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Back to Oblivian

A seminal Memphis band regroups, this time for more than just a reunion show or tour.



It may seem grossly obvious to some readers, but it needs to be reiterated: The Oblivians — the three-piece Memphis punk/garage-rock band whose heyday was in the mid-'90s — are a very special Memphis export and should be a source of great pride for this city. This really hit home for me during a visit to New York about a decade ago, when I was blindsided by the room-silencing power I wielded once my Memphis origins led to a small-talk mention that I had seen the band many times during its initial '94-'98 run. There was eyebrow-raising apprehension — as if it were time to dismiss a lying name-dropper — when I revealed that my best friend lived with an Oblivian for a couple of years. The band had been broken up for a few years at that point, but they had already left behind a legend.

Eric Friedl went on to found Goner Records and counts the True Sounds of Thunder as his current musical outlet. Jack Yarber has released enough solo records for eight solo careers (as himself and with Jack O & the Tennessee Tearjerkers), and Greg Cartwright, of course, hit creative pay dirt yet again, leading the Reigning Sound and logging some impressive production work in recent years (Andre Williams, the Ettes, the Detroit Cobras, and Mary Weiss of the Shangri-Las).

By the time of their first string of reunion gigs in 2003, the Oblivians could easily give the Hi-Tone Café a lesson in fire-code capacity. Such fervor would be the case for each of the handful of reunion spurts that followed over the years. But none brought with it the promise (and soon to be reality) of a full-length album of all-new material ... until such was announced earlier this year, apparently via a tweet courtesy of the hosting label, Los Angeles' In the Red Records, and with an interesting recording venue to boot.

We caught up with Cartwright to talk about these exciting developments and other stuff he has on tap:

Flyer: Obvious questions first: How did talks start about doing a new record and touring this year?

Greg Cartwright: Last year, we did a free show at Goner, and we tried a couple new songs I'd written. I didn't really write them for the Oblivians, but they seemed like they'd be a good fit. I think that's when we realized that new material could work and that if we're gonna play shows here and there, it would be great to have new songs to play. When we started playing together for the [2009] Gories/Oblivians tour, it was fun just to play all those songs again. After a while, though, you want something fresh to work on.

How did talks start with Dan Auerbach and Pat Carney of the Black Keys about recording at their studio in Nashville?

Dan offered to produce the last Reigning Sound EP at his new place in Nashville. I was a little nervous. I've never had a producer. I mean, I've always produced my own records. It was a first for me, but Dan was great and made excellent suggestions regarding song dynamics and overall production ideas. I think musicians can be very protective about their ideas and their songs. So, working with Dan was a learning experience. Letting someone help you does not have to be scary! Plus, I fell in love with his new studio. We used his one-inch, eight-track Scully [tape deck], and it sounded fantastic. That's how I knew exactly where I wanted to make the Oblivians LP.

How much practice and songwriting has taken place so far?

I've been down to Memphis a couple times to rehearse. I guess, in all, it's been maybe seven or eight practices that we've had.

Aside from the EP that was released last fall/winter, what is currently going on with the Reigning Sound and what is planned for the near-future? You have a new-ish lineup behind you ...

Yes, there's a new lineup for the band. Soundwise, it's maybe the closest thing to the original lineup that I've had since moving to North Carolina. We have some touring this summer, and we're planning to get back in the studio for a new album before the year is out. We're also playing a couple festivals, including the Sled Island Festival in Calgary, Canada, and All Tomorrows Parties in Asbury Park, New Jersey.

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