Races started innocently enough. Frontman Wade Ryff, who’d been playing in the Janks, was asked by a friend to do a set of solo material he had in the works. “I thought, ‘My dream band – who would it be?'” the singer-guitarist says. “So I got on the phone and called the people I wanted. it was supposed to be one show, but …”
It was off to the Races, in a manner of speaking. Ryff and his new bandmates – guitarist Garth Herberg (still doing double duty in the Janks), bassist Oliver Hild, singer-percussionist Devon Lee, singer-keyboardist Breanna Wood and drummer Lucas Ventura – quickly outgrew Ryff’s solo songs, adopted a group approach to songwriting and, come spring, are due to have an album on Frenchkiss Records (home to Local Natives, Les Savy Fav and the Dodos, among others).
- ||| Download (previously posted): “Big Broom”
- Photos by Laurie Scavo
The sextet’s expansive sound – think Broken Social Scene with West Coast flavors – comes with many calling cards. Ryff’s yearning vocals carry some songs; the ascendant harmonies of Lee and Wood commandeer others; and in still others, Herberg lurks in the layers of guitars, keys and rhythms before loosing the shredder within. “There are song songs,” Hild points out a smile, “where I don’t even know what the chorus is.” It’s collectivist indie rock at its most engaging, where the ebb and flow of arrangements seem synched to the songs’ emotions.
Races first emerged under the name Black Jesus, but soon after they switched monikers they released “Big Broom” as a 7-inch single on Jaxart. That churning guitar rocker is the centerpiece of the three-song “Big Broom” EP, out this week. The rest of their material is being tweaked for an album release that was originally scheduled for this fall, but the sextet has come a long way since their early sessions in a Chatsworth concrete warehouse.
“Those first sessions were very low-pressure situations,” Ventura says.
“Nothing felt very intentional at the beginning,” says Wood, who notes that now the logistics of managing the lives of six people pose as big a challenge as the music. “This is the only band I’ve been in where we say we’re gonna have business meetings.”
“Yes,” Hild adds with a laugh, “there’s a spreadsheet that has come into play.”
Still, the momentum the band has gained thus far has made all the work – whether it be juggling schedules, agonizing over string arrangements or polishing their harmonies – worthwhile.
“I was always frustrated in bands because it was always about somebody else’s ideas,” Ryff says. “For me, starting to play [with Races] was life-changing because suddenly I had this freedom.”
||| Live: Races celebrates their EP release by playing tonight at the Echo as part of Chain Gang of 1974’s residency.