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Getting to Know: Obits

By Sam Roudman on August 14, 2009


Getting to Know: Obits

It’s an unseasonably tolerable February afternoon in Park Slope, Brooklyn. A foursome of late thirty or forty-somethings - chatty and cordial - makes its way into a diner, two children and a smattering of toys in tow. It’s a relaxed, homey sort of Sunday catch-up, not exactly the hair-of-the-dog bottle smashing you might expect from a band that just made one of the most refreshingly straightforward and hard-charging rock albums of the year.

But considering that the band, Obits, features Rick Froberg (Hot Snakes, Drives Like Jehu), and D.C. veteran Sohrab Habibion (Edsel), the sneering edginess of their Sub Pop debut, I Blame You, is reasonable to expect.

Over scrambled eggs doused in hot sauce, Froberg admits the band began with few expectations: ‘You don’t want to get too ambitious about these things, just one day at a time and see what happens.’ After a multi-year gestation period, featuring the prototypical impediments of discouragement and bassist insufficiency (rectified with the assistance of Greg Simpson), the band was eventually pressured into playing a show by their friend Speck, the drummer from Brooklyn sludge metal duo Orphan, because, as drummer Scott Gursky is quick to point out, ‘she’s intimidating.’

Soon, the fickle god of Web buzz interceded on their behalf. ‘We played one show and somebody posted a recording of the show on the Internet.’ And the time it takes Froberg to shrug off the attention - and for everyone else to get back to their brunch - is more or less the time it took for Sub Pop to offer them a deal.

Although the benefits of the Internet helped land Obits a contract, the compressed formats demanded by computer music listeners made for a hassle once their record was getting mastered. ‘When we first got the acetate back, listening back to back with a Kinks record, we wanted to cry,’ says Habibion, somewhat hesitant to complain. ‘The Kinks record sounded so good, really open, and ours really felt tiring. It was exhausting to listen to it because it was so dense.’

Gursky explains the mastering process as a learning experience. ‘What we got when we mastered was this tight, compressed rock record; it made us realize that what we really wanted was a kind of open, lush sounding record.’ And being men of action, Obits got the album re-mastered.

The general maturity of the band (which, especially for musicians, does not necessarily come from age) is expressed in their listening and working habits. As an adult, ‘you don’t need music to tell you how to feel anymore - you just want to listen to music on your own terms,’ says Gursky.  ‘New bands are great; I listened to No Age yesterday from Sub Pop. I probably never would have listened to them otherwise. You hear a band and you wanna know who their inspiration was, and you sort of tumble backwards.’

Habibion, ensconced in a bagel topped with a farmer’s market of add-ons, seconds the motion. ‘I think for me when I’m playing music, I become focused on what works for that; maybe if we were listening to newer bands it would come from there.’

Another plus side of Obits’ experience is the knowledge and confidence to kick off the labels that inevitably fall flat in describing music. Froberg (eggs depleted) then drops an object lesson in the topic. ‘In the ‘90s, my band was first on an independent label then on a major label, and I couldn’t figure out the distinction except one was more efficient and one had more money - neither was distinguished by its ethics.’

So where then does Obits, adrift and ambivalent to the billion trends, choose to place itself? The answer is simple enough: ‘We wanna be a rock and roll band,’ Froberg says. ‘If I had to choose between the two, I’d choose the roll over the rock.’ Everyone laughs, the check is divvied up, and in the same pleasant bubble that marked their entrance, everyone exits - it’s just too nice a day for grownups to worry about these sorts of things.

This article is from FILTER Issue 35