Music » Music Features

You Know Jack

Memphis mainstay Jack Oblivian mixes it up on the new Rat City.


At this stage in his 20-plus-year career, it would be easy for local musician Jack "Oblivian" Yarber to have a big head, or at least an attitude.

After all, Yarber is something of a garage-punk icon these days. His '90s projects the Oblivians and the Compulsive Gamblers are regarded as founding fathers of the current underground garage-rock scene, a direct and acknowledged influence on famous bands like the White Stripes and the Hives. What's more, Yarber is currently signed to Big Legal Mess Records (a division of the Oxford, Mississippi, powerhouse indie Fat Possum) as a solo artist, and his current band, Jack Oblivian & the Tennessee Tearjerkers, are a solid draw nationally and do just as well (if not better) overseas.

But even with all that cachet and cool working for him, Yarber is quiet, unassuming, and reluctant to brag about his successes.

"Not meaning to sound egotistical, I had aspirations for the Oblivians to be a big band," he says. "But I didn't expect the incredible reaction it has today."

Then again, perhaps it is his lack of ego that makes Yarber so much fun to root for. With him, there is no pretense or posturing, and it makes him more approachable and empathetic than the average rock-and-roll frontman.

"I don't feel progressed," says Yarber, asked to describe his development as a songwriter. "I feel lucky to come up with something that will stay in the live band set."

Indeed, Yarber relishes playing the underdog/everyman. It is part of his charm. He doesn't even talk about his own music in the same grandiose or self-indulgent ways that most musicians do. He just makes it and puts it out there, which is what he's best at.

To that end, Yarber will unveil his fantastic new album, Rat City, this week, his first full-length under the name "Jack Oblivian" with no backing-band credit.

"I think Adam Woodard [Tennessee Tearjerkers keyboardist] is on it more than anyone besides myself," he says. "There's a few where I'm playing drums. This record wasn't made over one week or month with one band in one studio.

"I started working on these songs and recordings as far back as the spring of 2009, thinking that it would be finished by the end of that year. Then I just started to live with it. And one day Bruce Watson [producer/engineer, Big Legal Mess owner], who had been working on it with me from the start, said something like, 'Don't bring any more songs in. We've got too many, and this is taking too long to get out.'"

Yarber used a variety of musicians to record the album, from Tearjerkers regulars Woodard, John Paul Keith (guitar), and Paul Buchignani (drums) to well-known local players like Tiger High's Jake Vest (guitar, bass), John Paul Keith & the One Four Fives bassist Mark Stuart, and veteran punk-rock drummer Ross Johnson. But none of the album's many guest stars are as surprising or deliver quite as well as the entire line-up of local pop outfit Star & Micey, who appear as the backing band on one of Rat City's most memorable tracks, "Girl on the Beach."

In fact, according to Yarber, the song almost didn't even make the album's final cut.

"I kind of sneaked them into the studio behind Bruce's back," Yarber says. "He had already said to stop working on new songs and had previously heard the demo version of 'Girl on the Beach' and didn't want to work with it.

"So one night I'm scheduled to mix with Lynn [Bridges, engineer], but come in with a seven-piece band and entourage. Bruce was out of town, and Lynn had bad feelings about going behind the boss' back. But they both really liked it in the end. Star & Micey are extremely talented and really fun to work with — they pulled me through on that track."

Yarber will celebrate the release of Rat City with a release show Saturday, September 10th, at the Hi-Tone Café backed by the current Tennessee Tearjerkers "local line-up" of Woodard, Keith, Buchignani, and on-again bassist Harlan T. Bobo. But, due to scheduling conflicts, that won't be the same band that accompanies Yarber in Europe this fall, where he will headline a 40-date tour with Bobo and Limes. Abroad, Yarber will be backed by Bobo, drummer Dustin Crops (Black Rose Band), and lead guitarist J.D. Mark (Wiley and the Checkmates, Haunted Hearts).

"The live band is always changing but usually with some of the same people I've played with over the past few years. I like to keep it changing, as long as it's in good spirits," Yarber says.

Once he's back from Europe, Yarber will likely get back to doing his thing: working out new songs and taking the Tearjerkers on short tours around the U.S. There are even whispers that the Oblivians might finally make a reunion album or recording of some sort, though nothing is set in stone.

"We've talked about it," Yarber says. "But no plans at the moment."

Jack Oblivian, Harlan T. Bobo, and Limes are also soliciting donations via Kickstarter to help fund their fall European tour. To contribute to a fund that will help finance the trip, visit

Jack Oblivian & the Tennessee Tearjerkers

Rat City Record-Release Show
Hi-Tone Café
Saturday, September 10th
10 p.m.; $7

Comments (4)

Showing 1-4 of 4

Add a comment

Add a comment