In the early 1990's, the Vulgar Boatmen garnered critical attention across the United States and Europe. The band's first two albums - You and Your Sister (Record Collect, 1990) and Please Panic (Safehouse, 1992) had been mentioned in several year-end (and a few all-time) "best of" lists. In 1995, the band made its major label bid with European release of Opposite Sex, released by Blanco y Negro/East West, subsidiaries of Warner Bros. Despite supportive press from the UK and interested parties in the US, the album was never released in the United States. Over the subsequent years, the band disappeared - or so it seemed to many fans. What happened to the Vulgar Boatmen is probably the most commonly repeated narrative in popular music: a promising band with strong critical accolades and a growing fan base gets lost in the machinations of the music industry.
The Vulgar Boatmen is actually two bands; each fronted by one half of the collective's songwriting duo, Robert Ray (Gainesville) and Dale Lawrence (Indianapolis).
Along with Lawrence, Matt Speake was one of the earliest members of the Indianapolis Boatmen and a crucial part of the Boatmen's sound.Over time, the Indianapolis line-up has evolved into the current roster, with Lawrence on guitar and vocals; Speake on first guitar; PJ Christie on bass and vocals; and Andy Richards on drums. The Gainesville lineup has fewer members, having lost early band members including Carey Crane, who lead vocal on the live version of "Cry Real Tears" is included on Wide Awake. These days the Gainesville Boatmen only rarely play live shows. Ray notes, "Attrition in university towns seems the law of nature; people, even musicians, graduate and leave town." At present, Gainesville members include Robert Ray o
It's also unclear when the Vulgar Boatmen's branch operations will unite to play together again. "I've never heard the Indianapolis band play when I'm not playing with them," Ray says. "Whenever I have joined the Indianapolis band, rehearsals involved finding a compromise between two different senses of time: Dale and his band tend to play on the beat; I tend to play and sing behind the beat. Since they are better musicians than I am, the compromise has involved their adjusting to me, for which I'm grateful."