To some people, it looked like Pete Droge simply disappeared.
The talented singer-songwriter was 25 and living in Southeast Portland when he rocked into the consciousness of the indie music world with the 1994 single 'If You Don't Love Me I'll Kill Myself.'
With its driving refrain and arresting title, the song was an instant classic. It found its way onto the soundtrack of the Jim Carrey vehicle 'Dumb and Dumber' and earned Droge cult hero credibility. Then he slipped from sight.
But he was always around.
'I think I have a body of work that can stand as proof that I haven't gone away,' says Droge, 34. 'My passion is to be involved in a lot of different things. It's been nice to be able to spread myself around.'
Droge recorded three more solo albums, took up producing and recently teamed with established singer-songwriters Matthew Sweet and Shawn Mullins to form the Thorns, who played a well-attended show at the Roseland Theater in July.
'It's like the worst thing you can be is a moderately successful singer-songwriter,' says Droge from his Vashon Island, Wash., home. 'I beg to differ. I've been very fortunate. I don't aspire to be a household name.'
A Eugene native, Droge grew up in Seattle, the epicenter of the grunge music phenomenon that exploded out of the Northwest in the early '90s.
'The music scene in Seattle was so under the microscope,' he says. Every band in town believed it had a shot at a major label deal. 'People's priorities really shifted away from the pure stuff.'
He moved to Portland in 1993. 'At the time it was perfect,' Droge says. 'It felt in a sense like Seattle's younger brother, maybe a little more innocent.' His band rehearsed in the basement of a home near Southeast 39th Avenue and Woodstock Boulevard.
The hit single, from his first album 'Necktie Second,' caught Droge's small American Records label by surprise. It struggled to keep the album in stores. 'The perception of the success of that record was greater than the actual sales,' he says.
But the notoriety the single conferred opened doors for the young musician. 'I got the opportunity to play the big gigs,' he says. 'That really helped season me. It was also just great exposure.
'I don't have any ill feelings,' Droge says. 'It's not the only thing I ever did.'
There was always a perception problem. Droge was never the rocker that his early hit promised. The Thorns have emerged as a sort of latter-day Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, and on 'Skywatcher,' Droge's latest album, he's the same thoughtful storyteller he's always been.
On the single 'Things Will Change and Go My Way,' all of Droge's musical influences Ñ Bob Dylan, the Beatles, Tom Petty Ñ come together beautifully. To an easy, shuffling beat, guitars lilt and swirl around Droge's soft voice and bandmate-partner Elaine Summers adds a feathery harmony.
Droge says his earlier 'disappearance' wasn't entirely accidental. As an artist, he says, 'you're powerless in a lot of ways. When I came out of the cycle of my third record I asked myself a lot of questions. I was spending more and more time away from the creative process.'
He discovered producing, making a record for Portland rocker Jerry Joseph.
'Other artists love to work with him,' says Portland promoter Sally Custer, who often used Droge as an opening act in the early days. 'He's an absolute professional.'
Droge produced the first solo effort by Pearl Jam guitarist Stone Gossard and has worked with Nashville singer Kim Richey and Portland alt-country rockers Baseboard Heaters. He had a song on the soundtrack of the movie 'Almost Famous' and a cameo in the 2001 film.
He looks forward to returning to Portland.
'I've always loved playing Portland. It's my neck of the woods,' Droge says. 'The last show I did in Portland, I was so struck by how responsive and receptive audiences were. There aren't a lot of towns like that.'