“We realized that we’re three nerdy guys and we like weird music so we embraced it.”
The Rare Occasions have gone through some major changes over the past couple of years. They moved from Boston to establish a new home based in Los Angeles. They also became a power trio due to guitarist Peter Stone leaving the band and vocalist, guitarist, and keyboardist Brian McLaughlin, bassist Jeremy Cohen, and drummer Luke Imbusch holding things down.
Now, the indie rock act have marked the transition with their second LP, Big Whoop. The album stands apart from everything else the act has done in the past, bringing an entirely fresh and inventive approach.
McLaughlin and I recently spoke about what made the band want to move across the country, plus what it’s been like to adjust to a new city, start from scratch all over again, and hope for the new release.
What inspired the move from Boston to Los Angeles?
Luke attended the Berklee College of Music when he was in Boston and he studied film composing, so we knew for a pretty long time that the whole industry is out in LA and Luke would be moving out there. When he graduated, we had some friends filling in on drums for a few years and we were kind of scattered across the country. Eventually Jeremy and I decided to join Luke out in Los Angeles so we could essentially stay together as a band.
Being originally from Barrington, Rhode Island, has it taken any adjusting for you when it comes to living out on the West Coast?
Yeah, I would say it’s a little bit different but it’s not so bad. Living in a city in America is pretty similar wherever you are but I think the biggest culture shock after moving from Boston is that there isn’t a solid public transportation system in LA. It’s OK, but it’s not on the same level and everything is much more spread out, so you have to drive everywhere. For the most part, it’s been a pretty smooth transition; we all like it out here, but we miss home for sure.
This is also the band’s first release since guitarist Peter Stone left, so did you have to make any major adjustments when it came to functioning as a trio versus as a quartet?
It definitely was a big adjustment period. When we released our previous album, Into The Shallows, in 2018, lots of those songs were based around the arrangements of the guitars. It was back and forth between my guitar and Peter’s guitar and how it all came together. We found ourselves in this position where we basically couldn’t play our live set so we went back to the drawing board. It was a growth process for us and we realized some things about songwriting.
Without us being able to use these fancy tricks, we were forced to write better songs. It did good things for us in that aspect and also Peter is doing really well. He’s started a folk career and we still collaborate with him from time to time but from a distance because of opposite coasts.
When you’re doing stuff remotely rather than being in the same room it can be a bit different. Big Whoop seems to have a lot more harmony along with more of a raw tone from the guitars this time around. Did you guys make a conscious attempt to capture these two elements while making the album? Or did it all come about organically?
I would say that with the vocal harmonies it was something that we were figuring out as we were learning how to work as a three piece. We were playing a lot of acoustic gigs while trying out new songs and we found that with one of our old songs, “Halfheartedly,” we’ve added vocal harmonies to it in our live set since it was written back in 2014 and it works really well.
Doing that sort of thing with these new songs that we were working out acoustically also drew attention to the melodies, which is really important to us. That’s sort of how we developed that sound. With the guitars, something about being a power trio makes us want to bring a lot more energy into our performance and it lends itself to having more of a grungy tone. I’m more of a rhythm guitarist too so having this big distorted wall of guitars in a recording suits my playing style better.
What do you hope people take from the album when it comes out? It’s a bit different from the band’s prior material and opens a new chapter for you guys.
There’s a lot of different stuff on this album—there’s heavy rock songs and there’s some ballads with string arrangements and loops. I think there’s something for everybody on this record, maybe not everyone will like every song but I hope everybody will like at least one on the album.
We got to figure ourselves out while experimenting sonically and also there was a moment for us where we decided to just be us and make the music that we feel is fun and interesting rather than chasing some image of what an indie rock band should look and sound like. We realized that we’re three nerdy guys and we like weird music so we embraced it rather than stifle it.
Rob Duguay is an arts & entertainment journalist based in Providence, RI who is originally from Shelton, CT. Outside of DigBoston, he also writes for The Providence Journal, The Connecticut Examiner, The Newport Daily News, Worcester Magazine, New Noise Magazine, Northern Transmissions and numerous other publications. While covering mostly music, he has also written about film, TV, comedy, theatre, visual art, food, drink, sports and cannabis.