Sitting across from me is Billy Schmidt, keyboardist and one of the founding members of West Palm Beach-based Raggy Monster. He's wearing a a red, sock monkey onesie that immediately makes me long for a similar onesie sitting in my closet. Then I feel a bead of sweat run down my right temple and I remember: this is Florida in August. Schmidt's commitment to both his craft and having fun doing so is commendable.
The evening serves as both a fun concept show with Respectable Street hosting its first ever pajama party and as a music video release party. The debut of “Crying Shame,” the latest single off of Raggy Monster's 2014 record, As the Thorn Lures the Widow's Lip, It Seeks No Wisdom from the Wicker Flies, is treated with as much importance as when they dropped the album itself. Perhaps that’s due in part to the fact that every new Raggy Monster event is one step further away from a brief period when the band was considering calling it quits.
Back in March of last year, a New Times article appeared declaring the demise of the band, and indeed, that was almost the case.
“We just couldn't put the right group together. We've had nine band member changes,” Schmidt laments. Had they called broken up, Schmidt and lead vocalist, frontwoman, and Schmidt's wife, Rachel DuVall, would have continued making music under The Whiskey Wasps moniker, their acoustic side project. It wasn't until guitarist Mike Guido and bassist Oren Gross joined that the group felt complete. DuVall calls Guido and Gross “godsends” and both Sage Duvall (the band's drummer and no relation to Rachel) and Schmidt echo that sentiment crediting their new bandmates as the primary reason that Raggy Monster didn't dissolve.
Gross is a science fiction nerd (we bonded over Doctor Who theories) and apparently a local band junkie. In addition to playing bass in the group, Gross still maintains his spots in outfits such as Fireside Prophets and Mylo Ranger, but calls Raggy Monster his “one true love.”
And perhaps it was love at first sight. Guido came from a cover band background playing with Delray Beach's The Flyers. After leaving them, Sage sent him a text asking for Guido to fill in for the backup to the regular guitarist only two days before the next show. Guido and Gross met a half hour before the set, having had no time to practice together. Even more impressive, DuVall, coming straight from her bridal shower in Orlando, stepped on stage, said “Hi, I'm Rachel” just as the music was beginning and what turned out to be “a really great show” according to DuVall.
This method of winging it has become something of a running joke among the band. “The Raggy way,” Schmidt explains, “just figure things out at the last minute.”
“My first or second show with Raggy,” Sage adds, “was a three-hour set and I had, like, a week to prepare or something and I was with another band at the time.”
Pretty soon we're talking about one of the more prevalent relationships in the band: DuVall and Schmidt's marriage. They come across as a couple that don't really argue, but if there are tensions, they use that energy on stage. DuVall shares the lengthy tale of her courtship with Schmidt which involves high school pottery class, a terrible pick-up line, several years in the friend zone, a six pack of Natty Ice, and a pissed off ex-boyfriend. By the time she's finished, the guys all know that most of story won't be printed, but that's beside the point. It's good to hear out loud the details because it gives a better sense of the inherent connection between the two. Just as apparent is the bond forming between the band as a whole. They even let slip that they have several new songs in the works. No future plans are set in stone for the next record, but it's undeniable the excitement each member expresses with the direction their recent collaborative efforts is taking them.
The interview ends because it's almost time for the main event.
Raggy Monster play the music video for “Crying Shame” and the crowd watches in rapt silence. The premiere goes off without a hitch. In fact, Raggy Monster keeps the flow of things going by seamlessly segueing into “Morgan’s Organs.”
DuVall is a dramatic, vaudevillian presence on stage. Her facial expressions are as over the top as her hair, bulging with hair rollers, sleeping mask on top, and her mid-century housewife / Tom Cruise’s Risky Business outfit.
The pajama party is apt considering some of the imagery Raggy Monster’s music conjures up: dreams, fantastical worlds, surreal realities, even nightmares. At one point, DuVall pulls out a book and reads a bedtime story, then sweetly kisses every member of the band on the forehead like a good mother tucking her kids in to bed.
But, instead of sleeping, the five-piece launches into a properly eerie cover version of Nancy Sinatra’s “Bang Bang,” a song that fits well into their noir-ish aesthetic.
Throughout the performance, Schmidt watches his wife prowl the stage with a mixed, but enamored, expression of reverence and awe. Although they’re a partnership in life and in songwriting, when the lights go down, Rachel is the lead actor in this entertaining, Tim-Burton-directed drama.
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Truth be told, Raggy Monster could craft an entire live show merely out of DuVall's nutty facial contortions. However, the dynamic quartet behind her providing the often unnerving, haunting, crashing, melodic indie rock are a force, and indeed, a show unto themselves. They may not be as manic or as animated, but they attack each song with the same fervor and energy, regardless of the tempo.
The concert is equal parts Beetlejuice, Lana Del Rey, Rocky Horror Picture Show, and a late night Dresden Dolls after party gig. DuVall has the voice of Edith Piaf and the wacky demeanor of Jim Carrey. Nowhere is their classical-music-meets-rock-n-roll style better illustrated than when DuVall stomps around in fuzzy slippers, elegantly serenading the crowd while Guido sets his guitar ablaze with a violin bow.
This band is a monster alright, but there’s nothing “raggy” about the quality of music they play or their live performances. Additionally,the “raggy way,” as Schmidt calls it, seems to be working for them. That being said, with what must be their umpteenth lineup change, there's a sense that perhaps this is it and they won't need to improvise so much in the future. At the very least, it certainly sounds like it.
Raggy Monster, 10 p.m. Saturday, August 29, at the Funky Buddha Lounge & Brewery, 2621 N. Federal Hwy., Boca Raton. Cover is $7. thefunkybuddha.com, 561-368-4643.