The Obits are set to release Bed & Bugs on September 10th on Sub Pop Records. The band has delivered a rousing third release, complete with tight performances of their garage/punk-perfected tracks. The 13-song album is a really fun listen from start to finish and should be a blast to hear performed live. Speaking of which, the band is touring extensively in support of the new release starting in their hometown of Brooklyn, NY, on September 21. Guitarist and vocalist Sohrab Habibion was kind enough to indulge our pesky questions about the making of Bed & Bugs, catering and more!
Weeping Elvis: Congratulations on the release of your third album! What was the process like for the songwriting and recording for Bed & Bugs? What’s the evolution been like in how the band writes and records since its debut?
Sohrab Habibion: Thanks! Hopefully this is just one of many more albums to come. Superchunk has 10 records out now, so clearly we have a ways to go. Our songwriting process takes a couple of different, but basic, forms and, in that regard, it wasn’t too different for Bed & Bugs, though there were a few unexpected turns that I was happy about. Basically, either (a) one of us brings in a riff — or some portion of a song — and we all jam it out until it seems to work or (b) someone will spontaneously come up with an idea at practice that captures our attention.
We record anything that seems halfway decent in our rehearsal space, which gives us a more objective critical listening opportunity later, when we’re at home, hanging out in our underwear with a cup of coffee.
On and on it goes: tinkering, recording, tinkering more, returning to previous versions, scrapping parts, trying something new, killing that new thing, returning to the very first version, etc. until each song is as good as we can figure out how to make it. The goal is to make something we would want to listen to ourselves.
By the time we go into the studio we are hopefully reasonably prepared to knock things out in a few takes. We listen to the playback and decide which version has the best feel, regardless of little mistakes, of which there are usually plenty. If we have ideas for discreet overdubs, we add those, and then we record the vocals and we’re done.
For Bed & Bugs and the last couple of 7”s, we’ve purposefully worked with eight-track machines, limiting our options from the beginning. There’s not too much fussing or fixing. It comes down to the song and the performance, which for a band like ours is really all there is.
Those unexpected turns mentioned above: there are a few tunes on B&B that utilize recordings outside of the studio. “Besetchet” was done in our practice space with a handheld digital two-track. We liked the way it sounded and didn’t think doing it again in a more “pro” environment would necessarily bring anything additional to the listening experience. “This Must Be Done” was also done in our practice space, but we overdubbed drums, bass and some guitar bits in the studio. I did about 90% of “Machines” in my apartment. Then we dumped that mix onto the eight-track tape so Greg and Alexis could add their parts, which come in about halfway through. I think having different recording spaces actually make the songs more interesting to listen to, particularly in the context of a whole album, and was glad everyone was into going along with the experiment.
“Spun Out” has a really cool, almost cinematic feel to it. How did that song come about?
We definitely like to leave space in our songs, making sure things aren’t too cluttered and that there’s room for guitar interplay and vocals. In the case of “Spun Out,” it actually started much differently. We first worked on it a long time ago, but it was stuck behind this weird couch cushion, awkwardly squashed between Surfer Rosa and Goats Head Soup. Dancing with Mrs. John Murphy, if you will. We shelved it for a few years, but in listening back to an old practice tape, we decided to give it another go. Greg tweaked his bass line, I added a muted guitar that splits the difference between doubling the bass and harmonizing with it and Rick came up with those opening, shimmery, rockabilly guitar chords. Between that and the ¾-time looping bass line in the chorus, we felt like we had something to sink our teeth into. And then Rick came up with one of my favorite of his vocal melodies so far. It has a real yearning quality that complements the forlorn lyrics.
“Taste the Diff” is a really fun, driving song and it seems like the kind of track that would go over really well live. What songs are you looking forward to playing on the road the most? Did you perform the new material on your recent European tour?
“Taste the Diff” is a fun one to play, for sure. We were doing a handful of the new songs in Europe: “Taste the Diff”, “Spun Out,” “It’s Sick,” “Malpractice” and “This Girl’s Opinion.” Hopefully we can add a few more for the tours this fall: maybe “Pet Trust,” “Operation Bikini,” “Receptor” and “I’m Closing In.” I wouldn’t mind trying “Machines,” too, but it’s going to have to be a different interpretation that works for the whole band.
Having toured both a lot in the states and internationally, what are some of your favorite cities and (have to ask this): what’s been the best and worst catering in your dressing room? (No venue names necessary!)
Given our relatively meager status, we’ve been really lucky to get around a bit. And a few of the tours have been truly exceptional. Spain and Australia distinctly stand out. But some cities or some shows just really connect. I don’t believe in astrological alignment, but whatever the cut-rate, non-spiritual version of that is, has graced more than a handful of our experiences together. Sometimes it’s the show itself, other times it’s meeting certain people, and every so often it’s just a meal or a walk or some otherwise mundane element that ends up being special.
Athens, Greece, was unbelievable, so was our third time in Berlin, first trip to Bordeaux, last visit to Budapest, Mono in Glasgow, first time we played Leipzig, playing on a boat in Lyon, Primavera Sound in Barcelona at 3AM to a sea of humans, Rick out of his skull in St. John’s, Toronto with Metz, Valencia and its complete sweaty mayhem, and Prague. Always Prague. And we still talk about the incredible meal we had in Skopje, Macedonia, in October 2010 like it was last week.
The best dressing room we probably will ever have was at the final show of our last tour: no exaggeration, it was literally half of a 14th century castle in the Czech Republic.
As for food, without a doubt, the worst meal we have ever had was at a show in Delaware. If you can’t satisfy the supremely compromised palate of beer drinkers with a fried potato, you probably shouldn’t bother having a menu.
The New York Times has described your music as “propulsive,” ”sandpapery” and “sweaty.” Have any reviews ever really surprised you or made you laugh or made you think, “yep, that’s us” or “wow, they really didn’t get it”?
Always. At this point my assumption is that most people don’t get it, so I’m pleasantly surprised if and when they even remotely do.
We live in an era of 140-character summaries, six-second video blasts, trackbacks, list-making and link-baiting. We’re caught in the flash bulb. Everything is bright and exciting and happening right now in ALL CAPS. It’s fun, lots of fun, but doesn’t lend itself to thoughtful responses or considered arguments.
So, yeah, when a twenty-something kid writes on his blog that we sound like the Strokes, it’s pure comedy. On so many levels.
There’s a culture war out there. It’s been going on forever, but in 2013 whenever Sublime Frequencies or Light In The Attic or Norton puts out a new record, it’s a small victory. Both in terms of people getting to hear interesting music and also providing hope that some acne-battling 15-year-old kid will be inspired to reshape some makeshift corner of the next generation of musicians away from Maroon 5 and Selena Gomez and celeb tweets and our world of over-sponsored, underwhelming, festival-only appearances.