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Rock ‘n’ Roll Villains: Ravi Shavi unleash Special Hazards

On their third full-length release, Special Hazards, Ravi Shavi unleash a collection of 14 songs chock full of grooves, trashy surf and classic pop.  Gems like “Going Going Gone” come off like a letter to an old flame with singer/guitarist Rafay Rashid asking, “How’s the city, how’s your mom, do you still have a car, have you taken your pills, have you smoken a joint?”  The wistful chorus features backing vocals from Roz Raskin. One of the older songs in Ravi Shavi’s repertoire, “Is It True,” is a sunny burst of classic pop buttressed by backing vocals from Raskin as well as Kate Jones and Emily Shaw of The Sugar Honey Iced Tea. “High Hopes” has a Cramps-style guitar-from-the-gutter stomp with a guest appearance by Ian O’Neil of Deer Tick. O’Neil also appears on “Violence,” which has an early 2000s alternative rock flavor. “Absent Minded Fool” is a lament with the feel of a cool flamenco guitar gone wrong. The final track, “Casino,” is my favorite with its eerily seductive lyrics like, “Why don’t you take a gamble, I’ll be your casino,” floating like smoke through the air over a funky garage backbeat. Special Hazards is available now on Ravi Shavi’s Bandcamp page with physical copies on vinyl and CD coming later this year.  

I spoke with Rafay Rashid to discuss pandemic living, how he and guitarist Nick Politelli write, and the villainous undercurrent flowing through Special Hazards.

Marc Clarkin (Motif): How have you been spending this weird time we’re all in?

Rafay Rashid (Ravi Shavi): I’ve been kind of going through it with everybody else. I’ve always felt that the world is ending, and this has just been sort of more concrete or a manifestation of that. I’ve been writing more and doing some side projects. I’ve been trying to spend more time with my friends and family while still, you know, trying to keep the disease at bay. I just got tested a week ago, not because I had any symptoms; I was just curious. I was negative, so hooray, right? No COVID for me!

MC: One of my favorite songs on Special Hazards is “Sixes and Sevens,” where you have a great line in the chorus: “We’re not going to heaven, we’re still stuck in traffic.” How did that song come about?

RR: Well that was the pinnacle of me and Nick Politelli, our guitarist, just writing in a frenzy to create material for the album. We had come up with God knows, like 40 to 50 songs. When we whittled it down, that was one of the ones that stuck. We kind of knew when we wrote it that it was going to stick. It was just a combination of trying to figure out how to be as abrasive as we were on our first two records while reflecting a little bit lyrically. It was more of a statement song in terms of where we’re heading. All the songs were written before COVID-19 or 2020. We actually wrote all these songs lyrically about four years ago. So everything that you hear on the album lyrically has been written well before this time, but yeah, it kind of felt prophetic in a way. Not saying that we’re soothsayers, but I feel like there’s a sense that like everybody kind of knew where this was headed. “We’re not going to heaven, we’re still stuck in traffic” is like, we all have to work through a lot of things in order to get to this idyllic place that our collective imagination brings us.  

MC: “Red Hands” is carried by a funk backbeat that kind of reminds me of earlier Prince. Were there any new things you want to try with Special Hazards?

RR: So one thing about Special Hazards that is unlike the rest of the albums, it was a very concentrated time in which we were working on the album. On this one, because of the way the time schedule worked out with our label, we had a lot of time to work on demos. This was actually sort of a compendium of everything that we worked on while we were trying to catch up with ourselves in terms of releasing stuff to the label — whether it be album covers or waiting for the pressing plants, which take a certain amount of time. So we basically whittled it down to 50 to 60 of our best songs. I think this one was the most collaborative between myself and Nick. “Red Hands,” along with probably about 70% of the songs on the album, were a 50/50 effort between me and Nick, which was cool. So on “Red Hands,” Nick did all the music and I just wrote the melody and vocals on top of it. There was a cynical brooding element to it; our engineer pointed out that this is like kind of our foreboding album.  

MC: You made a video for “Casino,” which, in addition to being one hell of a jam, doesn’t sound like anything else you’ve done. How did that one come about?  

RR: I guess with songs like “Casino,” “High Hopes,” “Red Hands” and “Going Going Gone” we found a thread of a narrative in between these demos that we had done. Then we were like, “Where’s the story here?” even though we’re not really like a story or conceptual album band. We somehow found a story within the everything-and-the-kitchen-sink format. So we just picked the songs that fit the story, which was loose. It was somewhere between a heist and an emotional robbery. So there’s some love songs, there’s some nostalgic stuff, but then there’s some straight-up let’s go ahead and take what we can get type of thing. We did feel like the enemy a little bit — it came from a villainous perspective in a lot of ways.

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