The Obvious is comprised of Angie Sugrim (guitar/lead vocals), Dan Astorri (guitar/vocals), Kevin Conroy (drums), and Mike Smith (bass/vocals). This quartet has been a prominent part of the Asbury Park music scene over the last five years and Eat Sleep Breathe Music had the pleasure of sitting down with their sensational front woman Angie Sugrim. We talked about working on a new EP, recording with Pete Steinkopf of The Bouncing Souls, what its really like to be a woman in rock, and her wildest show to date.
Its a humid summer night in June and I’m heading over to the legendary Hot Dog House rehearsal space in Asbury Park, NJ. I meet Angie out front and we head up the stairs to the 2nd floor practice room she shares with her bandmates. We sit down on the worn-out couch and dive into conversation with a neighboring room’s percussion practice in the background.
ESBM: How long have you all known each other? How did you meet?
AS: Me and Dan meet in high school when we were about 14 or 15. We went to different schools, but we had a mutual friend. We meet and started hanging out, we cut school and played music. It was awesome because we were into the exact same music and it was just a lot of fun. We were just starting to get our freedom and driver licenses, so we would go to school and then cut in the afternoons, head back home and play music.
I meet Kev and Mike in early 2010, they were in different projects. They were in Captain James and the Pain and Last Perfect Thing and I also just knew them from going to local shows. Me and Kevin both had some downtime and we wanted to jam so we just figured we would jam together. Then like two weeks later we were like, “OK lets have these guys be in the band”.
ESBM: How did you get your name?
AS: I picked the name back in 2005, that was when we actually started being committed to having a band. You know doing much more then just messing around at home. That quote is from one of my feminist theory classes. I’m a Women’s Studies minor, I took Women’s Studies at Rutgers and I have a degree in Political Science so everything has always been really political for me even music. That quote comes from an essay and the author says that “people like us we fight for the obvious” we fight for things that seem obvious to other people. Like equal rights or peace or social justice, those things seem obvious to some people, that’s where I took that from.
ESBM: Who are your musical and non-musical influences?
AS: Number one I’m going to say Nirvana and anyone that’s know me from the age of 14 will know that I’m obsessed with them.
ESBM: Did you hear that they are reissuing Nevermind?
AS: Oh no I didn’t know that. That’s awesome. I was just talking to someone the other day about that album and how well its aged. Its in the library of congress actually… As far as music its definitely Nirvana, Hole – the first version the early version from the 90’s. The later one I can’t speak for too much… Kim Deal and her being in The Breeders and The Pixies, that was huge. Imperial Teen is a big one, cause that was was a band where it was two guys and two girls and that was the first rock band I saw that was mixed gender and they would switch off and play different instruments so that was a cool example of what a band could be and that you didn’t have to follow all the rules. The Thermals, who I love, from Portland, OR they play a lot of the same type of music. They came up on a lot of the stuff that we came up on and I can really identify with their sound. The Afghan Whigs – they are probably my biggest musical influence I love Greg Dulli so much!
Non-musical I would say definitely James Dean, I’m a big fan of any kind of rebel. I really actually like Carl Jung he’s like a a neo-freudian, psycho analytical psychologist. I love John Steinbeck and Kurt Vonnegut they are my two favorite authors of all time. So all that sort of social/political commentary I get from my intellectual side and all the music stuff comes together and that all goes together to make the sound that we have.
ESBM: Over the past year or two The Obvious has gone through some changes (new band members, new EP, etc.) how has this helped the band evolve?
AS: Before we had got Kevin and Mike in Jan/Feb of 2010 we had Matt Guzda on drums and Joy Bellamy on bass and that was a great band but we had different [goals]. I had always wanted to make the band a way more serious thing and try to make a career out of it and that’s not a very sane thing to do (she laughs) that’s one of the hardest things you could do with yourself, to try to be in a successful band. I didn’t want to hold people back cause you know people want to have their own lives, relationships and careers. Joy had always wanted to be a front person, so when we got Kevin and Mike they were more on the career tip and they had enough attention to focus on this one thing so that was just a better fit. And then the sound, the way that those guys play they have a lot more of the same influences as us and it just came together. As soon as we got them in the band a couple of months later we were recording with Pete from The Bouncing Souls and we made our EP Bringing Wreck. From having Kevin and Mike join and having the record release was only like 6-7 months of them joining and learning the songs. Now writing together with them is definitely the rhythm section I was waiting for my whole life. We are just all on the same page and headed in the same direction and the sound is exactly where I want it to be so its really great to have them in the band. I feel really lucky.
ESBM: Are you working on new material?
AS: Yeah, we have about 10 new songs, there are 6 that we actually recorded with Pete from The Bouncing Souls and that’s going to be released on another EP probably in September of this year. We got 1 more song to lay down with him and then we will have it all pressed and ready to go.
ESBM: Are you planning on doing a full length album?
AS: We were talking about that we have enough material to do that, but its interesting because a lot of my friend’s bands and a lot of bands in general still put out full lengths but I feel like what people want now is more single songs or EPs so I’m trying to be conscious of the way people consume music cause I don’t want to spend all the energy and all our resources putting out a 10 song album and its not going to hold people’s attention because they are now used to shorter formats, just the way people got used to vinyl changing into cassette tapes changing into CDs, MP3s. I think we are back to [that] instead of full lengths like in the 60s when pop music was big they had more singles…so thats why I’m more focused on shorter formats.
ESBM: So there will be 6 tracks on the new EP?
AS: Yeah, they are all brand new and some of them are songs that all four of us have written together. So its cool that we are all in it together.
ESBM: What’s your writing process?
AS: It changes, usually one of us, either me, Mike, or Dan will bring in a piece of music and sometimes it could be as simple as just a riff or sometimes we have an entire song done. Usually I always write the lyrics, but the guys contribute to the vocal melody. Its pretty organic we just bring an idea in and then everyone works together to make the song as good as it can be, which is great because its not about one person having an ego and they have to control everything the songs come together way better when we are all working on them together.
ESBM: Pete Steinkopf from The Bouncing Souls produced your EP Bringing Wreck, can you tell us how that came to be and what the experience was like?
AS: That was great, it was an excellent experience. It was my favorite couple of months of all time. We met with Pete through our drummer Kevin, he has an uncle who is really close to the Souls and his name is Jim Norton, he’s helped us out by putting in a good word for us and introducing us to Pete.
Pete’s great he just hangs around the Lanes cause he is a totally normal person, but he’s completely accessible. If you see him and walk up to him he’s always really, really nice and meeting him was great, and working with him was the best experience ever. He’s really patient and he doesn’t put a lot of pressure on you and he knows how to get a good performance out of you. I would sing or I would play a line and we would record it and he would just give me two or three well put critical comments and it would change everything about what I was doing and make it a hundred times better. He’s really great because he knows as a musician what its like to be in the studio and be under pressure. The more you tell somebody not to screw something up or you start yelling at somebody and getting upset obviously the recording is going to start going bad. People don’t react well to pressure, especially when they are trying to be creative. That was really, really cool. He just got us in there, and he was patient with us and I was…sometimes when your a girl and your in a rock band, guys can be really weird. Either guys are normal, they’re creepy, or they just don’t take you as seriously because you are a girl and when I was recording with Pete he treated me like 100% like his equal. You would never get from hanging out and recording with Pete that he’s plays to 4,000 people and sold out crowds all over the world. He just treated me completely, completely equal and recognized my position as a front person and it was just a really great experience. I’m really grateful that it happened. We just recorded with him again and that went really well too. He’s a great guy.
ESBM: Your live shows can get pretty wild; I’ve seen you walk off the stage with cuts and blood running down your legs. What’s been the craziest thing that’s ever happened?
AS: (She Laughs) It does get pretty wild. Half the songs I sing and play guitar so I’m jumping around pretty much a lot then, but when I take the guitar off and its just me singing (she chuckles) it gets pretty wild. I always liked performers like that – Iggy Pop or Kurt Cobain. If they are having fun playing then I have fun as an audience member. You get more into it and the band is feeding off the audience’s energy and the audience is feeding off the band’s energy. I always liked performers like that best. The craziest thing that has every happened is we were playing The Court Tavern in New Brunswick and I was just going wild, like I usually do and I stood up on a monitor, a wedge monitor and because of the shape of the monitor, it tipped over while I was on it and I fell flat cracked my head, knocked my head really hard on the tile floor and I didn’t miss a note. Nobody in the band missed a beat. I had a pretty good knot on my head the next day, but it was fine.
ESBM: What is one thing people don’t know about your band that you wish they did?
AS: I would like people to know…. this is like an egotistical thing…I feel like you pretty much get it when you see our band, but I think I would like people to know that I write a lot of the music that we play. I’ve had people stop and they are like “oh you write the music too?” and I’m like “yeah I write the music, most of the songs are my songs”. I think sometimes when people look at you and that’s just because there are not a lot of examples of female singers/songwriters. There used to be Joan Jett and Chrissie Hynde and Bonnie Raitt but you don’t see that anymore so I think now in this generation when people see a woman playing music they are used to it being a performer where somebody else supplies the music and the woman just performs. I think its important for people to know that a lot of our music comes from me directly. I’m not a tyrant in the band, but I definitely am a front person and do a lot of the managing and organizing of the band. I think its hard for women to say they have a leadership position without being a controlling bitch, but I think its important for people to know that women care about music that much and its just as important to me as it is to any other front man.
ESBM: What’s the best thing about being a woman in rock? What’s the worst?
AS: I love it when other girls walk up to me and they say “Now I’m going to be in a band”, “I want to be in a band”. Or they say “I’ve never seen a girl do that before, thats so cool!” That is the best feeling. Its pretty cool too, like when we had our record release we were lucky enough to have Pete deejay that show. He saw that show after he had been working on the album with us and I remember he said “Angie, it was on fire!” Pete Steinkopf from The Bouncing Souls said I WAS ON FIRE! This is the greatest day of my life! When people look at you and you’re a women of color they don’t expect you to be in a kick-ass punk rock band and you blow their mind. Not only are you in a kick-ass punk rock band but you are in a better band then a lot of guys are in, you know, that is a really good feeling. Changing up what people expect from somebody just by looking at them.
The worst thing is definitely like I said before when you get creepy guys or guys that are like “oh whatever you’re in a band”. Sometimes when you’re a women in a band guys assume that they can hit on you or somehow you become public property a little bit and they say stuff to you and its like “why are you being so gross?” That’s probably the most unpleasant thing, the pleasant part far outweighs that.
ESBM: What bands are you listening to now?
AS: Right now I just got a record from The Crash Engine from Portland, I was just there last week. We had played with that band at The Saint in 2008 when they toured to the East Coast and they just released a new album this year. I’ve been listening to that its called Beautiful Blood, its really good. Today I was listening to… I still love all my 90s bands… today I was listening to Blur, Dinosaur Jr., and Fugazi. I also have been digging into the classics lately – The Beatles, The Pretenders, I was listening to The Clash today too which I really like. Usually on any given day you can find me listening to 70s punk – Buzzcocks, The Clash, or 90s alternative. From more recent decades the bands I listen to most are The Thermals, The Breeders. I just got to see Mark Lanegan play in Portland, the guy from The Screaming Trees, he did a solo show out there and that was really, really good. More than recorded music I go to a lot of live shows – tonight Chemtrail and Give Me Static are playing in Red Bank at the Downtown. A lot of my friend’s bands – Chemtrail, Give Me Static, Sikamor Rooney, Atlantic Atlantic, those kind of local bands I really enjoy catching whenever I can. I highly recommend them to everyone out there.
ESBM: What’s your favorite venue to play?
AS: My favorite venue to play has to be The Asbury Lanes, not that I don’t love all my Asbury venues and we’ve played in NYC too, but I really love the Lanes. The room is amazing, I’ve traveled to Austin, Portland, I’ve been to Europe and I have to say that The Asbury Lanes, that punk rock club, is probably one of the only places on the planet that is just straight up devoted to punk in all its forms. That’s what we are is a punk band so we fit there perfectly and plus Jenn Hampton and Laney Lanes the two girls who manage it, and all the great people who work there Little Mike, Lori, Sarah Potter, Christina, Pete Pederson, they are all really amazing people and its such a good community feeling when you go in there. They are always great to the bands, they know how to build shows the right way, so there are bands who make sense on a bill together and they are just really good people and really always a pleasure to work with. Its not only one of my favorite venues to go hang out at but one of my favorite to play. My favorite to play of all time.
ESBM: Where would you love to play?
AS: Oh My God, I would love to play at Roseland Ballroom or Irving Plaza something where its a big show with hundreds of people but still intimate enough so that no matter where you are in the room you can see the band and be a part of it. I don’t really like arena rock shows too much, because when you are paying like a million bucks to see a band and the you cant even really see them, you just see them on a TV cause they are so far away. That stuff has its place but definitely those mid-size venues would be ideal for us. So call us and book us!
ESBM: What will The Obvious be up to this summer?
AS: This summer we are trying to get some regional touring going. Eat Sleep Breathe Music and Bands On A Budget have been kind enough to put us in touch with some other area bands so that we can bring them down to Asbury and have them see what’s going on here and bring us out there and expose us to more people. We are trying to get a good Northeast following. We are going to finish recording the EP with Pete in July and have it out for September. We will have a release party then and I’m trying to figure out how to get us in front of as many people as possible in ways that make sense. Thats our thing. To come to a town near you soon.
ESBM: Do you have a name for your new EP yet?
AS: We didn’t decide on anything yet, we have a couple of things but nothing serious. When I was with Pete we were recording one of the vocals and its funny cause when I record its screaming and singing, so even though its like two or three in the afternoon, he says “Are you drinking whiskey? Did you drink your whiskey?” By the time we are done with a couple songs I’m wasted because we are drinking straight whiskey at two in the afternoon. By the time four or five rolls around I’m drunk. Its funny when he’s like “OK drink some more now so we can record.” We were done recording and he said “I’m not going to find you at the train station with a one way ticket to Newark or anything like that right?” So we were thinking about calling it One Way Ticket to Newark… (she laughs) which I thought would be funny.