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Rustic Overtones Play Music Their Way

Eclectic New England Band Changes Styles Like Leaves Through the Seasons

By Sandra Chung

A common complaint of music fans who frequent live shows is that albums are too “produced” in their sound, and therefore are inferior to live music. Despite having made their name with their characteristically explosive, uninhibited onstage shows at colleges and clubs in New England, Rustic Overtones benefits from the clarity and balance that studio production lends to their latest CD, Viva Nueva.

It’s not to say that their October 13th show at Paradise Rock Club wasn’t memorable. With no visible signs of fatigue even after having scurried from a morning show to a long video shoot and then straight to Boston on little sleep, Rustic Overtones played a ninety-minute set rife with crackling, crowd-pleasing energy. Lead singer/guitarist Dave Gutter’s voice-shredding vocal style competed with his electric guitar for sheer edginess. Keyboardist/backup vocalist Spencer Albee alternated between streaming notes from his Hammond B-3 organ (a three-keyboard instrument integral to the old Motown gospel sound) and leaping monkey-like around his equipment. Bassist Jon Roods and drummer Tony McNaboe laid out irresistible rhythms, while alto saxist Ryan Zoidis and baritone saxist Jason ripped sizzling horn lines and swayed in unison.

The Portland, Maine band’s setlist consisted mostly of tracks offViva Nueva. The quality and tightness of the band’s sound dropped off noticeably after the first few numbers. Ultimately the show became a jam session, incorporating long solos and improvised riffs as well as some freestyle rapping into a single long piece. Their encore was a cover of the 1985 Michael Jackson/Lionel Richie hit “We Are the World,” which was received somewhat quizzically but rather enthusiastically by the carefree twentysomething audience.

After the set, Gutter, Albee, and Roods gathered for an interview with TT. The atmosphere was casual, and the obvious rapport between the band members was that between longtime friends.

The Tech: Who are your chief musical influences?

Spencer Albee: The Beatles, Marvin Gaye, Al Green, Earth, Wind and Fire; Led Zeppelin; AC/DC; Stevie Wonder’s a big one. De La Soul and many many others.

Jon Rood: [Jokingly] Yanni all the way.

Dave Gutter: Everything, really.

TT: I hear a lot of jazz when you guys play.

DG: We listen to a lot of jazz.

SA: You should take your headphones off during the show.

DG: We’re all fanatics. Like I buy probably 4 CDs a week and it adds up. I have so much shit that every time I listen to a CD it’s something I haven’t heard in a long time.

JR: The drummer probably buys 4 CDs a day.

TT: How would you classify your music?

DG: We call it rock and roll but everything’s been kinda split up. It used to be real simple. If it was loud and your parents hated it, it was rock and roll. We’re kinda like that. We’re loud and your parents - although we actually have a lot of parents at our concerts - we’re loud and your parents like it. We’re not very controversial.

SA: I’ve been trying.

DG: Soul punk.

SA: We’re rock and roll as you would expect to find it in a CD store. You go in and you have your rock and pop ... all the different kind of artists. That’s what we are; we’re the cards in the tray. We’re the strugglers.

DG: We’re designed to make the least amount of money possible. We change our style all the time from album to album. We like to do that and sometimes we like to be drastic, so, you know. Tommy Boy is an independent label and a lot of people don't know that because they're so established. They broke so many independent artists in the last 20 years. They're just really cool. There's really nothing that, you know, we have to do. [Tommy Boy] keeps it creative because they like the stuff that we experiment with, the stuff when we get crazy.

I think they like to see where we're gonna go. Where we're gonna take something. And they like the goofiness of it. That's one thing that we can never maintain, like this next time we're gonna get it together we can't be all over the place like all those different like types of songs. People call us eclectic and all this stuff but it's just that we like writing songs that sound different from each other.

TT: So how are things with Tommy Boy?

DG: Tommy Boy is perfect. We once shared a relationship with a label called Arista ... we played this big conference that was like, showcasing all these bands. So it’s the end of a four day thing, mostly R&B, and we played the nastiest set we possibly could. For ten minutes we were just like fireworks.

JR: We got yelled at by Clive Davis [former head of Arista Records, now leader of J Records].

DG: They hated it. We did take the opportunity to sign to a major label. We’re like, “Well these guys have so much money they’ll put us in the top five, they’ll just pay people off. So let’s make the most weird, experimental pop music that we can possibly make.” I don’t know what we thought we were trying to do. Arista was just like, “You guys, we thought you were going to sound like the Dave Matthews Band. Now you guys sound like Madonna and Slayer.”

SA: We should have just taken a Dave Matthews song and recorded it, and and we’d pass it in and they’d be like, “Oh yeah this really has the vibe.”

DG: The cool thing is, we have a lot of peers and musicians and stuff that like us and soon maybe that will pay off. But we’re just doing things our way. We never really try to sound like anybody else. That’s actually like our only priority, when we go and record something and we’re writing a song, we just try not to sound like anybody else and just make a good song. The bulk of [Viva Nueva] was recorded with Arista and they spent a million dollars on it. We left Arista and through like a loophole we got a million dollar album and then we sold it to Tommy Boy, who said we could do whatever we wanted to it.

SA: Actually not a loophole. They graciously did give us the right.

DG: So like, we’d jumped through a lot of hoops. But [with Tommy Boy] we took the album and we went in and we fucked with a bunch of new songs in our practice space and we sent ‘em demos, and they send them off to Dave Leonard to be remixed. I wouldn’t even know it half the time. We’d get a CD and it’d be like the demo for “C’mon” that we recorded in our practice space for like, no money. It sounded awesome and they loved it and it didn’t have to be done by someone who did so many hit records. So we did the last four songs that we recorded. “Combustible” and “C’mon,” those are our two singles, and “Underground” and “Boys and Girls.” We did all those songs ourselves and so far they’ve been the ones that we’ve been digging the most on the album

DG: We got 120 minutes for our last video for “C’mon,” and we’re in heavy rotation on Muchmusic, which is Canadian MTV.

SA: It’s like the round bacon of music.

TT: Describe your songwriting.

DG: I write the lyrics and we all collaborate on the music.

SA: We all stop collaborate and listen.

DG: When I write lyrics I just try to make stories. Kind of my problem is that--although everyone’s written about probably everything that you can write about--I just try to write about something that other people haven't necessarily written about. I don't do a lot of introspective stuff. I don’t, like, sing about myself very often. I just kind of dictate a story. I think that if you do that it helps your imagination ‘cause if you're talking about your life and what goes on everyday it's monotonous. I'm very tired of most songs. I was done with love songs in like, 1970. I mean, i wasn't even alive but that's like, when love songs stopped for me. It’s pretty terrible.

TT: What’s your take on Napster?

DG: As far as Napster's concerned ... the fact that you can get your music out to people is a huge reward for bands like us ... I mean, we sell a lot of records and shit like that but i think it's a really good way--money and all that stuff aside. [Napster] should pay bands.

SA: Napster was a catalyst and now they've finally like busted open the market for online music sales. I think artists should be paid for what they do, I really do.

DG: See me, I buy an album for everything. I buy it for the package, the logo, the names of the songs on the back, what font they use, who produced it ... everything about it, and on the Internet you just can't get that. I’ve downloaded a bunch of stuff, but only stuff that I couldn't get somewhere else. I like the smell of a good album. A good album has a certain smell. I'm dead serious. I noticed this when I bought Poison -- Look What the Cat Dragged In -- that album smelled magnificent. When I was a little kid with a mullet, it pretty much was the best thing.

TT: How's the music video coming along?

DG: We're shooting it here in Boston. Today we filmed at a go-kart track in Salisbury Beach. They had this guy dressed in a suit and he had a cell phone and he was really just kind of maniacal and manipulating, kinda like the features of the Devil. So we were racing him in go-karts. It was like a big epic race. The song is called “Combustible.” In a way it could be, not good timing for a song about explosions. So we wanted to do a video that was lighthearted and explained what the song was really about. It's kind of like a liberating, punk rock song that we're just like, “Okay, we're not on this label that wants us to be light anymore, so we're gonna make the heaviest, stomping music that we can.”

Rustic Overtones plays the Middle East on November 23.