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Guitar solos?

Obits go back to basics
By DANIEL BROCKMAN  |  August 19, 2008

SOLO PROJECT: “Coming from a hardcore/punk-rock background, the guitar solo is the first thing that gets left at the door,” says Sohrab Habibion.

“It actually feels really liberating, like a moment where you’re like, ‘Boy, am I glad to be an adult!’ It’s like walking into a room and you’re not worried if your fly is unzipped. We just don’t care.” Obits guitarist Sohrab Habibion is pontificating about his new band’s exotic sound — and their break with old-guard indie-rock orthodoxy.

“We’re not young guys, so this band has definitely benefitted from our involvement in bands before. I think both in terms of how we write, what kind of music we’re trying to write, and also in terms of how we communicate, since we’re not 25, there’s as little ego as you could possibly get in a band scenario — which is pretty great.”

Habibion (singer/guitarist for early-’90s Jawbox associates Edsel) and singer/guitarist Rick Froberg (former singer for San Diego emo progenitors Drive like Jehu and garage punks Hot Snakes) have a lot of indie-guitar history to be liberated from. Obits has been, until recently, a long-gestating rehearsal-space project with a goal to, as Habibion puts it, “really crack the kind of music that we want to listen to, inasmuch as we can actually play it.”

“We are making music for our own pleasure,” he continues. “There’s no paradigm that we have to hold ourselves to. I come from the DC hardcore scene, and there are so many great bands, and I learned a lot about music and how musicmaking can be a very beneficial social and socially activist thing. And yet there were a lot of unspoken rules, and I’m glad to have nothing to do with that anymore. It feels really good to just sort of say, ‘Hey, let’s play something that sounds like a fucked-up Chuck Berry song,’ and have everybody else say, ‘Yeah, let’s try that!’ ”

The irony is, the gentlemen of Obits are stepping out of their comfort zone by exploring sounds that would normally be considered pretty “trad” — and by rediscovering their love for the buh-lazing guitar solo. “You listen to a million records and you’re like, ‘Man, I wish I could play that Tom Verlaine solo!’, but we’ve all been in situations where that sort of thing is verboten. And you know, coming from a hardcore/punk rock background, the guitar solo is the first thing that gets left at the door. So part of it, for us, is to try to, in as tasteful a way as possible, reintroduce that in our music. It’s actually taken us a long time to figure out how to do that in a way that doesn’t feel cheesy.”

These days, a lot of bands get tripped up by trying too hard to avoid cheese, but it seems that, for Obits, that’s meant looking to outside sources, where “traditional” doesn’t necessarily designate something on the ’ZLX playlist. “We’re sort of filtering our music through some world-music influences as well. It prevents it from being just run-of-the-mill bar-band music.”

A brief listen to the rough live tracks on their Web site confirms this claim: many songs start off tried-and-true only to veer off in a way that confounds the notion of a standard song, while still maintaining the will-to-be-weird that has always made “indie guitar rock” differ from more mainstream fare. Habibion: “You listen to some African psych stuff, or the Ethiopiques records, and in the best possible way, there’s something really magically ‘off'’ about it. And yet, you know the purpose of primitive expression is this sort of dreamy otherworldly quality. While I don’t think we achieve that, that’s where we’re coming from.”

OBITS + VIVA VIVA + DEAD CATS DEAD RATS + SUNDAY MORNING MUSIC | Middle East upstairs, 472 Mass Ave, Cambridge | August 22 at 9 pm | $10 | 617.864.EAST or

  Topics: Music Features , Entertainment , Music , Pop and Rock Music ,  More more >
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