Inside the Creative Resurgence of Power Pop Pioneers The Rubinoos


Check out the Chuck Prophet-produced ‘Do You Remember.’

The Rubinoos are back, at least in a bigger way, with more than a little help from a friend.

On Aug. 23, the California power pop quartet — which charted a remake of Tommy James & the Shondells' "I Think We're Alone Now" in 1977 and penned the theme song for 1984's Revenge of the Nerds — will be releasing a new album, From Home, whose opening track "Do You Remember" is premiering exclusively below. It's the Rubinoos' first national release (on Yep Roc Records) with its main quartet in 40 years and is the result of a push from acknowledged superfan Chuck Prophet, who produced the 12-song set and co-wrote the songs with guitarist Tommy Dunbar.

"I've really got to give (Prophet) all the credit for how this went down," frontman Jon Rubin tells Billboard. "He's been relentless in his pursuit of doing this, much to our enjoyment and surprise. it started a couple years ago; He kept going, 'You guys, your first two albums, I love those records! I grew up with those records,' and he started writing with Tommy and then he introduced us to the Yep Roc guys. He just kept at it and at it and at it and one thing led to another until we actually did it. To say I'm surprised is an understatement."

For Prophet the project was deeply personal. He estimates that he saw the Rubinoos "at least 25 times when I was in high school," and one of his early bands opened for the group a few times. "They were kind of role models in many ways," Prophet says. "I've always had an interest in what they were doing and always felt like they never got as much spotlight or credit as they deserved." A chance meeting with Dunbar led to writing sessions, which created a body of songs for From Home. "I just wanted (Rubin) to like the songs," Prophet says. "I wanted to please him. He's sort of a hero of mine, and he's such an incredible singer. I wanted to come up with songs that he would want to record."

The Rubinoos — including bassist Al Chan and drummer Donn "Donno" Spindt — reunited during 1999 after a 14-year hiatus, working as an independent act. The quartet has released a handful of albums, including the 2010 children's disc Biff-Bong-Boing, and has toured, primarily in Europe. But, Rubin notes, "there's been nothing with this sort of focus and excitement behind it in a long time, which is great. We love playing in this band; These guys are my best friends, and at this point it's like a very small club. We really get along great and understand each other so well." Rubin adds that the Rubinoos approached From Home with an excitement to match Prophet's.

"We did 30 rehearsals, so we got very, very familiar with the material," says Rubin, noting that the band chose From Home's tracks from more than 20 songs it worked up. "We felt like we had found the tunes before we got in the studio. And Donn and Al just really kicked ass; When they came into the studio they were super confident and ready to go."

The nostalgic "Do You Remember," meanwhile, was among the first songs that Dunbar and Prophet presented to Rubin. "I actually think that was THE first one Tommy played for me," Rubin remembers. "It edges on a punk kind of a thing, which I enjoy, and it had a two-part vocal. Tom and I used to do a lot of that in the early days, so I really liked that, too. That drew me in." In the midst of the song selection, meanwhile, Prophet went to work getting Yep Roc on board for the project.

"I told them, 'Here you’ve got a band that made two classic power pop records that fell out of print and get traded between people. Think of it was a West Coast Big Star.' That's when (the label) said, 'Wait. What? Let's hear more. How much money are we talking about?'"

The Rubinoos are planning to tour in support of From Home, and Rubin is particularly looking forward to playing the new track "Rocking in Spain" in the same club that inspired the song. The group — whose irreverent onstage attitude got it banned by Bill Graham during the late '70s — also hopes that the new album "will raise our profile enough" to play more in the U.S. Mostly, however, Rubin — who, like his bandmates, is in his early sixties — is grateful for the opportunity to have a late-career resurgence. 

"This certainly has re-energized us creatively," he says. "I feel very good about the product, and Yep Roc seems very excited about it, which is contagious back to us. That makes me even more excited to go out and play and try to develop a larger fan base. We're realistic; It's not like when we were 18 years old going out on the road now. But if we can finish our career with a lot more people hearing us and liking us, that would be fantastic. That'd be a really great way to complete this journey — whenever it actually ends."