.

Andrew:
Going back now, what are some of your memories of the early college rock scene in which you guys were an integral part?

Dennis:
Well, we were fortunate that we found an audience with the college crowd early on. We were also fortunate that we were able to click with the college crowd in our early touring days. Simultaneous to that, we were also emerging on both college radio, and FM rock radio. So, in addition to the college coverage on the radio, we were making our inroads into the mainstream, which was nice, and college radio definitely paved the way for that. What’s really cool though, is that we played so many colleges in our early touring days, that the kids who were seeing us back then really rallied around our music, and then when they graduated college, they settled down, got married, got jobs, and had kids. Well, time has passed, and their kids have grown up, and now those kids who grew up, they’re empty nesters. Now they’re coming back out to see us again, and they’re reliving their glory days as college students. So, we’re grateful that we’ve had that loyalty from the people who our music spoke to when they were younger, and still seems to have meaning for them. It’s very rewarding.

Andrew:
It’s been well documented that the music of The Smithereens was a tremendous influence on the early 90s alt-rock movement. From your vantage point, what was the relevance of The Smithereens as that movement broke wide open.

Dennis:
For us, it was gratifying to hear that we had an influence on Nirvana and some of the other bands that were coming out in the early 90s. It just happened that way, and we certainly didn’t have any grand design or plan to make that happen, it just so happened that it went down that way. The way we played, the way Jimmy [Babjak] voiced chords, some of the changes that Pat [DiNizo] came up with, our attitude, the way Mike [Mesaros] and I play as a rhythm section, I think what we created as The Smithereens was a little bit of a different spin on what was going on in popular music at the time, and it manifested in that scene that was burgeoning in the early 90s. It’s nice that it lives on in that music, and hopefully in some other genres, and with other bands as well.

Andrew:
You mentioned some of the intricacies of The Smithereens’ music and the way the band broke established molds in a way. In your eyes, what set apart the rhythm section of The Smithereens as opposed to other bands of the era?

Dennis:
That’s a hard question to answer. I think that any rhythm section, and any group of musicians that are allowed to be themselves – really express themselves – through the way they play, will have their own voice on their instruments. And as a group, and a rhythm section, if that’s allowed to flourish in the studio, and of course, in the live realm, it can be special. Any group that’s allowed to have free expression is going to have its own voice, and that voice is what sets every group apart. What can change that is if they’re in the studio because producers tend to homogenize sounds as they see fit. I think the best way I could put it is that if an artist is allowed to play and be themselves, you can recognize their sound just from a downbeat of a record. I think any group worth its salt is going to have its own identity.

Going back to your question, though, the thing that Jimmy, Mike, and I forged together, came out of growing up together, we actually did grow up with the three of us going to school together. And so our personalities mesh in a certain way that that can only be if you’ve spent all that time learning together, listening to records together, going to concerts together, and living in your own world together as we did, and as we have.

Andrew:
It could be said that 11, Blow Up, and A Date with The Smithereens amounted to some of the greatest commercial success the band ever had. I always thought it was interesting, because The Smithereens, along with a few other bands, did the leg work leading up to that era of alternative music. And it was ironically in that era of music, you had some of your greatest success. Looking back, what do you recall regarding the success that you collectively experienced during that wave?

Dennis:
Whenever I get asked a question like that, my reflection is that they were great times to be sure, but what went with it was an awful lot of work. [Laughs]. You hit the road and you are going across the country, and touring the world, and along with that, oftentimes, your day to day existence amounts to some very long trips, traveling from gig to gig, making time during the day to visit radio stations, do press, and do various appearances. So, when I look back on that period, I look back on it very fondly, but I remember how intense the experience was. Of course, in addition to that, we made a lot of great friends that we’re still in contact with today, and we built a following. With that following, we were able to express ourselves and our music in the way that we wanted. It was a great gift that we never took lightly, and something we strived for all our lives growing up.

Andrew:
Last one, Dennis. After the show wraps up, what’s next for The Smithereens in terms of touring plans and potential new music?

Dennis:
Well, we have a bunch of dates scattered throughout the year. And we do have some material that we’re working on that we plan to record, probably this year. There’s not a whole lot more I can say about it at this time, but we do plan to record a new album as soon as we can.

Interested in learning more about The Smithereens? Hit the link below:

Be sure to check out the full catalog of VWMusic Interviews, by Andrew Daly, here: www.vinylwritermusic.com/interviews

About Post Author

Andrew Daly

With an immense passion for music, a disposition for writing, and an eagerness to teach and share both, Andrew decided to found VWMusic in 2019 as a freelance column under the column Idle Chatter. Over time, the column grew into a website that now features contributors who further the cause of sharing both a love of music and the art of journalism with the world through articles and interviews. While Andrew enjoys running the website, his real passion lies in teaching and facilitating others to do what they do best, and giving them the opportunity to explore their passions in the process. Some of Andrew’s favorite artists include KISS, Oasis, ACϟDC, Elvis Presley, Ace Frehley, The Rolling Stones, Rush, The Pretenders, Led Zeppelin, The Gaslight Anthem, Iron Maiden, John Lennon, The Melvins, Noel Gallagher, Regina Spektor, Rory Gallagher, The Stone Roses, The Strokes, Thin Lizzy, Elvis Costello, Van Halen, Neil Young, Blur, Billy Joel, Bruce Springsteen, and many more.
Happy
Happy
100 %
Sad
Sad
0 %
Excited
Excited
0 %
Sleepy
Sleepy
0 %
Angry
Angry
0 %
Surprise
Surprise
0 %

Average Rating

5 Star
0%
4 Star
0%
3 Star
0%
2 Star
0%
1 Star
0%

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: