It’s a classic music industry tale: musicians who have been struggling for years at success in the business are suddenly “discovered” and considered an “overnight sensation.” “This doesn’t feel like an overnight sensation to me,” Vinnie Dombroski told Rolling Stone. Dombroski is the front man for the band Sponge, who exploded onto the music scene in 1994 with their debut album Rotting Pinata. The five members of Sponge have worked hard to find their place in the spotlight and know that in this fickle world they could just be a flash in the pan. However, they plan to be much more than that.
Sponge hails from Detroit, Michigan, a city that for a while bred many star musicians. But as Dombroski explained in Circus, “There’s a real lack of opportunity [in Detroit]. Because of that people turn to music as a form of sustenance.” That’s exactly what all of the members of Sponge did starting in the mid 1980s. Growing up in the same working-class area, they’ve known each other most of their lives, although they played in different bands on the local scene.
As a band, Sponge’s roots go back to the late 1980s when the Cross brothers—Mike on guitar, Tim on bass—and Dombroski, on drums, were in a band called Loudhouse. “The music was nothing like what we’re doing now,” Tim told Addicted to Noise’s Gillian G. Gaar. “It was a lot heavier, a lot more obscure; we were springing off in different directions trying to find ourselves. But we just never did.”
Loudhouse signed with Virgin Records in the early 1990s, but was dropped from the label after only one album. “That was five years of hard work,” Dombroski told Steve Appleford of Rolling Stone. And Tim admitted to Gaar, “That was a pretty low point in my life.” Loudhouse gave it one more try, going back into the studio to record an album, but they disbanded before it was far off the ground.
Sponge guitarist Joey Mazzola, also a Detroit native, spent five of the hardest years of his life on the Los Angeles club circuit. When he decided to return home he hooked up with Dombroksi, with whom he had played earlier in his career. Almost a year after the Loudhouse breakup, around the end of 1992, Mazzola sat in on a jam session above a Detroit drugstore with Dombroski and the Cross brothers. The four clicked and Sponge was formed. Since Sponge had already formed before actually finding a singer, Dombroksi filled in at the mike temporarily. “And to my and my brother’s amazement, and to Joey’s as well,” Tim enthused to
For the Record…
Members include Mike Cross (born in Detroit, MI), guitar; Tim Cross (born in Detroit), bass; Vinnie Dombroski (born in Detroit, 1962), vocals; Charlie Grover (born in Detroit, December 1967; joined band, 1995), drums; Joey Mazzola (born in Detroit, c. 1962); and Jimmy Paluzzi (left band, 1995), drums.
Band formed in Detroit, MI, c. 1993; signed with Columbia Records, 1993; released Rotting Piñata, 1994. Addresses: Record company —Columbia Records, 2100 Colorado Ave., Santa Monica, CA 90404.
Gaar, “it was like, ‘Man, this guy sounds great! We don’t need to look for a singer, let’s look for a drummer!’”
Drummer Jimmy Paluzzi was added to the line up and the band began sending out their demo. Record labels were immediately interested. By October of 1993 Sponge was recording Rotting Piñata, although they didn’t even ink their deal with Columbia Records until December of 1993—the label was so enthusiastic about the band, they fronted the money for recording before plans were final.
Rotting Piñata was released in 1994. Their first single, “Plowed,” caught on very quickly. MTV put the video for the song in their “Buzz Bin”—videos by new artists whom the cable network finds worthy of developing a “buzz” for. Popularity formed on the basis of that video, making the song a top track on Alternative and Album Oriented Rock (AOR) radio. The single “Molly” soon followed, and the album eventually went platinum. They had a relentless touring schedule in support of Rotting Piñata, which delayed their follow-up album until 1996.
However, by that time, drummer Jimmy Paluzzi had been replaced by another Detroit native, Charlie Grover. As the young band’s style began maturing during constant touring, it became apparent that Paluzzi’s style was no longer in sync with the band’s. Grover, who blended in more smoothly, joined Sponge in early 1995.
The 1996 album Wax Ecstatic “was going to be this whole concept through song of the experiences of this fictitious type of character,” Dombroski told Circus’s Vinnie Penn. It was to have a “Memphis-type slant, a la old Stax Records, Memphis-sounding R & B, Al Green meets Ziggy Stardust.” The band eventually abandoned the project, deciding it was too confining. Several of the songs did remain, however, placed among an entirely new set of tunes.
Rolling Stone’s Jon Wiederhorn noted that, with Wax Ecstatic, “the group is making an effort to shatter the grim-faced grunge image that shoe-horned Sponge into the same category as acts like Bush, Everclear and the Verve Pipe…the music is more daring and mature this time.” And RIPs Tom Lanham wrote, judging by Wax Ecstatic, “The pop strategies of Rotting Piñata … won’t prepare listeners for the sheer sonic delight of this sophomore disc.”
With all the praise from critics, however, Wax Ecstatic did not explode among fans as Sponge’s first album had. But even with Rotting Piñata selling so well, and long before the release of Wax Ecstatic, the band knew that big labels count numbers. As Dombroski told Gaar, “Well, make no mistakes. We need to sell more records.”
Sponge would just like to keep making music until they’re old men. Dombroski confided in Music Connection, “I don’t want to give off the impression that I think that we’ve made it…. We’ve come a long way, but we’ve got a long way to go.” But Sponge does have confidence in their abilities. Dombroski went on to say, “I think that whatever this business can do with us, wherever it’ll take us, it’ll all happen as long as we’ve got the tunes. And we have got the tunes!”
Rotting Pinata (includes “Plowed” and “Molly”), Work Group/Columbia Records, 1994.
Wax Ecstatic, Work Group/Columbia Records, 1996.
Addicted to Noise, October 1995.
Circus, September 1996.
Music Connection, May 29, 1995.
RIP, August 1996.
Rolling Stone, April 20, 1995; September 5, 1996.
Additional material for this profile was obtained from Columbia Records press materials, 1996, and from the World Wide Web.
There are many different varieties of sea sponges, and these come in widely varying shapes and sizes. They can be very large, and grow in elaborate branched formations, or be round and small, or grow flat or in a tube shape. Some are brilliantly colored, though they fade when they are harvested. Sea sponges are thought to have evolved at least 700 million years ago. They are among the simplest animal organisms, having no specialized organs such as heart and lungs, and no locomotion. Sponges live attached to rocks on the sea bed. Their bodies consist of skeletons made of a soft material called spongin, and a leathery skin broken by pores. The sponge eats by pumping seawater in through its pores. It filters microscopic plants from the water, and expels the excess water through one or more large holes called oscula. It also absorbs oxygen directly from seawater. Sponges are slow-growing, taking several years to reach full size, and some live for hundreds of years.
Sea sponges were used since ancient times in the Mediterranean region where they are most common. Roman soldiers each carried a personal sponge, which served the purpose of modern toilet paper, and they were certainly used for other purposes as well. Artificial sponges were first developed by the Du Pont company—a leader in synthetic materials manufacturing industry that also invented nylon—in the 1940s. Three DuPont engineers patented the cellulose sponge process, and DuPont held onto the secret until 1952, when it sold its sponge technology to General Mills. In the second half of the twentieth century, cellulose sponges rapidly replaced the natural sponge for most common household uses.
Many different types of sponge are harvested and dried for human use, but the most common one is the Spongia oficinalis, also known as the glove sponge. Another common type used commercially is the sheep's wool sponge, or Hippospongia canaliculata. Synthetic sponges are made of three basic ingredients: cellulose derived from wood pulp, sodium sulphate, and hemp fiber. Other materials needed are chemical softeners, which break the cellulose down into the proper consistency, bleach, and dye.
Harvesting Sea Sponges
To gather natural sponges, specially trained divers descend into sponge-growing waters with a large two-pronged hook and a string bag. Traditional sponge divers in Greece used no special breathing equipment. The men of seaside villages were trained from childhood and were expert deep water divers. The sponge industry in the United States centers around Tarpon Springs, Florida, a community that was founded by Greek immigrant divers. Today's sponge divers use modern diving equipment such as wet suits and oxygen tanks. The divers pry sponges off the rocks or reefs where they grow, and bring them up in their string bags. The divers pile the sponges on the deck of their boat and cover them with wet cloths. The animals die on the boat, and their skins rot off. After the skins have decayed, the harvesters wash the sponges and string them on a long, thin rope to dry in the sun. After they have dried completely, the harvesters wash the sponges several more times. This is all the preparation the sponges need to be ready for sale.
The steps necessary in the manufacture of synthetic sponge is discussed below.
- The cellulose used for sponges arrives at the sponge factory in large, stiff sheets. Workers take the sheets and soak them in a vat of water mixed with certain chemical softeners. The cellulose becomes soft and jelly-like. Then workers load the cellulose into a revolving mixer, which is a large rotating metal drum. Workers add the sodium sulphate crystals, cut hemp fibers, and dye, and close the mixer. The mixer is set to rotate, and it churns the ingredients so that they are thoroughly amalgamated.
- From the mixer, workers pour the material into a large rectangular mold that may be 2 ft (61 cm) high, 2 ft (61 cm) wide, and 6 ft (1.8 m) long. The mold is heated, and the cellulose mixture cooks. As it cooks, the sodium sulphate crystals melt, and drain away through openings in the bottom of the mold. It is their melting that leaves the characteristic pores in the finished sponge. The size of the pores is determined by the size of the sodium sulphate crystals. A rough sponge used for washing a car, for instance, is made with coarse crystals, while a fine sponge of the type used for applying makeup is made with very fine crystals. As the celluolose mix cooks, then cools, it becomes a hard, porous block.
- The sponge block is then soaked in a vat of bleach. This removes dirt and impurities, and also brightens the color. Next the sponge is cleaned in water. Additional washings alter the texture, making the sponge more pliable. The sponge is left to dry, to prepare it for cutting.
- Some manufacturers make the sponge and cut and package it themselves. Others produce the raw blocks of sponge, and then sell them to a company known as a converter. The converter cuts the sponges according to its customers needs, and takes care of the packaging and distribution. Whether at the first manufacturing facility or at the converter, workers cut the sponges on an automatic cutter. They load each big rectangle of sponge into a machine that slices it into the desired size. Because the sponge block is rectangular, it can be cut into many smaller rectangles with little or no waste.
- Many household sponges have a textured plastic scouring pad attached to one side. This is attached in a process called laminating, after the sponge is cut. The scouring pad, which is cut to the same size as the sponge, is affixed to the sponge in a laminating machine that uses a specialized sponge glue made of moisture-cured polyurethane. Next, the sponges move to a packaging area where they are sealed in plastic. The packaged sponges are boxed, and the boxes sent to a warehouse for further distribution.
A sponge manufacturer typically checks the product for quality at many steps along the manufacturing process. The raw ingredients are analyzed when they come into the plant to make sure they conform to standards. In a modern facility, most of the machinery is monitored by computers, that maintain the proper proportions in the mix, for example, and control the temperature of the mold during the cooking process. The finished sponges are checked for tenacity, that is, how easily they tear. An inspector takes a random sample from the batch and puts it in a specially built machine. The machine measures the force needed to tear the sponge. Another test is of color. In this case, a sample sponge is examined under a spectrograph.
Sponge manufacturing produces no harmful byproducts and little waste. Sponge material that is lost in trimming, such as when an uneven end is cut off the large block, is ground up and recycled. It can be thrown in the mixer at the beginning of the process, and become part of a new sponge.
Where to Learn More
Esbensen, Barbara Juster. Sponges Are Skeletons (New York: Harper Collins, 1993).
Sookdeo, Richard. "Ex-sponging Bacteria." Fortune (October 31, 1994).
sponge / spənj/ • n. 1. a primitive sedentary aquatic invertebrate (phylum Porifera) with a soft porous body that is typically supported by a framework of fibers or calcareous or glassy spicules. Sponges draw in a current of water to extract nutrients and oxygen. 2. a piece of a soft, light, porous substance originally consisting of the fibrous skeleton of such an invertebrate but now usually made of synthetic material. Sponges absorb liquid and are used for washing and cleaning. ∎ [in sing.] an act of wiping or cleaning with a sponge: they gave him a quick sponge down. ∎ such a substance used as padding or insulating material: the headguard is padded with sponge. ∎ a piece of such a substance impregnated with spermicide and inserted into a woman's vagina as a form of barrier contraceptive. ∎ inf. a heavy drinker. ∎ metal in a porous form, typically prepared by reduction without fusion or by electrolysis: platinum sponge. 3. (also sponge pudding) a steamed or baked pudding of fat, flour, and eggs. 4. inf. a person who lives at someone else's expense. • v. (sponging or spongeing) 1. [tr.] wipe, rub, or clean with a wet sponge or cloth: she sponged him down in an attempt to cool his fever. ∎ remove or wipe away (liquid or a mark) in such a way: I'll go and sponge this orange juice off my dress. ∎ give a decorative mottled or textured effect to (a painted wall or surface) by applying a different shade of paint with a sponge. 2. [intr.] inf. obtain or accept money or food from other people without doing or intending to do anything in return: they found they could earn a perfectly good living by sponging off others. ∎ [tr.] obtain (something) in such a way: he edged closer, clearly intending to sponge money from her. DERIVATIVES: sponge·a·ble adj. sponge·like / ˈspənjˌlīk/ adj.
A sponge is an invertebrate (an animal without a backbone) that lives underwater and survives by taking in water through a system of pores. A sponge has no organs or nervous system and lacks most features that are common to animals. It is the simplest and one of the oldest of all multicellular organisms.
There are about 5,000 species of sponges. All of these belong to the phylum Porifera, which means "to have pores." Most inhabit a saltwater environment and live in one place on the seabed. They always attach themselves to something hard and unmoving. Although biologists consider the sponge to be an evolutionary dead end, it is nonetheless a very successful organism in terms of its ability to survive.
CHARACTERISTICS OF SPONGES
All sponges have certain things in common. First, all are filter feeders, meaning that they get their food by trapping whatever their watery environment provides them. They allow water to enter and leave their body cavity through a system of tiny holes or pores. In this way, sponges obtain the water, oxygen, and nutrients they need. They rid themselves of waste like carbon dioxide by using the same system. Sponges expel their waste out of their largest opening called the osculum. As water travels through the sponge, any small food particles in the water are captured and absorbed by its cells.
This points out a unique thing about sponges: each of their cells is in a sense on its own. For example, although each cell responds to stimuli, the sponge as an organism cannot react as a whole. Similarly, digestion and waste disposal is the job of each cell. This is necessary since a sponge has no specialized tissues or organs to perform these functions. A sponge might therefore be described as a loose association of cells.
While a sponge may be as small as a fingernail or as large as a chair, all have some sort of skeleton or framework that supports them. In fact, sponges are classified according to the type of skeleton that they form by secretion. One class of sponges has a chalky skeleton made of calcium carbonate spikes. Another class has needle-like glass spikes, while a third class has a supporting skeleton made of a fibrous protein called spongin. The "natural" sponge we associate with taking a bath is actually a dried spongin skeleton minus the sponge's living cells. Most of today's household sponges are synthetic (man-made) plastic versions of a sponge.
As an invertebrate, most sponges are hermaphroditic, meaning that the same individual can produce both sperm and eggs. They can reproduce sexually, although they must obtain the sex cells of another individual. After fertilization (the union of a male sex cell and a female sex cell), a free-swimming larva is released that eventually attaches itself to the bottom of the ocean where it remains anchored for its entire life. Sponges can also reproduce asexually (without another individual's sex cells). This happens when a small fragment is broken off and settles on an appropriate spot on the ocean floor where it buds or develops into a new sponge. It is estimated that this extremely simple organism, from which few multicellular organisms have evolved, has successfully lived on Earth for more than 5,000,000,000 years.
Sponges are primitive multicellular animals that live in water. All adult sponges are sessile (fixed to one spot), most being attached to hard surfaces such as rocks, corals, or shells. More than 4,500 living species are known. Although some species occur in freshwater, the vast majority are marine, living mainly in shallow tropical waters. Sponges have an amazing power of regeneration: they are capable of growing into a new individual from even the tiniest fragment of the original body.
Sponges vary widely in shape and composition. Some are tall, extending far into the water. Others are low and spread out over a surface. Some have branchlike forms while others appear like intricately formed latticework. Many others are goblet shaped. Despite their differing appearances, all sponges have a definite skeleton that provides a framework that supports the animal. In some species, this skeleton is made up of a complex arrangement of spicules, which are spiny strengthening rods with a crystalline appearance. The soft spongy material that makes up the skeleton of many species of sponges is known as spongin. The fibrous meshwork of this material makes it ideal for holding water.
Most sponges consist of an outer wall dotted with many pores or openings of different sizes. These allow the free passage of water into the central part of the body, the atrium or spongocoel (pronounced SPUN-joe-seel). Although water enters the body through a large number of openings, it always leaves through a single opening, the osculum, at the top of the body.
Sponges rely on large volumes of water passing through their bodies every day, since all sponges feed by filtering tiny plankton from the water. This same water also provides the animals with a continuous supply of oxygen and removes all body wastes as it leaves the sponge.
Sponges reproduce either sexually or asexually. In sexual reproduction, a male sponge releases a large amount of sperm cells in a dense cloud. As these cells are transported by the water currents, some enter female sponges of the same species. They are then transported to special egg chambers where fertilization may take place. Once developed, a freeswimming larva emerges and is carried away by the currents until it finds a suitable surface on which to attach.
In asexual reproduction, new offspring are produced through the process known as branching or budding off. A parent sponge produces a large number of tiny cells called gemmules, each of which is capable of developing into a new sponge. A simple sponge, for example, sprouts horizontal branches that spread out over nearby rocks and give rise to a large colony of upright, vase-shaped sponges.
Humans have used sponges for bathing, drinking, and scrubbing since ancient times. Most sponges of this sort originate in the Mediterranean and Caribbean Seas and off the coast of Florida. Although synthetic (human-made) sponges are now commonly sold, sponge fishing is still a major industry in many countries.
sponge, common name for members of the aquatic animal phylum Porifera, and for the dried, processed skeletons of certain species used to hold water. Over 4,500 living species are known; they are found throughout the world, especially in shallow temperate waters. All are marine except the members of six freshwater families.
Adult sponges are sessile, attaching themselves to rocks, coral, shells, and other substrates. They show so little movement that until the 18th cent. naturalists considered them plants. Most adults are colonial. Sexual reproduction gives rise to a free-swimming larva, which soon settles on a suitable substrate and develops into the adult form. Asexual reproduction also occurs. The individual sponge is saclike in construction; water is drawn into its central cavity through many tiny holes in the body wall and expelled through a large opening at the top of the body. Hard materials of various kinds, depending on the type of sponge, are imbedded in the body wall, forming a skeleton. A colony consists of a mass of many such individuals.
Solitary sponges and colonies range in diameter from about 1/2 in. to 5 ft (1–150 cm) and vary greatly in shape. Some are branched, some more or less globular, and some are thin encrustations on rocks and pilings. Brilliantly colored sponges are common. Bath sponges are the skeletons of certain colonial sponges. These skeletons are composed of a fibrous meshwork of spongin, a material related to horn, and owe their absorbent properties to the fineness of the mesh.
Sponges have been used to hold liquid since ancient times. The ancient Greeks used them for bathing and scrubbing, and Roman soldiers used them for drinking. Commercial sponges, species of the genera Spongia and Hippospongia, are harvested principally in the Mediterranean and Caribbean seas and off the Florida coast. They are brought up by divers in deep water, or raked in with long-handled forks in shallow water. They are left in water until the living tissue rots away; the skeletons are then cleaned and dried and sometimes bleached. Sponge fishing has declined in recent decades due to the use of synthetic sponges and to a decline in the population of commercially valuable natural sponges. The block-shaped sponges now commonly sold are the synthetic product. Dried natural sponges are light gray or brown and irregular in shape.