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Interviews

Punk rock means Freedom! An interview with THE OBVIOUS

It’s been a couple of months since I last interviewed a band from my friendly US punk rock label Altercation Records. It’s about the time to introduce this great, passionate punk rock’n’roll bands from Asbury Park, New Jersey called THE OBVIOUS! Starting to flourish at the international level, the band is drawing more from alternative rock rather than the heavier punk edged acts, but this doesn’t stop them from having developed a unique style with potential to become bigger. Give them a spin to verify that!

I caught up with the band’s main woman Surojanie “Angie” Sugrim and their guitarist Daniel Astorri to talk about putting a lot of energy into a band, women’s position in rock music, the meaning of punk rock and much much more. Don’t be intimidated by the length of our frank conversation – I think you’ll be impressed by Angie’s candor and detail. Read the full interview below.

Hey buddies! What’s up? I’m not sure if you realize that I’ve already interviewed a BUNCH of New Jersey area bands and IDIOTEQ seems to be a good host for your local pals, haha. How is Asbury Park this fine spring?

Angie: Oh, nice, thank you.

Regarding your neighbourhood, you had grown up in the suburbs, right? Could you describe the music scene and your attitude back then, before the actual forming of THE OBVIOUS?

Angie: Yes, both Dan and I grew up in the suburbs about an hour outside of NYC. Back then in our town there were a few local bands that would play DIY places like parks or at people’s houses, but there wasn’t much of a cohesive scene like the one we are in today in AP. Dan and I started the band mostly because there was little else to do that was interesting or fun in our town. It was a safe place to grow up, but also pretty boring. We both loved music and loved the same bands so we decided to entertain ourselves by just trying to be like those bands and artists as much as possible.

I often try to argue the fact that pursuing your dreams can be of more value and benefit than anyone could have imagined at the beginning of often hard journey full of sacrifices. Considering your private life, education, etc., do you feel you’ve made any sacrifices in order to pursue your music mission?

Angie: That’s a super important point to recognize. I think that creative people are often judged wrongly, because it’s perceived that pursuing dreams, especially artistic ones, are a waste of time. Dan and I both have received the message from a lot of different people that doing what we love has somehow had a negative impact on our lives. But the opposite is true. Our lives are the best they can be because of music. Not being a musician is not an option for us. And everything else lines up behind that priority.
Sometimes I think about having a “normal” life, but I know both Dan and I would get bored. Really fast!

Are you putting all your power into THE OBVIOUS? Is this the only musical project you’re involved in?

Angie: I like the way you put that – all our power!  Dan and I have collaborated with other bands in the past, and on occasion I will play bass with friends in other projects for fun. We have a great musical community in Asbury and there are lots of musicians and collaborations going on. THE OBVIOUS is definitely the main event for both of us, though. Everything we write is exclusively for THE OBVIOUS. We just like having this outlet for our perspective and we like being 100% in control of that sound.

What about the rest of the pack? Not only you and Dan are running the show, huh? :)

Angie: Ha ha, well actually that is the case and has been the case for the life of the band. We have had some excellent musicians come through, Joy Vay who now fronts TV Tramps used to play bass for us, Kevin Conroy who now works as a drummer out of LA was also in a previous incarnation, among other notable players.

Zach Moyle, the frontman for LOST IN SOCIETY and Heitor Bonora who is the drummer in that band have been filling in for us as a rhythm section right now. We have some fresh blood we are working with that will become fully-fledged proper OBVIOUS members for our next go-round, and as soon as we make our decisions on who is up to task, we will announce our new line-up.

When you are serious about a band to the point where most every other detail of your life is second to that passion, it’s important to have people who are just as dedicated to the cause. And it’s understandable that most people don’t want to commit to the point where they are sleeping in a different town every night and living a hand-to-mouth lifestyle. People come in and out of THE OBVIOUS as their ability to commit allows, but Dan and I have always been and always will be THE OBVIOUS.

Does this commitment go along with some kind of long term objectives that you have for yourselves as writers? I mean, it’s always a good thing when people can relate to a lot of your songs, especially the lyrical content. Do you consciously make an effort to write lyrics that provide certain themes for later discussion?

Angie: Overall we don’t really think about the larger implications of something as it’s being written in the moment. My lyrics usually are the very last part of the song that is created. I often change them right up until we record them to see what feels right. A song takes on a life of its own and lyrics are no different. It’s kind of like you are just assisting with the song being born, and it becomes its own sovereign being with a personality all its own.

With songs like KO ? OK! and Don’t Match, I did have general themes that I wanted to explore—sexism, racism, homophobia, all that nasty stuff. I write lyrics for my own catharsis and sanity, but when people listen and are affected by our music and start discussions or make connections because of our songs and lyrics, there really is no better feeling than that.

You’ve just released a new video for your track “Don’t Match”. You stated that it showcases the long running creative and personal friendship between you and Dan. Why pick up this song in particular?

Angie: Ah, this song’s video actually reflects Dan and my relationship, which has been really positive—we couldn’t imagine having this band without each other. Dan’s been a really positive force in my life and I know we will be friends always.
The song has a really great hook and beat that people find very memorable, so it seemed like the perfect song to feature as a single. Whenever we play that one live, people who don’t know our material always make it a point to say how much they love that song. People who do know the song always ask us if it will be in the set when we play live. One of our friends in a great band Chemtrail, actually learned some of the song just for fun. It’s a catchy one for sure!

Dan: We picked Don’t Match because it’s our most straightforward song, both musically and lyrically. The kick drum beats the listener over the head repeatedly while the guitar line cuts and slashes, which I think is a good first impression! It also is a song that, using just a few words, manages to perfectly articulate our political beliefs and our frustration with the endless prejudices and hypocrisies that exist in many parts of our country. And as you mentioned, it shows off the collaborative skills and personal bond we’ve developed over the years, which I think is what sets our band apart…besides Angie’s banshee-like vocals, of course! Wait until you hear our next single/video “Mercy Burns”…I’ve never heard anyone – man or woman – scream so loudly and tunefully at the same time. It was really impressive to watch her sing that song in the studio.

Sure it is!

Ok, Angie. Here’s one out of blue, because I can’t stop wondering. How on Earth did you decide to release such a simple cover art for “Duress”?? :) I mean, come on, it looks like a beta version, or a draft! ;)

Angie: Ha ha, yeah it’s a simple cover. I was trying to evoke the idea of a really clean simplicity, inspired by NEW ORDER’s artwork for the album Substance. Or FLIPPER’s album Generic Flipper. In a world where we are approaching aesthetic saturation and where people experience overstimulation—I think the average person is exposed to about 300 advertisements a day, and up to about 2,000 images—simplicity seems like a way to cut through all that din. The most refined example of this would be the work of the abstract painter Rothko.

I also intended for the artwork to make people work a little. I think it’s more compelling to have to participate in an experience with an image instead of having it fed to you. This piece made you have a reaction and prompted a question. The hope is that we made an impression that will stay with you.

Lastly I wanted to let the music speak for itself. There are so many bands where the branding is stronger than the actual art that they create. We know that we don’t have to slap a cheap image on this to make it stand out (girl in a bikini etc.). It’s a display of confidence.

And freedom, right? I really liked the note you issued a couple of days ago. What made you write down that confession?

Angie: Ah, I love that you call it a confession! I have always kept a journal and when I write in it, it does feel like confession. That first line that I start with in the passage you are referring it is “Punk Rock means Freedom.” That’s something that Kurt Cobain said and it made a huge impression on me when I read that. I wrote that piece as a continuation of that idea, why Punk is important, in the past and now.

I think that people feel isolated more than ever now. And also powerless to change the many things that are wrong in the world. So I wrote that as a celebration of the power of the individual, which it’s easy to forget that we have. I think about things like sexism, racism, homophobia, transphobia, how great forces exploit the planet and it’s people every day. It’s depressing and discouraging.

It’s important to remember that we do have power and that everyday people have always been the ones who take what is rightfully back from illegitimate powers–that-be. Punk rock is a potent force that anyone can use to stand up against what’s wrong with the world. I want people to be and feel empowered. And free.

I really liked the quote from Drew of RUN WITH THE HUNTED, who I am interviewing now. He stated: “I think punk is a totally unique and special subculture. The traditions, history and attitudes of punk make it an incredible environment where people are encouraged to think for themselves and question what they believe and how their actions reflect those beliefs. I’m sure it’s possible to find an outlet for personal development in other genres or communities of music as well, but I never did and I can’t stress enough how much value I place in punk. A worldwide community of youth who function completely outside of the models of music for profit who are dedicated to positive social change, a strong DIY ethic and who have over the last 30 years, built an informal personal network of record labels, venues, squats and zines etc… it’s just a really incredible thing and I feel so fortunate to have been a part of it all these years.
I love it and even though my relationship to punk has grown and changed over the years, it’s a fundamental part of who I am – it’s how I identify myself and I will carry that with me for the rest of my life. “
Agreed? :)

Angie: I feel the exact same way. That was what drew me to Punk—the way that it invited you to participate. It kind of reminds me of what Dave Grohl, who also was raised on Punk, said at NIRVANA’s induction to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame: “… you look up to your heroes and you shouldn’t be intimidated by them; you should be inspired by them. Don’t look up at the poster on your wall and think, “Fuck, I can never do that.” Look at the poster on your wall and think, “Fuck, I’m going to do that!”

After all these years, who are still your biggest idols “from the poster”?

Angie: NIRVANA is still my absolute favorite band of all time. I would not be the person and musician I am today without that band. I recently saw THE AFGHAN WHIGS and I love their new record. I had met singer Greg Dulli a few times and once when I told him that I was inspired by him as a musician he stopped what he was doing and gave me a huge hug. I worship at the alter of Kim Deal for sure. THE BREEDERS continue to put out killer records. I’m extremely excited about the VERUCA SALT reunion and I can’t wait to see them in New York City this summer.

How do you feel about the recent reunions and the hype around NIRVANA? Some might say that Cobain is pirouetting in his grave.

Angie: Ah, good question. I was actually lucky enough to see NIRVANA be inducted to the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame this past spring. I was so moved by Michael Stipe’s speech and hearing the speeches and seeing the performance that I cried the entire time. I thought that it was done exactly the way Kurt would have wanted it.

Music and art is at its best as a living thing—not an artifact. Though much controversy that surrounds NIRVANA, the music is the most important aspect of the band, which Kurt had always said. Involving front women was a great tribute to the way Kurt wanted to reshape the rock and roll landscape. The traditional world of popular rock and roll is overwhelmingly male in the mainstream, though scores of extremely talented artists who happen to also be female exist. One of my favorite things he ever said was that “The future of rock belongs to women.” I think about that a lot.

Whoohoo. Huge subject, isn’t it? What do you think about women’s position in the rock music industry these days?

Angie: Women have always been a fundamental part of Rock and Roll. From Loretta Lynn, to Patti Smith to Chrissie Hynde, to THE SLITS, HEART, Kim Deal of THE BREEDERS and PIXIES, Courtney Love, and so many more, you can find women throughout rock and roll. In the 90’s it really seemed like women would finally have equal attention given to their artistry as their male counterparts. However, I think that progress has receded.

I see a lot of grouping women’s acts together, based solely on the fact that they are women, instead of paying attention to the music first. I think a lot of people really love seeing and hearing women in rock, but for some reason the mainstream outlets seem really reluctant to have the same faith in female artists or give them the same support.
I think adding diversity to rock and roll as far as including more women, more people of color, and LGBT people will make rock and roll stronger and more interesting. You can’t play the same kind of songs from the same kind of bands and expect the genre to stay relevant. And in recent years, mainstream rock has been on the decline. Inclusiveness is one way to make this very American and very iconic art form new again.

I feel like there aren’t any women fronted DIY bands out there. Any cool local names you’d like to recommend here?

Angie: Oh yeah. We have come across quite a few bands in our circles that are excellent acts that are female fronted. THE DOLLYROTS recently put out a new album, AMERICAN PINUP is a really catchy punk act fronted by Lauren West, TROPHY WIFE out of Philadelphia is a great rock and roll two piece, TV TRAMPS are an excellent sort of trash punk four piece fronted by J Joy Vay, TAR ELLIOT and THE RED VELVETS have a really shart IGGY & THE STOOGES inspired sound, and of course THE SVETLANAS from Russia features one of the most-bad ass front persons I have ever seen perform. We have played with all of these bands because we are all punk acts. These bands just happen to also be fronted by female performers. There are many, many more!

Cool, thanks! Ok, Angie. Both personally and as a band, what are your plans for this Summer?

Angie: THE OBVIOUS’s plans for the summer include gearing up for some late summer and fall shows. We are very excited to be playing Upstart Fest again this year. That show is full of excellent punk bands from all over the country, and even a band from Russia— THE SVETLANAS, who we are thrilled to be sharing a stage with again. Upstart Fest tours the whole Northeastern United States, so it’s a great opportunity to get to be in front of lots of different crowds and in front of people who haven’t had a chance to see us yet.

Yup! Be sure to drop me a line of two after this upcoming string of shows!
Ok guys. Thanks for your time. Is there anything else you’d like to add here?

Angie: Thanks so much for taking the time to interview us, Karol! It’s been great talking with you.
The Obvious want to warn you that we’re coming for you! You’re going to fall in love with us and we won’t even have to try. You will be asking us if you can be our slaves. Because once you get a taste of us, nothing else will do. You won’t sleep, you won’t eat. You won’t understand how you could possibly have lived without us for so long. But don’t worry. We are kind and benevolent masters.

THE OBVIOUS Facebook
THE OBVIOUS Soundcloud
THE OBVIOUS Bandcamp
AngieSugrim@livenation.com

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