Melding pop, folk-rock, and alt-country sounds with quirky wit and a keen intelligence, the Schramms were the brainchild of guitarist, vocalist, and songwriter Dave Schramm, who debuted the group in 1987.
The band's sound is built around Schramm's guitar work, at once tuneful and wiry, but he and his collaborators create a sound that's edgy but welcoming, with a warmth in the performances that rivals the subtle intelligence of Schramm's lyrics. (He set several poems by Emily Dickenson to music on the Schramms's albums, an unlikely but satisfying match.) The relatively simple and straightforward approach of 1990's Walk to Delphi and 1998's Dizzy Spell gave way to a more polished and adventurous studio technique when they began working with producer J.D. Foster on 2000's 100 Questions and 2019's Omnidirectional.
Born and raised on Long Island in New York, Dave Schramm first made a name for himself when he joined a latter-day lineup of the Human Switchboard, the Ohio cult favorites who relocated to New York after the release of their sole album, 1981's Who's Landing in My Hangar? Schramm stayed in the band until their breakup in 1985 and would work with HS frontman Bob Pfeifer on his 1987 solo effort After Words; he would also back up Jon Klages, formerly of the Individuals. Shortly after the breakup of Human Switchboard, Schramm joined Yo La Tengo and appeared on their debut single, "The River of Water" b/w "A House Is Not a Motel," as well as their first album, 1986's Ride the Tiger. (In a reissue of the album, YLT leader Ira Kaplan wrote in the liner notes that "Dave's guitar playing is inarguably the best thing about the record.") Schramm amicably left Yo La Tengo after the release of Ride the Tiger, and he soon began working up material with fellow Human Switchboard alumnus Ron Metz on drums and bassist Terry Karydes, who had played in an embryonic version of Yo La Tengo. After Karydes' bass was stolen, she moved over to keyboards, and Mike Lewis, another former member of Yo La Tengo, took over on bass, with guitarist Todd Novak and sax player Pete Linzell filling out the lineup. The band dubbed themselves the Walking Wounded and lined up a short tour only to discover a group in California was already using that name; as a joke, the band billed themselves as the Schramms for the duration of the tour, only to discover the name stuck. The pocket-sized independent label OKra Records invited the Schramms to record an album, and they released Walk to Delphi in 1989. However, OKra's distributor, Rough Trade, went out of business in a matter of weeks after the album came out, effectively stalling its release in the States. To the band's good fortune, the Schramms developed a strong following in Germany, and the European label Normal Records signed on to release the second Schramms album, Rock, Paper, Scissors, Dynamite, in 1992. (In between the release of the first two albums, Schramm sat in with Yo La Tengo to help them record the 1990 semi-acoustic album Fakebook.)
By the time the second album appeared, Lewis, Novak, and Linzell had bowed out of the band; Al Greller signed on as the new bassist, and Schramm opted to go on without a sax or second guitarist. In 1993, Karydes also left the band, with George Usher taking over on keyboards; this edition of the Schramms recorded two albums, 1994's Little Apocalypse and 1996's Dizzy Spell. (Little Apocalypse was released in the United States by East Side Digital, who the following year reissued Walk to Delphi and gave Rock, Paper, Scissors, Dynamite its belated American debut; Dizzy Spell was distributed by the fledgling alt-country label Checkered Past.) In 2000, the Schramms returned to the recording studio with another new lineup -- Andy Burton joined as keyboard player after the departure of Usher, and a second guitarist, Jon Graboff, who had often guested with the group, signed on full-time. 100 Questions was the Schramms's first album which was not self-produced; J.D. Foster oversaw the sessions, and Syd Straw, Richard Buckner, and Jeb Loy Nichols contributed guest vocals.
A European tour following the release of 100 Questions included a date in Regensburg, Germany that was documented on the 2003 live album 2000 Weiss Beers from Home. That same year, the Schramms toured North America with acclaimed alt-country singer/songwriter Laura Cantrell, opening the shows and serving as her backing band. Schramm had already been noted for doing occasional session work by this time, appearing on albums by the Replacements, Freedy Johnston, Richard Buckner, and Soul Asylum, and through most of the 2000s and 2010s, he focused his efforts on his work with other musicians, particularly singer/songwriter Kate Jacobs. Along with producing and playing on several of her albums, together they created the Radio Free Song Club, a weekly online songwriters' showcase whose contributors have included Howe Gelb, Peter Holsapple, Victoria Williams, Peter Blegvad, and Amy Rigby. In 2015, Schramm briefly rejoined Yo La Tengo to cut another album in the style of Fakebook, Stuff Like That There, with Schramm joining the trio for a handful of live dates in support. In the 2010s, the Schramms made only very occasional live appearances, but the core trio of Schramm, Ron Metz, and Al Greller worked on a new album when time permitted, and in 2019, they released their sixth studio album, Omnidirectional. ~ Mark Deming, Rovi