by NATALIE RINCON
photos by MITCHELL WOJCIK
"Sounds like it's time to find a new dream." That was the reply from Queens of the Stone Age's road manager after RIBS drummer Chris Oquist explained that what was about to happen – opening for QOTSA – sat atop frontman Keith Freund's bucket list. Following a whirlwind 3-year period, including tour dates with The Joy Formidable, Swervedriver, and The Soft Moon, becoming Reddit's top r/music post of all time, and having a song featured in Brittany Murphy's final film (indie psych-thriller Something Wicked), the band decided not to ride the wave but instead move from Boston to Brooklyn and find new things to write about.
After years of combining bedroom demos with proper recordings in the Chinatown studio of producer Ayad Al Adhamy (whom they met on tour with The Joy Formidable), RIBS are back this Fall with Strangers, an EP that explores obsession, self-delusion, and what happens when you never get closure.
NATALIE: How would you describe your evolution as an Artist from British Brains in 2010 to your forthcoming 2019 EP?
KEITH: When I was a teenager I made myself all sorts of promises about how I’d evolve as an artist, mostly based on what I liked or didn’t like about how some of my favorite bands progressed. Nowadays I hesitate to judge where another artist chooses to go with their music. But I do still trust Teen Keith on a few things. One of those promises was that I wouldn’t start writing impersonal or purely intellectual lyrics as I got older. So I'm always trying to find ways to cut a little deeper, to scare myself that maybe I've revealed too much. Strangers, our new EP, definitely takes some risks in that way. The song "Hand" in particular is the proudest I've ever been of a song, in terms of putting it all out there. The lyrics are wrote at 18, by comparison, are pretty cryptic.
CHRIS: The sonics have also evolved a lot too.
KEITH: Yeah. We went into this EP with the intention of preserving what still excites us about guitar music – intensity, dreaminess, nostalgia – while also carving out a sound that feels new, and less like a throwback to The Fragile or Siamese Dream.
CHRIS: As a duo, we also had a lot of freedom to play around with approaches to recording that made the sonics feel like the meaning of the songs. The distorted choir sound on “1992” is actually Keith running a guitar through a Mellotron emulator and a bunch of other stuff. There are no cymbals on this record. That makes it feel less like a band playing together and gives it an “aloneness.” We recorded most of the drum parts one drum at a time, to craft a more programmed type-sound while still keeping them live.
You moved from Boston to NYC a few years back. How would you describe the difference in the local scenes?
KEITH: Well first off I don't really think of there being a "New York music scene" at all–it's multiple, mostly disconnected music scenes. Noise rock, rave, synthwave, whatever. You can kinda pick your scene and live there exclusively. Or you can be a hermit who only comes out of their cave from time to time, like me.
There's nowhere to hide in Boston. You're all playing the same venues for the most part, there's a lot more awareness of what's going on across genres and social circles. The two biggest bands in Boston in 2010 were a post-rock band and a funk band, and they were close friends.
CHRIS: We got so much love in Boston. There was a coziness to that, and a mutual support to the scene that doesn’t really emerge from the jungle here. Those people are still consistently supporting us and helping us in 2019, and that’s amazing and really a testament to how much Boston cares for its artists.
You toured with Queens of The Stone Age and The Joy Formidable, if you could choose one other Artist/band to tour with (dead or alive), who would it be and why?
CHRIS: Kanye West - but only if he hadn't said anything since like 2016 - or Deftones.
KEITH: Deerhunter would be cool. Bradford Cox seems like an interesting guy. In interviews, he can be weird and even abrasive in a way that I enjoy. And I’ve seen him really go out of his way for fans. A couple non-music folks I grew up with in Atlanta have also told me he's a great guy. So that's always nice, when someone treats people well even when no one is watching. Plus "Fluorescent Grey" is one of my favorite songs of all time. I will also say–humor counts for a lot when you’re on the road. Ritzy from The Joy Formidable is hilarious, so that was fun.
What’s the significance of the year “1992” in your recent single?
KEITH: That title is kind of a nod to a friend. The song itself isn't based in 1992–it's a fantasy set in present-day–but it's connected to something real that my friend experienced in that year.
What do you want fans to take from your music?
KEITH: My favorite thing to take from music is getting chills. And if you really boil it down, that's usually what I'm trying to do when I'm writing: to make the hair stand up on the back of my neck.
CHRIS: We’ve actually had a few people tell us that our music has helped them through a tough time. One person said it saved them. I don’t think I’ve ever felt better about what we do than when I think about that.
Do you have a release date set for the next EP?
CHRIS: September 6th.
What upcoming plans do you have in store for RIBS?
KEITH: One question we've gotten over and over since day one is, "Why is the band called RIBS?" And to this day, I've never given the real answer. But I think enough time has passed now that I can finally tell that story. Some of the pieces have turned up in our songs but I want to tell people the full story from start to finish. Maybe just talking into a camera. We'll see. But the story is effectively three things: something I did, something that was done to me, and something that was done to someone else. That being said, there are a few final things I need to do before I can tell the story. I'm still figuring out how to approach it.
Listen to their latest single “1992” below: