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RIBS’ DIY sound backed by some Berklee promotional know-how

Mixing business with pleasure

Local band RIBS is Chris Oquist, Keith Freund, Blake Fusilier, and Justin Tolan.

Chris Oquist

Local band RIBS is Chris Oquist, Keith Freund, Blake Fusilier, and Justin Tolan.

Chris Oquist and Keith Freund, the guitar/vocals and drums half of local four-piece RIBS, are coming from somewhere a bit more researched than the average new band.

On a recent night out over drinks in Allston, Freund thinks back on an industry conference panelist’s idea of top-down bands versus bottom-up bands.

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“A top-down example was like Destiny’s Child,” says Freund. “They were picked out by a label and forced down to the masses through a huge infrastructure of radio and money. Whereas there was this rapper named Bone Crusher who came up out of Atlanta selling mix tapes out of the back of his car, building it for himself.”

Freund stops to ponder the utility of both models, but Oquist doesn’t need much time to decide.

“I’m pretty sure I’d rather be Destiny’s Child than Bone Crusher,” he says with a shrug.

RIBS, a band with a music business sense incubated at Berklee, has deployed its searingly loud music in small doses so far — a single here and there, basically, since 2010 — and Freund sees each song playing off different sides of that dynamic. He notes that songs like last winter’s “Please Don't Go” worked like regular publicity angles and garnered great local press, while others like “Queen of Hearts” have taken on viral lives of their own on fan-created YouTube videos and Reddit. It’s a solid analytical approach that they’ve adopted toward their work; but time as a band has also taught them the benefits of loosening up and simply rocking out.

Freund woke up at 2 p.m. on this day, caught in the middle of a mix-down binge of “Russian Blood,” the EP they’re set to release with a show at T.T. the Bear’s on May 25. It’s an epic mix of high octane stuff — post-rock/metal scorchers poured into vaguely pop molds with Billy Corgan levels of immodesty. The band puts on a serious light show onstage — over 55 cables need connecting before every set — and this music was built for it.

RIBS is Freund’s first band, assembled during his last semester in school through band-wanted ads that name-checked stylistic touchstones like Muse and Smashing Pumpkins. He ended up with childhood friend Blake Fusilier, a second guitarist in shredding prodigy Justin Tolan (featured in Guitar Player magazine at age 18), and Oquist, who had been drumming in a black metal band.

Oquist came from the school’s music business department and went about things from that mind-set in the beginning — working out a pro-looking Web presence, booking tours, fiddling with schedules for YouTube teasers. Still, a few years on the circuit helped reveal some new truths. Oquist found himself at Boston’s trend-setting Rethink Music conference last week and started to notice the unfortunate focus of lots of upcoming bands.

“Everyone is looking for a silver bullet,” he said. “What can Foursquare do for me? What does Instragram do? Can I be a Pinterest band?” It all seemed pointless, he decided, if everyone stopped paying attention to their own music. But RIBS comes off like a new-fangled hybrid — taking advantage of a well-resourced background and launching a perfectly haywire creative adventure from there.

Kannica Phim

RIBS performing at T.T. the Bear’s in Cambridge in 2011.

“Russian Blood” is thoroughly DIY — mixed at Freund’s apartment, recorded in their practice space — but it carries itself like a really big deal. There are cement-grinding atmospherics out of Trent Reznor’s playbook and canyon banshee wails echoed from long-lost U2 anthems. It’s full of the visceral joys of music — the growl in the bass, the gleefully dissonant guitars; concerns that seem far removed from counting online friends and Twitter followers. There are epileptic moments that threaten to rattle apart at every bolted-down connection, bringing to mind ’90s electro-noisers like Braniac. The song designated as the lead single, “Kiss,” is a totally unruly pummeling from off-centered, fuzzed-out bass, and gut-check drums.

Freund says he’s learned to let go a little bit — after two years and a couple mini-tours and even a concussion suffered during one show’s overexcited guitar swapping. But he’s still a fiend for lists — he can pull them up on his
iPhone in seconds: lists for three days before the show (make sure the club has a tech rider), lists for a day before the show (make sure Oquist has drum mallets), lists for sound check (put phone in airplane mode). He has lists for lists, and he isn't giving them up soon.

“Hey, the lists help me worry less,” he says. “It means I can just go out and play when it’s time.”

BONUS TRACKS:

The latest compilation from Somerville-centered collective Compound 440R just dropped, and it’s full of tracks from bands within that crew’s diverse reach — you’ll find everything from bubbly electro pop from Freezepop and André Obin to grimy rock tracks from the Needy Visions and Shepherdess. It’s 20 tracks in all, meaning hardly a week will go by this year that it won’t serve as a handy guide to at least one local show. . . . Deep in Allston at O'Briens, the bimonthly noise series Spectral Rehab gears up for one of its biggest shows yet, bringing in electronics powerhouse John Wiese onstage with Boston improv specialist Greg Kelley and found-sound composer Patrick Emm, on May 7. . . . A few days later in the same spot, tightly wound quartet Leagues releases their new 7-inch on the world. The band has slowly revealed its razor sharp, Dischord-style guitars, lumbering rhythms, and dizzy vocals on a few tracks online over the last year. Pals in Bunny's a Swine and Thunderhole will be on hand for support. . . . A whole crew of keyboard experimentalists take to Mobius in Cambridge for the Toy Piano Fest (May 11-13), which brings together a host of locally grown compositions along with performances of John Cage’s “Music for Amplified Toy Pianos.” . . . Finally, it’s that time of year for another parade of psych-rock misfits up and down Somerville Ave. as Deep Heaven Now takes over Union Square clubs PA’s Lounge and Precinct for both May 4 and 5 in an acid bath of the best blasted-out rock from Boston and elsewhere. On hand are 25 bands, including the New Highway Hymnal, December Sound, Ghost Box Orchestra, Soccer Mom, and (of course) 28 Degrees Taurus.

Matt Parish can be reached at mattparish@gmail.com.
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