Hailing from Knoxville, Tennessee, Superdrag brought their apparent 1960s influences into their signature 1990s pop rock sound. Their style stood out among the popular grunge rock bands of the early to mid-1990s. As Randy Ridge wrote in Tennessee Monthly, "Superdrag's sound is a refreshing, forward-looking departure from the stale and recycled grunge rock riffs thathave dominated modern radio.
The seeds of Superdrag were planted in 1991 from the remnants of other Knoxville bands. Singer/guitarist John Davis, drummer Don Coffey, Jr.,and bassist Mike Smithers had previously started a band called Punchwagon. After recording a five-song demo and performing four or five shows, the group disbanded. Mike Smithers went on to form a band called 30 Amp Fuse(Davis and Coffey later performed on his group's debut album). Around the same time, bassist Tom Pappas and guitarist Brandon Fisher had also started a band called The Used, which self-released a cassette called Shameless Self Promotion. After its release, John Davis joined The Used as a drummer.
After The Used released another tape in 1993 called Rock and Roll Party,Davis left the band to go in his own musical direction. He began writing andrecording his own music at home and named the project Superdrag. After he had songs ready, Davis decided he wanted to perform live, so he recruited his roommate Brandon Fisher and former bandmate Don Coffey, Jr. Soon, Tom Pappas also joined the group. They made their debut at Knoxville's Mercury Theater, and Superdrag had officially blossomed. When the club closed downlater that year, they were undaunted. They continued to play by throwing parties in their own house and performing there.
When all the members recorded the original version of the song"Whitey's Theme," the chemistry of the group began to come together. "We did a demo in my bedroom," John Davis said in the band's record company bio. "It just seemed to click. At the time, that really seemed to define our sound to a lot of people." While Superdrag was performing and recording,The Used also continued to perform around Knoxville. Both bands existed simultaneously for a year before The Used disbanded.
Although the members of Superdrag all had an early interest in music, they each left behind non-musical paths to fully concentrate on the band. John Davis left the University of Tennessee where he was studying Liberal Arts. Brandon Fisher had already graduated from the University of Tennessee with a degree in English, and had plans to go to graduate school and eventually to teach college level literature. Don Coffey, Jr., whose father was an attorney, was working as an investigator in the Knoxville District Attorney'soffice.
In 1994, Superdrag self-released their first EP Stereo 360 Sound. They grabbed the attention of independent label Darla Records, which re-released five of the songs from the EP as singles. Superdrag got their first break with their debut single "Senorita," which was included on a CD that was packaged with an issue of CMJ Magazine, a national rock magazine that focused on up-and-coming bands. The group continued to release singles on both Darla Records and Arena Records, which gained notoriety among the music industry and press.
The cumulation of all this recognition resulted in a record contract with Elektra Records in 1995. Since they had already amassed attention as an "indie band," they received some criticism for signing to a major label. "We never had any illusion about being any puritan sort of indie band," John Davis told Jason Ferguson in Magnet. "I mean, we put out indie records, but we never saw ourselves as an 'indie band.' We just wanted the best distribution possible for our stuff, and obviously, WEA [Warner Elektra Atlantic Distribution] is a pretty good way to get your record out."
Before they released their Elektra debut, they put out an album on Darla Records called The Fabulous 8-Track Sound of Superdrag. It set the stage for their major label debut Regretfully Yours, which was produced by Tim O'Heir, who had also produced bands like Belly, Sebadoh, and Come. After the LP hit the streets, so did the band. They performed more than 250 shows during their worldwide tour with bands such as Better Than Ezra, Letters to Cleo, Archers of Loaf, and Polara. Their first single, "Sucked Out," quickly climbed the charts and the video spent 10 weeks as MTV's Buzz Bin choice. It was followed by another hit single called "Destination Ursa Major."
Tragedy briefly struck the band in 1996, when John Davis suffered a mental breakdown. The stress of the touring and pressure of success, along with drug use was reported as the cause. While on a double dose of LSD, Davis emptied his bank account and spent the money on alcohol, food, and flowers. He had planned to have a party and give away all of his possessions.After the incident, he began treatment for anxiety and depression.
"I think what I was trying to do was destroy my ego, because that's the thing I felt was holding me back," Davis explained to Jon Wiederhorn in RollingStone. Davis said his drug use had started to limit his ambition and diminish his self-confidence. Once he had his breakdown, he sought counseling, stopped using drugs, and returned to writing and recording with the band.
Superdrag rebounded from the setback and returned to the studio with producer Jerry Finn, who had previously produced Rancid, Green Day, and the Smoking Popes. In 1998, they released Head Trip in Every Key. Taking a departure from the fuzzy guitar sounds and jagged vocals they had become known for, they moved in a new and cleaner direction. "Because of thesuccess of the last album, we had much more time on this one, much moreaccess to other kinds of instrumentation," Davis said in the band's record company bio. "If you listen to the album as a whole, you'll hear a lot of nice little crescendos; you'll hear full separation. The whole album seems to come at you."
"These songs are a 180-degree turn from what we did before," BrandonFisher told Wayne Bledsoe in the Knoxville News-Sentinel. The first single from the album, "Do the Vampire," initially received moderate success.
However, Superdrag recognized the significance of their achievement in garnering such rapid success as a young band from Knoxville, Tennessee."Obviously, Knoxville has running water, and it's not a ghost town or anything, but in many ways it's like being from Mars," John Davis told Jon Wiederhorn in Rolling Stone. And no matter what twists and turns Superdrag's career takes, they don't plan to quit music if they lose their popularity. "I'm going to do this until I'm dead," Davis explained to Wiederhorn, "whether it's being pressed on commercial records or on my own four-track like I used to."
by Sonya Shelton