Interview with Blair Shehan, Sergie Loobkoff, Bob Penn, and Ian Smith | By Joshua Maranhas | Photos by Joshua Maranhas
Los Angeles’ Racquet Club have an elegance to their sound. The same kind of elegance their name conjures: midcentury California, the Palm Springs Racquet Club where Marilyn Monroe was discovered. More than a reimagining of The Jealous Sound or a new form of Samiam or Knapsack, they are a group of talented musicians with a beautiful, tight sound.
Racquet Club, who released their debut self-titled record in fall 2017, are working on the follow-up for Rise Records now. Guitarist and vocalist Blair Shehan and guitarist Sergie Loobkoff go way back to the ’90s with their band Knapsack. Drummer Bob Penn played with Shehan in The Jealous Sound, and now, they’re joined by bassist Ian Smith.
“[Knapsack] had done some reunion tours and played little small festivals and U.S. and overseas touring,” Shehan says. “[Loobkoff and I] hadn’t really hung out a ton since that band ended a long time ago. We started hanging out again, and we enjoyed each other’s company. The Knapsack thing was winding down, and we just wanted to play music. We started going over to each other’s house and working on music again.”
Loobkoff adds, “It wasn’t casual, though. It took us a long time.”
The Jealous Sound and Samiam are two very different bands with very different sounds—and then, there’s Knapsack. But with both Shehan and Loobkoff building the texture of Racquet Club’s sound, the years melt off and it feels young and fresh. Their greatest influences are themselves as individual. They don’t sound like one of their bands; they sound like the best result of all of their bands. “It’s comfortable,” Shehan says. “We worked hard to do the best job that we could—maximize our abilities. We simply just did the best that we could. Songs and ideas just kind of come, you receive them. If it seems worth pursuing, you pursue it. If it’s a dead end, you ditch it, and you find another song or another idea.”
Racquet Club found their bass man in a simple way: Smith and Shehan are neighbors. “I was Mr. Rogers, just the friendly neighbor,” Smith says. Shehan reached out to Smith to see if he knew a bass player who was interested in joining. “I was going up the stairs, holding all my gear,” Smith recalls. “I put it down, and I was like, ‘Rad! You’re looking at him.’”
Loobkoff motions to Penn and Smith, clarifying, “This band is formed by the bass and drums. A lot of things completely change because of you two guys.”
Penn explains the evolutionary sound of Racquet Club by first highlighting Shehan and Loobkoff. “These two played together forever,” he says. “Blair and I played together in The Jealous Sound. I’ve never played with Sergie; I just met him when I joined the band. I’ve had a few conversations with Sergie. When you show up to play, it’s like, ‘OK, who’s this bass player?’ Then, I realize, ‘This dude can play! He’s going in some cool angles.’ Sergie, with his guitar playing—whenever you have this new guitar player that you’re playing with, you’re like, ‘Oh, that’s kind of interesting. I didn’t think he was going to do that; I didn’t see that coming.’ Then, you go, ‘I’m gonna show up to the next practice. That was kind of fun.’ Especially because songs don’t just pour out. There’re four dudes—with four different opinions, sometimes—who think they know what’s best. Sometimes, it still goes back to Blair’s comfort zone, where he’s going to go with the lyrics or where he thinks the song will go. You just kind of get to know each other. I’d be surprised by a certain bass part. I’d be surprised by some guitar parts that pop up. I’m like, ‘I’m glad Blair called me to come do this.’”
“It took us a while to get to know each other as a band,” Shehan admits, “interpersonally and how each one of us works together. For the first rounds of practice, they would not necessarily end well. I’d come home, ‘Well, I hope everyone keeps showing up.’ It was a little bit of a struggle. We collectively preserved to make a record and get through all of that. Then, we learned to tour together. These were new steps in bringing these four guys together.”
Racquet Club are writing again and demoing new ideas—and they’re glad the two-year process of writing, practicing, and recording is beginning to pay off. “A nebulous, amorphous [idea]—once we had a clear path and all we had to do was make the music and finish it, then it became much easier,” Shehan concludes. “You have to become sort of accountable. ‘Well, we have to go to practice.’ If we had a long day, nobody cares. Just suit up and show up and play. Eat a whale one bite at a time. We did it, and that’s an accomplishment. There’s always a good excuse not to do it, so you have to be really clear about the idea that you’re going to do it. Again, once we had a path to do it, it made a lot more sense. We had a goal. We plugged in and made our way toward that goal.”