The Spokesman-Review

With Rock-Solid Roots, Sponge Rolls Out Of Motor City

Back in the ‘70s and early ‘80s, Detroit-based rock was a main staple of FM radio. With the combination of shredding guitarist Ted Nugent and soul-filled singer Bob Seger, the Motor City produced some of the hits that helped define an era.

Before Bob and Ted, Berry Gordy and Motown made the sounds of the streets big business with bands such as the Supremes and the Temptations.

So while there is no doubt about the significance that city has played in the history of popular music, there is some question to its recent relevance. Could the band that puts Detroit back on the rocking map be Sponge?

Good question, and one that will just have to wait for an answer. But one thing seems safe: If the band continues to release pop friendly material like their debut, “Rotting Pinata,” they will have a home on MTV.

Sponge is touring the country in support of their debut, and makes several stops in the greater Bay Area next week. The road life has helped put perspective on the Motor City for the hard rocking band.

“I appreciate it more when I am gone,” said guitarist Joey Mazzola, who took the time to talk with Let’s Go! from Detroit. “When you are gone and you come back, you say, ‘This is pretty cool.’ “

Mazzola said that growing up in the Motor City really helped shape the band’s musical identity, but believes that location almost always plays a big part in defining a group’s sound.

“I’m sure if we would have came from L.A., we would have been shaped by L.A.,” he said, and then started to name some of the important musical influences that were tied to Michigan: “We heard Iggy Pop when we were growing up, we heard Alice Cooper.”

One benefit of learning your musical licks in Detroit is that the crowds have a national reputation of being supportive and into music. In fact, Bob Seger once went on record as saying that Detroit audiences were the best audiences in the world.

“I would have to agree with him,” Mazzola said. “There is something about Detroit audiences they are just less jaded, less cynical and more appreciative of bands.”

Detroit audiences are not the only ones that have been appreciative of Sponge. Their first single “Plowed” has been on heavy rotation on MTV and receiving a ton of airplay on both Modern Rock and Top 40 radio. Most important, the single is selling.

And what is it like for Sponge - which not long ago was basically unknown outside their regular club routes - to turn on MTV and see their video sandwiched in between R.E.M. and Stone Temple Pilots?

“I have seen it on MTV, and I have gone ‘wow that is really cool’ but it hasn’t shaken my world,” Mazzola said. “I think seeing it in record stores across the country is probably as big a thrill as seeing it on MTV.”

Are these the things that make rock ‘n’ roll worthwhile to Mazzola? Or is there something else that makes being in a professional rock band great?

“Probably the knowledge that you are doing something that you are not forced to do,” he said. “There is a sense of freedom there, that I’m sure a lot of people don’t get to experience.”

Mazzola would like to see all the fans come out to the shows, but he is understanding if you can’t make it - especially if you have a good reason.

When I told him that I was not going to be at the Palo Alto show because of my wife’s birthday, he didn’t flinch in his response.

“I would miss a concert for a loved one’s birthday - in a heartbeat,” he confessed. “Rock ‘n’ roll is a necessity, but not over love.”

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