As an undergrad at Syracuse University, Ritchie was a member of the Sour Sitrus Society, SU’s basketball pep band. He’s since relocated to Boston, taken a stab at 9- to-5 drudgery, and has been lead guitarist for The Lights Out, a popular Boston band.
The Lights Out will play from 9 to 10 p.m. as part of the American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life fundraiser, sponsored by Alpha Phi Omega fraternity. Teams of students from SU and the SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry will take to the track for 24 hours in an effort to raise money and awareness. Each team is asked to keep one member on the track at all times during the event because cancer never sleeps. Last year’s event raised more than $150,000. And anyone wishing to attend can pay the walk-up fee of $20, according to the local Relay for Life website, http://main. acsevents.org.
“This time we get to play without a basketball game getting in the way” Richie jokes from the band’s Boston base. “I might run a mid-song lap around the field with my wireless guitar, or bring Otto up on stage for old time’s sake. He is the original Syracuse arena rocker, after all.”
Drummer Jesse James is also an alumnus, but he and Richie did not know each other before joining the band. James recalls soaking up the scene while he lived in Syracuse, including frequenting venues such as The Lost Horizon and Planet 505.
Relay participants probably couldn’t ask for a better band to keep them pumped for an all-nighter. The Lights Out, formed in 2005 by guitarist-vocalist Rishava Green and bassist Matt King (James and Ritchie joined two years later), has a reputation for kinetic good times—mostly harmless, of course.
And while it’s hard to know exactly how seriously you can take a band whose latest album boasts a song written from their old tour van’s point of view, The Lights Out seem to be pretty committed to this rock music thing. Their recordings, particularly their latest album, Primetime (Broken Bulb), are meticulously produced collections of heavy guitar grooves, memorable melodies and soaring harmonies. The live shows may seem like spontaneous parties, but the band members actually work hard to make sure the songs are executed well—every time. It’s arena rock done fresh and proud.
“We have a pretty diverse pool of influences but the main common ground between us is our love for a melodic hook,” says James. “Whether it’s a vocal part, or a guitar lead, it has to be able to pass the ‘piano test,’ which is to say that it can be played one note at a time on a piano and it is instantly recognizable as that song alone.”
The band’s meticulous approach has enabled them to maintain a solid niche at a time when guitar-based rock seems to be getting less and less attention from radio. Ritchie admits that The Lights Out may have had an easier time reaching a large national audience say, 15 years ago. But he and his bandmates believe there will always be a market for well-crafted, hook-laden rock. Their goal is to create the kind of music that they always wanted to buy, but couldn’t find.
Primetime, released on New Year’s Day, offers some lyrical clues about what life in a modern rock band is like, but Green says the emotions are universal. “Well, I’ve heard it said that the only reason anyone ever creates is to literally get out of hell. That’s certainly true in my case, and so a lot of our lyrical content deals with loss and dissatisfaction and emotional pain in general, then I just sprinkle details over that to paint a more specific picture. But the emotional resonance underneath the details of a song is what’s going to touch any given listener.”
Ritchie says that regardless if the band ever achieves platinum sales, their bonds are pretty firm. “While we’re making our way through an uncertain business, there are three things that keep us inspired. Let’s call them brotherhood, adventure and the chills,” he says. The first two may be self-explanatory, but the chills?
“When someone uncovers just the right part for a song and it makes the hair on the back of your neck stand up, which is the same reaction we have to our favorite parts of songs we grew up with,” Ritchie says. “Except with the added satisfaction of knowing it belongs to us.”
Social media is decidedly not among the band’s main aspirations, but they, like a growing number of their peers, have embraced it as a way of maintaining casual contact with fans.
“A lot of bands complain about social media being one more non-musical responsibility,” Ritchie notes. “Other bands spend more time producing social media content than music. It’s not a necessary evil and it shouldn’t be the focus. You have to look at it like an extension of your performance. You may be riding in the band van in the middle of nowhere, and it gives you an endless opportunity to entertain people.”
Ritchie says the band will continue to explore this as another means of entertainment. They plan to announce a new project this month.
But the focus will always be the collaboration on stage, or in the studio. Green says the fact that each member is influenced by a variety of different musical styles keeps things fresh. After two full-length albums and three EPs, there’s still plenty of musical ground, and adventurous times, to come.
“There’s definitely enough to keep us together,” he says. “The fact that there are a lot of disparate influences among us hopefully makes for a dish with complex flavors. I think we all meet at arena rock, and just about anything with strong pop sensibilities.”
Heads up: (pictured above) The Lights Out play Saturday at the Carrier Dome.