If you didn’t know the history behind the band Obits, you’d swear they were your typical upstart twenty-somethings delivering scruffy post-punk rock. But, as I recently discovered, two members–singers/guitarists Rick Froberg and Sohrab Habibion–have been playing music since going back to the hardcore punk scene of the late ’80s, early ’90s. When I mentioned that to Sohrab in a recent phone interview, he told me that playing music then and now isn’t all that different–it’s just the the environment that has changed.
The members of Obits–Sohrab, Rick, bassist Greg Simpson and drummer Alexis Fleisig–prove that when it comes to rocking out, age is not an issue.
“There is an actual infrastructure now for bands like ours,” he says. “But when we started playing our music, it really didn’t exist. There was no internet, there was no cell phone, there were none of the amenities that bands have now. Even just having the digital recorder where we record our practices seems so exotic sometimes because we never had that before. If you were gonna work on a song, everything was from memory. It’s fun to be able to interact with somebody who’s into music on our Facebook page. But if that didn’t exist, I don’t think it would have really changed the rudiments of our band at all.”
Older but wiser, the members of Obits–Sohrab, Rick, bassist Greg Simpson and drummer Alexis Fleisig–prove that when it comes to rocking out, age is not an issue. Their third album, the energetic Bed & Bugs, released today, confirms that, with its bevy of jagged yet cerebral songs laced with a tinge of surf influence. The follow-up to their two previous albums, I Blame You (2009) and Moody, Standard and Poor (2011), Bed & Bugs sounds perhaps a bit more direct and punchier. Sohrab attributes that to the quality of the recording, which was a bit rougher.
“At least on a couple of the songs,” he says, “they sound a little bit more immediate, more upfront, which I think is a really nice thing, and really suited some of these songs. We’re totally happy with our first two records but this was a different experience, different environment, different person that we were working with. It sounds different and it’s cool.”
They made the record in Arlington, VA where a friend has a home recording studio.“That was actually the most fun and easy going recording experience I think any of us had ever had,” Sohrab says. “Recording studios can be really strange because they can be very sterile and you are aware of the clinical aspect of what’s happening–[whereas] since it was at a house, we can hang out in his kitchen and make coffee, the sun’s coming in, and be like ‘Let’s go back and try another one.'”
The new album’s first single is the rollicking “Taste the Diff.” Another standout track is a cover of the cinematic-sounding “Besetchet,” a song from the Ethiopiques compilation series and somewhat divergent from the rest of the punk-driven material. “There was one compilation that was traditional kind of folk music and some jazz from Ethiopia,” says Sohrab. “There was that tune on it. If you hear the original, you hear the same melody, but it’s played on these flutes, it sounds totally different. I think Rick came up with the idea of trying to do it as a guitar thing. It was kind of fun to try to take this thing that has been played on out-of-tune flutes to transpose it for guitar.”
And then there is “Receptor,” which has both a jaunty vibe accompanied by some poppy melodies; it also features a slide guitar, whose inclusion worried the band at first in that might have put them in the classic rock cubby hole, as Sohrab put it. “But in this group, we know that we’re not actually able to play the cliches because we’re not the most dextrous, flashy musicians. So it’s kind of fun to see what part that we can use to our sensibilities and our advantage to make a song work for us. And that’s definitely one where both in terms of the melody and the slide guitar I think echoes the most sort of overtly Rolling Stones kind of moment.”
All of the songs have a driving, angular in your face quality to them, highlighted by Rick’s anguished, gritty vocals (reminiscent of Mick Jagger and Kurt Cobain), but there’s no overarching theme on Bed & Bugs lyrically. “We don’t sit down with the intent to write a song about a thing,” Sohrab says. “It’s more just kind of writing, even abstractly, and then editing it so that it works within the song. If there is meaning, it’s almost like revealed to the writer later. There are Some people are more purposeful about their writing. For us, it’s definitely not like that. I think it’s much more of an abstract quality.”
In addition to being a musician, Sohrab is also a foodie. He credits his culinary palate to his wife, who went to culinary school and writes for Zagat. As for his food picks in Park Slope, where he lives, he says: “We also have a kid so it sort of depends what the scene is. If it’s with our son, who is 8, we’ll go down to Bareburger. I think Franny’s is a really great place. Ostensibly, it’s a pizza place but it’s much more than that. There’s a bunch of cool new coffee shops around here that I really like. There’s one called De Luxe on 7th avenue that’s cool.”
Obits will embark on a national tour from Oct. 2 through Nov. 22. But before that, the band will be performing on their home turf for their record release show on Sept. 21 at the Bell House, a place they know quite well. “It’s literally around the corner from our practice space,” said Sohrab. “We like the place because I think it’s one of the best places to see bands in the city of the size as it is. It sounds good, you can see from everywhere, we could literally push our amps around the corner to the place, so which is nice. Sometimes after practice, we’ll pop in there for a beer. It definitely feels like the local, which is nice.”