Thursday, September 16, 2010

Extended Family

It's hard enough to keep three or four musicians adhering to one schedule. How does the name partner in Rich Restaino & The Obits deal with a roster double that size? There's no single secret to it. "It's pretty easy considering there are eight people," Rich says. "We're all around 33, none of encumbered by kids... [Drummer] Dave's wife is pregnant, it's going to be a test."

At full strength Rich & The Obits field two guitarists, drums, bass, keyboard, and a three-piece female trio of backing singers that's the secret to their sound. Just the band's lineup is ambitious but Restaino keeps low-key about the band that grew out of a desire to keep working on his songwriting after his old group The Late Fees called it quits. "I had really low expectations because I'm that kind of person," says the singer, who doubles as a schoolteacher when he's not leading a big band. "My uncle was in a band signed to Capitol in the 70's. He ended up being a mailman.... Now he's playing with buddies, writing again." This helps lend some perspective. Rich is realistic about his band but still speaks of role models like Bukowski who weren't able to fully realize their visions until later in life. He's modest to a point, but there's still something driving him to deal with the logistical hassles of that eight-piece lineup... he's still a musician at heart!

So how is it done? It takes the right kind of personalities, and the right level of experience, in the band. "So many of us have done music in many different ways," Rich says. Gratitude counts: "Show appreciation at every opportunity. 'It's so great that you still want to play with me!'" The band tries to be productive in smaller combinations, when necessary... so long as the drummer's available they'll "go with a quorum," and if no drummer, they'll do vocal rehearsal. And every member is encouraged to bring in their own song ideas.

After finishing their recently-released We're in This Thing Together Restaino figured no one would be up to that level of hassle again. Recording for the CD had to be done "piecemeal" and took seven months. But it only took a few weeks after its completion for band members to start asking about the next album. "Really?" says Rich, incredulous. "You want to do this again?"

New challenges await. "I still feel like I haven't made a record that's cohesive," says Rich. "I've gotten three or four songs in but get stuck." The band is moving from new wave towards soul, thanks to the 45's of Rich's friend and former bandmate. "Every good record that's come into my house came from him. His record collection is the ninth member of the band." Things in Austin didn't turn out exactly as planned: "I moved here because I wanted to be in Uncle Tupelo."

Being at the center of the hurricane for Rich Restaino & The Obits isn't a bad fallback option. One last shred of wisdom from the education world might apply: "As a teacher, always have a backup plan."

Rich & The Obits play this Saturday at Rockin' Tomato, with World Racketeering Squad... WRS's CD release show.

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