The swingin’ 60s-style flutes and horns that lift up the title track off Rustic Overtones’ new album, “Let’s Start a Cult,” released last month, reaffirm what most fans of the beloved Portland-based ensemble have always known: that you never know what they’re going to do next. The stylistic diversity of the band is their trademark and biggest strength.
“It’s always been our thing, changing it up all the time,” said Dave Gutter, Rustic’s charismatic, raspy-voiced lead singer. “Whenever we put out a new album, some people feel like we’ve done a total 180 on them. But if you follow our career, that’s exactly how we’ve always done it. We don’t want to get stuck in a trap of doing the same thing all the time.”
Barring a five year hiatus from 2002 to 2007, the band has played together for nearly 20 years, with most of the original members – Gutter, bassist Jon Roods, trombone player Dave Noyes, bari sax player Jason Ward and alto and tenor sax player Ryan Zoidis – still comprising the lineup. Drummer Tony McNaboe and keyboardist Spencer Albee left the band, replaced by current members Gary Gemitti and Mike Taylor. So when Gutter writes the two-part “Let’s Start a Cult” as the title track, he means it in the sense that Rustic is more than just a band – it’s a family. And maybe a little bit of a cult.
“This album is unlike our others, in that it’s really about who we are and where we’ve been and the salvation and comfort that music gives us,” said Gutter. “So when I say, ‘Let’s start a cult,’ it means that we’re all in this band and this experience together. And our fans, too. When you see a crowd of people singing back at you, you feel connected to them in a big way. We’re all a part of this thing we’ve created.”
“Let’s Start a Cult” is still a Rustic album, tho, so even with the genre-bending moments of songs like the title cut or the R&B-esque ballad “Say Yes,” there’s still the full weight of a seven-piece band bringing the irresistibly funky noise, something that obviously few bands have at their disposal and a powerful weapon in a live show. But there’s also the fact that this time around, the band recorded the album by itself.
“Our studio is a like a yard sale of old equipment, and we like it when things sounds a little old and lo-fi,” said Gutter. “So when we recorded some of the tracks onto cassette we actually really loved the vibe it had. It had this real 60s sound, very classic sounding. Not a lot of producers want to do that kind of thing, but we really embraced it.”
It’s also a unique beast in that it clocks in at just shy of a half hour, and it’s eight songs long. Not quite an LP, but a little too long for an EP. Not a typical move for a band, but then again, as we’ve clearly stated: Rustic Overtones are anything but typical.
“I think with the shorter attention span that people have today, you’ve got to give them the goods,” said Gutter. “I think 30 minutes is just about right to keep people involved in the whole thing, but still have time to say what you want to say. I feel like we have their attention through the entire album, and that’s rare. Plus it’s just a lot of fun.”
Rustic Overtones play this weekend at the Stone Mountain Arts Center in Brownfield on July 27, and at Mainely Brews in Waterville on July 28. “Let’s Start a Cult” is available at Bull Moose Music stores and on iTunes.