Inside one particularly memorable ‘90s pop-rock song are two princes. One prince has diamonds in his pocket. The other wants you to buy him flowers.
If you were any level of sentient in the ‘90s, you remember the inescapable scat soundtrack that underscored far too many pop cultural moments, “Two Princes” urging you to just go ahead now. Three decades have passed since the song was released in 1991, and the Spin Doctors have mostly faded from public consciousness. But their hit, “Two Princes” endures, thanks to oldies radio blasting from Ubers and 24-hour drug stores. (“Little Miss Can’t Be Wrong,” too, if you choose to believe they are one-and-a-half hit wonders.) You’ve probably heard “Two Princes” at least once in the last week, and you might have even wondered, “Hey, who is this band?”, “What are they up to?” and most morbidly, “Are they still alive?” Wondered, but, you know, not enough to actually look it up. You have better things to do. You’re busy! I get it. But luckily, I don’t. I tracked them down to find out, and you can thank me later.
The Spin Doctors, the four princes of the ‘90s rock scene, are still actively touring, headlining places like a summertime Street Faire in downtown Louisville, Colorado, playing a small pavilion behind a public library, and, more recently, Brooklyn Bowl, a bowling alley music venue hybrid in…Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The latter is where I tracked down the Spins (a nickname bassist Jack Daley used throughout our conversation and that I have now adopted).
Brooklyn Bowl Philly is as confused as the name suggests, the dystopian conclusion of a world Josie and the Pussycats or Just My Luck imagined. (If you don’t remember: both movies, from 2001 and 2006, respectively, featured bands playing gigs at bowling alleys to small, uninterested crowds. In the Y2K-era, this sort of thing was synonymous with failure.)
Because one very loud activity at a time simply isn’t enough, here I am. On one side of the vacuous space is a stage with a 1,000-person capacity standing area and a large bar; on the other, there are a few exposed bowling lanes rentable for just a few hundred dollars on top of your ticket purchase—nothing says rock ‘n’ roll like you and seven of your friends enjoying a leisurely game of bowling while watching your favorite band from middle school perform in the distance.
Behind the lanes, and through the kitchen, I find the Spins in their dressing room, a remarkable space if only for its newness—the venue itself is still in its honeymoon stage; it's yet to evolve into its inevitable and permanent stickiness. The foursome are lounging on a large leather couch—black as if to scream “bachelor!” They decide it’s too loud here, and I’m relegated to an adjacent “office” (a generous term, it was a closet that someone shoved a desk and a lamp into) barely large enough to fit myself and another person, so I speak to each member individually. It feels more like a job interview, but the guys are warm and friendly, greeting me like an old acquaintance and not some VH1’s I Love the ‘90s-educated millennial, interviewing them just to make their dad jealous.
The band seems more than prepared to answer probing questions about their hit song and their relationship with nostalgia, a refreshing level of self-awareness the Eve 6 guy can only hope to obtain.
“People are like, do you ever get tired of playing ‘Two Princes’?” Lead singer Chris Barron says, discussing the band’s relationship with their biggest hit. (I’d like to note that I didn’t ask him if he gets tired of playing it. He volunteered that he hasn’t.) “Let me rephrase that for you: Do I get tired of watching people go nuts when I play a song I wrote? No, I don’t.”
Well, when you put it that way…
It’s a Saturday in Philadelphia, while the Phillies are playing in the world series no less, and the Spin Doctors have managed to draw a surprisingly large crowd (you know the type: half-full, with a few rogue young people who appear to have wandered in by mistake). It’s date night in the city, and suburban moms and dads have come out to get drunk and listen to songs that were popular when they could go out on a Saturday night without having to find a babysitter. It’s all button downs and pinkies up here at the class factory; the venue has even provided a signature drink for the occasion called “Two Pickles.” It’s a pickle back, obviously, but when I asked the bartender if it was a double shot, she let out an exasperated sigh.
“No. It’s one shot called ‘Two Pickles,’” she says. We both shake our heads. Whoever came up with that one clearly missed the assignment.
It’s all button downs and pinkies up here at the class factory; the venue has even provided a signature drink for the occasion called “Two Pickles.”
The crowd roars when the Spin Doctors take the stage. Okay, fine, some of the crowd—the rest have their eyes glued to the single TV above the bar broadcasting the game, apparently because they’re never heard of a sports bar before. (The TV, it should be noted, is just out of view from the stage, likely so the band can’t get distracted themselves.) The Spins turn up to 11, finally loud enough to drown out the crash of pins in the background. Barron starts doing high kicks over his microphone—quite impressive for anyone, but especially so considering that he’s 54, or 273 in rockstar years. As I’d soon find out, he’s been fronting the Spin Doctors since he was 20 years old, leading the band through various lineup changes, a massive success, a gentle fade into obscurity, and six studio albums with a seventh on the way.
Before the gig, the band walked me through their history: The current iteration of the lineup consists of three founding members (Barron, drummer Aaron Comess, and guitarist Eric Schenkman) and one relative newcomer, bassist Jack Daley. Daley joined the band in late 2021 after the former bassist, Mark White, refused to get the COVID-19 vaccine, which makes the Spins much better than Eric Clapton in at least one way. White was a founding member, playing with the Spin Doctors from 1988 until his departure in 1998. The band took a brief hiatus from 1999-2001, and White returned after the hiatus, where he remained for 20 years before getting sucked into a misinformation/disinformation YouTube rabbit hole, or got seriously into Jenny McCarthy, or something, who knows, I didn’t ask because that's dark as hell.
Schenkman also took a break from the band, leaving in 1994 and returning in 2001.
“I was gone for exactly seven years,” Schenkman tells CREEM. “Almost to the fucking day, yo.” He leans back in his chair, giving his long “if Robert Underdunk Terwilliger Jr. was a fret-shredder and not an actor who framed a clown for armed robbery” hair a quick fix.
“That wasn’t planned,” he continues, his blase Canadian-American drawl spiking at the hint of a possible numerical conspiracy. “You got to admit, it’s kind of interesting. Seven. The number seven.”
I’m not a numerologist, so I don’t have to admit anything. But I’m just going to take his word for it. If he’s into hippie stuff and vaccinations, that’s enough for me, yo.
“You got to admit, it’s kind of interesting. Seven. The number seven.” I’m not a numerologist, so I don’t have to admit anything.
The 2001 reunion was less than dramatic: Schenkman and White were asked to rejoin the band to play one of the final shows at Wetlands, a club in Lower Manhattan that the Spin Doctors had performed at many times in the early days of their career. When the club reached out to the band, Schenkman recalls that the consensus among all original band members was, “I’ll do it if they do it.”
“So we just played like, five minutes together after not talking for seven years, and it sounded great,” Schenkman says. “So we did the gig, and then the Trade Centers came down like three days later. That pretty much cemented the band being back together.”
(That, if anyone is wondering, is a Robert Pattinson 9/11 movie I’d actually watch; he’d make a great Schenkman.)
“The chemistry of the four of us, Mark, Chris, Aaron, and [myself], has always been kind of instantaneous,” Schenkman explains. “And it’s actually the same with Jack. Which was very interesting. It's a similar click.”
It can’t be easy joining a band 34 years into its career, like trying to break into the Friends friend group in season 8, or something. But the Spins (including Jack Daley) recorded their seventh album at Daley’s studio earlier this year, so it seems to be going well.
“They weren't precious about me trying to be, you know, the guy that I was replacing. They were basically like, ‘Bring your own thing to it. We really want that.’ And it couldn't have gone better, really,” Daley says, like a politician—or a musician with a solid gig.
Perhaps the ease of that transition comes from Spin Doctor’s beginnings: unlike most bands, the four founding members didn’t start as friends. They started playing music together simply because they thought they were the best musicians around, which is either total genius or complete Svengalian sinisterness. I asked Schenkman if he believes the band had success—or, at the very least, longevity—because they didn’t start out as buds. “I definitely think so,” he responds. “We fit well together, and we kind of see each other, you know, in a way that makes us all more than we are, you know…” he finishes, I suppose because he wants me to reply. “Sort of,” I offer a man at least partially responsible for writing a song titled, “Big Fat Funky Booty.”
For what it’s worth, that’s the song Barron says he wishes had the same recognition as “Two Princes” and “Little Miss Can’t Be Wrong.” I’m mostly impressed by the ease in which conversation with these guys can jump from career goals to funky booty.
“I just think [“Big Fat Funky Booty”] is a fucking hilarious song that, I think, could have gotten to a very broad audience, you know?” Barron says, before jumping into some Twilight Zone-esque quandaries about what could have happened if he had more success and how, because of the success of “Two Princes”, he’s never had to hold an office job. I get the sense that he’s thought a lot about “what could have been,” either because prying journalists have asked, or because the ‘90s hath brought a multitude of existential crises. We’re 12 minutes into our conversation, and he’s veered into so many loosely connected tangents, all delivered with the energy of a second-grader who poured Monster energy drink instead of milk in his cereal bowl. Eventually, Barron makes his point, which is: 30 years later, he’s still making music professionally, and ain’t that the dream?
Regardless of what could have been, the staying power of “Two Princes” is undeniable. While the Spin Doctors themselves have fallen into some level of general anonymity, they’ve left a mark. (I heard the track three separate times that day, before I even made it to the show, and I do not work at a Burlington Coat Factory. That’s saying something.) The band doesn’t care if people only show up to their gigs to hear their hits because guess what? Jokes on you; they already got you in the door. You’ve been spin-doctored.
They don’t care if people only show up to their gigs to hear their hits because guess what? Jokes on you; they already got you in the door. You’ve been spin-doctored.
“I hesitate to use the term ‘spin doctoring,’ but people are creating their own legend nowadays. More and more so with social media and the ability to broadcast whatever you want,” Barron says, as if I have any idea what he is referring to. “So, on stage, I've just been like, ‘We're going to play you guys another song from our vast repertoire of incredible material!’ I’m just spinning our whole thing and telling people how to think about us.”
The legend the Spin Doctors are creating, I guess, is that people are more familiar with their back catalog than they actually are, and that is called “spin doctoring.”
He gave the crowd that same pitch, word for word, later that evening during the show, and it actually kind of worked? Sure, the crowd in the back half of the room was mostly watching the world series, and there were people bowling the entire time they were on stage, but there were also people dancing along to b-sides like they were all “Two Princes,” this was 1994, and they would like to chug just one more Zima, damnit. It was a beautiful thing.
“We’re going to play the shit you want to hear. We’re not dicks,” Barron says on stage after his latest session of spin doctoring, the dulcet tones of bowling pins dropping in the background. Everyone only there to hear “Little Miss Can’t Be Wrong” breathed a sigh of relief when they played it a few songs later, before promptly returning to their baseball-watching and bowling. Okay, I’ll admit it: I’m “everyone.”
Eight songs into the set, and for the remainder of the show, another ‘90s legend that has faded into relative irrelevance joined them on stage: John Popper. (He’s the frontman of Blues Traveler, just in case you didn’t smoke weed in the ‘80s, and he was an original member of the Spin Doctors.) No one explicitly said why Popper was there (although he clearly wasn’t doing anything else that night) but the crowd was audibly pumped to see him. There is, unsurprisingly, a lot of crossover: Barron and Popper are friends from high school, which in this case meant stage banter between songs moved naturally from Barron musing about how he’d love to perform an emergency tracheotomy someday—your guess is as good as mine, he’s a spin doctor, not a medical professional—to stories of Popper getting suspended for playing harmonica at school. Real bad boy hours!
Popper was really only there to play harmonica, recycling solos from Blues Traveler songs to fit in Spin Doctor’s repertoire, which I can't blame him for. The hook does bring you back, and on that, you can rely.
When the show nears its end, the air is tense with anticipation. It’s almost as if even the painting of Medusa advertising a circus act, inexplicably hanging by the bowling lanes, has moved with palpable excitement, turning her snake-coiffured head toward the stage. Behind the merch stand, there are hundreds of bowling pins painted to look like clowns in an arcade game; I could’ve sworn they blinked. At long last, it’s time for “Two Princes,” the only song truly capable of capturing the attention of everyone in the audience, sentient or otherwise. That’s no shade to the band, or to their diehard fans, who might actually want to hear “I Liked You Better When Your Butt Was Big” or “Yo Mama’s A Pajama” every once in a while. (Google that. Those are real songs, and not something I came up with using an “awful ‘90s rock song name generator.”)
Popper offers some basso profundo to the “just go ahead nows” in “Two Princes,” which is a nice departure from the version that’s been played on the radio eight million times over the last 30 years. (And before you ask: Eight million is the correct figure, according to Barron.)
Look, there’s something to be said about the power of a good hook: I was worried that if the Phillies lost, the Brooklyn Bowl crowd might start a riot. But thankfully, “Two Princes” was there to quell their bubbling fury with its signature drum fill intro and chorus-less earworm sensibilities. (And yes, they lost, let’s not talk about it.) Turns out, no matter how absurd the setting, “Two Princes” still has the power to command a room full of wine moms like it did 30 years ago, when they were wine teenagers.
Ain’t that some bread now?