It sounds more improbable than it actually is: a prosecutor, a criminal defense lawyer, an assistant DA, a city police detective and a chill dude bass player.
Meet the line-up of NotYet: Chris Ragucci, a litigation attorney with Mainetti, Mainetti and O’Connor, is the band’s drum-meister. Ulster County Assistant District Attorney Cliff Owen strums guitar and sings. Bryan Rounds, a Kingston-based criminal defense attorney and self-dubbed “carnival barker,” mans the mic. KPD detective Ben Reyes — the new kid on the old block — plays keyboard. Chris “Mach1” Macchia of New Paltz is the proverbial mellow bass player, replete with bushy neck beard and jazz background.
NotYet is a slightly more elegant 2017 version of one of the many 1980s rowdy garage bands with talent that made the era worth living in (because it sure wasn’t the breathability of spandex). One needs not to squint too hard to envision these fellows crunching their bright musical gifts on a dirty old sofa in the garage while debating real metal versus fake metal. All the timeless fundamentals of a rock band are in place: snark, beer, jabs, quips, temper, outbursts, frustration, laughter — and a tambourine.
NotYet jams weekly within then pleasing dove-gray walls, lit with soft urbane track lighting, of Ragucci’s refined barn space at his homestead. If you were in it for just the theatrics and melodrama of an over-the-top criminal defense lawyer taking out an angst-y existential crisis on a mic, you wouldn’t be disappointed.
But there’s more. Owens and Rounds easily engage in lightning rounds of verbal backseat sibling slap-fights that rival the zing of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. “[Rounds and I] have big trials with each other and fight, we are horrible to each other,” Owens admitted. “We accuse each other in court, we yell and point at each other and then get in the car and go home together. People who see us can’t believe it, but we love each other.” The band is relatively new, and has only played out once, this winter, at the prestigious venue of Uncle Willy’s Bar on North Front Street in Kingston. (Fans of NotYet are lovingly dubbed “Yetis.”)
But wait, there’s still more: Though they have not been together very long and have only played out once, they have a decidedly cohesive sound and surprisingly all-around well-put together vibe. The rhythm is tight. They transition smoothly. Their timing is on-point, and it all blends together with ease. The keyboards kick it up a notch or three, seasoning in an unexpected and richly textured sound, like a background orchestra. Reyes said that since quite a few songs are “guitar driven,” he chooses to keep the sounds in the background.
Reyes, the newest NotYet member, said he enjoys the weekly jams immensely. “I personally don’t feel like I have to prove anything to anybody in life, which in a sense frees me to live a much fuller life,” said Reyes. “This is huge when it comes to writing music, because there are no external pressures to produce a product; which is one of the biggest hurdles many professional musicians encounter in their careers. I believe in being free, and everything else will fall into place.”
Ragucci and Macchia play together in a band called David Kraai and the Saddle Tramps, which was basically how Macchia got sucked into the group. Macchia also plays the stand-up bass and performs with the jazz group Arch Stanton Quartet. “I play a bit of everything,” said Macchia. “Hell’s Angels one day, Carnegie Hall the next.” Macchia plays in six different bands, and teaches music at SUNY New Paltz as well. Ragucci, Macchia, Reyes and Owens have trained music backgrounds studded with recorded albums hanging on the walls. Owens has opened for Gov’t Mule and the New York Dolls and has toured with Branford Marsalis. Owens, once a professional musician, played in the New York Vaults. Reyes played in a group called Elysium Theory that opened Mountain Jam in 2010.
Rounds, on the other hand, claims to be making his vocal performing debut straight from his home shower. “I am 47 years old, I am married with three kids, I run a law office,” said Rounds. “I have a dog, fish. I get to be in a rock band. I literally never sang outside of my shower. When [Owens] came to me, I was shocked. These guys have decades of experience. The first time, I was totally intimidated. If [Macchia] and [Ragucci] had voting power, I would be gone a while ago. But I think they want me to stay now. When we come here, it’s some of the best time I have. Playing out at Uncle Willy’s was one of the best times of my life.”
Reyes said he grew up in Puerto Rico playing the church organ from a young age; and learned how to play jazz, with influences like Kit Correa and Herbie Hancock. He was heavily influenced by Dominican and Cuban jazz, as well as progressive rock. Reyes threw out names like Porcupine Tree, Steven Wilson and Deer Hunter. Owens said his heart was with Iggy Pop, MC5 and The Damned, but also runs the gamut between Mozart, punk and classical. Macchia’s chill background was filled with chill sounds such as funk, world music, Brazilian, Cajun music and jazz. Rounds named Iggy Pop, Johnny Cash, ska and one-hit wonders of the ’80s as most shaping his tastes. Ragucci said he was very influenced by The Band, Bob Dylan, The Allman Brothers, Eric Clapton and many others.
Each guy has their own technique for how they approach music. Owens graduated magna cum laude from SUNY Oswego with a degree in composition and music theory. Macchia studied jazz at SUNY New Paltz. Ragucci grew up playing the drums, but did not study it formally. “When I enjoy hearing something, I will buy the record to study and listen to the techniques,” said Ragucci.
Rounds said he grew up obsessed with music, but never pursued it. Unlike most other garage bands, Reyes, Owens and Macchia all read music, and are able to discuss each riff in terms of its structure. Reyes has been reading music his whole life, but said that he mostly learns their songs by ear. The fellas are working on their own compositions and materials.
(Wondering what this modern motley crew actually plays? Well, the Kingston Times has obtained a highly coveted copy of the band’s setlist. Some highlights — “Cretin Hop” by the The Ramones. The Clash’s “Rock the Casbah.” “Miss K” by Deer Tick. “Green River” by Creedence Clearwater Revival. “Peaches” by The Stranglers. “The Future” by Leonard Cohen.)
Macchia said the band has a ball when they play but are still serious about the music. “Like any good band, it is a mix of the personalities and styles of the players,” he said. “When we come together we create a unique sound and feeling that can only come from these five people.”
Ragucci describes the collective vibe as passionate. “The members of this band really love playing together, and appreciate the process of being in a band,” said Ragucci. “For [Rounds], it’s his first experience being in a band, so there is a lot of excitement and energy that he brings. His excitement is contagious and helps inspire me musically.” Owens summarizes NotYet as “amped-up NRBQ locked in CBGB’s basement with Chuck Bukowski.”
For more information, you can visit the band’s Facebook page — www.facebook.com/NotYetKingstonNY/