Rabby Feeber returns to musical roots.
By Chris Webb
All art constantly aspires towards the condition of music.
-Walter Pater (1839-1894)
Just when it seems the great ideas and artists have become so homogenized and insipid that they’ve lost all direction, Rabby Feeber re-emerges. Their form of art and entertainment is their lifeblood it seems, and not just a silly byproduct or fashion accessory. Besides being stylistically unequaled, Rabby Feeber have an avant garde keenness and create unfiltered music that kicks in with a stinging slap. They started out completely independent, playing exactly the music they wanted to play in exactly the way they wanted to play it and haven’t changed for anyone other than themselves. And though they may be altering their direction a little, Rabby Feeber still has an unshakable fascination with the punk attitude and sonic oddities.
The Rabby Feeber boys: Jonathan Gossett, Brian Pulito, Lawrence Tarpey, Jonathan Midkiff, and Lyndon Jones (center).
The band itself has roots that go back to the early 1980s. At that time, Rabby Feeber’s singer/lyricist, Lawrence X. Tarpey was the frontman for the Active Ingredients, one of Lexington’s first big bands (which attracted some much deserved attention from Jello Biafra of the Dead Kennedys). Even then, Tarpey was considered an original and was part of a band that made a distinctive mark.
That vein of originality continued right up to Rabby Feeber’s conception in the early 1990s and in 1994, the band decided to document some of the songs they’d been working on. With the aid of some close friends, but largely self-produced, Rabby Feeber put together their first CD, Just Trust Us. With twenty tracks and more than seventy minutes worth of music, this release was an unusual and fabulously jagged record.
The songs on this first album were a bizarre merging of punk and metal and very experimental, using samples and sequences as a foundation on which to lay down live instruments. Tarpey’s unusual lyrics and vocal stylings only made the music more mysterious and added to the strangeness. It was a clever concept and one which attracted much criticism from musical purists. But the stark arrangements and inspiring breath of ingenuity made quite a mark in the eyes and ears of those who paid attention.
Rabby Feeber’s original members included bassist Geoff Trumbo, drummer Brian Pulito, Tarpey, and guitarist Elwood “Pat” Francis. They all helped forge their unique approach, but when Francis soon left the band, two new guitarists, Lyndon Jones (formerly of Abe and the Vigodas) and Jonathan Midkiff, were recruited. Fans of the original sound, Jones and Midkiff helped the band to continue in the same direction and their second disc, Rabby Road, was released in 1996. Once again, samples and sequences made an appearance and Tarpey’s intriguing lyrics continued to baffle.
After Rabby Road had been out for a while, the band started to feel it was time to change. After all, they’d been playing for three or four years with the pre-recorded samples on DAT, which at times could prove limiting and difficult. After agreeing that the original sound had run its course, a change of direction soon followed and Rabby Feeber returned to their punk roots with a raw, stripped down garage-rock sound.
“We were playing around too much before with the concepts and trying to take the ideas certain places, not always doing justice to a particular song,” Midkiff states. “My criticism of the old stuff is that it tended to get stuck on certain ideas too long. It just became static.
This new stuff is shorter and more to the point.”
Art is significant deformity.
-Roger Fry (1866-1934)
Taking their time, Rabby Feeber worked on the new material for quite a while, trying to get it just right. And the new stuff boasts a straightforward approach with more pop influence. Tarpey’s odd lyrics are still a staple and may have gotten even more intriguing. The result is the forthcoming Hello Records release, Disposable Zeros of Rock. The new album will feature a fun bunch of songs with a feisty edge that will raise your energy level tenfold and proves Rabby Feeber is still able to experiment with a song’s sonic surroundings without sacrificing its essential nature.
“The new material has been a long time in the making,” Tarpey concurs. “Brian, Lyndon, and Jonathan have come up with some great stuff instrumentally speaking. Everybody in this band contributes and the sounds we achieve wouldn’t happen if all of us didn’t put something into it. But I can generally write lyrics and vocal melodies for any given song that those guys come up with. The stuff they’re cranking out is great and it’s just real easy to write vocal melodies on top of.”
“We’re all fans of punk rock and we decided to just go with it,” Midkiff says. “We just got tired of always trying to push the envelope and be novel. What we all have in common is this love of the first wave of punk.”
Jones adds, “We just wanted to do something more garage. We all were into that kind of music at one time or another and probably still are. So it’s just natural really. We just felt like rocking, fooling less with the technical stuff and having more fun. Getting the energy level up was another priority and like the other records, it has its own unique thing going on.”
In the past, the band had always tuned down a half-step. But on the new material, they went with standard tunings which created brighter sounds with less low-end. Coupled with faster tempos, the tuning change has helped produce a much more energetic sound than on previous records.
And for the first time, Rabby Feeber had their record professionally mastered, giving the songs a much more full and complete sound
“I think that deep down all of us have been wanting to put this kind of record
out for awhile,” Pulito adds, pointing out that the new songs “sound like they belong together. They’re much more cohesive and just fit together. In the past, our records have been sort of all over the place stylistically. Working with samples gives you so many options in terms of textures and sounds. But at the same it makes it difficult to keep things in check. The new songs don’t have these types of problems.”
“Its also interesting,” Pulito comments, “that stylistically speaking, the music really sounds cohesive even though each of us contributed ideas. I guess it helps that we all were sort of coming from the same direction in terms of what we were trying to create.”
Still insistent on recording on their own, the new material was recorded in Pulito’s basement using his computer for media storage and mixing. And the entire record was mixed down in Lawrence’s bedroom. By doing all the recording themselves, the band was allowed to spend literally hundreds of hours on the record.
Recording to disk gives a lot more options that just aren’t possible on a tape based system, like changing the arrangements after a song is completely recorded and almost mixed. It also allows for the instant retrieval of board settings for each song which makes it easier to fine tune over a longer period of time.
“It’s kind of funny,” Jones comments, “because over time the recording has gotten more hi-tech and the instrumentation and music has gotten less technical.”
While the musical compositions are contributed by Pulito, Jones, and Midkiff, the lyrical duties of the band fall on Tarpey’s shoulders. It is largely agreed upon that one reason why Rabby Feeber is so interesting is Tarpey himself. He comes across like a sort of punk-journeyman. Not to mention he’s an incredible visual artist who dabbles in multiple mediums and is always coming up with something stimulating. His artwork is as mind-boggling as his lyrics. One look at his paintings and drawings reveals a man of unquestionable talent and vision.
That artistic connection is something that pops up over and over with Rabby Feeber. All of the artwork used on Rabby Feeber releases have been Tarpey originals. Even the name of the band was taken from some of Tarpey’s lyrics. Rabby Feeber was simply a character Tarpey made up. It sounded interesting enough and the band agreed, thinking it was an uncommon name they’d never have to worry about anyone copying. The name itself sounds as if it should have some strange significance, but it doesn’t at all. Tarpey says, “It’s really just a bunch of nonsense that’s kind of bizarre and ends up stickin’ with ya.”
Lyrically speaking, Tarpey is like no other. He has a style all his own. He explains that “a lot of the lyrics I write are somewhat personal. Some are vaguely political and others are stream of consciousness. I kind of experiment. I might come up with one line or hook, a lyric that will become the root of the song and I kind of write around it.”
“But it’s not always easy writing a song,” Tarpey continues. “Most of the time, I have to put pen to paper and spend some time working on it. I go in and make changes all the time, refining and fixing things that bother me. Sometimes it’s hard to put your finger on what the song is about. I try to pepper it with a little bit of mysticism and be a little bit confounding. I just want the listener to be somewhat intrigued by the lyrics, but at the same time I don’t want them to be taken too literal all the time.”
“Other times I’m just trying to string certain words together,” adds Tarpey, “playing with words and the way they sound together. They can actually have a musical quality the way they come off your tongue. And still other times, I’ll improvise when I start recording and go about it in a real natural way. I’ll just get a feel for the music and let some lyrics flow, which may end up being nonsensical lyrically, but musically it makes a lot of sense.”
“I approach my art and my music in much the same way,” Tarpey states. “I have to have the creative spirit. Even then, ninety percent of the time, it’s a failure. But the rest of the time, it just comes together. Sometimes I just get lucky and it works out.”
Midkiff adds to the mystery and offers a theory saying that the band “is never quite sure where [Tarpey] is coming from. I have this theory about the way he writes. If you’re ever at his house, he’s got CNN on full blast and he’s working on one of his weird paintings or pictures and he’s taking all this information in through his ears and it comes it through his hands and his mouth. Sometimes you can hear some things that might be personal and others that could be socially oriented. His songs have this sense of claustrophobia and urgency, this caged animal feel that drives them and I love it. Evidently, there’s some universality to what he does and that’s a gift I think. But to write things that are so interesting and make people think the way he does is really uncommon.”
Pulito comments, saying “I know people are going to criticize this, but I think Lawrence is one of the best underground lyricists of all time. If you look at his total body of work, spanning back to his days with Active Ingredients and the Floaters up to this new record,
Lawrence has always found a way to be totally original with his writing and singing. I’ve never seen the guy consciously steal a melody or vocal hook from another singer which, unfortunately, seems to be the status quo for most vocalists today. I’ve been friends with Lawrence for a long time and I can promise you nobody works any harder or is more of a self-critic than he is about his art and lyrics and I think it shows in both his writing and painting.”
Jones adds that “The lyrics for the new songs are remarkable as well. That’s one thing that will probably never change and just another reason I love playing with these guys.”
After completing the newest record, Geoff Trumbo had to leave town to pursue his studies in creative writing.
Midkiff says, “We were really sorry to see Geoff go. When we started looking for a replacement, the biggest criteria to be met was finding someone we could hang out with. Jonathan Gossett showed up and he’s working out great. It’s gonna be hard to fill Geoff’s shoes, but more important to us is the fact that Gossett is someone we enjoy hanging out with. And I’m sure he’ll add something great to the band.”
The remaining members have been together for several years now. And playing in the same band for an extended period of time is not always an easy thing to do
One reason we’ve played together so long,” Pulito posits, ” is that at every stage in the bands history, we’ve always had a fairly common vision of where we were going. At any given stage this vision might have changed a little, but everyone has always been in synch enough to prevent the typical things that occur when a band self-destructs from happening to us. It also helps that we’re all good friends and everyone is pretty open minded. Getting the record deal with Hello Records certainly keeps things interesting. For me personally, playing and writing music definitely fills a void. I think its human nature to want to create and for me, at least right now, its music.”
Midkiff follows, saying, “I think we kind of feel like an island, a safe haven for each other. We’re each other’s biggest fans. We’re all close friends and I’d say it would be hard to find guys who like the same things we do.”
Continuing, Midkiff adds, “It’s not as if we have a completely harmonious sense of what music to make. We butt heads all the time. But that challenge benefits us as a group. It’s good for all of us and keeps us humble, not letting the ego get out of control. You have to keep it honest amongst friends and that’s why I like working with these guys.”
“Everybody’s smarter now,” Tarpey comments, “and knows more about what they want to do. Hopefully, the inspiration is still there. It’s easy to lose that and for many bands, that’s the first thing to go. But I think our passion for the music is still there. I think our music is still pretty urgent sounding.”
Midkiff asserts, “Over time we’ve started to loosen up more and I think we’re just now hitting our stride. With the new stuff, we can come out and start kicking teeth in right out of the gate. We hope it’s infectious. But we’re gonna rock out whether they like it or not.”
“If there’s one philosophy behind it all,” Midkiff claims, “it’s doing what you know and doing it well. As a band, we’re committed to doing it right. We certainly put a Herculean effort into the new record. We know what we’re capable of, so we try to have a hand in the entire process. And I think we’ve done a pretty good job of achieving the goals we set out for ourselves.”
“What we’re doing now is what we’re really about,” Midkiff continues. “Basically, we just want to write good songs. Instead of leaving no stone unturned, we’re learning to let the mistakes happen and learn from them. Sometimes they become a part of the magic of the whole process. We’re just now coming to a point where we’re comfortable in our own skin. And that’s been a real surprise and a positive outcome of this new direction.”
With an acute understanding of the impetus behind good music, Rabby Feeber knows how to captivate. In the late 1970s, punk erupted partially as a reaction to the increasing pride in technical virtuosity that was overrunning rock and attempted to inject angry, rebellious, risk-taking notions into the music. That’s kind of what’s going on with Rabby Feeber. Combining brutally simple, catchy hard-rock with cryptic lyrics, Rabby Feeber has kind of reclaimed their musical heritage and direction from themselves, but with a seasoned maturity that makes it all the more spirited.
With a CD called Disposable Zeros of Rock, it’s quite obvious that Rabby Feeber is a band that doesn’t take itself overly seriously. The title suggests that they’re throwing themselves in with the disposable idols that populate every facet of rock music. But the reality of the situation is they’re quite the opposite. They’re a unique band that has returned to the things they liked about music in the first place and are more comfortable with playing what makes them happy. With willfully obscure lyrics and tunes that strike at the very core of great rock and roll, Rabby Feeber still play with the same ferocity and passion they originally did. If you turn up the volume, you’ll feel a jolt go down your spine. And that’s what Rabby Feeber is all about.
Hello Records shifts and goes global
by Chris Webb
A little over a year ago, Hello Records was just starting out, a groundling company with only two EPs in their catalog. With virtually no promotion or financing, determined president/CEO Stepfan Jefferies did some difficult maneuvering in the industry and made his company work. With the help of some friends, Jefferies set out to build Global Music Group (formerly called Hello Music, LLC), a vertically integrated music company with multiple divisions for specific tasks and services.
Acquiring substantial backing from private investors, Global Music Group (GMG) has sprouted and Jefferies’ vision to make a multi-functional music headquarters right here in Lexington is coming to fruition. Calling itself “The New Industry of Music,” Global Music Group is a one-stop musical resource-handling distribution, booking, recording contracts, and an on-line network. And more, GMG plans to change the way things are done in the music industry.
GMG’s record label division has two sections of its own. Hello Records, which is based in Lexington, KY, focuses on guitar-oriented music ranging from hardcore punk to alternative country and pop. The other division, True Villain Records, is based in New York (specifically, the Bronx), and concentrates on hip-hop, R & B, and jazz.
Both labels offer more than just a standard industry contract. Their operation is focused on becoming a major musical force while maintaining its artist-friendly qualities.
Once a contract is signed, the label handles all costs incurred in the manufacturing of the finished recording and the artist retains complete artistic freedom regarding contents of recordings. The label also obtains and secures copyrights for the recorded material. Profits from band merchandise and royalties of any form are then split equally between the label and the band.
Under such conditions, both labels strike a balance between artistic freedom and providing the global exposure that is thought to be a characteristic of major labels only. And with more than twenty-five albums scheduled for release within the next twelve months, they may be onto something. Upcoming releases include albums by national acts including Fang, Billyclub, and Dr. Know as well as several Central Kentucky bands, including Pleasureville, Rabby Feeber, the .357s, South 75, the Union City All Stars, Household Saints, and Gloria Bills. They also plan to release a number of out-of-print albums from the 70s and 80s.
Also offered are promotional packages that include radio, retail, and magazine publicity. Retail movement and radio airplay is tracked as albums are sent out to places all over the globe, including the top 300 radio stations in the U. S. and select publications for review.
GMG Entertainment, with offices in Tampa, FL, takes over where the record label leaves off, coordinating booking and further promotion for the acts.
Bands recording through Hello Records and True Villain Records aren’t the only ones who can utilize this service. GMG Entertainment will book a tour for free for any band provided the band will help market GMG products and services through various methods, including setting up tables at each show to solicit materials and posting promotional and informational posters in and around each tour destination. This partnership allows the artist to maintain creative integrity and get the professional help needed to book a tour. They work to make sure every band gets confirmed dates for each gig, maps to each venue, and a guaranteed contract. Their flat-rate booking is a rare option these days and a feature designed to set them apart.
Artist development is the emphasis of GMG Distribution, providing an opportunity for unsigned bands and independent labels to gain wider exposure via an expansive distribution network that includes an online catalog as well as cooperative partnerships with other distributing companies.
The synergy created by combining the booking and distribution services under the same umbrella company purports to allow a level of service that is unique among independent music labels.
The GMG Network is based in Lexington, KY, and Burlington, VT. Dealing primarily with the development and management of customized music web-sites for radio stations, publications, museums, and a variety of other corporations who use music to market themselves, GMG Network is revolutionizing how goods and services are bought and sold on the Internet.
These customized websites will cover a broad range of music genres and will cater to specific customer needs and products. They will serve as self-contained on-ine communities for the music fan, the artist, and other music companies. By the end of 2000, GMG expects to be managing over 250 individual sites, including its own stand-alone sites.
Each site will feature a traditional catalog of over 250,000+ albums, downloadable digital music, customized CDs, musical instruments and equipment, apparel, movies, books, magazines, and concert tickets. Web surfers will also be able to check out exclusive live concert broadcasts from several of the top venues from around the country as well as check out the latest music news, tour dates, artist services, bulletin boards, and an online auction service for music related items and other products.
Stepfan Jefferies isn’t afraid to try new things and his methods are turning some heads. Hello Records is now signing proven artists and national acts who appreciate freedom, fairness, and a company that can handle it all.
“The idea with Global Music Group is to have a solid one-stop company where a band can get stuff done,” Jefferies explains. “The simple fact is, bands need certain things done and they feel more comfortable and it’s more convenient to work with one place and get it all done. In the end, bands can do more with our one system than they could elsewhere. ”
Jefferies continues, “Most companies are out to find artists who can make them a lot of money and care very little about the other guys.”
According to him, “[GMG has] signed bands that have turned down major labels because they’ve seen the way we do business and they like it.”
He foresees big changes with internet business and the music industry in general and intends to be a big part of those changes. Jefferies says, “I’m excited about doing things differently, about breaking some music industry standards and traditions.”
For more information about Global Music Group, visit hellorecords.com or call 606-389-9065.
Welcome to the first Rock and Roll Quarterly of the new year, new decade, but not (technically) the new millennium (not till 2001).
There are those who persistently argue the anemia of the current music scene, lost in nostalgia for their bygone era of choice – like the punk heyday of the early to mid 80s (e.g., 9 Lb. Hammer, Active Ingredients, I.S., Happy Death, Vale of Tears, Skullhead, Ted Bundy’s Volkswagen, Gnarly Love); the late 80s/early 90s funk scene that spawned raging icons like Red Fly Nation, Strictly Wet, Catwampus, Groovezilla and 10 Ft. Pole; or maybe the more or less simultaneous glory days of hard rock/metal when Black Cat Bone was on MTV.
In response, we examined 1999 a bit more carefully as we looked ahead to our music coverage for 2000. And judging by the numbers and diversity, it seems that 99 was a little more lively (musically) than many give it credit for.
We managed to find enough news to sustain four music cover stories (Jet Glue Records – still kicking, with a 7″ review in this issue; Delicious Trip Attendants; Taildragger; and Household Saints).
Local music took the stage for 10 features (including articles on Funnel, 7 Grams of Groove, Artgeko, G-Funk, and the inception of Hello Records – followed up on in this issue) – as well as a Media Watch or two on the ups and downs of lexmusic.com.
Almost 20 bands had releases which were reviewed in CDs & Wax last year (including Pontius Co-Pilot, the Hub, Blue Honey, Deadnecks, Ugly Tree, Catawampus Universe, Lucid Grey, the Rioters, Quiver of Jasper, Crone, Gloria Bills, the Hookers, and Cut.Love.Kill). Not all of the reviews were positive, of course. As we pointed out in response to one irate reader, the critics are assigned reviews, not press releases.
Which brings us to the amount of mail generated by local music coverage – adding up to another 20 letters or so – as readers wrote in to take the writers to task in defense of their favorite local artists; to discourse for or against all-ages shows; or sometimes (years after its demise) simply to mourn the Wrocklage. Local music probably sparks more mail than any other one topic we cover (with the exception of any content dealing with religion in any way).
Watch for the remaining Rock and Roll Quarterlies in April, July, and October of this year. As always, we encourage bands to write us early and often about your upcoming releases and events.