bill bodkin interviews the band as they prepare for pop-break’s shipwrecked at the shore showcase at the wonder bar in asbury park, n.j. on thursday march 22nd…
I wasn’t alive to see Patti Smith or Debbie Harry captive sweaty New York audiences at CBGB’s and I was too young (and located on the East Coast) to see grunge icons like Sleater Kinney or Courtney Love and Hole tearing up stages in soggy Seattle. Luckily, for me, I have The Obvious.
The super-tight quartet fronted by the rock ‘n’ roll wonderwoman Angie Sugrim, is a band, that had they been contemporaries of Smith and Harry or Love and Sleater, would’ve been the stuff of legend. They would be fondly remembered and recalled for their visceral, high energy and terrifically performed live shows. And it’s true — the band seems to be ripped from the pages of ‘zines from the days of yore. Their style, swagger and sound reflect a time when being raw and emotional drove good punk/rock/alternative music and one can hope that the world of rock ‘n’ roll is heading in the same direction they are.
Pop-Break caught up with the band’s furious and fearless frontwoman Angie Sugrim about performing at Pop-Break’s Shipwrecked at The Shore Music Showcase on March 22 at The Wonder Bar in Asbury Park, performing with The Sugar Hill Gang and living and performing in the town Bruce built.
Pop-Break: The Obvious has a new record coming out in April — can you talk about how the difference between new record and your last effort Bringing Wreck?
Angie Sugrim: We are extremely excited about the tunes on this new album. We’re looking at the title Maybe She’s Bored With It, which is a play on our sense of humor regarding pop culture. On this album, you’ll hear how our range as songwriters has grown. These six songs swing between hyper-aggro, jagged tracks like “Mercy Burns”, and “Last Lily”, to ballads where I’m almost tearfully, quietly singing to you practically straight out of my diary. These songs were more thoughtfully written and arranged, where as before we did think about our aesthetic quite a bit, but it was more so about just getting the ideas out in an urgent way.
PB: In the same vein — how has The Obvious grown as a band between Bringing Wreck and this new record?
AS: A LOT has happened between July of 2010 and now, almost two years after the release of that first EP. The most major change was definitely the introduction of fresh blood into our line-up. Dan and I have been writing together since high school, but having Mike Smith (bass) and Kev Conroy (drummer from 2010-‘11) in the mix brought our songwriting to a whole new level.
We parted ways with Kev last winter, as he had some projects going on in L.A. that he wanted to purse. That’s always a difficult conversation, but we thanked Kev for being so forth right and honest and letting us know that this is what he needed to do.
Rob Blake is now our drummer, and we are super excited to have him. You might recognize Rob from The Vanities, The Black Clouds, or Last Perfect Thing. His musicianship is second-to-none, and he grew up on the same steady diet of alternative rock that Mike, Dan, and I did, so it’s been incredibly smooth getting him on board. He’s a great guy, and we really feel like we finally have the all-for-one team mentality that our band needs to get to where we want to go. And what we’ve all been writing together has been musically the most innovative stuff we’ve come up with so far, so we’re all looking forward to working together for a long time.
PB: Final new record question — I hear there’s going to be a record release party in April, can you fill us in on the details?
AS: On Saturday, April 28th we will be having our official record release party at the world famous Asbury Lanes. Jenn Hampton and Layney Lanes have always been exceptionally supportive of us, and a lot of great bands and acts locally and nationally for years now. What those women and the staff at the Lanes have worked to create is really something special. It’s a place devoted to free artistic expression with no restrictions, and if it wasn’t for the Lanes and Jenn and Layney, we wouldn’t be the band we are today.
The record release bill also boats our good friends and colleagues Give Me Static, Chemtrail, and Lost In Society, which are among the best rock bands around in our scene. It’s going to be a sick night. Pete Steinkopf of the Bouncing Souls produced this record, so if he’s not away on tour being an amazing rock god ( The Souls are releasing a new album soon as well), he’ll be hanging out, too. We’ll be having guests from each band appear in our set, too. There’s so much incredible talent in our town, and we love having such spectacular musicians as our peers.
PB: Angie — you’re the front woman for The Obvious. Having seen you perform at recently I was super-impressed with your stage presence. The charisma and command you exude is something you don’t see too often anymore. What frontwomen and frontmen did you look to for inspiration for your stage presence.
AS: I’ve always thought of rock as something that should be interactive. Growing up and going to shows, the absolute best were the ones where you felt like you were locked in with the band and the crowd and taken for a wild ride a breakneck speed. So it was just natural to me to have that kind of presence. Karen O from the Yeah Yeah Yeah’s, especially around the time of Fever To Tell, and of course Kurt, and definitely Iggy Pop for sure have been influences. And I know you out there love to hate her, and I can’t speak for her work past 1998, but Courtney Love is a huge part of why I am who I am, how I write, and what I bring to the stage, and anyone who cares to admit it can see how that influence is there in a positive way.
At the core of what I do on stage, and what we do is a band, is the acknowledgement that the world is fundamentally absurd. So my reaction to that, to being dropped off on this planet where almost nothing makes sense…you just have to laugh and be silly and roll around on the floor sometimes. Life is fundamentally ridiculous. Why shouldn’t we be?
PB: The Obvious will be performing at Pop-Break’s Shipwrecked at The Shore Music Showcase at The Wonder Bar in Asbury Park on Thursday March 22nd. What does performing in Asbury Park mean to The Obvious? Why call this city by the sea home and not somewhere like New York, Hoboken or Philly — three cities I believe your sound would fit in seamlessly.
AS: You know, we’ve talked about that amongst ourselves and other musicians as well. Philly is great, but it’s difficult to break into that community, and there doesn’t seem to be a lot of regional or national acts coming out of there right now. Hoboken, NYC, BK, those are all great places to visit, but honestly, industry people have just not been nice to us out there. We don’t look like most bands you see, we don’t act like bands that are coming out now, and we don’t sound like a lot of what you hear from those cities. We just don’t get the support from those places that we do here.
People are really nice here in a way that I haven’t seen in any other community. I think that comes from us loving our underdog of a town, and having the freedom and the space to build it together. New York, Hoboken…they’re all already constructed and in some ways saturated. When I got a chance to interview Shepard Fairey while he was here installing pieces in conjunction with All Tomorrow’s Parties, he said pretty much the same thing. There’s a strong community for art and music, you can afford to live here, you can put your work out there and have it received, instead of lost in the shuffle, as is the case with bigger markets.
Asbury is really blowing up right now, as well. Last year you would have seen Kim Deal, Shep Fairey, Portishead, The Bouncing Souls, The Gaslight Anthem, or members of hundreds of other bands walking down the Asbury Park boardwalk at any given time. Then three hours later they’re on stage literally a few blocks from where you saw them taking a walk. Frank Black down the street at the Pinball Arcade? You just won’t see that before a Pixies show in NYC. Bamboozle, the biggest concert on the east coast of 2012 is coming here. All Tomorrow’s Parties is returning here in the fall with a historic concert event, too. This is where it’s at right now. We love our home, and it loves us back.
PB: You’re going to be the backing band for The Sugar Hill Gang next week at The Paramount Theater in Asbury Park. Can you talk about how the band chose you to be their backing band? Can you talk about the rehearsals you’ve had with the band and working with Wonder Mike? Are there nerves going into a show in such a big venue, like The Paramount? Finally, will anyone from the band be popping it and locking it during ‘Rapper’s Delight?’
AS: Original members of Sugarhill Gang, Wonder Mike and Master Gee will be performing as part of the Garden State Film Festival this Saturday, March 24th. The show starts at 9 PM with a film premiere of a documentary about the band entitled “I Want My Name Back”. It basically tells the story of how the guys had their legacy and names legally stripped from them by management that was trying to exploit them, and successfully did. It’s a story that everyone in the art and music industry should know, because it sheds light on how corporate interests devour what’s right and true, without a care for artists rights. That’s a real problem to this day, and today’s bands like the local breakout group The Parlor Mob even have had to deal with issues like that in their careers in this time.
Wonder Mike and filmmaker Roger Paradiso put a call out through the Paramount Theatre for local acts that would be interested in backing up the guys for a live performance of the title track of the film. We met up and it seemed to be a great creative fit. Wonder Mike described what he was looking for as “Run DMC & Aerosmith, but taken all the way, to the point of being aggressive.” If you’re looking for an aggressive rock act, we’re it! We’ve been working hard to get our four part harmonies right and getting the song down perfectly, and we think that through all our hard work, and guidance and support from the guys who brought the project, we’re going to nail it pretty much perfectly.
PB: On the day of Kurt Cobain’s birthday you posted on your Facebook you said ‘Happy Birthday to the dude who we owe it all to. “Can you talk about the band’s influence on The Obvious.
AS: Kurt! If it wasn’t for him, I would not be the person I am today. I might not have made it past high school, honestly. When I was 13, I just hated everything. Nothing fit, nothing felt right, and I had from the no where to go with what I was feeling, much less the ability to articulate it. Nirvana was a refuge. I could go to a place with those records where I was safe and happy.
I grew up in a little suburban town, a really boring, safe place where I didn’t look like anyone else. And kids and adults range from being overtly racist to assuming that your parents are like uneducated and unable to provide for you out of some weird white concern. Which was not the case at all. Anyway, you just get the message that you don’t fit in. And Kurt was so great because he was like, you don’t want to fit in with those people, anyway! It’s so much better out here on the margins! So I took that message to heart, and it got me through a lot, and made me brave enough to stick to my guns and be who I was, even though no one got it, nor wanted to make a place for it at that time.
I met Dan a few years after I got into music in high school, and we bonded over Nirvana immediately. Dan wasn’t completely aware of the full scope of it at the time, but he knew he was not like other guys at his Catholic high school. Years later he was able to identify as being a man who also happens to be gay, and being a fan of music that accepted diversity, even when the rest of the world didn’t seem to, was a huge part of him being able to have his full personhood.
Nirvana was the first group of straight, powerful, white men either of us had ever seen that said, “You know what? It’s great that you’re not like everyone else. Everyone else is dumb. You’re thinking for yourself, which is something a lot of people never ever get to.” Critical, independent thought is at the crux of true art and artistic innovation, as well as the progression of the human race towards ideals of equality, peace, and justice, and for me, Nirvana at their height exemplifies that best in my lifetime.
PB: Outside of the record release what can we expect from The Obvious? And what are the band’s personal goals for 2012?
AS: We want to have Snooki’s baby’s baby before the year is out. We’re looking into in-vitro-in-utero fertilization. It’s gonna be great. We’re going to tattoo a Coca Cola logo on the baby’s forehead. Dan’s going to marry Kim Kardashian and divorce her as a publicity stunt, because that’s legal even though him marrying someone he actually loves isn’t. We’re all probably going to sell out and start lobbying for gas and oil companies, too, so they can keep poisoning innocent people for money. BLING! I need a new diamond encrusted coke spoon (with blood diamonds only, please), and that money has to come from somewhere…I hope they liked our proposal. It was just a list of the band’s names with the words “FUCK YOU” written over and over again underneath our contact info. We think they’ll ask us back for a second interview. Mike and Rob peed all over the hiring manager’s desk at BP while me and Dan set the trash can in his office on fire last time we were there. What can I say? We make a great first impression.