Interview: Ruby Isle – It’s So Easy (GnR Cover) TSOI Exclusive

TSOI pretty much only features bands that we really dig. Dan Geller is the mastermind behind the influential Athens, GA based label kindercore and a member of two bands that we absolutely revere: I Am The World Trade Center and his current band, Ruby Isle. Ruby Isle released “Night Shot” a massive bouncy slab of machined-guitar drum machine thump-driven pop perfection. Earlier this year, Ruby Isle released “Night Shot – The Remixes” which runs their 2008 debut record through the remix machine.

We were fortunate to “sit down” with Dan via e-mail and have him answer a few questions:

TSOI: I was introduced to I Am The World Trade Center at the kindercore CMJ Showcase in, I suppose 2003. I have been to nearly every CMJ Music Marathon since 1998 and the perhaps second to only seeing a surprise unannounced Halo Benders performance, the top highlight, and there have been many, of going to any CMJ was chancing upon I Am The World Trade Center at that CBGBs show in 2003.

Dan Geller: That kindercore show at CBGBs was one of the greatest moments of my life. I am glad you were there to share it.

TSOI: Rumors indicate that you have a project involving Guns n Roses ‘Appetite for Destruction’. Explanation please. Any tracks you’re willing to share with us?

DG:It is true! Ruby Isle did the whole record cover to cover we are really excited about it. We decided to pick an iconic record from our youth (Mark Mallman the singer for Ruby Isle and I went to middle school/high school together. We also wanted to pick something that would shock people and maybe even piss some people off (Axl Rose I am looking at you). We even lifted microsamples from the original material to make it happen. The whole thing is a spaced out, electronic version of the original. I think people are going to be surprised when they hear it.

TSOI: Pop Quiz!: What is the best song on Appetite? And yes, there is one – and only one – unassailable correct answer to that question. Answer carefully.

DG:My Michelle, absolutely. Can’t wait to hear your response.

Editors Note: Everyone knows “Rocket Queen” is the best GnR song by a country mile.

TSOI: A topic that TSOI has discussed a bit is what makes a good cover and how some bands are far more conducive to covers than others. Examples: Bob Dylan and Velvet Underground make for great cover opportunities. On the other hand Prince, The Fall, and Joy Division fall into territory that one best tread lightly if at all. To date, the only remotely decent cover of a GnR song is Luna’s take on “Sweet Child of Mine”. “Sweet Child of Mine” for some reason seems to be the song most conducive to being covered but I don’t see much of GnR’s work very ‘coverable’. Thoughts?

DG: It was really, really difficult. We are at heart a pop band and despite their popularity, the songs on Appetite are NOT pop songs. It was also really hard to turn a real rock record into an electronic pop record. Throw in the weird song arrangements and questionable lyrics and we had a real challenge on our hands.

TSOI: What did you think of Chinese Democracy? We here at TSOI have taken on quite a few pet causes over the years and if you go through our archives one successful campaign was applying pressure to the new Gunners to release that record after a decade of stalling. We are convinced that TSOI turned the tide and was largely responsible for its ultimate release.

DG: Wow, that is crazy, I am not sure if you did the world a favor or started the apocalypse we are looking forward to in 2012.

TSOI: Your bands have been often performed or recorded covers of The Cure, Human League, Blondie, The Jam, and others, which I can only assume were chosen since they were influential or otherwise songs you liked. Can the same be said for GnR?

DG: We love doing covers. If you look back at the Ruby Isle catalog over half of our songs are covers. From Sonic Youth to Peter Gabriel. We also took the number one song on elbo.ws for 12 weeks and covered those songs. That was really fun because we had no control over the songs we covered and we only gave ourselves two days to do each cover. The resulting tracks are covers of Decemberists, Bon Iver, Beach House, Animal Collective, it got kind of crazy.

GnR was a huge influence on Mark and I in Middle School. You couldn’t go anywhere in Milwaukee (where we grew up) without hearing that record. I had an older brother that was obsessed with it and it is totally programmed into our collective psyche.

TSOI: I suppose you would be as qualified as anyone on the subject of state of the music scene from a business perspective. As owner of kindercore, how have you navigated the transition to the new digital download era? Is it better or worse for an independent label like kindercore now? How about for a band like Ruby Isle? I, for one, am not so sure that this new ‘age’ is better. Your view?

DG: As a fan, I think the new era is great. I hate having stuff laying around my house and being able to put up some of my vinyl after dumping it down to mp3 is actually something I really appreciate. As a label owner it has been tough. Luckily we have a great catalog (Of Montreal, Dressy Bessy, Essex Green, IATWTC) which keeps cash flowing. If we were just promoting new acts it would be very expensive!!!

TSOI: What is the status of I Am The World Trade Center (IATWTC)? SXSW was blessed with a reunion show. How about the rest of us? How about a Ruby Isle/IATWTC double billing tour?

DG: We had another reunion at a festival in Athens last summer. Amy actually sat in with Ruby Isle and it was awesome. Ruby knows a bunch of World Trade songs so when Amy is around I think we might convince her to join us. She is pregnant right now so it isn’t going to happen any time soon…

TSOI: IATWTC was an oddity being a synth-pop duo in 2000. Like many of the bands featured on TSOI, IATWTC were on the order of a decade ahead of their time. These days, the template set by IATWTC way-back-when can be found through a slew of synth-based bands thumping around these days. Any thoughts on that? Are there any out there you like? Dislike?

DG: I am glad you said it and not me. I also DJ at clubs under the name Twin Powers, so I am always looking for new dance jams to play. Therefore I am really excited about all the new synth stuff out there. I am a huge fan of Washed Out and Neon Indian. Of course Of Montreal has always been a favorite and I like the 2.0 version even better than the 1.0 stuff we released on kindercore. However, aside from Of Montreal the one thing I always kind of feel that is missing with the new synthpop is a high energy live show. It seems like a lot of new bands hide behind the synths and the lights and don’t rock. I have always made it a point to be in bands that give a great show and go crazy live. Since you have seen us you know what I am talking about. If I am not about to pass out at the end of a show, I haven’t done my job. Don’t get me wrong, there are some charismatic bands out there doing synthpop, but few of them seem to bring the punk ethic to stage that we were raised on. If one thing can be said about Ruby Isle, we bring the rock to synthpop. Mallman is probably one of the craziest frontmen out there and we really try to kill ourselves on stage with fun.

TSOI: Athens, GA is, I presume (never been), a smallish town but has a pretty nuts musical history. Is it true that Michael Stipe and Peter Buck and The B-52s and the like are always tooling around? I was always fond of Love Tractor for that song “Crash”. Whatever the case, Athens had a lot going on. What were the bands that you saw that got you into recording music and playing in bands? Does Athens have a particularly good music infrastructure” that many other cities do not? If a town were to build that infrastructure, what would those plans look like?

DG: It is pretty true. I DJ at a bar called GOBAR that Michael Stipe owns. When he is town he comes and hangs out there quite a bit. I am also in another band called The Gold Party that sounds like Depeche Mode, Mike Mills played bass with the other guys in the band last Halloween when they did a Sex Pistols cover band, the Halloween before that he did a Siouxsie and the Banshees cover band with the guys Gold Party. I think that stuff is up on YouTube.

The nice thing about Athens is that it is small and cheap and has A LOT of places to play. It is a really supportive community as far as music goes and there are always new bands popping up. As many times as I have tried to leave here, I always keep coming back. Life is just easy here. Athens is like if you took 6th Street in Austin and made a city out of it.

TSOI: And finally, as much as I love the albums, seeing Ruby Isle live is where you absolutely kill. When are you touring next?

DG: Thank you for that, as I said earlier we like playing live best too. The recordings are really just an excuse to play shows for us. The other two guys Mark Mallman and Aaron Lemay both live in Minneapolis. I fly up there about once a month and we play shows around the midwest. We will be doing a full on tour supporting Appetite for Destruction early 2011. I can’t wait. Playing live is really my favorite thing in life.


Ruby Isle’s Appetite For Destruction is out on kindercore Records this month.

Download: Ruby Isle – It’s So Easy (GnR Cover)

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