The Dambuilders

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The Dambuilders
The Dambuilders.jpg
The Dambuilders, 1994. L-R: Eric Masunaga, Dave Derby, Kevin March and Joan Wasser.
Background information
Origin Honolulu, Hawaii, USA
Genres Indie rock
Years active 1989 - 1998
Labels Cuacha!, Elektra Records
Associated acts Exactones, Joan as Police Woman, Guided by Voices
Past members Dave Derby, Tryan George, Eric Masunaga, Kevin March, Joan Wasser, Debbie Fox

The Dambuilders was an indie rock band that began in Honolulu, Hawaii in 1989 and later relocated to Boston. They released 7 LP's and a number of EP's before breaking up in 1998. Members have gone on with other musical projects, most notably the band's violinist/vocalist Joan Wasser as Joan as Police Woman.


The Dambuilders was a band in the early 1990s Boston rock scene. The founding members - Dave Derby, Tryan George and Eric Masunaga, all from Hawaii - had played in a number of bands (such as the Exactones) before moving to Boston in 1990. The band began as the Dambuilders in Hawaii in a three-piece and four-piece configuration. Early violin was provided by Debbie Fox. Subsequent to Debbie Fox's involvement, nearly all of the band's songs would feature electric violin tracks. Around 1992, the "classic lineup" consisted of Derby (bass and lead vocals); Masunaga (guitar); Kevin March (drums); and Joan Wasser (violin). Many of the band's early recordings were engineered by band guitarist Eric Masunaga.

Commercial Success[edit]

While The Dambuilders are generally considered an "indie" band, they received some commercial airplay with the single "Shrine" from 1994's Atlantic Records release "Encendedor". Although the song has no traditional chorus, The Dambuilders manage to create an appealing and memorable single using a distinctly melodic verse and an innovative instrumental section used as an intro, outro, and bridge. Also contributing to the song's unique sound is the playing of bass chords (two notes or more at the same time). The song tells of a cross-cultural romantic courtship between the singer and a girl who "doesn't speak much English" but is familiar with the American music scene. In the song, the singer is willing to conform to traditional religious practices outside his own cultural sphere ("...if I stay with her I'll lose track of all time, so I light a candle to the shrine..."), but seemingly manages to stay true to his roots by redefining the acts as an aspect of his own a-religious, culturally inclusive belief system ("...and call it Rock n' Roll").

Their 1997 album Against the Stars was released on Elektra.

Current activities[edit]

Currently Dave Derby and Kevin March are performing together as members of Gramercy Arms. Joan Wasser has performed on both of their albums including a vocal duet with Lloyd Cole on the band's "Beautiful Disguise" single and video. The band, which also includes Sean Eden (Luna), Rainy Orteca (Dead Air, Joan as Police Woman, Lloyd Cole), Hilken Mancini (The Count Me Outs, Fuzzy, Colburn-Mancini), Sandy Smallens (Too Much Joy) as well as guest performances by Doug Gillard (Guided By Voices), Matthew Caws (Nada Surf), Renee LoBue (Elk City), Lloyd Cole, Chris Brokaw (Come, Codeine) released its eponymous first album in 2009 and is currently working on a follow up. Dave's other output includes two releases under the "Brilliantine" name, as well two solo albums ("Even Further Behind" and "Dave Derby and the Norfolk Downs."

Wasser is now performing under the name Joan as Police Woman and released her solo debut E.P. Joan As Police Woman in June 2005. She has gone on to release a full length album with the band, entitled Real Life in June 2006, followed by To Survive in June 2008, Cover in 2009, and The Deep Field in January 2011.

March was also a member of Guided by Voices for several years and continues to do session work and tours with various artists. He is currently putting together a new group with his old friend, Nathan Larson of Shudder To Think. Masunaga now runs Modulus Studios, a mastering and DVD authoring studio, in Boston.




  • "Pop Song = Food" (1991)
  • "Smell" (1992)
  • "Shrine" (1992)


  • "Tough Guy Problem" (1993/4) - spinART

External links[edit]

Gramercy Arms Gramercy Arms Facebook page