Buzz Column, Greg Hoy, Pittsburgh City Paper, 10/15-22/1997
Ritual Space Travel Agency: 'You Can’t Really Call a Black Hole Selfish’ (10/08/97)
When describing music and bands, a variety of adjectives can be used. A simple word, such as ‘good’ or ‘rocking’, usually suffices for a lot of local bands. By using such a word, the writer is probably putting as much effort into descriptions as the artist is putting into performance.
But there are those exceptional musical units, those which defy categorization or description. On the grand scale, there is Frank Zappa, maybe Jimi Hendrix or Miles Davis.
Locally, the pickin’s are slim. Watershed 5tet acheives this goal, as does Ritual Space Travel Agency. Rising like a phoenix from the ashes of Smoking Pets, R.S.T.A. is one of the most confrontational and inspired groups to appear on the scene in years.
Sitting down with Benjamin Morelli (guitar/vocals) is a lot like going to the dentist — you’re not quite sure what he’s doing but you know when it’s over, you’ll feel better. Describing their sound as ‘custom-tailored soft core religious porn music.’ Morelli peppers his speech with phrases so bizarre that one wonders if even he understands what the hell’s going on.
But that is the beauty of the band. Along with brother Jesse on bass, Andrew Fitz on guitars, Julliard-trained Pat Leyden on woodwinds, Bud Smokovitz on trumpet, and percussive powerhouse Troy Cramer, R.S.T.A. takes music beyond notes and songs.
The music? Wah-wah induced paranoia, the occasional Arabic vocals, energy of a different sort. It’s indescribable, perhaps. But that’s a description, too.
The group is organic, a ‘living system,’ I say, weaving sound and noise within and without each member. He acknowledges that each band member has a ‘self-sufficient subsection,’ telling me ‘you can’t really call a black hole selfish.’
The Agency is losing Morelli soon. He’s going to Morocco, ‘becoming a street musician and paving the way for Ritual Space shows.’ Morelli’s departure is a bit sad — his presence is a major highlight of any show. But Benjamin stresses that the Agency is built on its ability to gain and lose individual members while maintaining its edgy, trippy vibe.
In Morelli’s words, Ritual Space is ‘the best band he could be in.’ Seeing the energy at an R.S.T.A show leaves little doubt.
Buzz Column, Greg Hoy, Pittsburgh City Paper 10/8/97-10/15/97
The Sonic Tonics are Back (10/01/97)
The Sonic Tonics are back, shaking and stirring there unique blend of loungeability in support of their recent eight-song CD. Stylish crooner Mark Cardamore and company mix a perfect cocktail unlike any other in Pittsburgh.
Starting more than three years ago as The Clean Teens, the Sonic Tonics are equal parts Esquivel and Los Straightjackets, Mancini and Stray Cats. The sound has evolved from ‘rockabilly/country to more big band swing,’ according to frontman Cardamore. With ‘crystal sapphire kisses tickling his chest,’ the towering singer swoons his audience with more than just the music. For The Sonic Tonics, it’s a lifestyle.
But how did Cardamore get that recognizable baritone? ‘I always sang and danced: my family is a bunch of singers,’ he says. ‘And we would sit around on my family’s front porch and sing.’
Indeed, dancing is the only logical reaction to the band. With musically trained Tony Arrigo on guitar and a commanding rhythm section, the Sonic Tonics pull out every swinging musical muscle, from clean instrumental backbeat to reverb-drenched Tarantino surf.
Getting back into the ‘swing’ of performance, the band has several dates booked locally as well as regionally, with both Columbus and Morgantown embracing them. With such a devout following, and a high-energy show, the Sonic Tonics nevertheless want what all local bands want (besides a martini): ‘Ultimately, we want a label,’ says Cardamore.
That shouldn’t be a problem with their newest release. Pristine production and performances abound throughout. The dark and mysterious ‘Prowler’ sends a shiver down your spine (he’ll nibble your ear!) while ‘Cocktails for One’ hints at the tragedy of drinking alone.
When Cardamore is asked about the band’s philosophy, he laughs. ‘Eat, drink, and be merry. It sounds corny, but…’ he says.
BUZZ Column, Greg Hoy, Pittsburgh City Paper, October 1-8 1997