Gumball were the highest-profile occupation of indie gadabout Don Fleming, already a veteran of several bands, a guest collaborator for many more, and a significant producer who -- ironically -- helped shepherd alternative rock into its major-label boom years. As Gumball's singer, guitarist, and primary songwriter, Fleming's record-collector obsession with pop culture and pop music, from the Monkees to the Damned to Sonic Youth, reached full fruition. Snatches of '60s guitar riffs sat next to '80s guitar noise, and '70s punk rubbed shoulders with '70s schlock metal; all of it proved his knack for treating the worst pop music as serious rock, while dirtying respectable indie sonic tricks with (true to the band's name) sugary-sweet bubblegum pop. Gumball enjoyed a two-album stay on major label Columbia, and earned some notoriety as owners of perhaps the largest collection of eight-track tapes in the country. However, they never broke through to a wider audience, and Fleming returned to his myriad other pursuits.
Prior to forming Gumball in 1990, Fleming had been a member of the Washington, D.C.-based Velvet Monkeys, where he first worked with Gumball drummer Jay Spiegel. Following the Velvet Monkeys' initial breakup in the mid-'80s, Fleming and Spiegel played behind Jad Fair in Half Japanese on a semiregular basis, and wound up relocating to New York City. There they fell in with producer/Shimmy Disc label head Kramer, who joined them on bass to form B.A.L.L., a unit specializing in ironic deconstructions of classic rock numbers. After several albums, B.A.L.L. fell victim to a contentious breakup in 1990, and Fleming and Spiegel put together a one-off, all-star version of the Velvet Monkeys that included Dinosaur Jr.'s J Mascis, Sonic Youth's Thurston Moore, and Pussy Galore's Julia Cafritz. That same year, Fleming and Spiegel formed the more permanent, straightforward Gumball with bassist Eric Vermillion.
While working on their debut LP, Gumball issued a self-titled, four-song preview EP on the British label Paperhouse. Their proper debut, the full-length Special Kiss, was released in 1991 on the indie Primo Scree and featured guest appearances by Thurston Moore and Teenage Fanclub. It was followed by a U.K.-only EP, Light Shines Through, which featured several new songs. By this time, Fleming had already produced notable major-label debuts by Teenage Fanclub (Bandwagonesque), Sonic Youth (Goo), and Dinosaur Jr. (Green Mind), and a major-label deal for Gumball was not long in the offing. In 1992, Columbia released the covers EP Wisconsin Hayride as a teaser for Gumball's label debut; it featured material from far-ranging sources like Foetus, Black Flag, the Damned, the Small Faces, and the Mahavishnu Orchestra.
Produced by Butch Vig, the full-length Super Tasty arrived in 1993 to mostly positive reviews. The single "The Damage Done" had some success on alternative radio, but despite some definite polish and commercial potential, Super Tasty never quite broke through to a wide audience. In the meantime, Fleming's profile as a producer continued to grow, thanks to work on albums like the Screaming Trees' Sweet Oblivion, the Posies' Frosting on the Beater, and even Alice Cooper's The Last Temptation. In the meantime, keyboardist Malcolm Riviera -- a member of the original Velvet Monkeys lineup -- officially joined Gumball. The band's second major-label album, Revolution on Ice, was released in 1994, and many of its songs showed Fleming's conflicted feelings about the rock underground having been so quickly absorbed by the music industry's corporate mainstream. Unsurprisingly, Gumball disbanded not long afterward. Fleming released the occasional solo project and continued his production career, though on a more sporadic basis than his early-'90s heyday. ~ Steve Huey & Stephen Thomas Erlwine, Rovi