We first came across Oakland's Rays through an interview in the excellent Dynamite Hemorrhage magazine. Since then, the four-piece's wiry, urgent post-punk has formed part of a quiet obsession as we've followed them through social media and Soundcloud demos. So when we heard that Chicago's Trouble in Mind records (Ultimate Painting, Chook Race, Dick Diver), were releasing their debut album on March 31, well, our palms got a little clammy. And judging by "Drop Dead", the first track lifted from the album, there is good reason for the hand moisture.
Stanley Martinez, Eva Hannan, Troy Hewitt and Alexa Pantalone are considered somewhat of a Bay Area supergroup whose current and past musical projects include The World, Life Stinks, Violent Change, and Dadfag. These guys know how to write a jerky-jerky post punk songs.
Recorded by Bay-area stalwart Kelley Stoltz, and mastered by Australian Mikey Young (Ooga Boogas, Total Control, Eddy Current Suppression Ring) Rays blends in elements of Pere Ubu, 80s New Zealand indie pop and absurd humour. We love it.
Take a listen to "Drop Dead" and read a short interview with the band's Eva Hannan below.
Noisey: "Drop Dead" is one of your older tracks and it's changed a bit since the demo. How has the band changed from the early days?
Eva Hannan: The sound of the band evolved a lot in the first year, though we seem to have found our groove. Originally Troy joined the band as a keyboard and synth player but the move to guitar was pretty obvious after a while. Most of the songs on the album involve some over-dubs, whether synth, piano, or just more guitar. Having those instruments be factors in the earlier songwriting helps us hear where those things should be added in recordings. A lot of the sound of the demo had to do with our less than perfect equipment more than any purposeful sound-molding. They are very distorted (in a good way) but we were definitely very happy with the way the album turned out. We feel it is the way we are "supposed" to sound, whereas the demos were more happenstantial.
Why is post punk so often described as urgent? Are you urgent people or rather more chilled?
Overall, we are pretty chill externally and vary greatly in our internal lives, in a way that balances us well as a group. In reference to music writing any adjective should be taken with a grain of salt. What is described as "urgency" in post-punk music is simply a reflection of the environment and times within which the music was written. The world continues to speed up, and musicians continue their attempts to be heard in the melee. You gotta fight fire with fire, so that urgency is just one of the reflections music throws back at the reality it finds itself in. Later bands are stylistically influenced by that sound but perhaps without those original contributing factors. Are we post-punk really? It's all just rock'n roll, man. Any subdivision is intellectualizing a visceral experience that only loses it's meaning the more words are attached to it.
You mention that you are inspired by Aussie bands such as UV Race, Terry, The Victims, Babeez. What is it about these Antipodean bands that you dig?
Maybe it has something to do with the political climate and racial prejudices still blaringly obvious in those countries that harken back to the golden era of US rock birth. When music had a message worth sending in between songs about drinking and chasing women. Maybe not. Maybe they want a good reason to get out of a relatively isolated place. Maybe it's the weather (we hear Melbourne has a similar climate to the Bay Area). Maybe this group of people just make some of the best fucking music on the planet for no reason but that they want to. We definitely get along with them on a personal basis. Continually we are impressed with the people themselves. We love Australians! At least the ones that get out with their bands.
The Australian connection runs strong on the album with Mikey Young mixing the album and Kelley Stoltz (no stranger to Australian shores) recording it. What was it like working with Kelley? Have you hung out with Mikey when he's been in SF/Oakland?
We have had some personal interactions with Mr. Mikey Young since Total Control came into our lives, he and Kelley recorded Life Stink's first album and we try to see him if he's around. Kelley Stoltz is a friend and more constant fixture in our social lives. He is probably the best recording engineer we've seen in real life or even in movies. He is so easy to work with and doesn't have an agenda. He just has the right equipment and records it at a good volume where everything has a chance to be heard. Don't tell anybody though, we don't want too many more people to put it together about our Bay Area magic music formula.
Rays self-titled album is due March 31 on Trouble In Mind records.
Catch Rays at these shows:
Feb 10 - Oakland at 1234 Go
Feb 17 - San Francisco at the Eagle