jason kundrath profiles new jersey power trio Only Living Boy …
Rath On Record #5
Artist: Only Living Boy [http://onlylivingboy.com/]
Genre: riff-heavy, groove-laden blues-rock
Homebase: Hackettstown, N.J.
Players: Joe Cirotti — vocals, guitar; Eric Curley — bass; Trevor Newcomb — drums
What ever happened to the power trio? Taking an elemental approach to rock music, these three-man outfits were the bands that turned up the volume, increased the musicianship, and changed the world. Consider the sounds of Cream, The Police, and The Jimi Hendrix Experience, to name only a few. Their names are legendary. But it seems their pioneering work is seen as complete. Unlike The Beatles and The Stones, who are constantly mined and reinterpreted, the power trio is largely absent from the modern rock pantheon. The reason, however, is rather simple: It’s extremely hard to do. And it’s even harder to do well.
We’re talking about one guitarist, one bassist and a drummer. No keys. No frills. No bullshit. In order to pull this off, you need great songs, killer players and powerful vocals. Chemistry is a must. And you generally need someone as charismatic as Hendrix, Clapton or Sting to bring it all together and blast it off to the moon. Let’s face it: Guys like that are hard to come by.
But the faithful continue to wait in hope for the next king to remove the proverbial sword from the stone and rock, rock, rock their faithful faces off.
Well, the wait is over. Introducing Only Living Boy.
This New Jersey three-piece have reignited that grand old torch and are carrying it further down the path blazed by their rock ‘n’ roll forefathers. On their self-titled debut in 2008, the band unveiled their own delicious take on a classic recipe. Modern rock music with a heavy blues base, laced with tight riffs and served over nasty, hip-shaking, head-nodding grooves. The band is led by Joe Cirotti — a strikingly talented guitarist, singer and songwriter. On his solo recording Parked And Sleeping — currently streaming on his Facebook page — he deftly explores the spare, hushed tones of blues and folk, sounding like a descendant of the late, great Jeff Buckley. But with Only Living Boy, backed by bassist Eric Curley and drummer Trevor Newcomb, Cirotti leads an bonafide power trio, kicking out the jams with authority and plenty of sex and swagger. Through it all, his deep understanding of the blues and his talent for songcraft makes for music that goes deep.
Their sophomore album, Hide Nothing, will be released later this year. Produced by Paul Ritchie of fellow N.J. rockers and Roadrunner recording artists The Parlor Mob, the album finds the band meaner, leaner and louder.This dynamic set of stellar songs features plenty of huge riffs and heavy rhythms in the classic power trio fashion (“Lonely Puppy Blues,” “Sunny Day Man,” “I Hear Music”). But the album also finds the band exploring different textures. On “Bag Of Bullets,” they turn the tempo way down and add some quiet harmonies while keeping the mood eerily menacing. On “Demon Shuffle Pt. 1,” they break it down to just Cirotti and his acoustic for a deep, haunting blues cut. And on “Ronny Ronzony.” they have some fun with some punk-rock rhythms and brain-dead lyrics for just under a minute before erupting into hysterics. But even their joke song is kinda kick-ass.
Hide Nothing showcases Only Living Boy as a great band on the rise. They have the tunes, the talent and the charisma to bring the power trio back to its rightful place of prominence.
I had an opportunity to have some Q&A with Cirotti (pictured below), and learned some interesting things involving Knoxville, Tenn., the profound influence of Jimi Hendrix, and why you should never give up on Asbury Park, N.J.
Rath On Record: I hate asking bands about their band name, but I am a little curious about yours. When I first heard it, I immediately thought of Simon and Garfunkel’s “Only Living Boy In New York.” Then I heard the record and didn’t really get a Simon and Garfunkel vibe. What’s the origin?
Joe Cirotti: As you’ve been in a band, you probably know what a long painful process it is coming up with a name. One day, me and Trev [Newcomb, drummer] were on our way to a show and “Only Living Boy In New York” came on the radio. We’ve always been big fans of Paul Simon and S&G. The name just sounded cool, and it sparks the feeling of empowerment, strength and solitude which we were feeling a tremendous amount at the time having dealt with a botched and shitty record deal with an indie label out of Brooklyn. So we changed our name, attitude and lost some of our naive nature in the process. We thought it’d be a cool name considering we sound nothing like Simon and Garfunkel. Just dig em. [Editor’s Note: Only Living Boy performed under the name Rabid Roy for a period of time]
ROR: Tell me about the album title, Hide Nothing. Was that a reference to your stripped-down approach? And perhaps a challenge to other bands?
JC: “HIDE NOTHING” is the title track. I’ve made it my goal to take this thing as far as I possibly can go without sacrificing a fraction of my honesty. In creative respects and relationships. To try to be my weird, sometimes awkward and emotional self at all times. To hide nothing, so to speak. I do feel like were doing something raw and genuine.
ROR: Do you feel like you’re carrying on a great tradition leading a power trio? And who are your all-time favorite trios?
JC: I love ALL sorts of music. Solo, two-piece, three-piece, 10-piece. But I am proud of our raw, three-piece setup. It is very rare to come across others. The dynamic between the three of us is something very powerful and I love every minute I spend playing with them. My two favorites are Jimi Hendrix and Nirvana. Jimi’s music has always been the bible to me.
ROR: How long have you, Curley and Newcomb been playing together? In what ways is your chemistry continuing to develop?
JC: The three of us grew up together, learned to play together, and listened to music together. We formed the band about four years ago, but we’ve been jamming in one incarnation or another for what feels like my whole life. As we work and work towards our goals and see the country and meet people and bands, our chemistry evolves. We’re like brothers. I feel we will always improve and strive to be better than we are.
ROR: How did you come to meet Paul Ritchie, and what did he bring to the table during the sessions for the new record?
JC: We met Paul through his friend and bandmate, Sam Bey [drummer of the Parlor Mob]. We had been playing in Asbury Park on bills that — to say the least — were not fitting for our type of music. Seemingly getting nowhere, we almost bailed on that town. Good thing we didn’t. At a gig at the Wonderbar, Sam and a friend saw us and expressed their love of real rock and roll. A couple beers and shots later, he told us we should work with his buddy Paul. We stayed in touch and went down to hang and meet Paul, and it just went from there. That said, Paul is brilliant. Hard-working, determined and talented as fuck. We shared almost identical ideas on where I wanted the songs to go, he had fantastic ideas on top of fantastic ideas. So yeah, he brought something fierce to the table. Allowed as much creative freedom possible and still managed to inspire and conduct. He’s the man and we are forever grateful for his help.
ROR: How does your creative process change when you write for Only Living Boy as opposed to your solo material?
JC: The creative process is relatively the same with both projects. The music usually comes first, then lyrics. The inspiration comes from different places as the style of music invokes different feelings, memories, experiences etc. I tend to write more vulnerable and solemn songs for the solo stuff, you know.
ROR: Why do you think the power trio is largely absent from popular music today? Does its absence give you hope for a resurgence?
JC: I don’t know why trios are an endangered species nowadays. Maybe it’s everybody’s obsession with over-polishing everything. The need to buff out imperfections and human elements of the music. I do think it gives us an edge, though. Anything that separates us from the norm is good.
ROR: What are your goals for Hide Nothing? How high are your professional aspirations?
JC: Like I said, I want to take it as far as it will go. Monetary success is a bonus. I just want to be able to play the rest of my life and be appreciated for it. Also, it’d be nice to shower the family with gifts and things. [laughs]
ROR: What is the band’s favorite tour stop outside of N.J.? And speaking of touring, is there a consensus among the band on a favorite truck stop or fast food restaurant?
JC: Well, we really have a fondness for Knoxville, Tenn. Really like the south in general. It just seems to welcome hard rock and roll more than other regions. Austin, Texas, and Nashville, Tenn., are just as incredible as far as truck stops go — can’t really remember. The traveling part is usually a blur of smoke and sleep. Love it, though.
ROR: Do you have plans for a record release party and a tour to support the new record?
JC: We are going back out on the road in March for South By Southwest, and I’m counting the days. We’ll be releasing sometime before that. Don’t have an exact date yet for you. Putting the pieces together.