Unknown in the UK and even unremarked in their home town of Boston, American alternative rock band RIBS have nevertheless made huge waves in their career so far. After an exhaustive, obsessive gestation period for their first EP, ‘British Brains’ frontman and architect of the band’s sound Keith Freund posted the download link for the recordings on Reddit. A flurry of activity later and RIBS were in possession of both a cult fanbase and the bizarre honour of claiming the most popular music post of all time on the service. Two years on and they’ve released the follow-up, ‘Russian Blood’, which again takes its name from the same Stalin quote as ‘British Brains’.
“He said that World War II was being won with British Brains, American Brawn, and Russian Blood,” explains Keith. “That said, we don’t have any plans for an ‘American Brawn’ EP. First off, we’re planning our next release being a full length. Second, as an American band, a release titled ‘American Brawn,’ without the context of the other two EPs, would probably be interpreted in a way we didn’t intend. Plus the word “Brawn” kind of grosses me out.”
Conceptually, there was a desire to move away slightly from the full-on, intense listening experience of ‘British Brains’: “originally [it was] going to be a vocal-based record,” says Keith, “I thought we could use our voices as the main compositional instrument, and treat the guitar as a harmony instrument to fill in the spaces–the reverse of how you’d normally do it.” Fans of their modern rock sound, fear not; the band that melded the transatlantic influences of Failure, Far, Vex Red and Hundred Reasons have not cashed in their chips yet. “We learned pretty quickly that they’re really not interchangeable at all. Even with distortion, the human voice is much smoother than an electric guitar, and less biting, less percussive.”
“You’ll hear hints of that concept throughout” continues Keith, contrasting the dynamics and tone with the first EP, “more rhythm, more riffs, less power chords. [You] get to hear Blake’s piano playing on ‘Gateway Drug’, acoustic guitar on ‘Kiss’, and harmony vocals from Justin and Chris on ‘Destructo’.” The lyrics are changed too – far from the veiled, passive aggressive metaphorical sketches of ‘Silencer’, ‘Even’ and ‘Queen of Hearts’ from their début, this time the specifics are writ large in the music: “My pre-RIBS songwriting was very responsible…’Russian Blood’ is very much the opposite. Most of these songs come from that immediate, irrational gut reaction. There’s a different kind of truth you’ll get in those moments that you won’t have looking back a year later. For example, I was at a club one night and got an idea for the bridge to ‘Kiss’. I walked outside to sing into my phone and write down some lyrics. By coincidence at that exact moment I saw the girl I was writing about walking away with her new boyfriend. So in those 45 seconds I was literally writing in real time.”
If that may sound overly dramatic, it only goes to illustrate just what a change has come over the band. It’s not just NIN-lite ‘Kiss’ that wears its genesis on its sleeve either; the anthemic high-water mark of the EP, ‘Alarms’, triggers another recollection.
“[That] was a reaction to hearing the song that the girl from ‘Kiss’ wrote with her new boyfriend. Their musical collaboration was how they got to know each other, and she left me for him a few months after that collaboration started. Anyway, I thought their song was absolute shit. In a moment of arrogance I thought to myself “I bet I could write a song that would just destroy their song”. I spent the weekend demoing out what I thought was my song destroyer and that eventually became ‘Alarms’. During the ‘British Brains’ days, I probably would’ve let the feelings pass first, to get some perspective on that situation. And I probably would’ve realized hey, maybe their song isn’t so bad, maybe I should be more understanding of why she had to cut me off, maybe those feelings were only a defence mechanism… but if I hadn’t allowed myself that moment of bitterness, “Alarms” never would’ve happened.”
Finally, there’s the subject of Reddit. It seems like every band, artist, brand, magician, school, magazine or business is trying to ‘go viral’ – so what’s it actually like to be an internet sensation? “Blowing up on Reddit only helped us, as a band” Keith remembers. “It didn’t catapult us to super stardom but it gave us a taste… and it’s quite a rush.” Taking from it “how important die-hard music lovers are”, the ones that are “motivated they are to tell everyone they know” has been a humbling experience in some ways – as well as a learning one. “These are not the same people who will turn your song off if the hook doesn’t come in within 30 seconds,” Keith states proudly. “Before ‘British Brains’ came out we thought no one would listen to ‘Queen of Hearts’ because there’s two minutes of droning at the beginning, but we’ve probably gotten as many fans from that song as we have ‘Brains Out’ – if not more.”
So despite the early successes it’s still clearly been a rollercoaster couple of years for the band; contemplating a long-player after two meticulous EPs, how do Keith and the boys stay motivated? “There’s nothing like having someone tell you that your music got them through a hard time or helped them in some way. I’m addicted to that feeling.”
Archive for the ‘Interviews’ Category
On May 29th, RIBS released their second proper EP Russian Blood to a packed house at TT’s. I followed up with Keith Freund and Chris Oquist to talk about how their music business acumen is affecting this release, their online strategy, the success they’ve had with bandcamp and much more. Importantly, I also learned that they have yet to ever play their own song on Rock Band. If anyone reading this has an XBOX, invite them over to check it out! Get to know some of the minds behind RIBS in the interview below, and listen to Russian Blood in its entirety by streaming the new EP from the bandcamp widget at the very bottom of the post. If you like what you hear, download it from bandcamp or iTunes, or pick up a physical copy at Newbury Comics.
IA: You guys are well versed in music biz know-how. What are you doing to make this release special?
Chris: I honestly think that at this point the question is what our fans are doing to make it special. With British Brains, Reddit gave us a huge head start, but we still existed in a vacuum, more or less. This time around, we post a song on YouTube and we’ve got people commenting on it, people are sharing our Facebook updates with friends, fans write us and suggest places for us to play when we come through their town, people tweet at the Boston Globe thanking them for running a story on us. For a band that’s still completely self-managed, that’s gold – it enables us to do a lot with the very limited resources we have available. Yesterday, we were added to regular rotation on WFNX here in Boston–the station that first played Nirvana and Foster the People. When we posted that news on Facebook, fifty people liked it, shared it, and commented on it in various posts. That helps build momentum, it validates the music, it makes people feel like they’re in on something, and encourages other industry people to take the release and run with it.
IA: You “accidentally” worked on British Brains for 5 Years, falling into the perfectionism trap that so many musicians do. What did that experience teach you about writing and recording timelines? I take it the same process for Russian Blood was a much shorter endeavor.
Keith: If I could go back, I wouldn’t do anything differently with British Brains. It was maddening at times, sure, and we don’t have that kind of luxury anymore, but it was an interesting experience to leave two years between writing sessions, as was the case for some of the songs.
For Russian Blood, the writing process was condensed into two years instead of five, which seeps into the music I think. It’s a little more raw; it has a greater sense of urgency. Some of the songs sound like a race against the clock. Both methods have their place. Maybe we’ll write a double-album in five days next time.
Deadlines can be your friend and they can be your enemy. What we try to do now is divide our deadlines into smaller steps instead of saying “the record is going to be done by MMDDYY” when we haven’t even finalized the track listing yet.
IA: You’ve mentioned before that the name your own price model on bandcamp worked well for RIBS, with fans often spending 1.5x more than the minimum set price. Would you recommend the name your own price model to other artists or was there something special about your case?
Keith: As far as I know, there’s really no downside to setting a price minimum on Bandcamp and allowing people to pay more. I wouldn’t consider that to be “name your own price” strictly speaking. It’s more like, here’s our price, and you can donate extra if you want to help us a little more. As a buyer of music myself I prefer set prices. I don’t want to have to make that evaluation of “how much is this worth to me?”
All this “what’s the new model?” stuff… free vs name your price vs set price vs subscription… I think it would be a mistake to tell other artists what they should be doing. Different things work for different types of artists at different times. And another thing to keep in mind: sometimes how you release something becomes negligible past a certain point. Some albums will succeed no matter what and some will fail no matter what. It’s not like The Price Is Right where there’s a car behind door #2 and a bag of rocks behind the others.
With RIBS, we generally make these types of decisions based on what feels right rather than trying to guess which would be more profitable. It seems to lead to good things.
Chris: The value that–and I want to be fair to a lot of music listeners and say most people–the monetary value that most people place on music has decreased dramatically. It’s not a sinister thing–it’s a function of the way people consume music. It’s ubiquitous, it’s everywhere. You can search for a band on YouTube and watch videos for free in seconds, with Spotify you have access to a stunning array of music, in the palm of your hand, at any time. You could be in Earth orbit and decide you want to hear Janos Sebestyen play Bach’s Invention No. 13, and in seconds, you’re off.
And that just means that people don’t frequently come in contact with situations that make them think about what goes into creating music, so little things that remind people that music is what keeps musicians alive are all good. It’s expensive to write an album, it costs a lot of money and time to write and record and put into people’s hands. The Bandcamp thing is great because it’s not intrusive, but it’s a really subtle reminder that there’s value in music, and you can choose how to support its creation. One fan paid over forty dollars for British Brains, and we’ve had people email us and say “Hey RIBS, I pirated British Brains when it came out, and so when you released Russian Blood yesterday I bought both albums legitimately, and here’s some extra money – keep making songs.”
Live at Great Scott, May 2011. Credit: Mark Jenko for Ryan’s Smashing Life
IA: In an interview with the Globe you offered a sentiment that bands spend too much time in search of a silver, online bullet for their music careers. Is RIBS’ online presence more of passive one?
Keith: It was. Not anymore. Chris might explain this in a different way, but I think our early days of using Facebook centered around me not wanting to annoy or piss people off. That was when we maybe had 500 Facebook fans, a hundred email subscribers, whatever. I wanted to hang on to every last one of them even if it meant only posting once every few months. Now that we have more fans I’ve come to accept that you can’t touch thousands of people without pissing some of them off. So now I go along more with what Chris wants to do in terms of the frequency with which we post things. Because hey, anything is possible – nothing is certain. We might as well have a sense of humor about things, make mistakes, and see what happens. Plus Facebook seems to be getting pretty good at not showing crap posts to people who aren’t interested.
Chris: I think there’s a difference between understanding that there aren’t any shortcuts to success and being passive online. Early on, we were a bit bashful about intruding on people’s news feeds – who wants to get a bunch of self-indulgent stuff from a band? But it seems like the more we share, the more people react (as long as what we’re sharing is cool, and not just “Hey, please like my page.”) Understanding that has given us the confidence to be honest and kind of funny in our emails to fans, in our Facebook posts, on Twitter, and I think that brings fans into our world a little bit, let’s them in on the secret.
IA: Will your digital strategy stay the same during the course of Russian Blood’s promotion or not?
Keith: We’re focusing more on YouTube now. The British Brains/Reddit days were mostly about Bandcamp, unfortunately I didn’t even have the presence of mind to put our songs on there until after all that craziness had passed. I think more people go to YouTube first than anywhere else when they’re looking for music, and it’s also how I see people sharing music the most. Bandcamp is awesome, and we’re still sending people there to buy the EP, but it’s a more solitary experience when you listen to a band on Bandcamp. I think especially in our case there’s something to be said for solitary listening, but I think it’s good to have both. On YouTube people can interact with each other, give us feedback, see how other people are reacting, and get pissed off because we don’t have enough views on such and such a song. As a music fanboy myself, I know what that’s like. When a band I love doesn’t have the recognition I feel they deserve, I start freaking out and telling anyone and everyone.
IA: I saw “Brains Out” made it onto Rockband. How did you hook that up? Have you seen any promotional benefits?
Keith: Actually a Redditor hooked that one up. He works for a company that puts song in the game. We’ve definitely gotten some new fans, but we’re less connected to them (there’s no way to link to your band in Rock Band so far as I know) so we only see evidence of them here and there if they send us an email or leave a comment on YouTube. We’ve also made a little money from it. But mainly it just makes us feel way cooler than we actually are. And our fans loved it too, at the time it was our most popular Facebook post we ever had.
IA: Are you good at your songs on XBOX?
Keith: I don’t think any of us have played it yet. Can we come over?
IA: Will we see a RIBS tour anytime soon? I think a summer tour called The American Brawn Tour would sell really well in certain parts of the country…
Chris: Toby Keith and Alan Jackson with special guests RIBS.
Keith: Haha. Never trust a guy with two first names.
The Boston Globe has some nice things to say about our upcoming EP and record release show.
Read it here:
Chris Oquist and Keith Freund, the guitar/vocals and drums half of local four-piece RIBS, are coming from somewhere a bit more researched than the average new band.
On a recent night out over drinks in Allston, Freund thinks back on an industry conference panelist’s idea of top-down bands versus bottom-up bands.
“A top-down example was like Destiny’s Child,” says Freund. “They were picked out by a label and forced down to the masses through a huge infrastructure of radio and money. Whereas there was this rapper named Bone Crusher who came up out of Atlanta selling mix tapes out of the back of his car, building it for himself.”
Freund stops to ponder the utility of both models, but Oquist doesn’t need much time to decide.
“I’m pretty sure I’d rather be Destiny’s Child than Bone Crusher,” he says with a shrug.
RIBS, a band with a music business sense incubated at Berklee, has deployed its searingly loud music in small doses so far — a single here and there, basically, since 2010 — and Freund sees each song playing off different sides of that dynamic. He notes that songs like last winter’s “Please Don’t Go” worked like regular publicity angles and garnered great local press, while others like “Queen of Hearts” have taken on viral lives of their own on fan-created YouTube videos and Reddit. It’s a solid analytical approach that they’ve adopted toward their work; but time as a band has also taught them the benefits of loosening up and simply rocking out.
Freund woke up at 2 p.m. on this day, caught in the middle of a mix-down binge of “Russian Blood,” the EP they’re set to release with a show at T.T. the Bear’s on May 25. It’s an epic mix of high octane stuff — post-rock/metal scorchers poured into vaguely pop molds with Billy Corgan levels of immodesty. The band puts on a serious light show onstage — over 55 cables need connecting before every set — and this music was built for it.
RIBS is Freund’s first band, assembled during his last semester in school through band-wanted ads that name-checked stylistic touchstones like Muse and Smashing Pumpkins. He ended up with childhood friend Blake Fusilier, a second guitarist in shredding prodigy Justin Tolan (featured in Guitar Player magazine at age 18), and Oquist, who had been drumming in a black metal band.
Oquist came from the school’s music business department and went about things from that mind-set in the beginning — working out a pro-looking Web presence, booking tours, fiddling with schedules for YouTube teasers. Still, a few years on the circuit helped reveal some new truths. Oquist found himself at Boston’s trend-setting Rethink Music conference last week and started to notice the unfortunate focus of lots of upcoming bands.
“Everyone is looking for a silver bullet,” he said. “What can Foursquare do for me? What does Instragram do? Can I be a Pinterest band?” It all seemed pointless, he decided, if everyone stopped paying attention to their own music. But RIBS comes off like a new-fangled hybrid — taking advantage of a well-resourced background and launching a perfectly haywire creative adventure from there.
“Russian Blood” is thoroughly DIY — mixed at Freund’s apartment, recorded in their practice space — but it carries itself like a really big deal. There are cement-grinding atmospherics out of Trent Reznor’s playbook and canyon banshee wails echoed from long-lost U2 anthems. It’s full of the visceral joys of music — the growl in the bass, the gleefully dissonant guitars; concerns that seem far removed from counting online friends and Twitter followers. There are epileptic moments that threaten to rattle apart at every bolted-down connection, bringing to mind ’90s electro-noisers like Braniac. The song designated as the lead single, “Kiss,” is a totally unruly pummeling from off-centered, fuzzed-out bass, and gut-check drums.
Freund says he’s learned to let go a little bit — after two years and a couple mini-tours and even a concussion suffered during one show’s overexcited guitar swapping. But he’s still a fiend for lists — he can pull them up on his iPhone in seconds: lists for three days before the show (make sure the club has a tech rider), lists for a day before the show (make sure Oquist has drum mallets), lists for sound check (put phone in airplane mode). He has lists for lists, and he isn’t giving them up soon.
“Hey, the lists help me worry less,” he says. “It means I can just go out and play when it’s time.”
By Steve Church:
RIBS have never shied away from their comparisons. Likened by fans and critics to such hard line, atmospheric rock monsters as Nine Inch Nails, Deftones and Muse, the Boston quartet embraces these associations as both a testament to their established musicality and an indicator of form towards attracting new fans. And after earning Reddit.com’s top
voted music post of all time within a month of releasing 2010 EP British Brains, (amongst other accolades) it’s clear that RIBS is a band that can flourish beyond the similarities.
“We’re not one of those bands that are like, ‘Oh, you can’t compare us to anything,’”
says guitarist and lead vocalist Keith Freund. “I think that what we do is rock music that’s meant to give you chills—anything that goes from something soft to something loud in a short period of time. [With] bands like Deftones and NIN, I definitely see the comparison there.”
High school friends Freund and bassist Blake Fusilier formed the basis for RIBS, writing music in Atlanta together before attending college in Boston in 2005. The two spent their time shaping and experimenting with sound while actively searching out new members to round out the group, discovering drummer Chris Oquist and guitarist (and fellow Atlantian) Justin Tolan, in Boston’s metal scene. Freund and Fusilier found their potential bandmates’ interests extended far beyond those of your average metalheads:
“I met Justin, who was this shred guitar prodigy. I was hearing about him through a lot of rumors, and he was in Guitar Player magazine,” says Freund. “Then I found out that he was into a lot of the same stuff that I was in to—Muse, Radiohead, Aphex Twin. That piqued my interest.”
Oquist appealed to Freund and Fusilier in much the same way, telling them right off the bat that his favorite artists were Paul Simon and The Beatles. With influences ranging from metal to electronic to ‘60s pop and four incredibly talented musicians on board, RIBS had its final lineup by March 2009. The band set to work on their first EP, British Brains, a guitar-driven effort in industrial doom and gloom mixed and produced entirely by Freund. A year later, Freund posted the completed British Brains on Reddit.com, where its ratings skyrocketed and sold 600 copies in the first week. For their next record, RIBS tapered their mechanical appeal in place of a more dance-worthy post-punk on 2011’s Locrian Singles.
RIBS have now cracked the local rock scene, garnering praise across Boston for their complex songwriting and fiery live performances. They’re currently working on releasing their next EP, Russian Blood, expected later this year. In the meantime, it’s all about performing in new and innovative ways. Incorporating vibrant lighting displays with their music, RIBS have set a standard of performance for Boston acts, and they promise something special—though they’re keeping quiet—for their east coast tour kickoff before snaking their way south towards Atlanta. And they’re hoping to pick up some new fans along the way.
“Our live show makes use of a lot of different elements,” says Oquist. “It’s about trying to pull people out of the usual experience of a show and doing something that is more immersed in what the music is about. That’s sonically, lyrically and visually a lot in terms of a live performance.”
WITH LIGHTS RESOLVE
AND ART DECADE
1222 COMM. AVE.
This is our first interview with Atlanta press (where three of us are originally from). Moe Castro of latestdisgrace.com talks with us about growing up in the South and making the move to Boston.
Formed by Atlanta transplants Keith Freund and Blake Fusilier, RIBS is fast becoming one of Boston’s most popular and acclaimed bands. The group’s 2010 debut EP, British Brains, was lauded by both fans and critics alike for its dynamic blend of hard-edged aggression and moody atmospheric rock, an expansive sonic template that has earned the band comparisons to both forward-thinking alt rockers Queens of the Stone Age and Deftones, as well as gloom merchants Joy Division and the Cure. But long before the group could take the Hub by storm, Freund and Fusilier first had to make their way out of the ATL.
Growing up in Dunwoody, in the shadow of downtown Atlanta, the two longtime friends spent most of high school writing songs together and dreaming of the day they might escape their hometown. This was the early 2000s and Dunwoody offered few opportunities for an underage rock band. As a result, most of their music never saw the light of the day and the two rarely performed live. Even going to see shows was difficult.
“If you wanted to see all ages shows,” Freund recalls, “you had to go to Norcross or Marietta, which was mostly punk or hardcore. Blake and I tried to go to as many shows downtown as we could, but we weren’t old enough to get into most of the clubs, so we had to get to know the bands and convince them to sneak us in.”
READ THE REST HERE: http://latestdisgrace.com/2011/now-hear-this-ribs-out-of-atlanta