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The Rotten Apples: Beach Party at the Orchard

The Rotten Apples: Beach Party at the Orchard
Gordon Marshall By

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The Rotten Apples, "the tightest out-of-tune band in the world," had an antecedent in guitarist Keith Waters' Belmont High School band (Belmont is a town just north of Boston). Even that early evolutionary ancestor of the current band blew effortless attitude in the face of the powers that be. Waters remembers playing a party at the Romney estate in town. "We didn't like the party and we didn't like Romney's kids, so we left early and got back in our van." The van was boxed in on the driveway, though. "We tried getting around the car in front of us but there wasn't enough room." They ended up leaving the vehicle on the grass and coming back for it the next morning.

Seeming ineptitude charged with a buoyant message is what they deliver. The Rotten Apples are a party band. You won't hear them covering songs from any particular decade. However, there is a constancy to their work that skirts fashions of the moment and forges forward across the beaches of rock music like an ancient crustacean, a horseshoe crab, little changed in its time of existence except for adaptive modifications to its exterior—a darkening of the shell, say, to blend in with a darker environment.

Like any good attraction to a good party, they start conversations: they play together sharp on the beat, but what about those clashing, dueling guitars—is that some kind of calculated atonalism, or are they just messy? Say they are messy. So what? Maybe that's part of their freedom and jubilance. Do they ever tune their instruments? On top of everything, the four members blend into any happening like any of the guests. There is no barrier between them and fan. Rather, there is a seamless continuum spiriting them right into the thick of the social mood while still onstage, and offstage afterwards, too as they mingle and impart their accumulated countercultural lore.

But wait a minute. What if, instead of a horseshoe crab, The Rotten Apples are an Alaskan king crab? Looked at more closely, the music has a lyrical complexity to it. Again, what underlies this complexity is the people aspect, in this case the interplay of band member personality. Drummer Paul Guercio is the disciplinarian, keeping the strong beat like a John Densmore or a John Bonham. Guitarist and saxophonist Keith Waters is a quiet, wise John Lennon type. Guitarist and Singer Ryan Riehle is a sexy, masculine but androgynous type who gives the band its glam cachet. Singer Muffy Brandt is the eye of the hurricane, seemingly in the background but bursting out with intensities defined by a tight charm that is never harsh.

The band's roots are nebulous, with many chance encounters among members. "I met Ryan at WZBC [Boston Colllege Radio] about ten or 12 years ago," remembers Waters. "We briefly did the group Dirty Rainbow for while. Then we did Dream House together." Sound like a Cocteau Twins-style unit? "Kind of, but a little more wild." Brandt is from Pittsburgh, "a hellish little enclave" west of the city. "I met Keith and Ryan briefly at Fort Thunder in Providence, R. I., in 1999. Ryan and I met on the street in New Orleans when we were each on different road trips in 2000." "We were passing each other trying to find a place to stay," remembers Riehle. "I even saw someone get stabbed... I slept in a graveyard, and then a university before the cops kicked us out." "I ended up at my friend's relatives' mansion," remembers Brandt, "and on the bedside table there was a Sotheby's Jackie O. auction catalogue with the items circled that the aunt had bid on. And we were so dirty!"

"Me and Keith met through Massachusetts College of Art," says Guercio. "I didn't go there but my roommate did. Me and Keith both met Ryan at the same time. Me and Ryan were in a band called L.A. Drugs, which we did for a few years. The Rotten Apples actually came about from a show that Dream House was asked to play. Me, Ryan and Keith started playing together and decided to form a band together." There was no first Apple, though. The decision to go on together was formed as if with one mind. "When we were doing the previous band, Ergot Rot with Muffy," continues Guercio, "we did this T. Rex thing for Halloween. We even had some recordings but they stayed in the basement and never found their way out."

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