There is a bit of a garage punk renaissance every time folks rediscover the Oblivians’ records. Turn the clocks forward to summer 2013 and Desperation hits the decks. And despair not, as trash rockers Greg Cartwright, Jack Yarber and Eric Friedl still defy any singular explanation with their revolving performances and their first studio album since 1997.
“You are really getting three different perspectives,” explains Cartwright. “Three different singers and three different songwriters. I would play drums on a set, Jack would play drums on a set, Eric would play drums [and we] all take turns on the lead vocal.”
The trio found themselves back in the driver’s seat, after taking their road show out for a spin.
“At first it was fun enough to play those old songs and relearn them and find those grooves again,” says Cartwright. This Memphis band rediscovered their chemistry after a tour in 2009, with their Detroit musical soul mates, the Gories. “Then we realized we wanted to keep playing, but we didn’t wanna keep playing those old songs.” With a tank full of creative fuel, they deliver 14 new vibrant tracks.
“I am not afraid to bring new musical ideas I have into the thing. Cause I know, once they are computed into the Oblivians’ machine it will come out like an Oblivians song. That’s a really cool thing to have. You can hear some of the Reigning Sound in my songs, some Tearjerkers in Jack’s songs,” adds Cartwright. “We’ve each had our own style of songwriting and, if anything, it’s just grown over the last few years. I didn’t know how much I missed it till we started playing live.”
Mr. Quintron’s “Call the Police” jumped out from a collection of New Orleans hip hop zydeco music. “It’s one of those songs that just burrows into your head and you can’t get it out,” he says. With a twist of fate, Quintron had a live date while the Oblivians were recording in Nashville, so they called him up. “He said yeah, I’ll come over and play on your track if you come over and play with me, the night of my show.
“A happy circumstance,” says Cartwright. “We were at the same place at the same time and we recorded the same song twice. One for his live album and one for our studio album within 24 hours.”
Desperation was recorded with a Scully one-inch eight-track from a ’60s Electrodyne console.
“I love the directness of recording on to old gear. The great thing about analog is [that it’s] all tubes,” he says. With a guitar, guitar, drums, and vocals set up, the three just went in and cut it. Working analog to tape as a direct print of the process. “It might not be perfection but the Oblivians are not perfect and it works to our advantage,” he laughs. “You don’t have to second guess yourself. You don’t have any opportunity to change it anyway. There is not going to be any endless tweaking. I wanna mix with my ears, not my eyes,” he explains. “Back in the day, people had to know exactly how a song was going to be played and finished. Now, when people go in to record, it’s a drum track and then endlessly layered guitars and keyboard. I am not saying there is anything wrong with that. It’s a whole other art form that I’m just not any good at.”
Hailing from the musically resilient Memphis, TN, their recordings were noticed much later after the original releases. “It makes me happy. It lets me know that those records have longevity beyond when they were made,” he says. For a whole generation just hearing these for the first time, it’s an incredible break. “An awesome opportunity for them,” says Cartwright. “But an awesome opportunity for us to play for them! We get to run around and pretend we are a rock band even in our 40s!”
Seize this rare opportunity as The Oblivians play the Rickshaw Theatre on July 11.
By Tiina Liimu
Photo: Jamie Harmon