When it comes to Pittsburgh band Rave Ami, fans and critics seem to agree on one thing: this is a group you need to see live. Whether it’s because the trio have been together since high school, because they all lived together after college, or simply because they have been playing and performing together for 10 years, Joe Praksti, Pat O'Toole, and Evan Meindl have chemistry on stage (and off) that can't be reached by shortcuts.
“It’s a brotherhood,” said O'Toole while sitting in Pittsburgh City Paper’s offices with Meindl, chatting about the upcoming anniversary show at Mr. Smalls. (Praksti was unavailable.) But even without their third musketeer, the connection and chemistry was palpable — the pair finished each other’s sentences and exchanged knowing looks.
“[Being called a live band] is a great compliment,” said O'Toole. “But I think it’s hard to be tangible for us because when we're done playing, we’re like, ‘That was great,’ but we never walk off stage like, ‘Oh, we're a live band.’”
“We’re really trying to shift that dynamic on the next record,” continued Meindl. “This feels like the first record that’s truly indicative of what we were always tried to accomplish.”
Tentatively set to drop in the fall, Meindl and O’Toole say the third album will sound like the Rave Ami fans have grown to love, but more ambitious and homed in than before.
“The last record [All Great Bands Break Up] was written while we were living together,” explained Meindl. “There wasn’t a lot of live inspiration for it. It was like a case of beer at the end of the workday and see what comes up. The end result is a lot of songs we would never make again.”
This time around, the band’s approach to songwriting is more focused and has more dynamic instrumentation. There’s only one track that’s not guitar-driven, and it’s “Nausea Ad Nauseam,” a drowsy tune that will be released on streaming sites on Jan. 31.
But while Rave Ami hopes to be dubbed as more than a live band, the lineup for the anniversary show — which includes Weird Paul Rock Band, String Machine, and Good Sport — was built around enticing live performances.
“They all sound radically different, but the commonality is that they induce very warm reactions into their audiences,” said Meindl. “All their sets are very uplifting, and it’s a 10-year anniversary show, it’s a party show.”
Each band also has a special connection to Praksti, O'Toole, and Meindl. The members of String Machine were some of the first friends Rave Ami made in Pittsburgh, and singer David Beck was one of the first people to book the trio at a show. In 2018, when Rave Ami changed its name from Honey — a name so widely used it became a disadvantage — String Machine played Rave Ami’s name change show.
“We try to include them anytime we feel like we’re doing a special show,” said Meindl. “They’re one of the first people we hit up. [And] Weird Paul is a special way of checking off a Pittsburgh thing. His show is so incredible and captivating, and [Praksti] is maybe one of the top-five biggest Weird Paul fans in Pittsburgh. He introduced us to his music. It’s a very special thing for him.”
Lastly, Ryan Hizer and Dane Adelman from Good Sport helped engineer Rave Ami’s forthcoming album. “It felt important to include a band on the lineup that included both of them,” said Meindl.
Rave Ami’s set at the anniversary show will be bookended by new material, with one new song starting the performance, five older tunes in the middle, and two new songs to close out the night. Friends of the band will assist Rave Ami with the new tracks.
“There was a debate over the set,” said Meindl. “We have time for eight songs, and we’ve been a band for 10 years.”
“[But] breaking up has never been on the table for us,” said O’Toole. “The constant for the band is learning.”