Rite Flyers – No need to throw things at them
You want to talk first-rate pedigrees, the Rite Flyers have connections to some of Austin’s biggest and best bands of the past two decades. The group’s genealogical chart goes all the way back to key 1980s-era Austin acts including Big Boys, Doctors’ Mob and Wild Seeds; to ’90s hitmakers Fastball; and most recently to modern-day hipsters Spoon.
But family trees don’t count for nearly as much as how the Rite Flyers sound themselves — which is really, really good. CD copies of their new independent EP Suffer Fools Gladly are printed up like old-style vinyl singles, with black grooves and a gold label; the music is similarly old-school, in the best possible way. Clocking in at a brisk 11:51, the four songs bear passing resemblance to ’80s-vintage psychedelic-pop bands such as Rain Parade or the Church, gliding along on catchy jingle-jangle hooks played on shimmering guitars.
At the same time, they’re not kidding about the caustic undertones implied by the EP’s title. The songs contrast thorny, occasionally nasty emotions with pretty sounds. Still, that pretty pop gloriousness is what you’ll notice first and foremost. The Rite Flyers are so poppy, in fact, that they surprise people, like the guy in Austin who booked them for a radio show.
“I think he was expecting something more like Doctors’ Mob,” says guitarist Steve Collier with a laugh, referring to his old band (which had the infamous motto, “Show up drunk, show up late or don’t show up at all”). “Doctors’ Mob always had the pop, but we’d play fast and loud so people wouldn’t throw things at us. This band is more about serving the song.”
The Rite Flyers grew out of Collier’s former band, the Sidehackers, in which John Clayton played bass. Clayton switched to guitar when he and Collier became co-leaders of Rite Flyers. They had a revolving-door rhythm section the first few years — Spoon frontman Britt Daniel was bassist at the Rite Flyers’ first-ever gig — and recorded their 2004 self-titled debut as “a duo masquerading as a band,” Clayton says. Eventually, the lineup solidified with a rhythm section of drummer Joey Shuffield (Fastball, Wild Seeds) and bassist Steven Thomas Hall, formerly of the mid-’90s psychedelic-pop band Sixteen Deluxe.
“We started this as a recording project to put out an album and then do a band later,” Clayton says. “Backwards, basically. But it finally feels like a real band now. We just need to work on the next album, and we’ve got plenty of songs. This EP is like a lead single, just something to get out there.”
Catchy as their songs are, it’s doubtful you’ll be hearing Rite Flyers on your local commercial station anytime soon, given the state of radio. But like a lot of good left-of-center bands nowadays, the Rite Flyers have picked up radio play of a sort, via hipster television. They placed two songs on the show “Veronica Mars”, a series created and produced by Rob Thomas, formerly of the Austin band Hey Zeus.
“Rob’s an old friend we’ve known for a long time,” says Clayton. “He asked if he could put a few songs we’d recorded in the show, and they’re on the radio in the background in a couple of scenes.”
“That’s probably helped more than anything else because people will track down every song from that show,” adds Collier. “We’ve gotten downloads from places like Czechoslovakia and Brazil because of it.”
Back at home, the Rite Flyers will continue plugging away. “It’s almost like a rebuilding process, since these guys had a long break before I joined,” says bassist Hall. “But we’re doing everything ourselves. As far as labels, we’re not gonna get a deal and we’re not even trying — the ’90s are over. We’re excited to do it 100 percent ourselves.”