It’s simply not possible to interview Rick Froberg and gracefully avoid asking him about his previous bands Hot Snakes and Drive Like Jehu. The Snakes slithered off in 2005, and Jehu played their last show nearly 13 years ago, but the influence and impact of both bands—particularly Jehu—is immeasurable for fans of discordant punk rock colored by raw-throated, arresting vocals, angular guitar turns, and the unexpected whiplash of breakneck time signatures. Jehu inadvertently wrote that playbook, and have consequently ended up with a post-mortem fanbase that’s pretty substantial.
“You have to live up to that,” admits Froberg via phone from his Brooklyn home. “But the cultish following is… when the band was around it wasn’t like there was a million people around.”
Maybe not a million, but it’s highly probable that the Funhouse is going to pack out this Friday when Froberg brings his new band the Obits to town. Somewhat more restrained and bluesy than previous projects, the Obits are still unmistakably a Froberg project, especially when his distinct, urgent vocals kick in and the familiar, assertive jangle of his guitar begins slicing through the mix.
“We wanted to do something less constrained,” he continues. “It’s not as loud as Hot Snakes or Drive Like Jehu was, but we are trying to make the music aggressive and meaningful to us. We also have a really great bass player [Greg Simpson]. He’s easily the best musician in the band. He’s not really a punk rocker. He plays bass in a style that is kind of like Paul McCartney.” Froberg also cites a growing appreciation for African rock bands and the uniquely inspiring Ethiopiques series of CDs that cover a wide range of more obscure, non-European bands and genres. “They take a regular rock form, try to play it in that vein, and it doesn’t work out because they are [non-traditional players]. I think that’s great.”
As far as touring and recording goes, Froberg is determined to do things at a more relaxed pace this time, with plans to play only short strings of dates on either coast until they’re ready to sit down and record a full-length. “I’m actually not a big proponent of ‘paying your dues’… the younger you are, and the less experienced you are, the more that you are going into it in the traditional framework. That’s one of the perks of getting older—you learn that there’s more than one way to do things.” That way appears to include a future with local label Sub Pop, who have recently added them to the lineup for this weekend’s SP 20 festival in Marymoor Park (they play at noon on Saturday), and are reportedly mere inches away from finalizing a deal to put out their debut. “We are looking forward to going out there because every time I’ve been to Seattle it’s been fun,” says Froberg, who also tells me that the band hand-picked local band the Lights to open Friday night’s Funhouse show (Android Hero is also on the bill).
While much of this week will obviously be dominated by the SP 20 events—especially when the Space Needle begins flying an SP flag during the week and the rumors of countless “secret” shows start to spread—but there are plenty of impressive shows going on slightly off the grid. The Sunset has an excellent local lineup on Wednesday, July 9, with the righteous spazz punk of the Pleasureboaters, tense and experimental dub-accented duo the Flexions, and Telepathic Liberation Army, the newest project by former Parini and 66 Saints front woman Lisa Orth.
Down the street at the Tractor this Sunday, a good time is all but guaranteed when King Khan and His Shrines bring their eight-piece party posse to the stage. I have no idea how the humble Tractor snagged such a hot-shit hipster show (Khan seems like the sort of artist that would have gone to Neumo’s or Chop Suey in a heartbeat), but I’m thrilled I won’t have to trek all the way to Capitol Hill to catch Khan’s killer hybrid of sly humor and watertight, old-school garage-rock rave-ups. If you’re a fan of the antagonistic antics of bands like the Black Lips or are a loyal follower of the Dirtbombs, this show should definitely be on your not-to-miss list.