It may not hold as mythical a place in rock history as Chinese Democracy, but the 15-year gap between Prisonshake's last album and the new Dirty Moons could certainly give Axl's long-gestating Guns N' Roses project a run for its money. Then again, the onetime Cleveland-based indie-rock band never sold a gazillion records; in fact, one of Axl's old bandannas has probably made more money than all of Prisonshake's albums combined.
Frontman Robert Griffin says that the extended break between 1993's The Roaring Third and Dirty Moons, which came out last month, had little to do with constant studio tweaking, revolving band members or even out-of-control egos. "We weren't gonna rush," he says. "We had done so much rock 'n' roll treadmill-kinda stuff Ð- record, put out record, tour, record, put out record, tour Ð- that we just had our fill of that. But where most bands would have broken up, we stayed together but decided to do things only when and how we wanted to."
Dirty Moons Ð- a 30-song, two-CD behemoth Ð- was recorded between 1995 and 2007 at various studios. But those dozen years weren't always productive ones. Sessions were started and then abandoned. Members went off and did their own things. Guys got married and had kids. And Griffin was busy running Scat Records, the label that he formed in Cleveland and relocated to his current home of St. Louis (Scat is best known for releasing Guided by Voices' early albums, including the monumental Bee Thousand).
"People always say, 'I gotta get out of this town,' and I did because I could," says the 42-year-old Griffin, who was born in Cleveland and lived "all over the city Ð- East Side, West Side, cities, suburbs. I went to eight different elementary schools."
Prisonshake started sometime in 1986. The original trio recorded one single before singer Doug Enkler joined the next year. Members came and went during the band's most productive period. By the time the group Ð- one of Cleveland's all-time best and underappreciated acts Ð- released the great Della Street EP in 1991, only guitarist Griffin and Enkler remained. They pulled together musicians for The Roaring Third, toured, snagged a distribution deal with indie-rock heavyweight Matador . . . and spent the next decade and a half making an album.
"If you don't care about any traditional careerist musician stuff, then the only thing that matters is, 'We'll put it out when it's done,'" says Griffin. "At any given point, there's a different reason [for the delay]. 'All the stuff we just recorded sucks.' 'I don't know why we've been wasting our time doing this.' Or 'I'm totally broke and can't afford to work on the record anymore.'"
Dirty Moons was made by the current lineup of Griffin, Enkler, bassist Steve Scariano and drummer Patrick Hawley. They've been playing together since 1996, mostly shows in St. Louis. They're doing a few weekend gigs in support of the new album, hitting cities where they sold some records back in the day: Columbus, Chicago, Cleveland. "I have no idea what we'll play," laughs Griffin. "But I don't want to bother learning songs that people don't want to hear."
You can expect several songs from the new album, which is a surprisingly cohesive listen, considering the circumstances of its recording. There's a steady flow from the opening Hendrixian machine-gun stutter of "Fake Your Own Death" to the rifftastic closer "It Was a Very Good Year." In between are cuts that range from the melody-soaked "We've Only Tasted the Wine" to the raging punk anthem "Fuck Your Self-Esteem." It's a sprawling work, best exemplified on the five-part, 13-minute centerpiece, "Scissors Suite."
Still, now that Dirty Moons is on the shelves and available for download, don't expect a flurry of Prisonshake activity. Griffin says everyone has some sort of day job (record-store employee, stay-at-home dad) and other things going on that pretty much precludes them from doing this full-time. "I don't know if there will be another record," he says. "I'd like there to be more stuff. I certainly have ideas. But I don't want to say there will be another record, because then I'll feel like I have to finish it."