Sepiachord is proud to continue our tradition of presenting interviews with wonderful musicians, today we chat with Robert Rial, the man behind Seattle's Bakelite 78.
Sepiachord: For those new to the band, how do you describe the sound of Bakelite 78?
Robert Rial: Our sound is a mixture of many early 20th century genres, so it has consistently been hard to describe. Jazz-infused Proto-Country or Gothic Cabaret-tinged Americana? These both almost fit as descriptions.
SC: A few years ago you picked up and moved from Chicago to Seattle, what led you to the shift?
RR: In Chicago I got a job on a hardwood flooring crew working on an antebellum mansion rebuild with an installation in Marin County, California. This was following the recording of Delta Disc in 2007-2008. It ended up lasting for fourteen months, and sort of sabotaged the launch of Delta Disc. But I loved the west coast. While I was in Cali I reunited with an old flame, Erin Jordan, and visited her in Seattle often. I have many old college friends in Seattle too. After I finished the job and moved back to Chicago for a somewhat too late CD Release Party for Delta Disc in November of 2008, I decided it was time for a change. Chicago was a difficult place to survive as an artist, and I was not keen on the cold weather after spending a year in California. But the real motivation was Erin Jordan and how gaga I was about her. The choice was obvious.
SC: When you got to the Pacific Northwest you had to rebuild Bakelite 78 from the ground up, what did you look for in prospective band members?
RR: I was looking for talent, drive, and people who were in it to have fun too. It happened pretty serendipitously. I wanted to upgrade a bit from the old line up, but still maintain the brand. I wanted a drummer instead of washboard, and I really wanted Erin Jordan to be another singer-songwriter in the band and play piano and accordion. I placed an ad on craigslist and found Erik Reed, trumpet extraordinaire. Then I got a myspace message from Austin Quist, bassist of The Bad Things, expressing interest in my project. In Chicago I had a bassist(Ariel Bolles) and a separate tuba player(Gary Schepers). It was great to have both of these all in one man with Austin Quist. We had a couple clarinet players before we got Sabrina Pope. She is working out really well.
SC: How did you first encounter Erin Jordan?
RR: Erin Jordan was an open mike night hostess at a Chicago Wicker Park dive called The Inner Town Pub, back in 2002. I was just another singer-songwriter playing there on Thursday nights. She was seeing someone else at the time. Eventually, however, we hooked up for a little while, but the time was ultimately not right for us back then. However, I knew I was really into her one night when I sang harmony with her. It was on "Old '55", a Tom Waits song, that she was singing. Our voices meshed so beautifully and her smile was so inviting. I was smitten.
SC: She had a previous band, Erin Jordan & the Whiskey Romance, how many of members of that band came over to the new incarnation of Bakelite 78?
RR: Erin and Steven Baz, our excellent drummer.
SC: You've just released the third Bakelite 78 album, "What the Moon Has Done". There is a stronger early country feel that seems to be taking over your sound on this collection. Why the slight change in direction?
RR: The release party is on Friday The Thirteenth of April, 2012, at The Columbia City Theater, with Thee Midnight Creep and The Wages Of Sin. This will definitely be a night to remember. Wow, you think the new album sounds more country? I actually think the last recording Delta Disc was way more countrified. I have thought with this album that we were moving back toward more gothic-speak-easy-cabaret and jass-lounge, more of the flavor that was on the first CD, It's A Sin. And there were some folk/country elements that were lost with the change of personnel. What with the absence of Bob Kessler's harmonica, Jason Grey's percussion, and with the addition of the piano and drums, I think the new sound has lost a bit of it's former twang, and gained some polish. Bakelite 78's sound has always emulated music from the era before country, jazz, and blues completely separated into different genres, that primordial cultural ether that produced Emmett Miller. Thus you may sense all genres of early Americana throughout our repertoire.
SC: You share vocal duties on "What the Moon Has Done" with Erin, how do you decide who sings lead on what?
RR: Erin and I are both songwriters. We generally sing lead vocals on songs we individually wrote, and sing harmony back up on the other's songs. As far as who sings what on cover songs, it usually happens that whoever brought the song to the group would sing it.
SC: What are some of your favorite shows you've played?
RR: Well, in Chicago it was opening up for The Asylum Street Spankers at The Old Town School Of Folk Music. Then there was when the old formation opened for The Squirrel Nut Zippers, Erin Mckeown, and Brave Combo at the Nelsonville Arts And Music Fest in Ohio. Here in Seattle I'd have to say singing in The Moore Theater during the finale to The First Annual Seattle International Cabaret Festival, and playing with Abney Park at SteamCon! Oh, and once a long time ago, at The Union in Athens Ohio, I opened up for Brainiac with a band called Tommy Rocket and The Superstars.
SC: You grew up as a punk in the midwest, how did you end up playing americana music?
RR: It was a decision made by the crooner in me. I think it was just natural for me with my choral and theatrical background, to gravitate towards a performance style which would better showcase my vocals while still being edgy, swinging and being a good crowd pleaser. It is nice to actually not need earplugs, and I think more retention occurs when folks can understand vocals. Though I think my music has matured, I believe that the soul of my band is still woven from D.I.Y. punk rock.
SC: Any plans on recording your Danzig cover?
RR: (Laughs) I never really gave it much thought. I really dig my arrangement of "Thirteen", but after Delta Disc I made up my mind not to record covers anymore because of the expense of licensing. Besides, Johnny Cash already did it, and Mr. Anzalone has enough of my money already. He should cover my songs. But who knows? It could happen.
SC: How does it feel to be a Dad for the first time?
RR: Being a father is amazing and challenging and fulfilling. My son James Kilronan Rial is a beautiful boy. I feel very proud and blessed to have such a loving family.
SC: Where does Bakelite 78 go from here?
RR: On tour. Then back into the studio, once we wrap up the new group of songs. I am addicted to making albums. Hopefully we can get a spot on Conan or something cool like that.
SC: Any words of advice for young people?
RR: Have fun, enjoy yourself, don''t take it all so seriously. Don't give up on your dreams. Love and laugh a lot.