Happy New Year begins with a dead ringer for "Scarborough Fair," though Bobby insists Simon and Garfunkel were ripping off an Elizabethan folk melody, while Oneida are stealing a traditional Southern funeral song he found in a book of old musical transcriptions in a thrift store. "We're thieves," Bobby admits. Which makes sense, seeing how he first played with Kid in a Grateful Dead cover band, when they were juniors at St. Paul's School in New Hampshire, half as old as they are now.
All four Oneidas are in their early thirties. "It's hard to market us," Jane says. "Maybe we're too old." Two of them are married, and Bobby's got a baby due in November. College towns Middlebury, Vermont, and Oberlin, Ohio, also figure in the band's prehistory; that's where they got into the habit of playing house parties, prepping the group for the ad hoc venues they still frequently frequent. When Oneida first formed, obscure little holes in the wall were the only places they could get gigs, give or take an occasional night at the Knitting Factory, which Kid was helping book at the time.
Now, Kid provides computer tech assistance for a living; Jane just got his master's in social work at NYU. "We're not music as a business," he says. "This isn't what we use to pay bills." But Oneida's still an obsession, one the guys plan to keep at forever, even if Jane has to remind his parents that music's more than just a hobby. His mom, after witnessing some rare blue material at one gig a few years back, said Oneida reminded her of Redd Foxx, who she's not much a fan of anymore. In contrast, Bobby's moma Congregationalist minister who, until lately, pastored her own church in Dublin, New Hampshirehas compared the trio's music to Philip Glass. Only louder.
Their first show ever was upstate, in Rochester. Two hours east of there, not far off I-90, sits Oneida, New York, where John Humphrey Noyes founded the utopian free-love Oneida Community, for whom Oneida were named, and which eventually evolved into a company that now includes an Oneida stainless-flatware division. "The founder was named noise!" laughs Bobby. "I love it." What's more, a multi-great granddaughter of Noyes is a fan, and has invited the band up to visit the community's site sometime. They were also awarded commemorative grapefruit spoons.
But the Oneida Community isn't on the curriculum for Bobby's American-history students, who he only carries through the Revolution. Bobby admits "the seventh-grade boys are super-obsessed" with the fact that he's in a band. "I don't think I could do it if part of me wasn't still a seventh- or eighth-grade boy," he says of teaching. "I didn't fail anyone, but I don't give out very many A's, either."
Still, he's happy to get a break. For one thing, it'll give Oneida a chance to tour North America. Furthermore, Fat Bobby says, "This is my first summer vacation in years. So I plan to log some time in the hammock."
Oneida play the Knitting Factory Thursday at 8 p.m.with Dirty Faces, Company, and Knyfe Hytes, $10, knittingfactory.com.