The Obits’ new album, Bed & Bugs, out now on Sub Pop, sounds a fair amount like the Replacements (hammering riffs, insouciance, not-quite-hidden passion for trash and for passion itself). Of course, it also sounds a fair amount like surf music (wave-riding ostinatos), ’70s punk rock (angular whiny guitars, throbbing doom bass), post-punk (siren/ambulance noises), and a dash of Captain Beefheart (smushed-banana harmonica-and-sax-sounding bits).
Obits cofounder Rick Froberg, of course, has a long and honorable history of smushing things together to exude fresh rock-and-roll protoplasm. A longtime San Diego–area resident, he formed Pitchfork with John Reis while the two of them were teens. Reis eventually went on to great fame, or at least great indie fame, with Rocket From the Crypt.
But Reis and Froberg stuck together through Pitchfork, Drive Like Jehu, and Hot Snakes. Heavy riffs throbbed over piledriver bass and drums; keys, tempos, and time signatures swapped in and out like a jittery self-taught garage mechanic trying all the parts in the neighborhood under the hood of his Valiant.
Froberg moved across the country to Brooklyn, New York City (see his great love for his new home, below). He cofounded the Obits with former Edsel guitarist Sorab Habibion, from Washington, D.C. The following are some questions he took over email.
How long did you live in the SD area, all told? How did your impressions of the city and the area change over the years?
“Twenty years or more, I think. I don’t know about now; when I lived there it was just a handful of people. It was cheap to live there, near the beach. It was quiet, easy to be alone. Incestuous. Since I’ve come and gone a few times it’s gentrified, and though I’ve seen weird kids around, I haven’t made any attempt to find out what they’re doing. My impressions of the city haven’t changed much. Things are shittier there like they are everywhere, but it’s the same. It has a lot to do with the climate.”
What were the first record shops you remember visiting?
“Licorice Pizza, then Lou’s. Lou’s is still there, Licorice Pizza is not. They weren’t serious”
What were your initial impressions of the SD music scene and how did those change over the years? Where were your favorite places to see bands? Favorite places to play?
“My initial impression was fear, but that has passed. I don’t have a sense of giving a shit about it either way, and people there don’t either, which is why it’s such a pleasure to visit. See/play: Ché, old Casbah, 2581, Zendik Farm.”
What were your initial impressions of John Reis, AND WHERE DID YOU MEET? Which was your favorite band that the two of you shared, and why? How did the two of you influence each other? Do you keep in touch? Any plans to work together again?
“Cool guy with cool friends. Had a band. [We met at] Mariner’s Point Anarchy Picnic, 1986. I think we both liked RKL and Mystic releases — Don’t No, Dr. Know, Rat Pack, Manifest Destiny. But I turned him on to Blood Lake. John taught me to dress well. I see him all the time. Hot Snakes just did a bunch of shows.”
Do you ever return to SD? visit old haunts? How have things changed?
“I do, all the time. I usually eat too much Mexican food and get stoned at Gar’s house. Then we sit outside and drink beer. Nothing has changed.”
How does your career as a visual artist influence your approach to music?
“It has taught me that two parallel failures do not one success make.”
How does the Brooklyn scene compare and contrast to SD? What was your impetus for forming Obits? How has the new band’s music evolved?
“Brooklyn is a GIGANTIC FESTERING PIECE OF DOGSHIT. NEVER COME HERE. I formed Obits specifically to put Brooklyn in the rear-view mirror. [Obits] hasn’t evolved, it has regressed and shrunken and we have become weak and bent.”
What are your plans for the future, with and without the Obits?
“Gotta come out there, do a few shows out here, come up with a few jobs, quit smoking, try not to get sick...”