Cropduster

New Jersey's Cropduster attracted national attention in 2001 for its sophomore CD, Drunk Uncle, which found the alt-rock quartet segueing from crunchy power pop and twangy country rock to distorted guitar sound effects and distinctive goofball eccentricity. Fans of the Rolling Stones, the Who, Ween, the Velvet Underground, Pavement, and the Flaming Lips swarmed to Cropduster, which derived its band name from John Steinbeck's novel The Grapes of Wrath. The group was the brainchild of songwriters Marc Maurizi (guitar, vocals) and Tom Gerke (guitar, vocals), who were joined by bassist Lee Estes and drummer Scott Kopitskie. The album peaked at No. 22 on the College Music Journal charts in April, 2001, and included nine songs, featuring "Nothin's Gonna Change," which won the 2000 Musician's Atlas Independent Music Award for Best Rock Act. The celebrity panel of judges included Pat DiNizio, Aimee Mann, and Ben Folds. Maurizi and Gerke wrote the core songs in 2000, prior to recording for We Put Out Records in Weehawken, NJ, but other songs dated back to the mid-'90s. The idea for the song "Milkman" came from Maurizi's dream about a milkman, a stewardess, and a policeman. "Indestructo," the group's signature song that borders on punk and has a guitar riff like the Batman theme, told a story about the group's touring van. Maurizi took a bittersweet view of the world on the award-winning "Nothin's Gonna Change." Cropduster debuted in the mid-'90s at the Melody Bar in New Brunswick, NJ, after Maurizi and Gerke began writing songs together. Pete Novembre was the original bassist, but their second bassist Fred Gurnot appeared on their self-titled debut CD in 1998. Maurizi and Gerke were friends long before teaming up to form Cropduster. They met through their parents. Both played in local bands, including Lost Orgasm, In Blu, and Room 11 at Steven's Tech in Hoboken, NJ, in the early '90s. Maurizi played bass in these groups, but switched to guitar when he first began writing songs in 1994 in New Brunswick, NJ. For two years, he honed his writing skills before first forming Cropduster as a duo with Gerke, from Clifton, NJ. In 1996, they didn't perform live, instead they recorded demos of their songs.

They began performing as a quartet in August, 1997, at local clubs in New Jersey. Maurizi, from Wallington, NJ, first discovered Steinbeck in high school and re-read The Grapes of Wrath as a history major his freshmen year at Rutgers University. For Maurizi, the novel's imagery of cropdusters flying over parched fields signaled the last-ditch efforts of the novel's farmers to reap their harvest. He felt cropdusters could be an apt name for the band, but he decided to translate the themes of hardship into a more positive vein in his music for Cropduster. After the success of Drunk Uncle in 2001, Cropduster began touring outside New Jersey and they continued to write songs in the vein of their idols from the 1960s and 1990s. ~ Robert Hicks

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