The Dambuilders

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The Dambuilders
The Dambuilders, 1994. L-R: Eric Masunaga, Dave Derby, Kevin March and Joan Wasser.
The Dambuilders, 1994. L-R: Eric Masunaga, Dave Derby, Kevin March and Joan Wasser.
Background information
OriginHonolulu, Hawaii, United States
GenresIndie rock
Years active1989 - 1998
LabelsCuacha!, Elektra Records
Associated actsExactones, Joan as Police Woman, Guided by Voices, Gramercy Arms
Past membersDave Derby, Tryan George, Eric Masunaga, Kevin March, Joan Wasser, Debbie Fox

The Dambuilders was an indie rock band that began in Honolulu, Hawaii, USA, in 1989 and later relocated to Boston. They released seven LPs (six studio albums & one compilation) and a number of EPs before breaking up in 1998. Members have gone on with other musical projects, including the band's violinist/vocalist, Joan Wasser, as Joan as Police Woman. Kevin March also became well known in indie circles as the drummer of the band Guided by Voices, which he joined in 2002. Dave Derby is the leader and main songwriter of the New York City based collective of artists known as Gramercy Arms which has included collaborations from both Wasser and March.



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. With Fox's involvement, nearly all of the band's songs had electric violin tracks. Around 1992, the "classic line-up" consisted of Derby (bass guitar and lead vocals), Masunaga (guitar), Kevin March (drums) and Joan Wasser (violin). Many of the band's early recordings were engineered by Masunaga.

Commercial success[edit]

While The Dambuilders are generally considered an "indie" band, they received some commercial airplay with the single "Shrine" from the 1994 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 sound is the playing of bass chords. 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 non-religious, culturally inclusive belief system ("...and call it Rock n' Roll"). Shrine was recently ranked #17 in the MTV's 100 greatest songs of the '90s: Lollapalooza list.[1]

Their 1997 album, Against the Stars, was released by Elektra Records. In 1999 the band performed in Toronto.[2]

Current activities[edit]

Currently,[when?] Derby and March are performing together as members of Gramercy Arms. 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 first album, called Gramercy Arms, in 2009 and is currently[when?] working on a follow up. Derby'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 first solo E.P., Joan As Police Woman, in June 2005. She released 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[when?] 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.


Studio albums[edit]

  • A Young Person's Guide (1989) - Cuacha!
  • Geek Lust (1991) - Cuacha!
  • Islington Porn Tapes (1993) - Cuacha!
  • Encendedor (1994) - Elektra Records
  • Ruby Red (1995) - Elektra Records
  • Against the Stars (1997) - Elektra Records


  • God Dambuilders Bless America (1996) - compilation - Elektra Records


  • "Pop Song = Food" (1991)
  • "Smell" (1992)
  • "Shrine" (1992)
  • "Teenage Loser Anthem" (1995)

Extended plays[edit]

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


  1. ^ The Dambuilders | Shrine | Music Video | MTV, retrieved 2016-06-30
  2. ^ "Dambuilders: Eccentric Police & Singing Angels". Chart Attack, November 1995, by Chris Burland

External links[edit]