Sunday, 9 October 2011

RINGO DEATHSTARR

Photo: Marta Owczarek, 2011


Ringo Deathstarr Interview, OFF Festival, Katowice, Poland, August 2011

Ringo Deathstarr is (L-R): Daniel Coborn (drums), Elliot Frazier (guitar/vox) and Alex Gehring (basss/vox)

Supporting Smashing Pumpkins on their autumn tour of this year, Texan shoegaze freakout trio, Ringo Deathstarr, is making some heady waves this side of the pond with their dreamy and authentic brand of swirly guitar noise. 2009's album, ‘Sparkler’, was an utter triumph, and previous single ‘In Love’ sounded like the most glorious mash-up of the kind of lyrics the Moldy Peaches might use (“I’m in love, I’m in love, she’s sick”) set against a grinding and yet also somehow kaleidoscopic musical overture that was like a My Bloody Valentine track that didn’t quite make it onto Isn’t Anything.

Following some very enthusiastic and encouraging arrangements made with Ringo Deathstarr’s tour manager (who sent us emails from an account under the excellent name of ‘realcooltrash’), Marta Owczarek and I were asked to wait by the stage after the band’s set to be taken to have an interview with the group. However, nothing went to plan and the manager insisted on frogmarching us into the press area, despite the fact that we had already mentioned to him that we didn’t have press passes. He assured us that he’d sort everything so we tried to wander in past the security guards. Marta succeeded somehow. I was promptly collared (literally) and told to fuck offski. After about three or four attempts by the manager to persuade the security guards to let me in, it was starting to get embarrassing so I went and sat down on the grass outside and chain-smoked Camel cigarettes until it promptly decided to rain. As I was crawling into the kagool that my mother had suggested I bring, Marta rang me and said that the tour manager was trying to get everything sorted but for some time this sadly all came to no avail. Eventually however, I was motioned to by a stern looking lady with a clipboard to come inside, and then was ushered pass realcooltrash who was lounging in a deckchair and into the press tent where Marta was sat. Finally we were led out of the tent and into a spotless white trailer where the members of Ringo Deathstarr were waiting.

They were sat behind a large coffee table and had a giant OFF Festival banner as a backdrop pinned up behind them. There was a photographer taking pictures of the band and us throughout which was very weird and a little off-putting. The rest of the trailer-slash-padded cell was utterly pristine and, therefore, almost clinical. It felt like any second we’d all be subject to some kind of medical examination, but instead what followed was a very decent conversation. Ringo Deathstarr’s Elliot, Alex and Daniel were chilled out and friendly and more than willing to talk to two ‘freelance’ journalists who happened to be completely covered in spray-on glitter. What with Marta’s great accent and the wonderful Texan affectations of Ringo Deathstarr, I don’t think I’ve ever sounded as English as I did for those ten minutes.

During our allocated time we talked about thrift shop t-shirts, heatwaves in Austin, Texas, being on tour and that most obvious of questions, ‘What’s with the name?’ I particularly like the part where guitarist/vocalist Elliot starts hating on band names. And at the end when we had to confess that we weren’t actually meant to be there. That was funny.

What follows is a transcribed copy of the interview. Apologies if some bits seem a little pointless but I’ve tried to be as accurate as possible so some parts tend to trail off…

MO: Is it okay to record?
EF: Yeah.
AG: Yeah!
MO: Cool. Do you get to sit in rooms like this a lot? I mean, this is pretty depressing.
EF: They keep me a room like this at home…[laughter]
MO: Is it really like that in Austin in January?
[Note: referring to the heat, which, whilst on-stage, the band said was what they were used to in Texas]
AG: Maybe not in January but for most of the year it’s like that.
EF: Well, not in Austin, but where I grew up in south-east Texas, it feels like this most of the day, and then two days out of the year, it would freeze. It would rain and then in would be like ice. No snow. There’d be ice everywhere. And then it would get hot again.
KR: We like your little intro, the song you picked. Is that some kind of tribute to your Texas musical heritage?
[Note: RD used a really twee country song as their entrance music]
EF: Well, we were driving on tour last month, and I didn’t even know where we were, maybe Montana or something. And we just had the radio on and we heard that song. And we were just like, ‘What the fuck is this song?!’ and we just mentioned it to our sound engineer and he was like-‘cause he does sound for a country guy when he’s not doing sound for us-and he was like, ‘I have that song… [laughter]…if you wanna use it…’
AG: It’s so ridiculous, the lyrics…
EF: But it’s true though, I mean, I think, those three things he says, a lot of people can relate to that…it’s just a very simple-minded way of thinking about the world.
DC: Very true.
MO: People must ask you this a lot, but what’s with the name?
DC: We just wanna make as many people mad as possible.
MO: Mad?! How could they be mad?
AG: Well, people in America hate it.
DC: [nodding in agreement] They hate it.
MO: Really?
DC: It’s weird but English people like it more
KR: Is it maybe, Star Wars fans that hate it? Or Beatles fans?
EF/DC: No, no…
EF: It’s just those people that think a band name matters. I mean, I can’t think of one band name that..
DC: Isn’t stupid
EF: That isn’t good or bad. What makes a good band name?
AG: I guess because it’s kind of goofy, people think we’re a stupid band or something.
EF: I mean even with The Beatles, they spelled it ‘beat’ with l-e-s because it’s a play on the bug? That’s fucking stupid if you ask me. [laughter]
AG: Now you’re going to piss all the people off! No, we love The Beatles and Star Wars, but it’s just an easy name to remember I guess.
EF: Yeah, earlier on when we were just idiots in our bedrooms we would Google Ringo Deathstarr and you could find us. I think it helped us having a band name like that ‘cause it’s easy. It’s easy to remember, easy to find. And you got some of these bands that are popular today, like, I don’t know if you guys have heard of a Japanese band called Guitar Wolf? If you Google ‘Guitar Wolf’, you find ‘Guitar World’. Guitar World Magazine.
MO: My favourite band to Google is Girls.
EF: Yeah, exactly!
MO: That’s a treat.
AG: Guitar. That’s a tough one.
EF: I don’t know…The Drums. Why don’t we just name the band, ‘Water’?
AG: [laughing] There probably is a band!
DC: Google. That would be a good name.
AG: Google?!
EF: Yeah, it’s like, ‘Get over the band name already’. The band name is the last thing we think about. The band name is like a chore to think of.
MO: How is it that you’re on a British label but you’re still looking for a US booking agent?
EF: Booking agents and labels don’t really have anything to do with each other.
MO: No, I mean, are you not very-I don’t know-do you not play the US a lot? Do you prefer UK?
AG: Well, we do better in the UK.
EF: Yeah.
MO: Really?
AG: Definitely. In the US, errr…maybe it’s because of our name.
EF: The US tour we just did was really good actually. And we booked it ourselves and, I mean, it’s fine, booking it ourselves, but a lot of promoters over there, they just kind of give you the shaft unless you have someone else with more clout. You can’t go on tour getting paid $150 every night. You just can’t, you know? Especially when you’ve got pets and wives and girlfriends and rent and bills. These booking agents are able to get you more money. We’re not out to be billionaires, but you’ve gotta exist and you’ve gotta have basic things. And booking ourselves, well just now we’re able to get by but before that it was just horrible. You’d show up and be lucky if you got fifty dollars to play after you drove, like, eight hours, which is how it is in the States because everything’s so far away from each other.
MO: Or I was thinking maybe it’s an extension of, I don’t know, you clear up after the gig yourselves, and set up everything yourselves…
EF: Oh yeah.
MO: And some bands will say, ‘We’ll just book ourselves, we don’t need a booking agent’, or whatever. It’s just an extension of doing things yourself.
EF: Our booking agent over here is really awesome and he works with us. He doesn’t just tell us what to do, we have conversations and say ‘We want to do this’, ‘No, we don’t want to do that’. So it’s like just having another guy on your team.
MO: Are you on a huge tour right now or something? How come you’re in Poland?
EF: Because we wanted to be.
MO: Yeah? Well, how do you like the festival?
AG: It’s awesome.
EF: It’s great.
AG: We just got here.
MO: Really? Oh, wow.
EF: Yeah. We want to play as many places as possible.
MO: Will you get to see any bands or will you just be…?
EF: Yeah, today we will.
MO: You had a very good audience for 3pm
DC: Yeah!
EF: Yeah, it was great. Well, that tent next to us just let out and I saw all these people coming out, and it was probably hot as hell in that tent. People just wanted to get out of there.
MO: So no impressions of Poland yet because you just got here.
DC: It was pretty driving in. Kind of like France. To me, from a car.
EF: I’ve watched travel shows about Poland and stuff.
MO: In preparation for this?
EF: No, just at home. Because I don’t have cable so the free channels I get are public television shows. There’s a show called ‘Rick Steve’s Europe’ and each episode is a different country. It’s pretty educational. Especially the Eastern-European shows. Those are the most interesting. It feels like people from Eastern Europe are kind of holding onto their culture, their historical cultures, a bit more than Western.
MO: Do you get a day off or something?
EF: We had one yesterday in Prague.
AG: And we get one in Berlin.
EF: Yeah, tomorrow.
KR: Are you playing London any time soon?
EF: We played there a week ago.
KR: Oh! Where did you play?
EF: Hoxton
KR: Oh, nice. What did you make of it? There’s a bit of an East London stereotype...
EF: No, it seemed like Williamsburg, Brooklyn. That’s what we thought. We’d never been there before and we thought, ‘Man, there’s a lot of really attractive people here.’
KR: ‘Hipsters’ they call them.
AG: Yeah, there were definitely some hipsters. But it was a really fun show, it was one of our best London shows.
EF: Yeah, I think every time we come back it just keeps getting better, which is all you can really hope for. And it’s really awesome when you go to a place for the first time and there’s people there to see you.
DC: Pretty weird feeling.
EF: Yeah, my mom told me when I was a kid that this would never happen [laughter]
[Clipboard lady frantically makes ‘cut’ gestures at us from the doorway]
MO: They’re telling us to stop, but can I take a photo?
EF: Yeah!
AG: Yeah, of course.
MO: Also, are you really anti-drugs [pointing at Elliot’s t-shirt which says ‘DRUGS SUCK’ on it] or is it just to piss people off?
EF: It’s about Tylenol.
[laughter]
MO: If you’re trying to piss people off with your aesthetic, then that’s just another thing to add to it.
DC: Do whatever you want, we don’t care.
EF: It’s just a kind of thing that you can tell your mom.
AG: It’s a New Kids on the Block shirt.
MO: Really? No way! Wow.
KR: Where did you find that?
MO: It’s hilarious.
EF: I just found it in a thrift store or vintage store in Austin. It was just sat there one day
MO: It’s pretty sick.
AG: He’s worn it, like, every show and its beginning to become sweaty.
EF: The salty stains. Whoever had it before had to sew it back together right here.
KR: It’s well-worn. That’s the sign of a good thrift shop t-shirt.
EF: I’ve seen some New Kids shirts cost like $100. This was, like, $20.
KR: [motioning to Keith Richards t-shirt] Two pounds, this one!
AG: Nice!
KR: I found it in North London in a charity shop.
AG: Really?
KR: Yeah, it was a good find.
DC: It’s awesome.
EF: In London, is there a chain of charity shops which is the best one to go to usually?
KR: I guess it depends, doesn’t it?
MO: Yeah, it’s not usually the particular charity, it’s more that in certain areas things will be all picked out, so being anywhere central is probably not gonna work that well.
[Clipboard lady gets more aggressive with her ‘cut’ gestures.]
MO: Well anyway, we would have loved to have chatted with you over a beer or something, but
AG: Yeah! We’ll be around.
DC: We’ll be here all day.
MO: Cool.
AG: What was the name of the blog? It was a blog, right?
MO: It’s a couple of things. We’re doing it for a bunch of stuff, but we’ll let you know.
AG: Yeah, please do.
EF: Well, are you guys gonna be hanging around back here for the next…
MO: Well, we’re not because we’re not really meant to be here. Your tour manager just let us in and we’re not supposed to be here. But we’ll be out in the festival.
AG: Well, we’ll see you.
EF: We’ll keep an eye out. Are you guys going to watch Sebadoh later?
MO: Yeah!
AG: Well, we’ll see you there!
MO: Cool, see you later.

What’s annoying is that we didn’t get to see Sebadoh in the end. After watching Public Image Ltd, the muddy conditions forced us to retreat to a tent for hot chocolate, at which point it was getting pretty late so we headed back to the hotel. But we did see Alex at one point wandering around the festival and she waved and said hello, which was nice.


Incidentally, here is a Youtube video of an alternative interview by CLASH magazine that directly followed our guerrilla efforts and press pit sabotage:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oqPkih0kKoU

It’s a funny story but we had actually met this guy, Mark, from CLASH in the vegan food tent the night before. He was eating a savoury pancake with some lentil goo in it. I don’t recall the circumstances in which we got talking but he seemed nice enough, though he did brag quite a bit about how he had an exclusive conversation with Primal Scream scheduled later that night. We had mentioned that we were hoping to conduct a few interviews ourselves and he had wished us well. I must say that seeing him enter the white trailer with a camera crew whilst we were saw there, bold as brass, recording the conversation on an iPhone with only bog-standard festival wristbands on was a real triumph. Plus his interview is only five minutes long and ours was, like, ten. Ha! I gave him a cheery wave on the way out of the trailer and he looked a little confused. At any rate, whoever’s idea it was to have the lame jazz-hand ‘We’re Ringo Deathstarr!’ introduction on his interview should be sacked.



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