Dean Seavers needs to stop singing. Doctor’s orders.
As luck would have it, the Decibels, the power-pop band he founded in 1993, is experiencing a slight resurgence. But its visibility will be limited. The next two shows Seavers plays – one here in Sacramento at Old Ironsides on Saturday and the other days later in León, Spain – will likely be his last.
Seavers, 46, has a disease known as recurrent respiratory papillomatosis, or RRP for short. “Tumors grow on my vocal cords and they can’t cure it,” he said. “That’s what I’ve been dealing with for the last 10 years and it has affected my ability to sing and speak.”
It’s also affected being in a band where he is one of the main songwriters and vocalists.
The tumors create problems with breathing and swallowing. They also can spread to the lungs, and in rare cases, cause esophageal cancer. Seavers’ doctor has to surgically remove them with lasers.
While singing inflames the tumors, Seavers said his doctor supports the Decibels’ final mini-tour. “I told my surgeon about the gigs and he said, ‘I completely understand and agree you should go and do León, but basically that needs to be it,’” Seavers said.
The show at Old Ironsides will serve as both a warm-up for Spain and a goodbye to Sacramento and a club where the band often played.
The Decibels were primarily active from 1993 to 2003 and recorded three albums: “Create Action,” “The Bart Thurber Sessions” and “The Big Sounds of the Decibels.”
The show in León is part of the Purple Weekend festival running Thursday through Dec. 8. According to translated promotional materials, it “includes concerts, art and a display of costumes and hairstyles from the ’60s.”
The gig came about after Seavers agreed to do a one-off show with his old band in May. Video from that performance found its way to festival organizers, who reached out to the band and offered to fly the group to the Spanish festival where “fans of mod culture from all over the world gather.”
While the Decibels may not think of themselves as mods, much less exemplars of mod culture, they do have a certain sound and style that has always set them apart. The band includes Seavers on guitar and vocals, Joe Pach on guitar and vocals, Brent Seavers (Dean’s nephew) on bass and vocals and Brian Machado on drums and vocals.
They formed an energetic pop-rock band sporting suits and skinny ties at a time when most bands bludgeoned audiences with heavy chords while trying to look like they just chopped wood.
“I hated the term grunge but we were kind of out of step with what was happening,” Seavers said.
Bands like 20/20 and the Plimsouls, who initiated a small power-pop scene in Los Angeles in the late ’70s, were big influences on Seavers, well before he formed the Decibels.
“It was just the kind of music that came out of me and what resonated naturally,” he said. “I don’t think we sound directly like those bands, but we can easily be lumped in with them.”
In the early days, the Decibels were initially lumped in with other bands that shared their sartorial sensibility and not necessarily their musical tastes. “It seemed the promoters said, ‘These guys wear suits and these other guys wear suits, so we’ll book these bands together.’ So we played with all kinds of weird bands that wore suits.”
But the Decibels earned enough fans at their performances that they began headlining their own shows.
The group ended up touring Japan in 2003, which Seavers admits was a bit of fluke. The band had essentially stopped playing by 2001, but a Japanese record label asked if they could include their cover of the Association hit “Windy” on a compilation record. Surprisingly, the Decibels’ version had become a club hit in Japan.
“A few months later we were contacted by a Japanese label who wanted (us) to do a ‘best of’ CD. I thought ‘Best of what? We don’t have any hits.’”
Nevertheless, a record was released and a tour followed. A year later, Seavers, who works as publications editor for the California State Board of Equalization, had his first RRP surgery. He thought his time with the Decibels had come to an end.
The band remained inactive for a decade. Then earlier this year, Dal Basi, who owns Phono Select Records, called Seavers looking for someone to open for Paul Collins’ Beat.
“That was a band I grew up really liking,” Seavers said. “(Basi) was booking them and wanted me to do something on that show. I told him, ‘I don’t sing anymore. I don’t play anymore. It’s kind of done.’ But he kept pestering me. ‘Just tell me you’ll think about it. Maybe the Decibels can get back together or something.’”
Basi’s perseverance paid off. The Decibels reunited for the May gig at Bows and Arrows. The video from that show made its way to Purple Weekend organizers. One thing led to another. And now the band can count it off one last time.
But if a power-pop festival in Sweden called next week and asked it to play another final show?
“I’d do it,” Seavers said.