As the great bard Bob Seger once sang, rock 'n' roll never forgets. Up until the late '70s, there was still debate about whether or not rock 'n' roll was just a passing fad. Then it seemed unbelievable when members of the Rolling Stones turned 40 in the early '80s. But in the new millennium, rock 'n' roll is forever, baby. These days, it's likely that any band that ever achieved the tiniest degree of notoriety is either still together or has at least played a reunion show.
So it's something of a mystery why 30 Amp Fuse, the punk/pop (as opposed to "pop-punk") band behind only Superdrag and the V-Roys in terms of 1990s Knoxville popularity, has not reconvened in any incarnation since a hastily thrown-together Pilot Light gig in 2004.
In its career, 30 Amp Fuse followed the familiar trajectory of most post-grunge-era bands existing in the no man's land between punk sturm und drang and pop commercial polish: hometown buzz, a recording contract, an album (or three, in this case), touring, a hint of greater things to come, interband discord, and then inertia. A spate of national attention peaked with the release of their sophomore effort, Saturday Night at the Atomic Speedway, on Dedicated Records, a BMG imprint that was essentially a major label disguised as an indie. But after a few high-profile tours with Superdrag and the Descendents, the band fizzled. Rewind, an album that was "mainly just demos," according to 30 Amp guitarist/vocalist/auteur Mike Smithers, was the band's final release on the tiny Melted Records label.
Curiously, songs from the band's debut album, Wind-Up, released on Darla Records in 1995, will be the only material played at this weekend's 30 Amp Fuse revival. Smithers explains that he chose Wind-Up for the reunion gig primarily because he recorded that album with Superdrag's John Davis, who will appear as bass guitarist at the Barley's show, abetted by Nashville session drummer Joey Sanchez.
"I'd been moved out of town for a while, and I went and saw Superdrag a couple of times when I happened to be in Knoxville," Smithers says. "I'd run into John and he'd be like, ‘Hey, we've got to get together and do a 30 Amp show,' and then Robbie [Levering, host of WUTK's Funhouse] was always into the idea, too. But I don't think anybody really thought it would happen. Finally, I sent John an e-mail one day and said ‘Hey man…' He was fired up. John's really been the one who has pushed it hard."
Levering's Funhouse co-host, Derek Senter, also played an indirect part in the selection of Wind-Up.
"He had an accident 15 years ago on July 9," Smithers says. "He fell off a cliff and broke his neck. We were talking about playing on the ninth, and then Derek said, ‘Wow, that's the 15th anniversary of my accident.' We just realized it was 15 years, so why not celebrate that album?"
Although the band has as yet rehearsed only once, Smithers is encouraged that the present lineup will be fully prepared by the Barley's show. "I'll tell you, John knows it all by heart and Joey, he nailed every song the first time we went through it," he says. "It's amazing. So I'll be the one that forgets everything."
Now a federal employee working for the Navy in Virginia Beach, Va., Smithers looks back at his tenure in 30 Amp Fuse somewhat wistfully. "I would have enjoyed it a lot more if I'd have just taken it easy, and taken it easy on my bandmates," he says. "I definitely wish I could go back and just enjoy it instead of trying to make it in the music biz or whatever—just really enjoying every show and the time traveling. I miss the camaraderie of playing with guys in a band. There's just something about that. When you're away from it for a while you realize how cool it is to just get together, rock out, and play a show. It's just fun. Getting back together with old friends and playing again is pretty amazing."
This weekend's show may or may not be a one-time deal. Although Smithers hopes to continue working with Davis and Sanchez as 30 Amp Fuse, he acknowledges that logistics, work, and family obligations may complicate matters. Davis, however, who reunited the original Superdrag lineup in 2007, is more optimistic about the band's future.
"Any time Mike wants to write, play, record, you name it, if he wants me involved, I'll be there," he says. "I'm definitely hoping we'll get some more rocking done in the future. What can I say? I'm a huge fan and always have been."