“We’re not that promotion-oriented, we don’t go out on tour to promote ourselves, we go out on tour to have some fun and take advantage of it... We do this because we want to and because it’s fun."
Rick Froberg is a name synonymous with the Southern Californian punk scene of the last two decades (the good San Diegan scene, not the poxy pop-'punk' of a nearby city at the same time). During this period he contributed vocals and guitar to hugely influential outfits Hot Snakes, Drive Like Jehu and Pitchfork, amongst others, but he also contributed to the aesthetic of the 'movement', producing album art for label Swami (created by fellow Hot Snake John Reis), which included cover art for bands like all mentioned above, Reis's hugely successful Rocket From The Crypt and Beehive & The Barracudas.
When Hot Snakes entered the millennium with album Automatic Midnight, it took a hose to the shitty washed-out weasel piss that 'punk' had been diluted to and finally washed it down the toilet where it belonged. Obits continue in a similar vein – they're not rewriting the rock'n'roll rulebook by any stretch, and though the attitude is less confronting, their sound similarly conjures a time and place. Nowadays Froberg lives in New York City, a world away from the relatively sleepy northern counties of San Diego where he grew up. As a successful artist (both musical and visual) based in one of the true global arts hubs, it seems this rocker has landed on his feet. When I offer that he's basically living out my rock'n'roll fantasy, he dryly offers, “I've only been this, so I don't know what it is to be anything else. I guess it's goin' okay, I'm still here.
“It's a balance,” he says of his lifestyle. “Visual art is also my job. Some of it could be considered commercial art, y'know, where I work and I try to get paid enough together to pay the rent. As much as I can, I like to do music because I get to travel and I get to play and drink beers with my friends and what not.
“We're not that promotion-oriented, we don't go out on tour to promote ourselves, we go out on tour to have some fun and take advantage of it... We do this because we want to and because it's fun,” Froberg admits. “This isn't professional, it's maybe semi-professional, I don't make enough from this to pay for my life and neither do most of the people I know who play in bands... I get to travel, I get to go to Australia, I get to meet people and most of all I get to play my crappy rock'n'roll music and have a good time.”
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Given Obits' sound isn't a million miles from that of his earlier bands, I query how much of an impact living in NYC has had on his writing and art. Is it quantifiable how much of an impact surroundings can have on an artistic pursuit? “It would be difficult to do,” he considers after a long pause. “I could quantify really obvious things, like I moved from a smaller town to a much bigger town. In a smaller town you know most of the people who are involved, intimately or at least casually, whereas here you don't. What we do has much less value here because there's so much of it – there's so many bands and so much entertainment's competing for your attention. It's more anonymous in some ways, it's a very urban environment and that affects how you see things and your aesthetics. If you move from Alice Springs to Sydney or something, it probably wouldn't be the same experience, but it's just a different thing.”
In terms of inspiration, music-wise the basic tenets are similar for Froberg now as when he was cutting his teeth with Reis way back when. Obits aren't out to change the world, just to play some rock music. “I think the same principle always applies,” he says of his drive to continue, “it's about self expression and it's about fun and getting off your arse and seeing things.”