The Italian connection
Local pop group the Decibels break up and then make up in time to entertain some determined fans
Bands sometimes seem unpredictable, like adolescent relationships. Just when you, the observer, start getting used to the idea that Johnny and Janie are no longer a steady thing, well, there they are again, walking down the street holding hands.
Likewise, now that you’ve gotten used to the idea that the long-running local guitar-pop band the Decibels might not be gracing any club stages anytime soon, well, here they come.
“I don’t know if we’re coming back from the dead,” singer and guitarist Dean Sievers said about his suddenly reconstituted quartet. “When we played our Christmas show [in 2001], I think we all sort of felt like, ‘That’s pretty much it.’ ”
It was a fluke that brought the band back together. A label called Halftone Records released the band’s most recent CD in the spring of 2001, The BIG Sounds of the Decibels. The cover artist, a man named Luca Tieri, had never designed an album sleeve before. He played the Decibels CD for his friends, obsessive fans of American power pop in the way only Europeans can be.
“We got a note from some Italians on December 6, saying, ‘We’re coming into the United States to see the Decibels,’ ” Sievers said.
Sievers and the band read the note and thought, hmm, there really isn’t a Decibels anymore. “But then the more we got to thinking about it,” he said, “it was like, ‘Jeez, if they’re coming from, like, Italy, the least we can do is play a gig.’ ”
On the Decibels’ Web site, Sievers lists “finding as many versions of ‘Volare,’ ” (the unlikely No. 1 hit from 1958 by Domenic Modugno) as possible as a favorite pastime. So, somehow, the Italian connection fits.
The Decibels, in various incarnations, date from early 1993, when Sievers—a veteran of such combos as the E-Types and, later, the X-Teens—hooked up with Joe Pach, who had played with another group called the Kincaids. Pach, a bassist, switched to second guitar, and the group eventually recruited Sievers’ nephew Brent Sievers—who is 11 years younger than Dean—on bass, along with powerhouse drummer Brian Machado. Brent turned up when he insisted on playing his uncle some demo tapes he’d been working on, and Dean was rather blown away. He figured he’d be an idiot to pass Brent up. “I’m not knocking the other guys,” Dean said, “but he’s like the super-talented musician in the band. He’s the guy who can pick up a glockenspiel and make cool sounds with it within five minutes.”
The band released an album, Create Action, in 1997; before that, the band released a four-song EP titled The Radio. Both of those were released by a San Jose label called G.I. Productions.
By late 2001, things had pretty much run their course. Over time, Dean and Machado both got married and fathered children, and everyone had solid day gigs. “We purposely didn’t have a farewell show or anything like that,” Dean said. “We wanted to leave the door open. But I think when we played that Christmas show, we kinda figured, ‘Ah, nice show—good way to go out.’ ”
When the band members got back to talking, they figured they didn’t have to get locked into working like dogs to make the Decibels a success story. And, once that pressure was off, the simple joys of playing loud, amplified pop music came back into view. “In the intervening year,” Dean said, “we’ve all been friends and still stayed in contact. It’s not like there was any sort of weirdness among the four of us.”
Perhaps the Decibels are fortunate. Not every musician understands when the ambitions of world domination must be scaled back to a more realistic level of expectations. “I know that we’re not going to go back to gigging regularly,” Dean said. “But if we get an offer to do something fun, we’ll just do it.”
And that, if you know anything about rock ’n’ roll, is exactly how the music should be played.