In rock's illustrious roll call, every famous band has reunited for less than altruistic reasons. If The Eagles or The Who didn't reunite out of greed or because someone was low on cash, it may have been just so they could dis-invite former members like Kenny Jones or pay one-time partners Don Felder or Joe Walsh a smaller cut. If good vibes and fond memories alone were all former band members were after, they could have probably all just met at an iHOP for flapjacks, had a grand old time, and none would be the wiser.
On the local front, good vibes and the need to make music together again was the catalyst for reuniting The Stumbles, after 20 years. Mark Moffatt (guitar and vocals) and Matt Sadler (bass), two of the original members of the band, worked together in an offshoot band called Big Moxie in the early aughts and later still, an acoustic offshoot called Stumbling Moxie, which performs cover-heavy sets with a smattering of Stumbles and Big Moxie originals. Few would have expected that final incarnation would morph back into the Stumbles, an unapologetic pop band who retired their name in a year when the Spice Girls could still move more than 31 million albums worldwide.
Or that Ron Walker (guitar and vocals) who left the band 20 years ago to become a pastor, would come back to the fold after releasing a Christian album last year.
"None of us ever dreamed it would happen," says Moffatt. "A mutual friend was doing some photos for Ron's new record Detours, and in conversation discovered Ron was a Stumble. One thing led to another, and suddenly Ron was at my house for a Stumbling Moxie rehearsal. Immediately, we were playing as though no time had lapsed between us."
Walker agrees. "Although I loved these guys and loved the music we made, I didn’t really see the two worlds of pastoring and playing out in clubs coming together. I recorded a Christian album with my brother in the early 2000s of all original songs, but between then and mid-2015 I was a bit dormant. More focused on getting my life in order and then building a church."
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The title of their new five-song EP, 24, acknowledges the years that have passed since the Stumbles' formation and the release of a self-titled CD that garnered major label interest from Mercury and Elektra Records. "The beauty of our new EP is that it was created in the same energy as our first record: pure and simple passion," says Moffat.
Take the lead-off cut, "Get Up," with close intricate three-part harmonies from Moffatt, Walker, and drummer Brent Payne that is definitely '90s alternative-influenced but filtered through an acoustic Ed Sheeran sensibility instead of overdriven guitars.
Anyone around in the wake of The Gin Blossoms' platinum touch knows that all eyes were on Phoenix in 1995 and people were calling Tempe "the next Seattle," talk that seemed to be coming mostly from Tempe. If that didn't pan out, neither did The Stumbles' jump to the majors, although it came awfully close.
"Elektra Records was very interested in us, if not already planning to sign us. The fact that it didn’t happen took us back a bit. For me personally, I had just gone through a divorce and was struggling a bit with my own self-worth ... compounded with no record deal, and then booting our drummer, it was a challenging time for me. Thought I was having a nervous breakdown before I asked God for help. I commonly refer to this as when I 'crashed and burned' in life."
All the human drama that you would require for a VH1 Bands Reunited episode culminated in the band's ill-fated Unsigned Band Showcase in New York's famed CBGB.
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"Several things went wrong," explains Walker. "We didn’t have our own amps and gear other than our guitars which impacted our sound. I recall we weren’t getting along with our drummer (the band always had a rotating cast of drummers). But most notably, we all got a bit too drunk including our management. Although it had worked for us in the past, probably wasn’t the time to ‘be’ The Stumbles. Remember, it wasn’t just a clever name," he laughs.
Although the band carried on before Walker's exit, the guys wax less nostalgic about their sophomore effort, a parodied K-Tel album called Best of Greatest Hits: Volume Seven, with Moffatt, Walker, and Sadler re-dubbing themselves "Saucy Stumble," "Luvy-Duvy Stumble," and "Quiet Yet Inquisitive Stumble " respectively in order to cash in on the Spice Girls craze. Those who do not learn the lessons of 1997 are doomed to repeat them.
"I’m not sure it holds up as well as it could have," says Walker. "We opted to record it ourselves, which is always more difficult, and we brought in some rappers to join in a couple of songs, two decisions I would probably do differently."
Having tapped the spirit of '95 on 24, Moffatt seems determined to remember instead that impetus for writing new songs. "The songs on that first record came from our love of creating together, not looking for a record deal. Hell, we just wanted a gig at Long Wong's."