You know Sebastian Saraceno and Ronald Lee Clark as part of the Pit Bull rescuing team on the Animal Planet TV show Pit Boss. Beyond their canine adventures in ShortyWood, though, the duo have been beavering away at a musical side-project cut in tandem with members of the California-based band Post Trauma. Part of the proceeds from the four-track EP, titled Risen, will be donated to local animal rescue causes. Helping to spread the word about their charitable jam session, we checked in with Sebastian and Ronald to talk about songs to play to soothe your own dog, the connection between Lady Gaga and little lap dogs, and how the EP can help reeducate people about Pit Bulls. (Spoiler: One of these fine Pit Bull saving chaps actually owns cats!)
How did the idea to record a music project come about?
Ronald: Well, we got involved through a mutual friend that Sebastian and I have, Joe Gnoffo, and we knew that he was a drummer in the band Post Trauma, so when Sebastian and I knew we wanted to write some music together we called on him to help put the pieces together. I play keyboards and Sebastian is a really good bassist, so we decided to add Joe and his band’s lead singer, Billy Ulrich. They agreed to be part of the project.
Were either of you guys in any other bands before this project?
Ronald: No, actually we weren’t! I played the keyboards and piano for many years and Sebastian was on the guitar and bass but we never really had our own musical vision before collaborating with Post Trauma.
What was the trickiest part about recording the project?
Sebastian: I would have to say engineering the songs and getting all the piano chords and the bass lines and the drum beats put together to make a physical song. It took a lot of time to do that.
If you carried on making music and became a duo, what would you call yourselves?
Ronald: I don’t know, man, maybe our last names, Clark and Saraceno.
Sebastian: Sebastian and Ronald maybe, ha ha!
Ronald: We’d want to come up with something witty and clever …
If someone hit shuffle on your iPod, what’s the most embarrassing song that could come up?
Sebastian: I would have to say the Divinyls’ “I Touch Myself.” [Ronald laughs.] Hey, that song’s hilarious, man!
Ronald: Mine would probably be the entire length of Lady Gaga’s album. One day I downloaded it for some reason I don’t know why.
What sort of dog do you think Lady Gaga would go for?
Ronald: Probably something cute and little like a little lap dog.
Sebastian: Maybe a Chihuahua.
Where do you stand on the issue of people getting little lap dogs?
Ronald: You know, my problem is, with our experience of being in shelters, there’s a lot of lap dogs in shelters, like Chihuahuas and little Shih Tzus and little tiny dogs that all these people take in and they don’t want the responsibility of taking care of a dog. All dogs are very high-maintenance — you’ve got to be willing to put in the time and the care and the training — and a lot of people just don’t want to do that. They want to have a dog that looks cute but they don’t want to put in the time. Once that dog then bites its first person, they’re immediately rushed to rescue and that’s the problem I have with them.
So what sort of response are you hoping to achieve with the EP?
Sebastian: Well, we have four really good songs on the EP and we really feel that the lyrics and the music bridges out to everyone, and so we’re hoping we’re gonna get an overwhelming response with people buying the EP, especially as a proportion of the proceeds go to rescue causes here in California. So people who buy it are not only going to be entertained but they’ll be helping out a great cause, too.
Have you played any of the songs on Risen for dogs? Have they reacted well to any particular songs on the EP?
Sebastian: Well, when I play my bass in my apartment to some of the songs my dog kinda tilts his head to one side, like he’s asking, “What’s that? What the heck is he doing?” Other than that we haven’t really performed for an audience of dogs yet!
Ronald: Well with my cats, I’d have to say, they seem to like my piano playing. Every time I get on it they gather around and it’s almost like it’s something that’s very peaceful for them. Whatever they’re doing it stops them in their tracks. They seem to really enjoy it. It’s pretty phenomenal to see.
Have you ever used music to try and calm down a Pit Bull during a rescue mission?
Sebastian: I don’t know if you’d say it’s to try and calm it down but music can definitely give the dog some sort of stimulation in the audio sense. Like Ronald was saying, if he’s playing his piano for his cats they’ll stop dead in their tracks; with my dogs, they do the same thing whenever I pick up the guitar. He’ll sit there and look at me and wonder what’s going on. I guess you could call it somewhere between therapeutic and distracting for them.
Are there any artists or genres that you think would go down particularly well with animals?
Ronald: I think it’s more of the classical music sound in general, at least it is for me in terms of my experience. Something heavier like rock or hip-hop, I don’t think they’d have the same response. But something like Mozart or something softer, it can be very therapeutic.
Sebastian: I would have to say that if I ever have to leave my dog in my apartment I will leave Jack Johnson on — he seems to dig that and does pretty well with it.
In your experience with rescuing dogs, what’s the biggest misconception people have about Pit Bulls?
Ronald: I think it’s that all Pit Bulls are vicious and very dangerous, which is not the case. There’s definitely a stereotype with Pit Bulls because unfortunately a lot of times they’re bred for other reasons like making money, and it’s sad how that overwhelms the positive side of the breed, ’cause they’re just so fun loving and just such gentle creatures.
Why do people have those misconceptions about Pit Bulls?
Sebastian: I would think that it’s because of the media. The media really sensationalizes anything any time it comes to an altercation with an animal. A lot of the times you hear about the dog bites on TV and there’s always a picture of the quote-unquote vicious Pit Bull. It’s unfair that the media has to portray them like that when they’re not bad dogs. Nine times out of ten it’s the owner that has raised them that way, whether they’re being neglected or they’ve been taught to be aggressive. It’s usually the humans that are at fault.
What can you do to help re-educate people about it?
Sebastian: Well, that’s what we’re trying to do with the EP, to try and re-educate people about the breed. I have one myself and every time I go around with him — he’s a registered service dog — people always come up to me and they’re like, “Is that a Pit Bull? What’s going on, is he going to bite me?” It’s one of those things where we need to be able to educate people to look past the stigma these dogs have and realize that these are really good dogs.
Who’s the most lovable dog you’ve had to rescue?
Ronald: In my experience they’ve all been pretty lovable. They’re frightened because of the situation and the environment they’re in, but once they really realize that we’re not a threat to them and we’re here to help them, they let their guard down pretty easily and all they want is affection and love. They have a pretty good sense why we’re there.
Are you ever tempted to adopt all the dogs yourself?
Ronald: If I had the room, definitely! If I had a house and the acreage to provide for many animals, then definitely! There’s so many animals out there whether it be dogs, cats or horses that don’t get to have a loving home, so I’d always take them.
What’s the most heartbreaking situation you’ve witnessed when rescuing a dog?
Sebastian: I think it’s seeing how people neglect their dogs, especially one dog we saw that was just left in the backyard, eaten alive by fleas, and the only thing they’d do is throw it some dog food and water to keep it alive. That’s it. It was heartbreaking to see that ’cause this dog apparently had cancer and seeing how the owner had just a complete disregard for its life was really bad. When we got the dog out of there and put it into a vet to help it get taken care of, it was really hard to see how people can just not even care.
Do you get angry when you see a situation like that?
Sebastian: Absolutely. I have an American Staffordshire at home and I pamper this guy! He’s like a family member to me. I want to make sure he’s well taken care of. When I see people not doing what they should be doing when it comes to the responsibility of having an animal, then it really angers me. You have to realize you’re taking a responsibility on and people aren’t doing that.
Finally, have you had any fans of Pit Boss name their dogs after you?
Sebastian: I’ve heard of a few!
Ronald: Yeah, we’ve had people name their pets after us, and especially Shorty and Shorty’s Pit Bulls, too. It’s an honor. It really lets us know that we’re making a difference out there.
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