To say it’s difficult to keep a band alive for more than a decade is an understatement, but many prestigious artists have demonstrated it can be done. Bob Malloy, the singer-songwriter for psychedelic folk band Strapping Fieldhands, proves you do not need to be rich and famous to stay in the musical spotlight for more than a decade. You just need to believe in yourself and remain dedicated to your supporters.
Malloy first started a band in the early ‘90s with his friend and current bass player of the Strapping Fieldhands, Bob Dickie, and they began recording songs Malloy wrote. The band’s debut album, The Demiurge, was released in 1991 and incorporated Malloy’s vocals with Dickie’s double bass, along with Jacy Webster’s electric guitar.
“We were all kind of surprised. We thought our debut album would be the only thing that we would put out there. But then, people seemed to like it,” Malloy said. “Our sound just kind of came out organically, and we sounded great.”
Sharon Lunny, an advertising and English major at Temple, describes Malloy’s voice as “a combination of Bob Dylan and The Beatles.
“It’s great music,” she added. “His voice is melodic and drawn out.”
But it was not a smooth transition from the band’s early days in a decade of bubblegum pop icons to its contemporary success. When two members of the Strapping Fieldhands decided to raise families instead of sign a record contract that would send them touring across the states, the band broke up.
Malloy and Dickie got back together in 2000 with different members and put out a third album, The Third Kingdom, in 2002. This was the only album that would be released until 2007, and Malloy realized the band was not going to be successful.
“2002 was an unsuccessful reunion because the album we put out, then just sort of dropped off the map without creating much interest, and the energy wasn’t quite right,” Malloy said. “I thought that was pretty much it for me, and the times had changed.”
After a five-year hiatus, Malloy and Dickie once again reunited and put out another album, but this time, they’re not looking for a tour or fame.
“I wanted to know if we could just fool around and maybe put out one more record or something like that. Everything sounded really great, and it just felt like the energy was back and the chemistry was back, so we just started up again,” Malloy said. “The fact that we have fans that still like us is fantastic and amazing.”
One fan who stands out among the rest is Daniel Smith, from indie-pop band Danielson. Smith has been a dedicated fan since the Strapping Fieldhands’ first performance at Philadelphia’s Trocadero. When Smith found out the band reunited, he decided to connect the members with Brian McTear, a Philadelphia producer with a studio in Fishtown. Smith later told Malloy how he had followed his band’s music since it first started and was even in the crowd at one of the band’s first shows.
“[Smith] told us that back when we were opening for a band called Pavement at the Trocadero in the ‘90s, we threw out a bunch of copies of our record that had just come out, and he was a kid who caught one of our copies,” Malloy said. “He grew up to be a fan, and all these years later he still is.”
Not only is McTear a well-known local producer, he also heads the Shaking Through series, a curated series of music featuring underground, independent artists who produce their own music in a recording studio. McTear, along with the Weathervane Music Organization, developed the series as a way to publicize little-known artists.
Malloy said McTear, “supports bands that aren’t that well-known by allowing them to record in his studio for free, and he puts out a compilation record.
“It benefits both the band and [McTear],” he added, “because the band gets a professional quality recording and Brian gets to put his name out there with it.”
At McTear’s studio, the Strapping Fieldhands recorded its song “Harbinger Dark Herald,” which they’ll play, along with many others, at upcoming outdoor music festival the Fishtown Shadfest, scheduled Saturday, April 24.
“This band will be great for the Shadfest because it is perfect summer music,” Lunny said.
Sponsored by WXPN 88.5, the Fishtown Shadfest, which includes food, live music and other entertainment, celebrates the historical and environmental significance of Fishtown.
“We’re looking forward to playing outside on the river with a bunch of people in the whole festival atmosphere,” Malloy said. “We’ve never played outside at a festival before, and we are not used to doing family events, so that should be interesting. I guess we’re going to have to put in more kid-friendly songs and take out the questionable ones about sex.”
His biggest fear is the crowd’s response and turnout, he said, so he and the rest of the Fieldhands are hoping for nice weather and energetic fans to bring a positive atmosphere to the stage.
“I used to get complete stage fright when I first started, but you overcome that as time goes on. Now it’s more like I’m worried about the overall presentation and the audience’s reaction. I just want everything to sound good for the crowd,” he added.
Malloy, who has been playing for more than a decade, has plenty of musical experience with various bands, but when he reflects on his past, he said, he never believed in himself as much as he should have.
“I would tell myself, ‘Bob, this is more important than you think,’” he said. “I had a lot of pressure back then, and I got caught up in a lot. I used to have a lot of doubts about whether or not this was my true calling, and if I could go back in time, I would tell myself to follow this good thing I have going and that this was all I was ever going to do with my life.”
Malloy remains upbeat about his band and is both supportive and thankful for where he and the other members are right now in their careers.
“It’s a blessing in the sense that this time around, it’s a little more sweet because I never thought this was going to be the outcome. Maybe if it wouldn’t have been for the [break] for five years, I would be so burned out and wouldn’t have the same kind of refreshed feeling I have now,” Malloy said. “It just feels so brand new even though I’ve been doing it for years. It’s just freakin’ sweet.”
Ashley Huber can be reached at email@example.com.