Longtime listeners of “The Howard Stern Show” on Sirius XM are well aware of his obsession with post-grunge band Sponge and its 1994 modern rock hit, “Plowed.” While the radio host admits he can’t fully decipher the lyrics, Stern often discusses the song on his program. In 2017, he told listeners that the track served as inspiration while he was painting a portrait of his late cat, Apple. Going back further, the song was on heavy rotation on New York’s WXRK, where Stern anchored a four-hour show from 1986 to 1994. More recently, Stern’s mentions of “Plowed” have only picked up in volume — so much so that Variety reached out to Sponge singer Vinnie Dombroski.
Stern’s on-air musings about the track — both its meaning and origins — “happened quite often over the last couple of years,” says Dombroski. But it was only in Nov. 2018 that the stars the stars fully aligned and Stern producers reached out to see if the band would be available for an in-studio performance.
The timing couldn’t have been better — the Stern show was launching a new app for Sirius XM and needed content, and Sponge was gearing up to celebrate the 25th anniversary of their album, “Rotting Pinata,” which was released by Columbia Records in 1994. (“Plowed” peaked at No. 5 on Billboard’s Alternative Songs chart in March 1995.)
“We got in the van and drove from Detroit to Manhattan,” Dombrowski tells Variety. “We taped a couple of live songs in the studio and they treated us like kings. … I’m just amazed that we get so much love from Howard about a song that written in about 10 minutes while I was shoveling snow in Detroit.”
On Feb. 6, Stern proudly debuted the video from that session on Twitter, describing to fans the “intimate” feel of the performance.
The reaction, Dombrowski says, has been overwhelming. Although it is still unclear whether the band received a significant sales or streams bump — “Plowed” currently boasts more than 4 million plays on Spotify — they are starting to see the Stern effect with an uptick in tour dates. “I know it’s affected the way that promoters are coming in regards to booking the band,” says Dombrowski. “There just seems to be a buzz, and a reigniting of love for the band. And on top of that it’s the 25th anniversary of the release of our first record. So the timing is insanely cool.”
Sponge got off to a hot start in the ’90s. Following the grunge craze, which made Seattle the unofficial capital of the rock world, labels were eagerly seeking the next big scene and sound. The Detroit-based Sponge was among the beneficiaries of a time when many record companies believed that their money talked, and that competitors should take a walk. They signed with Columbia Records and went on to release two albums. They also got to rub elbows with labelmates Fiona Apple, Tony Bennett and the late Jeff Buckley. “It’s jaw dropping,” says Dombrowski.
The current lineup of Sponge, which includes Kyle Neely, Andy Patalan, Tim Patalan and Billy Adams, continues to record music independently. But Dombrowski says he’s noticed a change in the rock landscape. Speaking of Grammy-winning Michigan group Greta Van Fleet, he offers: “The iconic rock guy — like Robert Plant, Paul Stanley or Steven Tyler — it’s a little too masculine. It seems kind of dated in today’s world.”
That said: rock music still has a friend in Stern, who just last year inducted Bon Jovi into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. “He’s a music fan and he’s knowledgeable,” says Dombrowski. “Howard has a flair for the arts and artists. That means something to us.”
Watch a snippet of the “Stern” performance below: