Ringo Deathstarr just wrapped a lengthy North American tour at the end of October supporting their latest album, Mauve. We spoke with frontman, Elliott Fraiser, and Bassist, Alex Gehring, in an apartment building alcove outside the Lower East Side’s notable Cake Shop NYC, prior to one of their final shows on the tour. Here’s a little of what we chatted about…
Serial Optimist: Mauve is your second full-length album, how had your approach changed since your first album?
Elliott Fraiser: I feel like I’ve grown since the last album. For example, we don’t use the computer as much. It was easy to get caught up in computer effects because it was cheaper and can be fun, but sometimes when you can do anything you lose sight. There are too many options. Before we were really focused on recording, now the focus has changed to putting out something we can really perform live.
SO: I am a big fan of electronic music, but if the whole movement becomes that then what are we going to see for shows anymore? You’re just standing there staring at someone who’s standing there staring at a laptop…
Elliott: You don’t really need to be playing if you are an electronic artist. I mean you can pre-record but … I see a lot of people where they’ve got drum machines going and sequencers and they are just hitting two fingers on a keyboard. What are you actually doing? You did it all at home, why are you here?
SO: Pre-recording was something you found yourself having to do while touring to promote your first studio album, right? Do to the fact that you were minus a band member since the album was released.
Elliott: We just had to put some bass on an iPod and Daniel, the drummer, had to use a click-track in his ear, but it wasn’t good…
Elliott: (Chuckles and pauses)
Alex Gehring: I felt like on the recordings it worked, but it was really difficult for us to recreate it live and do it seamlessly and make it feel natural. It just didn’t work for us.
Elliott: We were thinking more about the recording at the time. What could we do in the studio. But when we personally went out and tried to play shows, we were running into problems. So, that’s when we decided to quit all of that…
Alex: Not that there is anything wrong with all of that; it just couldn’t work for us. We’re just not that type of band.
SO: So from that you learned you wanted to be a little more open and fluid, almost improvisational, and that’s what comes to the new album?
Elliott & Alex: Yes.
SO: Andy Warhol said, “Fashion wasn’t what you wore someplace anymore; it was the whole reason for going”, meaning it’s more about the act of doing than the meaning of what was done, which with this album being an equally shared project among the band with the focus on playing live, it seems that it is more for the act of expression, or creation, and putting that sound out there, instead of the song being, oh, for example, overly-individualized, like about an ex-lover, or some overtly-complicated, multi-track recording that just doesn’t translate live.
Elliott: The reason I was writing all of the songs before was because it was kind of leftovers from when the band first started, and I just had so many different people that I was dealing with, that would basically just flake out. And now that we’ve been doing this we can experiment with each other’s ideas and try to have a more realized vision. I don’t even like playing the old songs I wrote by myself over the ones we’ve done just now.
SO: It also seems to give the album a more raw, organic feel too. For example, how did you come up with the names of the songs?
Alex: They are mostly just a word in the song.
Elliott: They had really ridiculous working titles when we were writing them.
Ringo Deathstarr – “Rip”
SO: What do you feel like the scene is like coming out of Austin? And New York City?
Elliott: People are embracing of punk attitudes, in new different ways. It’s not like Green Day, but more influenced by Television, the Clash and even more underground stuff. There are also people doing weird No Wave mixed with melodic.
Alex: There’s lots of cool music coming out of Austin right now, it’s been a while since I’ve thought that but if feel like in the last couple years everyone has joined a band it is quite amazing. It’s great being able to go out to shows.
Elliott: People look to New York trying to determine what they are going to do by seeing what’s coming out of here. Unfortunately, as they say, “necessity is the mother of invention”, and here you can’t afford a practice space larger than a closet. Unlike NYC, in Austin you still have the luxury of having practice space large enough for not just a drum kit, but a drummer.
SO: I grew up in a sense where the music I was listening to basically no longer existed. All the music my peers were listening to, i.e. top 40s was something they could actually go and buy tickets to but … well, you know Kurt was dead … the Velvet Underground … I suppose there was some Iggy Pop and Lou Reed lingering around still, but … Do you feel like that that was your experience too, growing up listening to music you couldn’t actually have the opportunity to see live?
Elliott: That’s why I started a band. I’ve been playing drums in bands since I was 13, up until I was 23. At that point I quit the drums because I never went anywhere. I was trying to find my identity as a musician and I couldn’t sing, I couldn’t do shouty vocals, I can’t scream. So when I finally started hearing all these bands from the late 80’s early 90’s where the singers had a deep voice, and were singing like Lou Reed or Jim Reed, I thought, “I could do that”. And I liked the sound and aggressiveness of the music, liked I liked Nirvana, but I could never – when I was playing drums I was like, “I’ve gotta be like Dave Grohl” – but I could never sing like Kurt Cobain. But I liked the vibe of the guitars, and just the energy and the anger…
SO: The tension and the jitter?
Elliott & Alex: Yeah
Elliott: When I heard My Bloody Valentine, and it was just the power of the guitars. And at the time no one was doing it. When I started doing Ringo Deathstarr, it was the same time A Place To Bury Strangers came out but I had trouble getting the band together. I think I went through 20 different people in a 2-year period, then I finally met Alex and things fell into place. But I wanted to do it because I would never see these bands.
I used to watch the documentary, Hype, about the Seattle Grunge Movement that came out in ’96 and I used to watch it every day when I was in High School, I mean every day. There was this scene where they had this British journalist who was visiting Seattle and he says, “You go through periods where you’ve got keyboardist on the stage with 82 keyboards and 95 samplers, hold on wait a minute we just want to see some bands bash it out.” I think that the kind of cycle we are going through now. People are like, “F*ck this laptop guy, we wanna have people in our faces sweating on us, we wanna open our mouths and sweat falls in our face, dudes in their underwear and you can smell their balls (laughs). When I was in High School it was during the whole Emo thing and I loved the and The Anniversary and you’d go to their shows and people were moshing and you could barley breath in there.
SO: You get a lot of criticism saying you are too comparable to A Place to Bury Strangers and other bands in the Shoe Gaze genre, but you also seem to have backers like The Wedding Present and Smashing Pumpkins, bands who are considered musical vanguards to our time and I felt this latest album had even a little of a Nirvana, In Utero or Bleach feel, especially “Drain” & “Kill Yourself”…,
Alex: That’s awesome.
Elliott: Some people actually listen to music instead of copying what others say.
Alex: People see one review and say, “oh well they were compared to these bands so I am going to compare them too”. Not to say that obviously don’t have those we influences but, especially with this album, there was also so much more. When people make those comparisons I wonder if they really listened to it or if they are just regurgitating something they read somewhere else.
Elliott: When people say, “Jesus and Mary Chain” I just think they didn’t listen to it. It’s one thing to be compared to a sound but when you are lumped in under a label like Shoe Gaze where the sound is specific and you can’t go to a show and be rowdy. You go to a show and no one smiles. The other night atI was like, “I’m not going to play this song until all you Motherf*ckers put a smile on your face”.
Alex: He did say that.
Elliott: But of course they didn’t. It’s like, get over yourself and have some fun.
SO: Welcome to New York…
Alex: Unfortunately it seems like, “Welcome to the World”. Unless you’re Glow Friends…
Elliott: Yeah this band Glow Friends from Michigan, they are the most positive band I’ve seen recently. They don’t drink, they don’t do drugs, and when they play they jump around.
Alex: And when they watch bands they are just so enthusiastic.
Elliott: They are in the front row and are having a blast dancing. It’s so crazy to see that when everyone else … I know for a fact there are other people looking at them, angry.
Alex: It’s so cool being a band and knowing them and seeing that kind of enthusiasm alive somewhere, it’s like, “thank God for you guys”.
Elliott: When you see them you just can’t help but forget all of your problems and be in a happy place (chuckles).
SO: Isn’t really modern music, like the Pop Art Movement, a mass of our influences? What are we but our influences?
Elliott: There is one song where we said that we were going to sound exactly like Hüsker Dü on this one part, though I haven’t heard anyone compare it to that I went in saying, “we are going to sound like Hüsker Dü here” …
Pick up Mauve from Sonic Unyon Records and see if you can pick out the track Elliott’s referring to.
SO Note: Follow Ringo Deathstarr @RingoDeathstarr.
Band photo credit: Chad McGillivray