More Than a Memory

Pat DiNizio, front man for The Smithereens, talks to NJM about his band's Jersey roots, reuniting the group, and their upcoming tour.

The lineup (from left, Jim Babjak, Severo Jornacion, Dennis Diken and Pat DiNizio) has had only one change. Jornacion joined in 2006.
Courtesy of public relations.

The Smithereens, a Jersey-bred garage-rock institution, now in their 31st year, are touring this summer to support Smithereens 2011 (eOne Music), the quartet’s first album of all-new material in 11 years. Front man Pat DiNizio, 55, of Scotch Plains talked to New Jersey Monthly about reuniting the group.

What was it like getting the band back together?

We rented out the same room we used back in the ’80s, when we did Especially for You on Capitol Records, which was our first album. It’s a place on Avenue B in Manhattan, and the equipment was exactly the same—the same worn drum sets, the same amps.

How did the setting affect the music?

It brought us back to our roots. It was the guys walking down the street with our guitars to our old rehearsal studio, which still only charges $12 an hour. It’s primitive conditions there, no luxury whatsoever. We had to put ourselves back in that hungry state
of mind.

The group started touring behind Smithereens 2011 in April and will play Maplewoodstock, in Maplewood, July 10. How have your live shows changed?

Any album a band records should be a reflection of where they are at that point in their life… That’s what we brought to the table for the new album and also what we bring to our live shows. It’s still the same sound, and we work hard at keeping it the same. We’re one of the few bands that still plugs directly into amps and puts it up to 10. It’s a raw sound with a garage feel.

Do you enjoy playing smaller venues?

I’m happy with the fact that wherever the band plays, the shows are sold out…I can remember vividly our first tour in July 1986. We did an endless string of one-nighters to try to break the band. We went to Rockford, Illinois, and 10 people showed up.

Your previous album, Meet the Smithereens, featured all Beatles material. Any music from that album in the current show?

We always do one or two songs from it, because I believe the fans enjoy it. But we also try to touch upon all our albums.

That’s a lot of Smithereens in one night.

We realize at this point that we have to be twice as good as kids half our age…We also have a determination to be spontaneous. We’re one of the only bands that works without a set list. When I announce the second song in a show no one besides me has a clue what it’s going to be.

How do you feel about the image of Jersey portrayed on reality TV?

I think a show like Jersey Shore really is disgraceful. I was never a fan of The Sopranos, either, being an Italian-American whose family had a garbage hauling business for 40 years. I took great personal offense at that show…I think that probably in the long run, in a society that seems to be obsessed with generally crazy people like Charlie Sheen, who can sell out Radio City in 10 minutes, we’re dealing with something altogether different than when the Smithereens put out our first record in 1986.

You grew up in Scotch Plains. Why did you move back?

I’m in Scotch Plains because it’s the only place in the world I feel grounded, where my equilibrium remains on an even keel. I spent most of my life here, from kindergarten through high school. Then I was in Chicago for a while, and my marriage broke up. I was hurting, and I wanted to go home where I could heal. When I came back, I happened to drive by a house I had admired my whole life, a house my schoolmates and I called the haunted house when we’d walk by it every day. There was a for sale sign in front of it. I took a look at it—it was originally built in 1885, and I’ve always liked older things.

Has the neighborhood changed?

In a lot of ways it hasn’t. Some of the same folks I grew up with still live here, and I like the familiarity. I don’t want any more surprises.

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