This is our first interview with Atlanta press (where 3/4 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.”
For a couple of ambitious musicians eager to strike out on their own, it was an incredibly frustrating time. The Atlanta rap scene was at the apex of it strength and power and rock music had taken a definitive backseat in the city. As the two neared the end of their senior year at Dunwoody High School, it became clear that if they were serious about their aspirations they would need to move somewhere where their style of music would be more welcome and appreciated. So rather than fight against tall odds, Freund and Fusilier decided to leave Atlanta and attend college in the much more rock friendly city of Boston.
“When we moved to Boston in ’05, it seemed like the best decision in the world,” Freund confesses. “I remember telling people that the Atlanta rock scene was pretty much non-existent.”
The duo spent the next couple of years trading demos back and forth, sharpening the minimal, bass guitar-oriented sound they had developed in high school into something much louder and darkly energetic. After gathering a solid stable of songs, they recruited guitar prodigy Justin Tolan and drummer Chris Oquist to fill out the lineup. The musical vision, at least in Freund’s mind, was simple:
“Personally, I just wanted to write rock music that would give me chills, which usually involved something dark, and going from quiet to loud in a short period of time. A lot of my favorite songs do that — “Soma” by Smashing Pumpkins, “New Noise” by Refused, “Only Shallow” by My Bloody Valentine. That’s where most of British Brains came from. We get compared to bands like Deftones, Muse, Queens of the Stone Age. I’m fine with that.”
While British Brains brought RIBS significant local success, including being named one of Boston’s best new bands by the Boston Phoenix, the group was never quite satisfied with the record’s sometimes cold and mechanical atmosphere. They wanted something warmer and more organic. Something that, in the words of Freund, would contain “shades of optimism, things that are fun, things that are more rhythmic.”
The immediate result of this new focus is Locrian Singles, a two-song effort the band is offering for free on their website. Whereas British Brains was in many ways a traditional, guitar-driven rock record, Locrian Singles is much more informed by industrial and post-punk. It’s still dark and moody, but there’s much more of a dance vibe there, a Cure-like melding of hypnotic, effects-laden pop with goth overtones. It’s a considerable dynamic shift from their previous work, but so far it has been well embraced by fans.
“The response from Boston has been tremendous,” says Freund. “We’ve made some new fans, and it has allowed us to do more with our live sets, and play with different types of artists who might not have fit on a bill with us in the past. Some of our fans outside of Boston are asking what happened to the old sound, but there will be some British Brains-type material on our next EP, plus some new musical directions no one has heard before.”
As 2011 unfolds, RIBS will continue work on their follow-up EP, Russian Blood, due out later this year. The band also has an East Coast tour planned for May, a two-week stint that will include the band’s first shows in Atlanta and Athens. Given their history, you might think that the group would want to avoid Atlanta altogether, but Freund is emphatically positive when he talks about how much the city has changed since he left six years ago.
“It’s amazing to see how vibrant the scene has become since then! I love going to shows there now. The crowds are refreshingly open-minded. The vibe is great. There’s so much good music!”