By Mark Hensch
In the world of music, side-projects can be risky business. Dropbox, a new side-project spawned by that Alt-Rock omnipresence of radio rock, Sully Erna of Godsmack, is one risky venture indeed. Their self-titled debut on Universal Records is executive produced by Erna, and beyond that, he is credited with drumming on all but three of the eleven songs on this album. With a few minor exceptions, this band never really rises above the shadow cast upon them by Godsmack, and their album has few strong points of any note at all. [The Cd was co-produced by Dave Jerden and Lee Richards from Dropbox - ed]
“Wishbone” defines the sound the band strives to achieve before Erna probably produces it seamlessly to sound more like Godsmack. It’s a dirty, southern rocker that is oddly catchy. Apparently an executive in the corporate juggernaut known as Nintendo agrees with me; this song is also the backdrop for the new Transformers video game. It suffers from brain-dead lyrics (“I’m doing it cuz I like it/Wishbone/Out of my way to find it/Wishbone” and “I wanna break you apart”) but it is after all, catchy like I said, and that must be worth something. “I Feel Fine” sounds so much like Godsmack I had to check the album cover to see if this song was really on the Dropbox CD. The vocals have a mild Sullyesque quality to them, but the main Godsmack clonage is the guitar parts. “Nowhere Man” starts off with a bass line and more Godsmack stolen riffs. The band attempts to cover such discrepancies with light grunge distortions but the curse is there and it isn’t going away. “End of Days” is another album strong point. The vocals are given chance to really stretch and experiment with more melodic stylings; as for the guitars, a nice Southern solo often provides a backdrop to the grungy start-stop riffs that provide the song’s general beat. Despite my best attempts, I found myself unable to totally hate this song.
“Forgotten Song” is another strong point; it is a soft, mellow, and largely clean song reminds me vaguely of other alt-rock bands like STP or Creed perhaps. It’s a largely bearable ballad song of sorts that shows there is a soul to this band that doesn’t resemble the previous works of Erna and his Godsmack cohorts. “Take Away the Sun” that is a weak attempt to “Southernize” light Audioslave, or more likely then that, Staind. “Run” returns with some riffs stolen off of the Godsmack and STP styles, but the guitar work is still ok and this is another radio worthy tune. “Unfold” is a nice soft to heavy song that trumps most of the previous material. “Fall Away” is more neo-grunge/alt-rock, this time only faster, and basic filler song writing at its best. “I Told You” is another weak song, and album closer “Nobody Cares” is a acoustic tune that will be covered generically in coffee houses all over the country if it is ever given a mainstream audience, but for now is alright I suppose.
As I earlier said,
this band has a song in a Transformers video game commercial. Unlike
those vintage 80’s stalwarts of pop-culture, Dropbox cannot seamlessly
transform between one band and another without friction. At
one moment, this album is B-Sides Godsmack masquerading under amplified
guitars, and at another, its basic Southern alt rock that STP would claim
was stolen as well. In general, the sound leans towards the Godsmack
spectrum, and I have a strong hunch that this is Erna’s production speaking
to me. I can almost imagine good old Sully, sitting in the studio,
listening to rough cuts of the newest recorded track. “Alright fellas’,”
Sully shouts, “back to the drawing board, this song isn’t Godsmack enough!”
The blessing of being the side-interest of an established band is that
it is the easy way out; you get so much more money, recognition, and air-play,
solely due to the influence of your most popular members. The curse
is that it is often at the loss of musical integrity, forcing one’s band
to sound like the illegitimate child of its benefactor. I am of the
mindset Dropbox should drop Sully; their drums would be much more intricate,
and their sound would be in the hands of someone not used to playing in
one of rock’s most popular acts. And believe me, that’s not always
a bad thing.
You know you've got a good band when the lead singer of a four-time-Grammy-nominated, multiplatinum group makes you the first signing to his new label. But you know you've got a great band when that same artist also wants to play on your debut album. Such is life for Dropbox, who were signed by Godsmack vocalist Sully Erna to his new imprint Realign Records.
"I'm a big fan of Dropbox," says Erna, who plays drums on 8 of the album's 11 tracks. "Their sound is a great blend of modern and classic rock with a very heavy and soulful bluesy vibe. At a time when everyone's jumping on bandwagons and following the latest trends, these guys are sticking to the basics. As a result, I think they're gonna do really well. They've got a style that's built to last."
The magnitude of Dropbox's monster talent reveals itself in their thrilling self-titled debut, an unrestrained outpouring of iron-fisted backbeats, sprawling melodies, and monolithic, Led Zep-like bombast. Produced by Dave Jerden (Alice In Chains, Jane's Addiction, The Offspring) and Dropbox guitarist Lee Richards, the record captures the timeless feel of vintage rock, complete with the whiskey-soaked croon of a vocalist who can actually sing.
"John (Kosco-Dropbox's frontman) really separates us from the pack," says Richards. "Where the majority of today's rock frontmen are rappers and screamers, he has a gritty, emotional delivery that allows us to write and record pretty much anything we want."
Free from creative constraints, the quintet lets loose with dynamic arrangements and electrifying performances. The result is an album with a big, meaty sound, propelled by a tightly drilled rhythm section (bassist James Preziosa and drummers Erna and Bob Jenkins) and a guitar tandem (Richards and Joe Wilkinson) that blends blast-furnace riffage ("Run") with streams of ambient texture ("Take Away The Sun").
They provide the backdrop for Kosco, who brings each song to life with passionate melodies and lyrics that elevate the personal to the universal. Over the course of the album's journey, he sifts through the wreckage of a broken relationship ("Fall Away"), chases elusive dreams ("Forgotten Song") and watches helplessly as a friend succumbs to addiction ("Nowhere Man"). On songs like "Unfold," he and Richards blend voices to thrilling effect, their stunning harmonies adding emotional range and depth.
The band sets the album's breakneck pace with the blistering kickoff track and lead single "Wishbone," a dense, dark song that churns with a grinding rhythm and lava-flow riff. "Dave Jerden told me that 'Wishbone' could be our 'Mississippi Queen' and that's a huge compliment because I'm a big Mountain fan," says Kosco. That's the kind of stuff I grew up on. My father also sings in a rock band and Leslie West is one of his idols. When I was a kid, I'd go see my dad play in clubs and bars, singing Joe Cocker and Stones songs and was just blown away by it all. I remember hearing my father sing for the first time; the smell of the bar, what the people in the crowd were wearing-it was all so amazing. He's had a huge influence on me. When I got older and my friends were into Metallica, I was still listening to AC/DC because that's what my father liked. It was pretty much a given that I'd follow in his footsteps and play a similar style of music."
According to Richards, producer Dave Jerden was also influential in helping the band to sharpen its sound and vision. "When we made our wish list of producers, Dave's name was at the top," says the guitarist, who assumed co-production duties after overseeing the album's pre-production phase. "The guy has worked with everyone from Alice in Chains and Jane's Addiction to the Rolling Stones and Talking Heads. He passed up some pretty huge acts to produce our record, even though we were working on a pretty small budget. Every once in a while, I'd sort of pinch myself 'cause I couldn't believe I was working alongside him. He'd compliment me on something and I'd have a hard time concentrating afterward. It was pretty funny."
Metal diehards will remember Richards as the original guitarist in Godsmack. The arrival of a son prompted him to leave the band in late '97, but he and Erna remained close. "Sully and I go way back," he says. "Our friendship has stayed strong throughout the years and that's a rare thing in an industry like this." He returned to music a few years later and dabbled in various projects, before Erna called in 2002 to tell him about Kosco.
"I met John backstage at a Godsmack show in New York," recalls Erna. "He gave me his demo and I was just floored by his voice. I introduced him to Lee and he brought in some great players that he was already working with. They took off from there and together wrote some amazing stuff."
"I remember the first time we all went
to the studio," says Richards. "After the first few minutes of playing
together, I knew we had something special. A couple of days later, I moved
from Massachusetts to Jersey, where the rest of the band lived. We all
moved into one place-like some sort of rock commune-and just wrote non-stop.
Fast-forward 18 months and I'm back in a studio with Sully, which was pretty
surreal. We were in between drummers and he offered to sit in. He's an
amazing musician and the chance to play alongside him again felt great.
On top of that, John and I went into the studio with Godsmack and co-wrote,
Touche, a song on their new acoustic album, THE OTHER SIDE. And if all
that isn't enough, we're the first band on this new label, Dave Jerden,
one of the greatest producers in rock, worked on our debut album, and now
we're getting ready to take these songs on the road. It's all been pretty
incredible. Hard to believe we're just getting started."