Every so often over the past few years you’d hear a whisper about this new Brooklyn band featuring a couple of indie rock veterans. Supposedly they’d been practicing since 2006, but weren’t ready to play live yet. Then they finally did play and immediately a bootleg recording of that first show spread all over the web. In lieu of having anything recorded for people to hear, the band even put some of the songs on its MySpace page.
But little did Obits know how much the listening public was clamoring to hear more. With only the bootleg to go on, bloggers tried to fill in the blanks with comparisons both apt and not. They don’t really sound that much like Creedence, maybe a little. Who knows what the people at Sub Pop were thinking, other than they wanted the band to join their roster post-haste–in July of 2008 they invited Obits to play their 20th anniversary bash in Seattle, months before the ink was even dry on any contract.
“Honestly, it was flattering, but it also seemed a little absurd,” says singer/guitarist Sohrab Habibion, formerly of Washington, D.C. indie greats Edsel. “I had a comical image of people sitting around a conference table listening to a crappy live recording and going, ‘Yeah! We’re totally into THIS!’ If that really is what happened, I wish we had a photograph of it.” Adds bassist Greg Simpson with a laugh, “I think the crappiness made us sound better.”
At first, Habibion, singer/guitarist Rick Froberg and drummer Scott Gursky were toying around with a three-guitar incarnation, which “was filling up the same tonal and melodic range,” Habibion says of the short-lived experiment. But once Simpson was brought into the fold on bass in the spring of 2007, Obits quickly found its footing.
“As soon as Greg joined, his style and the way the instrument functioned within the ideas we were working on made sense, and things moved pretty rapidly,” Habibion says. In December of 2008, they released their first single, One Cross Apiece b/w Put It in Writing on their own Stint Records label and did some touring with the Constantines and The Night Marchers.
All that brings us to I Blame You, Obits’ Sub Pop debut. You’ll know this on hearing it, but the truth is this: I Blame You is a rock’n’roll record. And like all the best rock’n’roll records, it’s a group synthesis of the band’s combined influences. On I Blame You Obits take apart and reassemble the genre’s traditions, raving up the ‘30s-era blues standard “Milk Cow Blues,” group vocalizing on a Motown-y mid-tempo ballad (“Back and Forth”), bopping through bass-driven rockers (“Two-Headed Coin”), taking surf-y riffs for a burning-rubber spin (“Pine On”). And it’s all done with a palpable, genuine sense of fun throughout.
“We’re not into innovation as a band,” says Froberg, who’s already done his fair share of innovating with Pitchfork, Drive Like Jehu and Hot Snakes. “I think innovation is an overestimated quality. Anything that’s going to be original is going to happen without your control. Things that make your band sound like you are things you wouldn’t be able to change anyway. We just go ahead and play the stuff we like, and we don’t worry about originality per se, because that should take care of itself.”
On I Blame You, Froberg is your guide to becoming emboldened by forged art (“Fake Kinkade”), setting your affairs in order before the world goes to hell (“Light Sweet Crude”) and trying to make sense of love in the age of political correctness (“SUD”). Habibion takes the mic on “Run,” his smooth-yet-spooky delivery providing a contrast to Froberg’s vein-bulging screeds.
Band members say being unafraid to revel in the kind of rock’n’roll they love has paid dividends with their own songs. “We’ll start out by referencing a Shangri-La’s song, but we come out with a twisted mess of a thing that doesn’t sound like it at all, which works for us,” Gursky says. “It’s reaching for a branch we’ll never get to, but we jump for it anyway. Hopefully we’ll get a leaf or something.”
Recorded at Seaside Lounge in Brooklyn and produced by Geoff Sanoff, Eli Janney and Obits, I Blame You is the band’s debut full-length album.