Radio UTD’s Olivia Foster sits down for an interview with Brian McLaughlin, Jeremy Cohen, and Luke Imbusch of The Rare Occasions. Stream their latest release, Attaboy, here.
(Interview has been edited for clarity)
Olivia Foster: Alrighty, so, let’s see. You are Brian, Luke, Jeremy, and you guys are The Rare Occasions. So happy first day of tour, I guess.
Brian McLaughlin: Thank you!
Jeremy Cohen: Oh yeah.
OF: So, you guys are coming from LA then?
OF: Okay, okay, but you guys met at Tufts, right?
BM: Kind of, yeah. So, Luke and I went to high school together in Barrington, Rhode Island. We had a band there, different band, and then we both went to college in the Boston area. I went to Tufts, he went to Berkeley, and when we went up to Boston, I recruited another Tufts guy and Luke recruited Jeremy, and we were were playing in Boston for, you know, I think six years—
OF: Oh wow.
BM: And then we moved to LA after everybody was graduated. And then, COVID happened, we became a three-piece, and, yeah.
OF: Gotcha! So, you guys, it was like October 2021 that “Notion” kind of took off. How has that been, just the past year or so?
Luke Imbusch: Crazy.
JC: Yeah there are a lot of words to describe it.
BM: Many emotions, yeah.
JC: It’s been cool because people that haven’t heard us in the six years, or five-ish years that “Notion” was out, y’know, there were a lot of people that were exposed to the song, but then it, y’know, presented its own challenges: how can we be something beyond a 15-second clip that people are just finding on TikTok? Which is totally fair. We’re grateful that it happened, but it also, again, presented its challenges. But I think it kind of set this mission that we have to show people we are more than just one song. Y’know, “Notion” came out, like I said, five years before this whole thing happened, and we had music we released just before “Notion,” and we’ve released music since it, and we are releasing new music in a couple days, so there’s a lot more that we have to offer. It was just steering the ship towards the other 40, 45 songs that we have. Sometimes it just takes one, but—
BM: Soon to be 50 once the EP comes out.
JC: Exactly, yeah.
BM: It’s just given us a lot of opportunities that we never thought were on the table, so for that, we’re super grateful. I mean, this tour wouldn’t have happened if that didn’t happen, and we get to continue making music and being a band, and that’s what it’s all about.
OF: That is awesome. Yeah, I was a big fan of “Backwards” when I was 14.
BM: Oh, sure, yeah.
OF: That was, like, my jam.
JC: No way! Oh god.
OF: I know, right? Oh gosh. So, you mentioned it’s Attaboy, right? Attaboy is out Friday.
BM: Yeah, it’s the new EP.
OF: Okay. How are you guys feeling?
JC: Super excited. Very, very excited. We released two singles already and they seem to have gotten a pretty good reaction, and we have some sweeter songs, more gentle songs, that are coming out, and some other, weirder stuff that’s also coming out from the EP. So, if you like meat and potatoes rock n’ roll, we got it. If you like jazz, we got it. And if you like love ballads, we got it.
OF: Well that sounds awesome to me. How do you think that the popularity you received from “Notion” might impact the release of your EP? Because you released another album before this, didn’t you?
BM: Yeah, we had another album out only a couple months before “Notion” had its moment, and it was like, ahh, the timing, it could have been better if the album came after “Notion,” of course. But, basically, we had kind of emptied our creative cup a little bit with that album, and when “Notion” went viral, we were like, we have to follow this up quickly and make sure we’re not forgotten. Albums take a long time to make, so I think part of the way things happen, or why we decided to make an EP for now, with the hopes that eventually we’ll release another album with a deeper dive.
OF: Nice. Alrighty, how was the writing and the more creative process for this? Did the pandemic affect that at all for you guys, or…?
BM: Yeah, I think Big Whoop was kind of our pandemic album because we were in lockdown.
LI: Yeah, we started before the pandemic, and then as the pandemic happened, the songs just just got more—what’s the word?
LI: But that was more Big Whoop, I think. This EP was just like, scrambling to follow up “Notion” with something we can stand behind and be proud of.
OF: I mean, it’s got to be nice to move away from existentialism, then? Like, that’s got to feel kind of nice.
LI: I feel like that’s actually kind of our vibe anyway but—
JC: Questioning the reality of our existence—
LI: —but maybe not so dark and like the world is ending.
BM: Yeah, it’s definitely a little more light-hearted, this EP versus Big Whoop and Into the Shallows.
BM: But, yeah, it’s still got—we always say our whole vibe is like ‘bleak optimism,’ so it feels like things are hard, things aren’t going your way, blah blah blah, but there’s always this hope, and I think that’s what we try and put in our music. A lot of our fans are teenagers, kind of going through the things that teenagers go through, and young adults, go through as they’re growing.
LI: As they’re aging. As they’re growing up.
BM: Yeah, and that’s an especially hard time, and I think we are always trying to have a little bit of hope in our music to get people…
LI: Through tough times.
BM: Yeah, through tough times, exactly.
OF: I think that’s a really good message. So, about ten years ago, you guys released your first EP, right? It was, gosh, I have it written down—Demo Recordings?
BM: Demo Recordings, yeah.
OF: So, I guess looking back almost a decade to where you were then, how is that? How does that feel? Knowing that you’ve come so far?
BM: We look back at those old recordings and definitely cringe a bit, because like, we recorded them in our dorm rooms. Some people really love those songs. That’s awesome, we appreciate the love. But I think we’ve kind of matured a lot as musicians and songwriters. I don’t know, the early music was kind of—
LI: Trying to prove ourselves?
BM: Everything but the kitchen sink.
LI: Oh yeah, yeah.
BM: And we’ve kind of honed it down to be more focused.
BM: We were college students.
LI: We were just doing everything.
BM: Like, “let’s do this crazy synth solo,” or, yeah.
LI: Just, crazy, crazy. And there’s something nice about that, where it’s just like, you’re just free, because no one has any expectations, and now people have expectations, kind of? But I think we’re always trying to put some elements of surprise in there.
JC: It’s a weird mix of “how can we write something that sounds like ‘Notion’ without sounding like ‘Notion,’” while also trying to not be the band that wrote the song “Notion” only. When we’re writing new music, it’s kind of a balancing act. We have quite a bit of a bigger following than we used to. The impact of the release feels a little bit bigger, so we gotta really deliver, and it’s kind of forced us out of the comfort zone of just writing whatever we want.
LI: It’s crazy though, it’s been ten years. Every time I think about that—
JC: Closer to eleven years, right?
LI: Yeah, at this point.
BM: Yeah, Demos came out October, but the way Demos rolled out was like, we started it early on and we’d just put one song on Bandcamp and then we’d put another song, so by the time it was finished, that was the October 2012 date, but it had been going on since like, our freshman year.
JC: March or May of 2011, maybe?
OF: Oh wow. And, I think I saw on an Instagram post that you debuted in a cafeteria, was it? Or something like that? It’s been a while since I saw the post.
BM: Yeah, that was our release show for Demo Recordings. It was at the Berkeley cafeteria, which is kind of like, proving ground on Berkeley. It’s a music school, so, I don’t know. You guys can speak to it better.
JC: Wasn’t it the battle of the bands?
BM: That’s when Demos was three tracks, and then at that release show, there was seven tracks, and then we took “Miss Mary Mack” off it and put it on Applefork—
JC: And now it’s six tracks. Yeah, that’s the chaos we’ve been trying to steer ourselves away from. It always manages to kick us in the butt.
BM: That’s why we called it Demos Recordings, because literally we were just trying to get gigs, and get the music out there, and so it was like this never-changing online place to put our music. But ever since Applefork, we’ve made actual releases.
OF: That’s awesome. This might sound a little cheesy, but, looking back like, ten years ago and the musicians you guys were and who you were trying to be, is there any piece of advice you would have given yourself?
JC: Any deadline that you think you have, push it up by six months.
BM: Double it, yeah. However long you think it’ll take, it’ll take twice as long.
JC: Yeah just subtract six months from that date, ‘cause things are gonna go wrong, and that’s okay. But just be prepared for those things so you can pivot, is a hard lesson we’ve learned.
BM: I think my voice has changed a lot from those days. I don’t know what I’d tell myself about it. I like my voice better now than I did back then, so, that’s cool.
LI: Yeah, and then drumming, I think I would just tell myself to be less busy. Play less, but more intentional.
OF: Okay. Back then, did you guys have any major influences that have kind of changed over the years now?
JC: Influences of our band?
OF: Of your band. Like, when writing music and everything, were there any certain kind of styles or voices that now you look back and you’re like “nahhh.”
JC: This is actually a very topical one right now.
BM: I made a tweet about that the other day, because I was looking at our music video for “Miss Mary Mack” and it’s very Arctic Monkeys-looking and sounding, and then Jeremy’s got the Boston Bruins logo on his shirt, and I was like, we were trying to be the Boston Arctic Monkeys for one period of time. And I’m glad we’ve grown on from that. I still look up to those artists, like The Strokes, Arctic Monkeys, Franz Ferdinand, things like that. But I think, rather than changing those influences, it’s just grown outwards. We have a lot of other influences that we’ve just added. By doing that, we’ve kind of found our own voice, which we really didn’t have when we first started.
JC: And, those influences of our music have drastically changed as well. The one at the top of the list is Arctic Monkeys with their most recent albums.
BM: Oh yeah, they’ve changed a lot.
JC: You would think it’s an entirely different band from their first two albums to their most recent two albums. And I think, no matter how you feel about what style they’re playing, you can’t strive to achieve the same sound to a ’T’ over the course of 10 years, because you’re changing as a person anyways. Your approach to things is going to change, so your goals and your objectives kind of have to be flexible with your growth as a person as well, I feel. And that’s how bands like Arctic Monkeys or The Strokes have managed to maintain success. They were really good at what they did when they first came on the scene and they realized, hey, we’re not 20 years old anymore, let’s try something different. I mean, I don’t think we’re 20 years old anymore. We’ve had to, and I think we’ve done a good job, of changing. Pivoting.
BM: I used to play keyboards only when we first started and that’s another big change, is that I’ve shifted to playing guitar mostly.
OF: Oh wow.
BM: Because as a keyboard player, I would always use distortion pedals to try and make it sound like a guitar, and eventually I was like—
JC and BM: “I should just play guitar.”
BM: It looks better on stage. But that was a growing, learning experience for me to this day because I’m not, like, fluent with guitar versus keyboard. Especially now that we’re a three-piece, I’ve been having to do more lead guitar stuff. It’s been fun, actually. It’s been a good challenge.
OF: That’s awesome. I guess, we’ve kind of talked about how your goals have changed with “Notion” and everything, and stylistically you guys aren’t the same people that you were. With everything that’s new coming into Attaboy on Friday, is there anything that you’re really hoping that people kind of find and discover with it, and take away from it?
BM: I’m excited to hear people’s reaction to “Because You Love Me,” which is like the most ballad-y song on the EP. I think people who have followed what we’ve done will see the through-line and be like “oh, this is awesome,” but it might throw some people who only know “Notion” or who only know “Origami.”
LI: Songs like “Start This Over,” which is the third song on the EP that has some electronic percussion and some more of the string arranging that we did a little bit of on Big Whoop. And so we leaned into that a little bit more on that song and I hope people are pleasantly surprised by that.
OF: Nice. Alright, I know you guys have to get ready for your show and everything, but thank you so much, this was awesome.
BM: Oh yeah, of course.
OF: You guys are awesome. I don’t know, like, 14-year-old me is really happy right now, so yeah. Congrats on the EP and everything, and I hope your tour goes well!