Interview Archive

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)

Tags:

Interview: Johan from The Legends Answers Our Questions

One of TSOI’s favorite bands of the past 5 years has been The Legends, so we were thrilled when Johan took time out of his busy schedule preparing for their upcoming NYC shows to answer a few of our burning questions.

TSOI: Based on the strength of “Facts and Figures” The Legends were sited by The Sound Of Indie as the northern European representative of the most notable world-spanning Tetrarchy since the days of Diocletian. (See our April 8th, 2008 Cut Copy post.) Has being bestowed such an honor changed how you go about your daily life?

JOHAN: No, I can’t see the good things. Just the bad things, oh…

TSOI: I think I speak for everyone here at TSOI, but probably since hearing The Cardigans, Komeda and Doktor Kosmos in the mid 90s, we have developed a very pronounced “Swede tooth”, that is an affinity for bands from Sweden. If someone recommends a band to me, and I find out that they are from Sweden, I generally find that cause enough to buy the record. Starting with The Cardigans and on to bands like The Hives, The Hellacopters, to even Robyn, Lykke Li, Jens Lekman, and in particular with The Knife, Sweden, which has the combined population of New York City manages to knock out great bands at a steady clip all presumably handicapped by working under a non-native language. And if you include the Max Martin hit factory, this observation reaches near pandemic proportions. (I might also note that I can make a similar case for Scottish bands, but indecipherable accent aside, they are speaking English.) I guess my question would be: 1) Is this something that Swedes are aware of, and 2) why do you suppose so many achieve a disproportionate seeming relative success in the US?

JOHAN: I think people here are pretty confident about making music and that it comes pretty natural to play instruments, write songs and start a band for a lot of people. Basically everyone here learns to
play an instrument in school. I was actually one out of two in my class who didn’t. Perhaps that explains my lack of technical skills even to this day? There is a long history, starting with ABBA I suppose, of Swedish bands that has managed to come through pretty well internationally so I think playing music on an international level is not looked upon as something strange or unusual. I think what makes the Swedish pop scene really good these days is that it doesn’t try too hard. I think I’ve made comparisons to the UK scene before. UK bands seems to aim at being the next NME hype, big cliché rock start and make the charts from day one. They seem to have fancy lawyers, management and a “cool” image long before they’ve written any good songs or found anything whatsoever interesting to show the world. It’s about all the wrong things. So hopefully Swedish bands normally don’t do it that way. Instead they might write the songs they want to, find an identity of their own and basically just do music for their creativity wants them to. With that comes more quality and perhaps that has paid off.

TSOI: Three of the bands that I didn’t mention on the list above, The Acid House Kings, The Legends and Club 8 released incredible albums that are perfectly effortless in their excellence, but as releases, have managed to keep a low profile in the US. Based on success of recent bands, I figured the three would be ubiquitous. Any thoughts?

JOHAN: We’ve never really tried that hard. AHK release an album every fifth year or so. We never tour. With Club 8 we actually did quite a few show last year to promote the album. Not in the US though. But we did try a little more than before… not THAT hard, but still. Club 8 can’t be away on tour too much either though and when we got to choose from going to places like Thailand and Indonesia and play for a couple of thousand people, stay in nice hotels and get decent payments for the shows – or loose money traveling around the US in a van, we decided to go for Asia. We’re very focused on making great album, but the people involved perhaps don’t value success with the bands high enough to do the things it would take to take it to another level. So, that explains parts of it. Another thing could be that a lot of people don’t like our music?

TSOI: I suspect that an element that makes albums by The Cardigans and The Legends so notable is the perfect production. I have lamented about how poorly many recent synth based records sound with The Legends “Facts and Figures” being a notable exception. Do you have comments about the importance of production, in particular for a synth based band, which you would think would be predisposed to studio production?

JOHAN: I don’t know the meaning of “predisposed.” It tried dictionary.reference.com but still couldn’t really fit it into the sentence completely… oh well…Writing songs is not that hard. Recording and producing them on the other hand, and doing it in line with the core emotions of the songs and in line with the visions made up when the song was written, THAT is difficult. I try not to listen to other
people when I make my albums. Other people’s ideas only blurs the vision and compromises the result. It takes a lust for experimenting and patience to get it right.

TSOI: Another observation: When it comes to production of synth based bands, the 80s/90s output on Wax Trax! records seemed to be uniformly good…like they housed the Phil Spectre’s of making a synth riff really full and heavy. Any comments?

JOHAN: No comments, but I’ll take it as a tip that I should look up the 80s/90s output on Wax Trax! records.

TSOI: I saw The Legends on their 2006 East Coast tour. How did that tour go? Plans on a return?

JOHAN: It went OK I suppose. I thought New York was great fun. I’m not sure if our performance with The Legends was very good. Maybe we were OK, maybe we weren’t. Seeing The Legends is an erratic live experience, probably leaning towards the more bad side of things. It makes things exciting though. You can probably see The Legends three times in a week with the same songs and have three very different experiences. And you’ll soon get a chance to do that. We’re heading over for a New York –tour in June 23rd at Bell House, 24th at Santos, 26th at Studio. We did a two-date tour in Sweden and I think we were really good on at least one of the these shows (the other one was pretty good too), so I believe we’ve improved. Bring the earplugs!

TSOI: For a band as prolific as The Legends (almost one LP per year), why have tours have been so limited? What keeps The Legends from touring the US say in contrast to say, Lykke Li or The Shout Out Louds? I suppose Kevin here would like to know why you hate Los Angeles, and why you have never toured on the West Coast? What has the West Coast done to be shunned by The Legends and what can we do to fix that?

JOHAN: I think you almost answered the questions yourself. If you want to put out a fair amount of albums you don’t have the time to tour that much. Also, I think it’d be boring to tour a lot. I want it to feel special each time I play. If I’d do 10 shows in a row it would start to feel like a job and music shouldn’t be like that.

We’d be more than happy to play the West Coast. But, there’s a tradition especially in the UK, but a bit in the US as well I’ve noticed, that bands on tour should be happy to loose a few thousand
dollars and get paid in beer and sleep on people’s floors. And there I’m back with the “not trying hard enough”–thing because I don’t really feel like doing these kind of things.

TSOI: TSOI had this to say when receiving the latest single “Seconds Away” last October: “Hot damn! After a couple quick listens, I can safely say that Johan a.k.a. The Legends achieved what Stephin Merritt tried and failed miserably to do with the last Magnetic Fields record, and that is successfully channel Psychocandy-era Jesus And Mary Chain.” Did you follow any of Stephin Merritt in press leading up to The Magnetic Fields’ press for ‘Distortion’? Did you have the sound laid out for the track before the Magnetic Fields’ JAMC pronouncements were made? If so, did you think that your thunder was about to be stolen?

JOHAN: I remember reading that and it has a point. Not that I was aiming at making Psychocandy 2.0, but I was also disappointed with Magnetic Fields‘ “Distortion.” When I read about it it sounded as if it could be really great, but it ended up pretty lame and badly produced. At least from what I remember. I was so let down I only listened to it once, so perhaps I should listen a bit more before making any statements on this…I’m actually in a Magnetic Fields “Get Lost” period this week so it should be a good time to pick it up. But to answer your questions, yes, I think I had heard/heard about “Distortion” before writing “Seconds Away” as I wrote that in March or something last year.

TSOI: The Legends certainly have no problem shifting stylistic gears moving from a 60′s soul sound in the excellent debut record, “Up Against The Legends” and most recently with synth pop sheen on the insanely excellent “Facts and Figures” record. If the recent “Seconds Away” single is any indication, the new record will involve a major shift again into classic shoe-gaze, a genre that we here at TSOI are particularly fond. What motivated this move?

JOHAN: I needed distraction. I needed noise to clear my head from angst. Uncontrolled feedback and white noise on high volume has a very nice effect on the brain and so that’s what I went for. It’s like
medicine for me. It’s also inspiring to move between opposites and after having made the rather quiet “The Boy Who Couldn’t Stop Dreaming” with Club 8 it was good to make something louder. I don’t
think The Legends fit into to a shoegaze scene though. “Over And Over” is after all based on very distinct melodies.

TSOI: Here at TSOI, we are fans of many of the bands that have been slotted as noise/shoe gaze with Swervdriver, Ultra Vivid Scene, Curve, and Jesus and Mary Chain, etc being among the preferred here. Do you have comments about any of these bands or others? Have you seen any of the recent shows of reformed Swervedriver, My Bloody Valentine, or Jesus and Mary Chain?

JOHAN: I like JAMC’s “Psychocandy” and like even more the single “Upside Down,” but the shoegaze that I really like is My Bloody Valentine and Slowdive. But from what I remember, I thought the scene lacked good melodies and I’m afraid that was my thoughts on both Swevedriver and Curve when I last heard them. Shall I give them a new chance perhaps? I liked a few songs from Ultra Vivid Scene though. I haven’t seen any of the bands lately. I’ve seen My Bloody Valentine in the past and it was an amazing, and deafening, experience. Not sure if I want to spoil the memory.

TSOI: The other member of the mighty Tetrarchy noted above are Casiotone for the Painfully Alone, Cut Copy, Hot Chip, (and probably should include Ladytron and Ruby Isles as well, but then it wouldn’t be a Tetrarchy now would it?). Are you into any of these bands? Any other bands that are currently experiencing heavy rotation at The Legends headquarters?

JOHAN: I saw Cut Copy live and I’ve heard some songs and weren’t impressed. What I am supposed to feel when I listen to that music? Happiness? An urge to dance? I don’t dance so I didn’t feel that much. Christian at the Labrador office thought Cut Copy was last year’s best album so I’ve promised myself to give them another chance. I might buy it today, exactly one year after everyone else was into it. I loved Hot Chip’s version of Matthew Dear’s “Don and Cherri” and I really liked Ladytron when they released “Playgirl.” Can I add Junior Boys to the Tetrarchy instead of Casiotone? I really liked the production of the previous album.

I’ve been listening quite a lot to music from Mali and Kongo lately plus a bunch of Brazilian artists from the Tropicalia movement. Tathianna from Coquetel Molotov in Brazil has been very kind and introduced me to a whole scene which is really inspiring. I’ve been very retro the last week. Red House Painters “Down Colourful Hill”, The Montgolfier Brothers’ first album, McCarthy ”I Am A Wallet” and the previously mentioned Magnetic Fields album.

TSOI: And finally, what is the latest intel. concerning The Legends new record and touring prospects?

JOHAN: The New York tour! That’s it for now. It’d be fun to go to Spain when Sweden is getting cold in October so I think we’re heading there in the fall.

_____________________________________________________

TSOI wants to thank Johan for answering our questions and if you’re in NYC next week, be sure to catch The Legends at these shows:

June 23 – New York – Bell House
June 24 – New York – Santos Party House
June 26 – New York – The Studio at Webster Hall

Also, if you haven’t already picked up The Legend’s new record “Over And Over” directly from Labrador Records, you can pick up the domestic US release starting tomorrow, June 16th from your local or online music retailer.

Interview: Casiotone for the Painfully Alone – Natural Light

We are very pleased to announce TSOI’s first official interview. We look forward to this becoming a regular feature. This interview, conducted a month or so ago, is with Owen, the throbbing brain in formaldehyde, of one of TSOI’s very favorite bands.

March 10 saw the release of a Casiotone for the Painfully Alone singles compilation. A full length of new material is also slated to be released on April 7th, so CFTPA have been mighty busy as of late and therefore we are fortunate to get some CTFTPA to TSOI squawk-time.

TSOI: What are your thoughts on The Sound Of Indie? You are sited by TSOI as the American representative of the most notable world-spanning Tetrarchy since the days of Diocletian. (See April 08th, 2008 Cut Copy post.) Has being bestowed such an epithet changed how you go about your daily life?

I just walk around feeling flattered all day long.

TSOI: The other member of the Tetrarchy are The Legends, Cut Copy, Hot Chip, (and probably should include Ladytron and Ruby Isles as well, but then it wouldn’t be a Tetrarchy now would it?). Are you into any of these bands?

I’ve heard a Hot Chip song that I thought was pretty catchy. I don’t know what it was called but it had a really good vocal melody, I thought.

TSOI: Even though you use keyboards I wouldn’t necessarily assume, in your case, that your major influences are New Wave bands like New Order or Kraftwerk or other often sited electronic bands. Being an old-timer of sorts, nearly every new bands that comes about, I can pretty quickly suss out their influences but not so much with Ctftpa, which in my book, is impressive and laudable. So, the question: What were your favorite bands and what bands influenced you so that I can say “Casiotone are largely derived from _________________, ___________, and _____________ with a touch of _______________ thrown-in for good measure?

I recently got really excited about Kraftwerk again. They were a really important band for me when I was younger and I kind of put them away for a while, but over the last few months, I’ve been listening to their records all of the time all over again. I recently started digitizing some of my record collection and re-investigating some of my favorite old LPs and 45s, and it has made for a really sweet and nostalgic time around my apartment. I have a great deal of fondness for New Order as well, but I haven’t digitally re-discovered any of those old records yet. There is an awful lot of music that has inspired and informed my music, in both positive and negative ways. I feel pretty shitty about comparing my music to other people’s music, though, I kind of think that’s for other people to do, but I will say that YES I like Kraftwerk very very much. I think their music is really heavy, and lately I have been especially interested in really heavy feeling music.

TSOI: The most downloaded track from TheSoundofIndie is a Duran Duran video. Duran Duran of course features probably the most famous keyboard player ever – who has probably done the most to bring the keyboard player out of the role of anonymous factotum to dude with wicked-cool potential. I am , of course, speaking of Nick Rhodes. Any thoughts on Nick Rhodes? If you dig Nick Rhodes as much as we do, why don’t you wear a cape?

I’ve never owned any of Duran Duran’s records, but when I was in high school, my friend Marc got really into their first album and we did a lot of driving around the San Francisco peninsula listening to Hungry Like The Wolf and Her Name Is Rio or whatever pretty loud. That was a good time. I’ve never thought very much about Nick Rhodes, though, and I haven’t worn a cape since I was Superman for Halloween when I was 8 or so. I guess I’m just not that into capes!

TSOI: Any word on the new album? You mentioned the story of bicycle riding bandit at a show earlier this year. I hear ‘concept album’ potential here. If so give us the scoop and elaborate.

The new album is almost done. I still have a few vocal bits to record and then there is some general mixing to take care of. I wouldn’t call it a concept record, but there are definitely some major themes happening, not unlike some of my previous albums. There are a lot of stories about families and children and there are a few songs about bank robberies. I’m of the belief that explaining the various literary devices used kind of takes the magic and discovery out of the experience of listening, so I’d rather not say too much about it, other than that there are some bank robberies and some moms and dads and it’s probably a little more adult feeling than my previous albums. I used to work at a movie theater with a dude who I found out later also robbed banks, and there is a song that is very overtly about him in there.

TSOI: I was recently shocked to learn that Belle and Sebastian were created as a project for a music course. At a show several years ago, I recall that you met members of The Rapture during music coursework in California. How did the courses inform ctftpa? Would you recommend aspiring bands take music coursework and get a bit of an infusion of the academic?

I took a few music classes at San Francisco State University, but nothing too heavy or theoretical. I took a totally basic piano class where I learned some really rudimentary theory, and that was the first time I ever had any real awareness of what a chord was or what the names of any of the notes were. I wrote some of my first ever music for piano that semester. I met Luke from The Rapture in a history of rock n’ roll class the following semester, and by that time, I had recorded some of the very first Casiotone songs and I was playing shows and stuff. I don’t think there is or was anything particularly academic about my music, though. I mean I never got a grade for any of my songs or anything.

TSOI: One of my favorite pop music tropes is name checking cities and their local sites, like you do with St Paul and Nashville, both places I have spent some time. Do you care to comment on the name/site-checking rock-n-roll conceit? What do you make of those cities and do you become a part of a local scene or are you touring to the extent that you are not the product or member of a musical scene?

I always enjoyed songs about specific cities, because I think being able to look at a map and make a musical connection to a place is just a nice feeling. I like the way songs can feel like souvenirs. Some of my songs about places are about specific people from those places, and some are just totally pure speculation. And no I don’t really feel like I’m part of any specific scene. I love the city where I live and the place itself has certainly been an influence on my music, but I don’t know how much that has to do with other people in Chicago’s different bands. I don’t hang out with that many musicians, and the friendships I do have with other local musicians aren’t really based on music. We talk about food and movies and our cats and stuff. Music has always been a pretty personal thing for me, and I think especially because I mostly just play music on my own, I’m used to internalizing a lot of those band-y kinds of conversations. Also, I think touring so much just gets me burned out about talking about music all of the time, so when I get home, it’s nice to think about other things.

Here’s a track from the forthcoming Vs. Children which is released two weeks from today.

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Download: Castiotone for the Painfully Alone – Natural Light