We Interviewed Ringo Deathstarr
Ringo Deathstarr, a three-piece outfit from the hot and sweaty depths of Austin, TX, isn’t something to listen to because everyone else dislikes them and saying I do just for the sake of saying I do will look cool
Growing up, I can comfortably say that I was more of a Star Trek fan than a Star Wars fan. Granted, one was a long-running television show and the other an overly-obsessed movie franchise, but both shared the same geekery and nerdom that practically oozed out of the screen like Red Matter (this is a Star Trek reference—I’m sorry). But I guess my taste for space-related entertainment preferred the crew of the Starship Enterprise to the crew of the Death Star. I blame my dad for this. Every night, after enduring the pains of high school hell, it seemed as if Data and Jean Luc Picard were always on the telly more so than Han Solo and that Cinnabon-looking heroine. I just never found myself as a member of Team Lucas. Maybe this also had to do with (ok, brace yourselves for a moment) not watching Star Wars until I was like, 24, but I don’t know. All you Star Wars weirdos will have to fill me in. You’re all opinionated assholes, right?
I also preferred The Beatles to The Stones. This was brother’s fault (I like blaming my pop-culture likes and dislikes on my family if you haven’t noticed yet). He was always playing the fab four on his boom box repeatedly, thus turning me into an avid John fan for years, and eventually, a Ringo fan. People always thought this was odd, but it’s like that part in 500 Days of Summer where everyone’s favorite hipster princess reveals to Hesher/Robin/Joseph Gordon-Levitt, that she loves Ringo. Hesher: “Nobody loves Ringo.” Hipster Princess: “That’s why I like him.”
But liking Ringo Deathstarr, a three-piece outfit from the hot and sweaty depths of Austin, TX, (with one of the best band names of anyone, really), isn’t something to listen to because everyone else dislikes them and saying I do just for the sake of saying I do will look cool—I really think they’re wonderful. I also think it’s amusing to swoon over a band whose name references a pop-culture figure I love, and a fictional, pop-culture space place I could care less about; it just tickles me. As the lovechild of every pedal-loving, dream-poppy band from the late 1980’s, mixed with a few dashes of tremolo and a noticeable disdain for song lyrics, Ringo Deathstarr kick fucking ass. Their 2nd LP, Mauve, embellishes strongly upon their unique interpretation of “Shoegaze” (a collectively despised phrase amongst the Deathstarr trio), while cashing in lulling melodies for ones filled with aggression and angst and a slight hint of Psychocandy. Also, they prefer playing music for hours on end rather than give a fuck about using their vocal chords. I applaud them for this. Talking is WAY overrated, kinda like that Star Trek film from 2009. Though in comparison to Episode One, that piece of Trekkie garbage was a damn cinematic achievement. God, I’m a fucking geek.
Vice: Growing up in Texas, did any of you participate in stereotypical Texan activities like riding horses or going to rodeos?
Elliot Frazier [singer/guitarist]: Alex rode a horse once.
Alex Gehring [singer/bassist]: Yeah, for my birthday.
For your birthday? That’s pretty awesome.
Alex: I wanted to make sure that I was wearing a Rainbow Bright costume at the same time. It was cool.
That’s an amazing visual. I loved Rainbow Bright when I was growing up. That and My Little Ponies. But hey! I just want to let you guys know how much I enjoyed the new album. When I heard the single, “RIP,” streaming online, I was blown away. Was this a particular song where after you rehearsed it for the first time you were like, “Wow, we really have something here?"
Elliot: It just sounded way different when we recorded it then the demo, and we were like, “Well, this is cool.” It went in a very unexpected direction with the Heavy Metal-type guitar.
Alex: It started off as a really crappy garage band demo of mine. I didn’t really know how to record anything, so I played my bass acoustically and then layered it with a million vocals and sent it to Elliot just on a whim thinking “Eh, maybe he’ll think this is kinda cool,” and I guess he liked it and wanted to turn it into a song. Now it’s a lot different as far as the guitar goes.
I noticed that “RIP” was the only song, aside from “Brightest Star,” that made use of the tambourine. Do you feel that the tambourine is an underrated instrument?
Elliot: Oh yeah. We had tambourines on most songs on the last album. But live, we don’t really have anyone to play the tambourine, so we’re trying to go for a sound that we can create live on this album where we can use the tambourine successfully. Some songs had to have a tambourine.
Who’s the tambourine player of the band?
Elliot: That’s me. It’s harder to play than it looks [laughs].
I bet it is. Like all instruments, it seems like something you have to fine tune overtime to really perfect. [Not said with a hint of sarcasm at all!—Totally lying].
Elliot: The egg shaker is really hard, too.
Elliot: [Laughs] You really have to get your whole body into it.
Exactly. It’s a very physical instrument to play. But did it take a while before you found the singing chemistry that you found with Alex? Were there a lot of people who auditioned/tried out that failed?
Elliot: It wasn’t really auditioning; people were in the band and then they would just quit, and Alex didn’t quit.
Elliot: [Laughs] And then we went on tour and she still didn’t quit. I told everyone when they joined the band that they could quit when they wanted. But after Alex joined, I definitely felt that the band was serious now. And then Daniel [Coburn, RDS’s drummer] came in—I went to High School with him—and we used to play in bands back in the day. It just felt good because we had played music together in the past. Everyone else who was in the band was just a waste of my time for the past two years. It was really frustrating.
Why were people leaving the band?
Elliot: Most of the time they had other bands they were in simultaneously. With Alex, she had never really been in a serious band before.
Alex: It was right out of high school that I joined. I had been in bands in school before, but never ones that played shows or went on tour.
Elliot: I was trying to find people that were like Alex, who weren’t that experienced, and who weren’t jaded or bitter or lazy.
Yeah, that makes sense. Jaded musicians are no fun to work with. How about noise rock? What was the appeal of playing it?
Elliot: You don’t have to be very skilled to play it. You can kind of get away with not having to know how to play the guitar and not really knowing how to sing very well.
Alex: We can put a lot of reverbs on our vocals to help mask them. We’re not very talented singers.
I’ll have to disagree with that, but in the past you’ve also mentioned that you’re not talented songwriters, either. Is this how you really feel?
Elliot: Yeah, I mean, I feel like a songwriter is someone who sits down and really thinks about a song—like the structure/how to arrange it to make it appeal to people—like my Uncle. He does these songwriting workshops and he’s always trying to get me to go. If I played my songs with an acoustic guitar it really wouldn’t make any sense.
Elliot: It’s just music that’s fun for us to play. We’re not necessarily worrying about if songs need to have a hook, or if it’s going to be on the radio.
So you’re geared more towards the musical aspect than the lyrical side?
Elliot: Yeah. It’s just an excuse to play shows, for me. I love playing, I love going on tour, and that’s really the most important part.
On your last LP, Colour Trip, critics said that you failed to come up with a new kind of music…
Elliot: Guilty as charged!
…and that you were channeling your influences instead of having an original sound. Can you foresee critics saying the same thing about Mauve?
Elliot: I don’t know. I stopped reading all that stuff a while ago. I’m hoping I can use my mental power to just ignore what they think.
I think not giving a fuck is the best mentality to have.
Elliot: It’s like we should start saying that stuff to other bands: “Oh! The new Ty Segal album! He failed to make himself sound exactly like The Rolling Stones.” [Laughs]
I can imagine that reading anything negative about your band is annoying. Is it equally as annoying as being asked about The Jesus and Mary Chain and My Bloody Valentine as influences? Does it make you want to kill the people who ask that question?
Elliot: We’re just tired of hearing the word ‘’Shoegaze.” I mean, we’re not gazing at our shoes, and we’re not playing all these delayed guitars. I think that’s the only term that they always consistently think of calling us.
It’s just critics clumping you into a category that’s fairly trendy.
Elliot: We meet a lot of bands who are [considered] “Shoegaze” bands; it’s such a stupid word and latched onto bands who play mellow, dreamy music. We just tend to be more aggressive; we have more of an angry sound than a laid-back one.
Are there other bands, aside from the ones that you’re constantly compared to, that you would like to be compared to more often, or is that a thing, too? Would you just not rather be compared to anyone?
Alex: I feel like it’s almost inevitable; everyone is constantly compared to some bands. But it would be nice if people were to take us as an original, unique sound.
Elliot: For me, the best thing would be for people to just say, “Yeah, I want to go watch and see this show because it sounds cool.” It’s all about what’s happening right now. I’m sure we sound like some bands from the past, but you can’t go see those bands, and we never could go see those bands. We just want to do it right now. Maybe we’ll sound like what a new Black Flag would equal. That band was definitely a huge influence, too.
Black Flag? That’s cool. How old were you when you got into bands like Black Flag, The Jesus and Mary Chain, and Velvet Underground?
Alex: I was pretty late; I think I was in high school. I started to figure out that there was something other than top 40 radio [laughs].
Elliot: I got into The Cure in high school, but I didn’t hear the Velvet underground until I was about 20.
So you’re big Lou Reed fans?
Elliot: Not his personality, really, but his music, yeah.
Have you heard Lulu, the newer album he made with Metallica last year?
Elliot: I did. I heard one song and I had to stab my ears afterwards.
Alex: I love the Velvet Underground, but I was in a studio and someone put one of the songs on from that album and I had no idea what it was. I literally thought it was some sort of Youtube joke. I was like, “What is this?” And then I found out it was Lou Reed and it blew my mind.
It definitely wasn’t Lou’s finest moment. How about Courtney Love? Are you fans of hers being that you’re all fans of Nirvana?
Elliot: Yeah, I liked Hole back in the day for a while. I thought they were pretty cool. I love Courtney Love.
Cool. That answers my Courtney Love question. I always try to sneak something in about her in every interview I do. So thanks! How about music pedals? Do you tend to use the same ones or are you constantly buying new ones?
Elliot: We stripped down our pedals. After touring with The Smashing Pumpkins last year, we realized how stupid we were being with all these pedals and we got rid of a bunch of them. It was silly. We just need to use less pedals.
How many pedals have been used at one time?
Elliot: Probably like 12 or 13, but now I’m down to 5. It’s just ridiculous using all those pedals while you’re playing and singing; you don’t have anyone to maintain them. Not everyone can be all over the place like A Place to Bury Strangers. That guy [Oliver Ackerman, guitarist for APTBS] can fix anything.
Have you seen them live?
Elliot: Oh yeah. He [Oliver] just throws his amp around. I’ve seen pictures of him throwing his amp into the audience. He can fix it if it breaks; it would probably take him 10 minutes.
There’s a particular song on Mauve with the lyrics “Please don’t kill yourself.” Was that about anyone in particular, or was it just an overall message of please don’t do such a terrible thing?
Elliot: Before those lyrics, the song was called “Midnight Rodeo.” It had a completely different feel—almost a Vasalines-type feel—and it had all the melody and the lyrics. We went in a different direction then that sound, but I still thought that song was cool. I was trying to get a new sound, and come up with new lyrics that use the same syllable structure, and the first thing that popped into my head was, “Please don’t kill yourself’; it was the same as ‘’Midnight Rodeo.” We thought it was kinda funny, ya know?
For those of us with a dark sense of humor, definitely.
Eliot: It can mean a lot of things. It can be applied to a person, to you, to the human race [laughs].
So when you’re writing lyrics for songs, do you tend to draw from a more humorous side of yourself than a serious one?
Elliot: It just depends on the song. The songs definitely have a subject that we have in mind when we start writing them. Sometimes you get stoned and a word pops in your head and you kind of figure out other words that sound cool with those words. It’s not really like we’re trying to tell a story from beginning to end. Maybe the whole album might paint a bigger story, and if that happens, it’s an accident, but it does seem like there are some themes in a few of the songs that reoccur that weren’t intentional. We kind of just did the lyrics all together. We passed around a piece of paper where everyone wrote down lyrics, and then we picked the ones out that we liked the best.
That’s an interesting way to write song lyrics. Everyone participates in the process, and there’s no one specific songwriter.
Elliot: It depends. Alex wrote lyrics for some of the songs on her own, like “RIP.” She also wrote the lyrics for “Drag” which used to be called “Twattle.”
Elliot: When the song was first written, Daniel had these lyrics, and apparently “Twattle” comes from a Devo song. So he called it “Twattle” but we changed the lyrics. We had a lot of weird song titles. That’s kind of why all the song titles have one syllable words cause we had these real stupid song titles like “Chauncy Could Not Have Known” and “Alt-Humphrey,” and we were like, “Instead of trying to come up with really intelligent titles, we can just make them into one-syllable words.”
Good for you guys.
Elliot: I saw some review that was making fun of some band that was lazily titling their songs, so we figured “Why not be lazy”?
It would be funny if that critic said the same thing about you guys.
I think it was a Vice critic, actually.
Oh no! Well, on behalf of that Vice critic, they probably meant exactly what they wrote. Sorry.
Elliot: If I had my way, there would be no words or title on the album; there would be you just putting it on and listening to the music and that’s it.
For a little while, I didn’t care about the titles of songs or albums. For me, it was just about the music. I think people tend to place too much emphasis on a name, whether it be the name of an album or the name of a band. It’s kind of like Ringo Deathstarr: I bet you guys get asked the origin of that name all the time. I’ve avoiding asking that.
Elliot: When the band first started, we tried to not have name. Before our first show we were like, “We’re just not going to have a title,” and then we played our first show and people were like, “What’s your name?” So we were like, “I guess people like us, so we should name the band.” I guess it can’t really work to not have a name.
Speaking of names, have you heard of Gringo Star?
Elliot: Yeah, we played with them in London once.
Oh, really? I was going to be an asshole and ask “Why does Gringo Star suck in comparison to Ringo Deathstarr?” But you’ve played with them! Crazy! Are you friends?
Elliot: Well, I don’t really listen to them or know them. I can’t even remember what they sound like.
They’re garage-rock oriented. You wouldn’t like them.
My thoughts exactly. So what are some of your favorite songs off of Mauve?
Elliot: I like the song “Burn” a lot because I came up with the whole thing in my head as I was driving and then recorded it once I got to the practice space. This was kind of how “So High” [a track off of Colour Trip], came about; it was just really fast. So I liked the way that happened. I like “RIP” a lot. It’s pretty cool sounding. It was different and could’ve been a completely different kind of song. I also like the song, “Do You Wanna?” towards the end of the album. Daniel wrote that song and we worked really hard on getting the feel of the drum beat.
How do compare Colour Trip to Mauve?
Elliot: I feel like the last album was done because we weren’t really experienced in pretty much everything that we learned in the last year. Before last year, we had only toured a couple of weeks at a time out of the whole year, but last year we toured a lot, and it’s that kind of touring that changes the way you make an album. Colour Trip was made with the music that I was listening to at the time like Nine Inch Nails and hip hop, so I wanted those kind of production aspects--like drum machines-- incorporated in the EP. I didn’t want to make a lo-fi electronic album; I wanted something that would sound good on the radio in the early 90’s. This time, we wanted to make an album we could play live—that’s fun to play live—instead of struggling to get it to sound like the recording. This is something that we don’t want to do anymore—we learned from our mistakes [laughs]. It was hard trying to get the songs to sound like Colour Trip live, especially since we became a three-piece. It was definitely an eye-opening experience going on tour so much.
Are there any newer bands that you’re listening to that you really like, aside from A Place To Bury Strangers?
Elliot: Most of the music I listen to is on Zebra Radio because I work at American Apparel, and that’s where I hear most new music. It’s good music to shop to, but not necessarily music that I would listen to outside of work. I’ve been going to a lot of punk shows lately; more local bands that I’m really inspired by. There’s this band called The Flesh Lights that are really awesome; they just toured with The Hives. Let me ask the rest of the band. Hold on? [Talks to Alex] Are there any new bands you like lately?
Alex: Gal Pals.
Elliot: She just said Gal Pals which is another local band. I’ve actually been recording them as well. Daniel, how about you? [Daniel says something inaudible] Daniel only listens to talk radio.
Oh. He’s a NPR guy, huh?
Elliot: Yeah! And all the crazy stuff, too, like Rush Limbaugh.
Elliot: He listens to see what they’re saying; not because he agrees with them. It’s like watching a Jerry Springer show.
At least he’s not taking it seriously.
Elliot: No, it’s just a lot of laughs—especially when you’re driving on tour. That stuff helps you to stay awake. It’s kind of hard to go to sleep when you’ve got those guys yelling in your ear.
On rare occasions I’ll watch Bill O’Reilly just to see what fanatical, right-wing bullshit he’s going to say next. He’s such an assclown. So what’s next for the Ringo?
Elliot: First we go to Japan and then we come back to the US [for an East and West Coast tour], and then Europe. There’s gonna be like, one day off for us after we get back from Japan before we hit the road for two months.
I’ve always noticed that bands love playing in Japan. Why is that?
Elliot: If you have Japanese fans, chances are they’re going to know everything about you, they probably know all your lyrics already, and they come to your show. Everyone who is your fan will come to your show, because they probably live in tiny apartments. They actually support the bands they like and buy all the merchandise; it’s pretty awesome. They stand in line to get your autograph; they cry. It’s like another planet over there.
It kind of makes you wonder why we aren’t like that here in the states.
Elliot: They’re really nice to everybody. Crime is extremely low and they don’t vandalize public property. There are these vending machines on the street that I tell everyone about that sells coffee and sodas, and they’re not in any cages, so if you wanted to smash it open and steal all the money out, you probably could easily. And there’s these cigarette vending machine, too, that people could steal easily—like they would in the US—but they don’t; they actually obey the law.
Yeah, Americans suck at doing this. We’ll never learn.
- Vice Blog