When you listen to the Del-Lords’ new album Elvis Club, or see them at The Bowery Electric Thursday night, you can thank Spain. Or at least the Spanish promoter whose persistence finally brought the Del-Lords back together in 2010 for the first time in 20 years. For guitarist / vocalist Eric Ambel, it was almost like that Michael Corleone line from the Godfather III: “Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in.”
“Pretty close actually,” he laughs. “There was a promoter in Spain who was a super fan. Ten years ago we wouldn’t have done it, 15 years ago we wouldn’t have done it, but over time, when I would go over to Spain on tour with the Yayhoos or with Steve Earle, I would run into this promoter, and (singer / guitarist) Scott (Kempner) would have the same thing if he was over there solo or with The Dictators. He would say ‘the Del-Lords are my favorite band, I must have the Del-Lords.’ At a certain point, we were like ‘well, what do you think?’”
Ambel and Kempner, along with original drummer Frank Funaro, agreed that it was time to test the waters once again, and the reaction they received in Europe cemented their resolve to give the world another shot of Del-Lords music.
“In America, a musician is a guy without a job,” said Ambel. “Over there, we’re American artists and they see rock and roll as something that was born in America, and there’s a respect that all of us get over there that’s like nothing that we encounter in the States. Respect and enthusiasm. They know real rock and roll when they hear it, and they go nuts for it. In America, you might get greeted by a surly bartender and maybe a pizza. But in Spain they take you to the nicest restaurant in town.”
Following their European jaunt, the New York rockers returned home and began writing what would eventually become Elvis Club. An EP called Under Construction gave fans a dose of the new tunes, their first set since 1990’s Lovers Who Wander, and when asked if getting back with his bandmates was like riding a bike, Ambel says yes, with a qualifier.
“It was like riding a really good bike because everyone had been honing their craft,” he said. “Frank is playing better than ever and Scott’s got even more songs. I had been working with bands and a lot of what I learned about producing was the Del-Lords’ different recording experiences, some which were better than others.”
Yet unlike their first stint from 1982 to 1990, this time they had the freedom to call their own shots.
“This really was done from an indulgent point of view, and I find most of your pure music comes from that,” he said. “We just got back together and started recording some songs, and we didn’t have a real agenda and didn’t have a record company or anybody telling us what we needed to do, so it kind of put us back to where we started, which was looking at Scott’s songs and figuring out which ones we wanted to work on.”
And on Elvis Club, what the 12 tracks capture is something you didn’t hear on their previous four albums – the live feel and interplay between the band members that made them the must see live act they were in their heyday.
“When people talk about a band and say ‘You’ve got to see them live,’ that means that their thing hasn’t been recorded right yet,” said Ambel. “And I always felt like the best part of the Del-Lords had never made it to a record. So what I was shooting for was really trying to get the best part of the Del-Lords on a record. When we came up in the 80s, I refer to it as the dark years of guitar recording. It was a difficult time. Engineers were kind of in control, and people were enamored with this digital reverb, and they really didn’t like the idea of people playing at the same time in the studio. The Del-Lords recorded at some of the greatest recording studios in the world, and still, we’d play as a band and then they’d replace each guy’s part one at a time, which, to me, turns into the police interrogation when you catch the four kids breaking windows. They take them into four separate rooms and see if their stories match. This is the first time we were really all playing together.”
You can hear it immediately, and while the members of the band have remained busy over the years with various projects, you hope that they’re going to be sticking together for a while.
“It’s great,” Ambel said of the reunion. “And it doesn’t feel like a lot of time’s passed. You start playing music together and then you’re the same guys. You start riding around in the van and some of the same stories and the same jokes are coming up. When it’s good, it’s automatic that way.”
Perhaps the only problem these days is picking a set list.
“We’re going with what we feel would work,” he said. “We’re gonna represent a little bit of everything, but we are excited about the new record, so we’ll definitely be playing some of those songs. We’ll be hitting it real hard, that’s for sure.”
The Del-Lords play The Bowery Electric on Thursday, June 27. For tickets, click here