Contrary to popular belief, Pat DiNizio and The Smithereens haven’t fallen off the face of the earth.
Truth be told, the definitive pop-rock band – celebrating its 15th year together this month – has never been busier.
First, there’s the newly released “Blown to Smithereens,” a neatly packaged 16-track greatest-hits collection from the quartet’s former label, Capitol. “The Attack of The Smithereens,” a 30-cut companion compilation of B-sides and rarities, will follow in a few months.
They’re lined up for appearances on “The Tonight Show With Jay Leno” and “Late Night With Conan O’Brien.” DiNizio is recording a solo track for a Graham Parker tribute LP, and The Smithereens are performing “Long Cool Woman (In a Black Dress)” on a forthcoming Hollies tribute. Their U.S. tour, which opened April 13, has them doing about 40 shows in six weeks, and somewhere along the line they’ll begin work on a new album.
More close to home in Chicago, DiNizio is directing movers on what boxes to pack up for his family’s move to a new home near Wrigley Field. He doesn’t care much for Major League Baseball, but his 13-month-old daughter loves to watch the game.
DiNizio stops for a few minutes to reflect on The Smithereens’ impact on a new generation of hook-laden pop groups.
“I went to see this band last weekend in a venue called the Cubby Bear, which is across the street from Wrigley Field,” he says. “The band is called Watershed, and they’re going to open for us on our tour. They’re an aggressive, Cheap Trick-influenced, sort of punk-pop band. I really like them.
“Loads of people kept coming up to me after the show because the music was similar to ours. Grown men with tears in their eyes were thanking me for the music … I said, ‘Well, I appreciate it, but we’re still very much alive. We’re making a new record.’ A lot of people think I’ve vanished.”
Releasing a best-of album is a career milestone for most bands, but often it gives a false impression that it’s over. “Blown to Smithereens,” DiNizio says, takes listeners from the very beginning, with cuts off their 1986 debut album, “Especially For You,” up to “Miles From Nowhere,” from last year’s “A Date With The Smithereens” (licensed by their new label, RCA).
“I would hate it, certainly, if we put this record out and it just sat there on the shelf,” DiNizio says, “because I think it deserves to be heard. You really hear what we’ve accomplished, what we’ve really done with all the tracks, assembled side by side in one collection.”
DiNizio admits the tracks, when stacked together, sound similar, staying true to The Smithereens’ roots in the classic three-minute pop song.
“But you can see a definite progression,” he says, “until you get to ‘Too Much Passion,’ where we sort of pushed the blatant-pop envelope as far as we could. And then we brought it all back home with ‘Miles From Nowhere,’ which really sounds like it could have been an outtake from the first album. It had the same attitude, the same aggressive quality.”
Not one to wax poetically about the past, DiNizio has no trouble defining The Smithereens’ peaks and valleys over the past 15 years.
“The high point, for me, was probably doing ‘Saturday Night Live’ in 1990,” he says. “That’s a sure sign that you’ve achieved some sort of success. … The low point was probably getting dropped by Capitol. A new president came in that wasn’t a fan of our music, and times had changed.
“It was a very depressing time, but we really rebounded because we signed with RCA literally two weeks after Capitol dropped us.”
Though it’s far from finished, DiNizio says, he would like The Smithereens to be remembered as “a good rock ‘n’ roll band.”
“Actually, we’re a great rock ‘n’ roll band,” he says, “one of the best that ever was, sort of operating in our own little tunnel-vision world.”
BWF (before we forget): Among the rare tracks on “The Attack of The Smithereens,” released in late 1995, the band was caught live backing up Otis Blackwell on “Fever” and “Don’t Be Cruel.” There also are collaborations with Ray and Dave Davies of The Kinks on versions of “Lola” and “You Really Got Me,” and members of Beau Brummels on “Just a Little.” … Sadly, Pat DiNizio died on Dec. 12, 2017. He was 62.
More updates: Fall Out Boy, Depeche Mode, Echosmith, Yann Tiersen, The Searchers, etc
More updates: Avalon, Tami Neilson, Beach Slang, BRKN Love, Mary J. Blige, Bing Crosby, Change, etc