When listeners first heard the hypnotic, disco-inflected "Reboot the Mission," the first single off the Wallflowers' recent Glad All Over CD, they could probably be forgiven for the momentary shock. But upon closer listen, the song's roots were more firmly planted in Clash numbers like "The Magnificent Seven" and "This Is Radio Clash" than dance-club music. Not surprising, since Clash singer/guitarist Mick Jones guests on it.
"That track started at my dining room table at home when I was fooling around and thought, 'Can I hinge an entire song around a bass line?' Something like 'With or Without You' by U2 where it's hypnotic and unchanging," says bassist Greg Richling just days prior to the start of a national tour where the band will open for Eric Clapton.
"And it was a bit of a planned homage to the Clash. So Jakob [Dylan, singer/guitarist] just said, 'Let's get Mick on it' and saw him at a Big Audio Dynamite show. Six months later, he agreed to do it, and we exchanged files. Though I wish we had been in the same room and recorded it."
Released last year, Glad All Over is the band's first new studio release after a seven-year hiatus that saw the Wallflowers tour a bit but allowed Dylan to release solo CDs and Richling to produce and form another group.
The bassist said that the break was needed and ultimately enriched the relationship between co-founder Dylan (who formed the group in 1989), original member Rami Jaffee (keyboards) and Richling himself, who joined in 1993. The rest of the current lineup includes drummer Jack Irons and guitarist Stuart Mathis.
"I've known Jakob for 28 years and Rami for 20 years, and what we noticed after coming back was the huge chemistry between the three of us, though we did wonder what it would be like," he says. "But things went smoothly and quickly in the studio."
And while the band's usual songwriting approach involves Dylan showing up with lyrics and basic chords, for Glad All Over, he just had the words. So the music was a truly collaborative effort among the entire band, much of it coming out of informal jams.
A lot has changed in the music industry, rock radio, and how people receive and listen to music since the Wallflowers' last record, and even more so than when they had big radio hits with "One Headlight," "6th Avenue Heartache," "Three Marlenas" and "The Distance" from their hugely successful 1996 release Bringing Down the Horse.
But Richling says --despite the fact that the Wallflowers have their own app now -- they won't be changing what they do much to suit technology or changing tastes.
"This band, 23 years on, we just do what we do, we're not trying to anticipate trends or create buzz," he allows. "I mean, we're not going to have Jakob kick a bass drum and add a banjo player this year because of acts like Mumford and Sons, the Lumineers, and the Civil Wars, nothing against them.
"But those bands are stretching the genre, playing stuff that's more folk-based and even sort of like sea chanteys and Irish music," adds Richling. "I'm happy to hear that, but it's not what we're doing right now. But there's room for everyone."
As far as snagging the opening spot on the Clapton tour -- which will see them play about eight or nine tunes, mixing the hits with material from Glad All Over --Richling is not sure how it came about, but he's a fan. Just don't ask him to pinpoint which Era of "God" he likes best.
"There's so much stuff. I love Derek and the Dominoes, Cream, Blind Faith, solo records like 461 Ocean Boulevard and Money and Cigarettes," offers Richling. "Even things like 'Forever Man' in the '80s."
Speaking of classic-rock legends, though, does Richling ever see a day when bandmate Jakob's papa Bob might stroll onstage for a little cross-generational jamming, something that has never happened in the history of the Wallflowers?
"We opened for him once, but we've never played together," says Richling. "I mean, I wouldn't prompt Jakob about it and we haven't had a meeting about it. But if it made sense and our schedules were the same, yeah, obviously we'd do it.
"The opportunity just hasn't presented itself."
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The Wallflowers open for Eric Clapton Saturday, March 16 at Toyota Center, 1510 Polk, toyotacentertix.com. Doors open at 7:30 p.m.