I met Luke Rathborne (pictured upper-right) when I was 15 or so, when we were both living in Brunswick, Maine. He was the cool kid a couple of years older that exposed me to marijuana, good music and alcohol; you know the type. I found out about entry level acts like Bob Dylan from him, but the music on his new album, Soft, explores the range of his and his bandmates' influences. From the hard thumping psychedelia of songs like "Soft" to the delicate melodies of "Last Forgiven", there's a wide variety on the album. He's experienced some shitty things in his time in New York , but he made it on the BBC's 6 Music in 2012, and this year he'll be playing South by Southwest and Sasquatch.
We parted ways a long time ago, but we recently decided to reconvene and talk about his band, Rathborne. I spoke with Luke and the band's bassist, Darren Will. We all had quite a bit of alcohol before and during the interview.
Noisey: Do you realize you were the first person to get me drunk, Luke?
Luke Rathborne: No way!
You have started a chain of alcoholism that has not ended.
Luke: Did you continue from that point?
I've been a drinker ever since.
Luke: What was weird about this for me was—I can't really drink. If I drink a shot, I'm wasted. I'm like a teetotaler. I get drunk really easy, and once I'm drunk, everything starts spinning and getting crazy. I don't even have a cell phone anymore, because the last time I drank I lost it.
Outside of that on more music-related questions: You're re-releasing the album?
Luke: No, it's a deluxe edition. We're putting extra tracks on, no big deal.
Darren Will: Whatever, some extra tracks, I don't know.
What's the plan for it?
Luke: We have the headline tour, and that's in March. It goes to all these places we've never been before. We start in the Northeast [Luke starts drawing imaginary map, poorly], up here.
Darren: Yeah, up here. [gestures]
Luke: And then it goes down … ehhhh … then into Texas for South by Southwest. We're there for like three days, then we go back up through the armpit of America—Indianapolis. No, we can't talk shit about Indianapolis.
Darren: It's a great city, but I got called a fag there.
Luke: I've never been there, but Axl Rose is from Indiana—
Darren: John Cougar Mellencamp!
Luke: John Cougar Mellencamp. Larry Bird is from Indiana! Maybe Pistol Pete. Wait. Guys, I just Googled it, Pistol Pete is from Pennsylvania.
Darren: Look, I got this Fireball. I'm gonna drink it.
Do it! So … how was it touring with Albert Hammond Jr.?
Darren: It was fuckin' fun.
What's the best story?
Darren: The worst was Denver, because they had the game on.
Luke: We were playing to the soundtrack of a Broncos game. We were literally playing at, like, a sports bar. There were a thousand promotional things in the corner of the bar and no one was at the show, so I knew they had never been put out, and that's why the only people in there were people watching the Broncos game.
In San Francisco, I was making out with this person, then they were like, "My boyfriend's gonna be here in 10 minutes." So, I ran out the door, called up the people in the van and was like, "You guys have to pick me up now." In like 10 minutes, boom—the van was there. I got in and we drove away. I was in her house. I feel like that's her bad, because I didn't know that.
What's the worst thing in the world?
Luke: Do you remember Pond Scum? Pond Scum was a vitamin that you would take. I remember this in the early 90s. It was like this pill with this green shit in it. I thought, "This is just scum … from a pond." I mean, obviously I know what the worst thing in the world is: Violence.
Darren: Why would you name your vitamin Pond Scum? The worst thing in the world is going to happen to me in two hours. I'm going to go take the J train in an hour and a half, wasted, sitting on a platform. That's the worst thing in the world.
Luke, how was it going from Maine to New York?
Luke: It was like seven years ago, and I was 18 years old. When I first moved to New York, to be honest, TBH, it was terrifying. All of a sudden I was in this big city that was really uncomfortable, and it was really scary to be 18 years old and in this new place. I knew all of my friends were in college, having these stable lives, but I was in New York. I had to pay my rent, and I had to survive all of a sudden. All of my friends were just doing drugs in college and stuff.
I just wanted to leave, but it would be a shame if I left. I was so concerned people would think that I failed. I had lived in New York for three months, in Park Slope, and a fireman knocked on my window. I was on the second floor, so I was like, "What the fuck?" I open up the window and the fireman is like, "Your apartment is on fire, and you have to get out of your apartment." I grabbed my guitar and ran out. We're sitting there watching the apartment and the firemen are smashing windows out. I finally get let back in the apartment and my room is just a hole in the ground, and I see the pizza place below me.
My room burned to a crisp and my roommates' rooms were okay. Even my shit that was in another part of the apartment, which wasn't on fire, was blasted with a hose. My record collection, to the very last record, was destroyed by a fireman. I asked them why, and they said: "We thought there was fire over there."
Darren, how about you? How was it moving from Detroit?
Darren: New York is pretty nuts. I moved here with a girlfriend, which was probably a bad call. I was supposed to go to college, but I ended up postponing that for tours. New York is like 100 times the size of Detroit.
Luke: Detroit is crazy! We went there, and we were driving to this bar. On the way there, we're driving through burn out apocalypse. I just keep looking over and there are prostitutes everywhere. You don't see that shit in New York. New York's like Disneyland, and we shouldn't even be living in New York, but we just don't know what the next city is yet.
Darren: Detroit has always been pretty bad, but there's always been a great community of artists. A lot of people have left in the last five years. Detroit is a beautiful city, but now it's in ruins. People literally just burn down buildings all the time.
Luke: I think when you say people you mean arsonists.
Why are they burning down buildings?
Darren: It's kind of dark. Do you want to go there?
Darren: There's a trend in Detroit for the last three or four years where somebody will kill someone, like a regular murder, and they'll put the person in a building and burn it down to cover up the evidence. There are so many empty buildings, you can just burn it down and nobody cares. And the police response time in Detroit is over an hour.
Would you rather be homeless or in prison?
Luke: Homeless. 100 percent. Once I was arrested, and it turned out to be a false arrest. I was incarcerated in a cell for like 12 hours with a guy who had just stabbed somebody in Brooklyn. I asked the officer what would happen if this guy attacks me, and he's like, "We'll hear it." I was in there for failure to use a turn signal, and it was a ticket I had paid for, but they had fucked it up. Being in a jail cell is the worst possible outcome for a human being. I don't think any person should be in that situation. I know that's extreme to say, but just because we can build walls around a person doesn't mean that we should.
Both of you are going to die. I've established that in my mind.
Darren: By your hand?
No, it's just going to happen. What do you think about the legacy you leave as musicians?
Luke: Honestly, I feel like I don't care what I leave behind. Maybe that's a selfish response. But if I'm not alive, I don't really care how someone responds to something. It's just like: why would you? You're not alive, there's nothing. It seems so self-absorbed to say: "I want to leave this legacy behind to entertain people for hundreds or thousand of years." You don't exist.
Darren: You could argue you do exist from what you leave behind. I don't really think about it that much.
Luke: I feel like I think about it a bit, more than average. You have to wonder, what is the bigger picture? Making music is this playfulness. It's a good way to occupy your time. It's joyous, and why think about it beyond that extent? I thought music was a way to get out of high school, and the more I get into the music scene, the more it feels exactly like high school. You've got these coked up record executives, who always seem to be British, and they're like: "That was blazin off the charts, mate." Anyone who's a musician, you just do whatever you can. You have to move mountains to just do a little bit. You don't make any money with music. If anything, every tour, you lose money. You do it just to do it. Any of the people that have the money are finding out how to get it back to themselves. It's unfortunate that [in music] we have this thing that's like: if you're between 20 and 30 we'll give you a chance. All that really matters in music is what you're hearing. Do blind people have these crazy standards about the age span of their favorite band? I don't think so.
Your album is all over the place, in terms of style. I feel like albums that have the same style throughout, for better or for worse, tend to do the best in sales. What were the inspirations or motivations?
Luke: It was just a representation of what we were all feeling at the time. It was a bunch of different feelings, and if people latch onto that, great. We're not sitting there in a room figuring out how to pander to what a record company would want. I feel like the records always just came across like this collection of what was happening. There wasn't a strategy behind it—if that makes any sense. I could just be drunk and saying stuff. I hear a lot of records, and I'm not going to mention any names, and you can tell there's just someone behind them being like, "Yeah, jack that shit up." You're listening to the decisions of what somebody thinks would make money, and that's always the worst kind of music to listen to.
Rathborne Tour Dates:
3/02 - Philadelphia PA - Boot & Saddle
3/03 - Allston MA - Great Scott
3/04 - New Haven CT - Cafe Nine
3/05 - Washington DC - DC9
3/06 - Carrboro NC - Cat's Cradle Back Room
3/07 - Atlanta GA - Vinyl
3/08 - Nashville TN - The High Watt
3/10 - Houston TX - Fitzgerald's
3/11 - Dallas TX
3/12 - 03/15 - SXSW
3/17 - Norman OK - The Opolis
3/18 - St. Louis MO - Duck Room at Blueberry Hill
3/19 - Indianapolis IN - Do317 Lounge
3/20 - Pittsburgh PA - Club Cafe
3/21 - Brooklyn NY - Rough Trade NYC
Thor Benson can't believe he ate the whole thing. He's on Twitter. - @thor_benson