The Rough Seven – Give Up Your Dreams

Glide recently had the pleasure of chatting with some members of the fantastic New Orleans gutter gospel rock group, The Rough Seven.  Bringing to the forefront honesty, a blazing sound that’s ready to run off the rails at any moment, and a smile to the most fucked up situations injects the Rough Seven with a sense of vitality.  The band is a conglomerate of local All-Stars, but their coming together and release of Give Up Your Dreams allows us all to get a glimpse inside the gritty greatness of the group. 

Main ring leader Ryan Scully, guitarist Rob Cambre and piano player Ratty Scurvics were nice enough to answer some questions and give us insights into just what it takes to be a Rough Seven, enjoy:

How did The Rough Seven come about?

Ryan Scully: I had always made my own records and had my own bands, before and during my time with Morning 40 Federation.  At the time the Rough Seven started, I was looking for a kind of psychedelic, noise gospel vibe.  I had some new songs so I started getting some people together.  Mike Andrepont has been my partner on drums for years.  We know what each other is gonna do before we do it. The rest fell into place in a perfect, coincidental/late night kind of way.  Our key board man, Ratty Scurvics, who has been a friend for over 10 years, had a one man band that broke up on the same night that the Morning Forties did.  I thought this might mean something so I called him up. 

Ratty Scurvics: Scully and I have been friends for probably ten years or more. I was tight with some of the Forties boys so Scully and I naturally came to know and respect each other. We talked about doing something together for a long time when fortune stepped in and, as Ryan said, both of our main projects split up over the same Mardi Gras; although mine was a one-man-band; how did I do that? Surgically. It made perfect sense to me to do it -a long time coming. Consequently the Rough Seven also became part of my big-band Ratty and the Black Market Butchers; twice the pleasure with an old pal.

Ryan Scully: Exactly, One thing led to another.  We jammed. It clicked and he was in.  Another guy was my guitarist, a good friend, but he was moving out of town.  One night before he left we were at Mimi’s in the Marigny around 3 or 4 in the morning, lamenting the fact that I wouldn’t have a guitarist when we ran into Rob Cambre.  I had known Rob as an acquaintance (he was my notary) and had seen him play crazy noise stuff by himself at art galleries and other weird places.  I thought, “I should get this guy and make the band completely off the map.”  We exchanged numbers and he came to the last show with Michael Aaron. 

Rob Cambre: Scully told me it was less like the Morning 40’s and more like Crazy Horse, which is right up my alley, so I was excited at the prospect and even more so once I saw the gig!  Immediately I liked the songs and felt like this was something I could do and maybe even contribute strongly.  Scully and his wife were expecting their first baby, so we reconvened after Mardi Gras 2009, when he gave me a recording of the gig so I could learn the tunes. 

Ryan Scully:  Yeah, he loved it, a few months later he was making noise with us.  The girls are another story. 

Some of the songs I had were just dying for back up singers.  I wanted black chicks in the tradition of Aretha Franklin’s backups.  The problem was that I couldn’t find any that were serious enough or they were too serious (explanation: they wanted to get paid.)   My friend Meschiya had started singing in traditional jazz bands and had really made a splash at the time, at least in my mind.  I thought about her but we hadn’t been able to connect  One day when I was doing construction in the French Quarter I ran into Mush and her friend Erica Lewis singing together on the street.  They were singing “Jolene”, the Dolly Parton song and their harmonies were fucking perfect.  I have always thought that the best harmonies are the ones where you can’t tell the voices apart; it becomes one voice.  That is exactly what they had. 

I stuck around long enough to talk with Mush get here phone number.  After a while we were able to get them to come to practice.  They learned the songs and “bang,” We had a psychedelic, noise, gospel band.

It seems to be flowing through all the songs, but just how much of an influence does the City of New Orleans play on the band?

Ryan Scully: Sometimes I can’t tell how much New Orleans has influenced my music.  What type of music would I be playing if I stayed in Missouri?  I was already digging on Jazz and blues before I moved here but I know things wouldn’t be the same. 

The thing about New Orleans is not necessarily the music.  It’s the life I have lived here.  It’s also not the New Orleans you would think about (red beans, jambalaya, “When the saint’s go marching in,” parades, Mardi gras, etc) It’s the life I have lived in the subculture.  I have had so many friends and acquaintances die here.  It’s seriously fucked up.  For some people the New Orleans underground scene was a black hole and the way I look at it is that it couldn’t have been any other way. I’m just happy that I’m still here.   I don’t know.  I guess what I’m trying to say is hell yeah this town is an influence, but the influence is hard to grasp. It’s emotional and metaphysical.

Rob Cambre:  New Orleans is an incredibly interconnected place, partly due to its relatively small population, but also because life here is not isolated in the way it can be in suburban or massive metro areas.  There’s a lot of social & participatory activity going on all year, so you interact with your neighbors and friends a lot more than most places.  All of us in the band have many overlapping friends, acquaintances, and music colleagues – for instance Ratty and I had actually played together a few times previously over the years, but in totally improvised noise type settings and not doing tunes at all (and now that we’re in a band together he and I are often the ones bringing in more classic/traditional elements, ironically enough!).

Musically, we’re not trying to consciously mimic an established style of New Orleans music, so even though all of those music’s are an inspiration – especially the whole r’n’b/soul legacy for the band, and certainly the jazz/improvisation history for me individually – when it comes down to it we are a rock’n’roll band and without New Orleans there is no rock’n’roll.

Ratty Scurvics: The city is deeply influential to the sound/subject matter and delivery of the Rough Seven. It couldn’t be coming from anywhere else.

I think that becomes obvious to people who listen to Give Up Your Dreams and know the city.  Who are some specific artists who influence the group?

Rob Cambre: For the group, some of the strong influences I can detect are Neil Young & Crazy Horse, the Rolling Stones, Funkadelic (early period, when they were more of a psych-rock band), and the Stooges… When I came into the band I started playing raw gospel music that I’m really into – folks like Rev. Charlie Jackson, Elder Utah Smith, and the Staple Singers – so that really became a strong inspiration especially with us having the female voices and the testifying/raw male lead voice.  Though over time the influences have been less important and we’re more influenced by playing with each other.

For me personally, I draw from a huge range of interests and influences, some of which are less evident than others, and some of which you would never notice or detect from the music.  As a guitar player my main inspirations are D.Boon, Link Wray, Neil Young, J.Mascis, Tom Verlaine, Marc Ribot, Ron Asheton, and tons more including the obvious (Hendrix, Eddie Hazel) and not so obvious (Derek Bailey, Masayuki Takayanagi) and many non-guitarists (James Brown, Patti Smith, John Coltrane, Albert Ayler, Peter Brotzmann, Paul Lovens, Milford Graves, William Parker, Peter Kowald) and I’m hugely inspired by the elder and superior musicians I’ve known personally over the years and who’ve encouraged me, which is a big list (Mike Watt, Joe Baiza, Mats Gustafsson, etc.), and I must mention PJ Harvey for everything she does (guitar, singing, songwriting, etc.)!!!

There seems to be a balance between the holy and filthy with your songs has this just naturally filtered in or was it planned?

Ryan Scully:  This was definitely planned.  God and Jesus have been in my life since I was baptized as a baby.  I was plain tired of singing about boozing and druggin’ and blah, blah, blah.  If you run out of stuff to say, you plain don’t want to sing about lost love or anger or something funny or clever.  If you don’t feel like using word play, then you should sing about the unknown, sing about faith.  There is nothing more soulful then screaming your head off about something that can not be proven but goddamnit you don’t care, you believe! 

The part about it being filthy is simply that I like filthy sounding music.  I love distortion and feedback and huge roomy drums and overdriven organ.  Soul music sounds good when it’s dirty.  Faith isn’t clean.  It’s interwoven with contradiction and assumption.  It’s a mess.  The holy and the filthy go hand in hand.

Completely agree and the connection sounds so great when it works.  What do you guys feel is more satisfying artistically, working the studio or the live environment?

Ratty Scurvics:  I derive great pleasure from both. Outside of the band I’m recording and gigging almost on a daily basis so I’m comfortable in either world. We recorded live and went back for editing and some overdubbing. I’d say it was about 70% live so what you hear on the CD is not far at all from our concerts.

Rob Cambre: They each offer different types of satisfaction, both enjoyable.  In the studio you get to concentrate on the details of the sound and you get to really build and sculpt something, which is an amazingly fulfilling process when it goes well and probably similar to the feeling a visual artist gets from completing a piece.

Ryan Scully: For the past few years I have liked the studio more than stage.  Lately, however, the band has be kicking ass on stage.  The last show, in fact, was a departure.  I had come from a tough week at school and it was Friday night.  I told everyone that I didn’t want to play by the book.  If we’re gonna keep doing this we need to have fun and take chances.  What do have to lose?  Playing the same songs exactly how they are on the record over and over again is boring.  We decided to role the dice and man did we get out there.  We had one segment that went for about an hour and went into chaos and resolve about ten times. 

It wasn’t recorded and I’m pretty happy about that.  Music should be our release.  We shouldn’t worry about how the recording is gonna sound.  We need to let go and not give a fuck.  The funny thing is that after the show at around 3 in the morning the crowd was still there and there was almost 100 bucks in the tip jar.  The crowd dug it more than when we play our tunes straight out.  I think they liked it because they could tell we were having fun.  We were in a zone.  If we keep playing like that then I definitely go back to liking the stage more that the studio.

Rob Cambre: Live playing is about energy, flow, and combustion, which is generally a more primal type of state.  This is where the physical properties of music become so important and intoxicating – the waves of sound, the physical connection to the instrument, etc.  This is where the body gets to have fun.  I’m completely addicted to it and will play gigs my whole life until I’m physically unable to do so.

The ability to experiment live is an aspect I love because it draws from the area of music I come from (improvised music/free jazz) and it connects to an important area of rock music that I love and am always up for exploring; the 2-guitar burning-jams kinda thing coming out of the Velvet Underground, Dream Syndicate, Television, Sonic Youth, MC5, Captain Beefheart & the Magic Band, and a bunch more.

Ratty Scurvics:  We’ve taken a lot of time to refine the arrangements so from a compositional perspective we adhere to our decisions. Then again there are areas left wide open to unleash on and I’m very fond of those.

I can see that working well as most of the songs seem to lend themselves to that wild abandon.  There is also a sense of “heartbreak with a smile” present throughout the album which strikes me as very much a part of the current New Orleans feeling, were you trying to get that across or am I way off base?

Ratty Scurvics:  Actually that’s a good way of putting it. This city has always had a very dark side. Maybe it’s the crime or the heat; poverty or the psychic shotguns being blown off in the 24 hour drinking cycle but you’re not depressed by it usually because beauty contrasts the darkness.

Like a Catholic Church its grandiose and ornate – embellished with poetic nuances; but on the walls are the Stations of the Cross -a gruesome march to execution. Violence and beauty feed off of and sometimes resemble each other in New Orleans. You do smile through tragedies but you’re also having a great time in spite of them. I mean a really good time.

Ryan Scully:  Yeah, I have always been that way.  Maybe I simply connect with city in that way.  After Katrina I swam from Midcity to my neighborhood, got a boat, rowed back and got my wife and dog that we saved and finally got out after 6 days.  It’s hard to say what type of effect that may have had on me or how it manifests itself in my music. 

I don’t think it’s a huge deal but it does somehow connect me to the city.  Losing so many friends here, before and after the hurricane to drugs, car accidents, and weird shit also weighs on me and gives me inspiration.  The song “Meltdown” is about a friend that is at the bottom.  You’re afraid because you’ve seen so many go already and most of them you hadn’t had a chance to call or stop by to see if they were o.k. You were too self absorbed.  This time, however, you’re calling and you’re stopping by just let your friend know that you care.    Things often seem so relative, friendship never does.

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