A Conversation with Smithereens’ Drummer, Dennis Diken

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Credit: Smithereens

Credit: Smithereens

Known for their unique and original sound, the Smithereens are one of the longest-lived bands playing today, still together after 31 years. If you went to college in the 1980s – their smartly written pop music was a staple… and continued to be so in the 90s and onward. The group has garnered numerous hits, including “Blood and Roses,” “Only a Memory,” “Wall of Sleep,” “A Girl Like You,” and “House We Used to Live In.” The Smithereens have also paid homage to their own personal heroes by issuing cover albums of Beatles and Who songs… not to mention an album of Christmas music.

Never a band to rest on its laurels, The Smithereens have just (this past Tuesday, April 5) released their latest album of originals in over a decade – Smithereens 2011. is the second stop on their post-album tour, so fans here will have an opportunity to hear both old and new material.

Ann Latner, Port Washington Patch’s music reporter, spoke to Smithereens’ drummer Dennis Diken about the upcoming performance, the new CD, and whether drummers get any respect.

The Smithereens have been together for over three decades. Many many bands have crashed and burned in a lot less time than that. To what do you attribute the band’s longevity?

We like playing together, we like hanging together… and I guess we recognize that we created a sound that‘s unique. Some people have told us that when they hear the first bit of a track, or the first downbeat of a song, they can identify us. That’s very rare and we treasure that. And we just get along well. I’ve known Jimmy [Jim Babjak – guitar] since high school.

How many albums have you put out?

Wow, I don’t know! You’d have to count. I’d guess about seven or eight full-length completely original studio albums, but then we’ve done compilations, EPs, covers, rarities, and Christmas songs.

I guess I shouldn’t call them “albums” – they’re not really albums anymore, are they?

Oh, they are! You know, the term “albums” came from when people had collections of old 78 records, and they would be held in an album. It’s really the idea of a collection of songs – so even when it’s a CD, it’s still an album of songs.

So tell me about your new album – Smithereens 2011. It’s your first CD of originals in…how long?

Since 1999.

What inspired this CD?

We wanted to make new music. We all had a lot of ideas floating around and felt like “let’s do it already.” It really was just a matter of getting around to it. We’re on the road a lot, and these days we all have big to do lists. But we decided let’s just make a record that will please us. Let’s have a lot of fun doing it. Because we believe that if you make a record from the heart and please yourself, people will like it. We played our hearts out on this CD.

Do you have a favorite song on the new CD?

I quite like “Nobody Lives Forever,” “Bring Back the One I Love,” “Rings on Her Finger,” “Turn it Around,” and “One Look at You.”

Port Washington is only your second show after the launch of your CD. What can we expect to hear at the show? Old stuff? New stuff?

We’ll be doing a lot of the recognizable songs that the fans come to hear. We like to play songs that people recognize and respond to. Sometimes people know the songs but weren’t able to connect the songs with The Smithereens. They’ll come up to us after the show and say “I didn’t realize all those songs were yours!” We get fans that have been seeing us for years who tell us we sound even better now, and we still get people who are coming to their first Smithereens show. It will be a mix of hits, album tracks, new material… It’s always a fun show!

The band is very open about acknowledging its inspirations. You guys have done two Beatles cover CDs and also the Who’s Tommy – are there any more cover albums on the horizon?

Not at the moment. We’re all just happy to have a new original album.

Is it true that drummers don’t get as much respect as, let’s say, guitarists or singers?

It’s true that the people out front tend to get more of the attention – lead singers, lead guitarists. But I’m not a disciple of Rodney Dangerfield – I feel I get enough respect.

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