Sunday, December 19, 2010

A Sunday Conversation with Massy Ferguson

On the red leather Interview couch, Massy Ferguson.

Ethan Anderson: vocals, bass
Adam Monda: guitar, vocals
Dave Goedde: drums

When I was a kid, growing up in a house with Cat Stevens, Neil Diamond, and Simon and Garfunkel, the first time I ever heard Kiss's"Detroit Rock City," it was a moment of musical epiphany. It was just so vicious, aggressive and mean. It changed the way I listened to music. I've had a few minor epiphany's since then, when you come across a band that just brings something new and revolutionary to your ears. 

What have been your musical epiphany moments?

ADAM: Well, I grew up with seven older brothers who experienced me to music at an early age. When I say music, to my brothers, it was The Who. I was raised with the ever present blasting of Tommy or Quadrophenia always in the back ground. What a powerful band that at the same time could be destructive and melodic. I still love the Who, and Qudrophenia is still blasting in the background for me. I guess an epiphany for me came later in the 80's when a band called Big Country came out with their single 'In a Big Country'. They were awesome guitar players and it seemed nobody was playing guitar in the 80's. The
melodic guitar riffs and expansive sound made me want to learn to play guitar.Not just play guitar, but play in a rock band.

Talk to us about the song-writing process for you. What comes first ,the idea? A riff? The lyrics? How does it all fall into place?

ADAM: For me, it works both ways. Sometimes I start with a riff or some chords and say hmmmm what do I have here? Sometimes I'll have a melody and jot some words down or I just have the riff and call Ethan and say do your thing to this. This kind of writing can be frustrating and time consuming but often ends up for
the better because everyone in the band can chip in and help out. Sometimes (not often enough) the magic happens and I pick up my guitar and a riff, chords, and words are mysteriously teleported in my head? From where? Keanu Reeves in the Matrix? Spock? I' not sure, don't care. I am thankful to them. This is the
most exiting kind of writing to me because it is spontaneous and you don't ruin it by thinking about it to much. You can really think a song to death.

Who has influenced you the most?

ADAM: When I really started playing guitar and writing songs it was all Paul Westerberg and the Replacements. The albums of Let it Be, Tim, and Pleased toMeet Me, simply inspired me. The Replacements were all I really listened to for along time. Their songs were honest, interesting, funny, and often sad. Always done in a don't give a shit attitude. They are rock in all the glory....and misery.

ETHAN: Good point. With Adam's instrumental song ideas, it's clear that he's influenced by 80s college rock and bands like the Replacements. Him and Dave got me into Paul Westerberg. I we all have our individual influences but when we first started playing, I think we all gravitated somewhat to 70s southern
rock. That doesn't mean we're trying to be the next Skynryd, because that will never happen. But it's definitely made a dent in our overall sound too.

Where do you look for continuing inspiration? New ideas, new motivation? 

ETHAN: I think you can find it anywhere. For me, it mostly comes from words, situations. Sometimes you'll hear someone say something and you'll think "that's lyrical." With our song "Wenatchee Eyes" it came from when we played a winery in Eastern Washington and everyone in attendance was getting hammered. This trashy girl was drinking straight out of the bottle, falling off her chair and giving us this drunken, sexy look. Wenatchee was the closest town to this place, maybe that's why Adam looked at me and said, "man, she's giving us Wenatchee Eyes." We both were like, "that's gotta be a song title." And it was ...

Genre's are so misleading and such a way to pigeonhole bands. Without resorting to labels, how would you describe your music? 

ETHAN: I like to think of us as rock first, twang second. We're at our best with up tempo songs that evoke broken bottles, fisticuffs, hooting and hollering. We also have songs that are more slow and earnest. Most of all, we're our own take on rock americana, songs that sounds good in a lot of different places: A dive bar with a drink in your hand, a outdoor concert in the park on a hot day, a block party, etc.

What is you musical intention? What are you trying to express or get your audience to feel?

ETHAN: Personally, as far as lyrics, I'm trying to tell stories from where I grew up in a small town in Washington state. We have a particular brand of crazy here that makes for interesting subject matter. I want to represent what it's like to be from here, live here, and accumulate stories here. I think we're trying to be honest with the lyrics without losing that rough edge. I don't see the world as being all roses, I see the world as a messed up place with occasional extraordinary moments. For me, most of my extraordinary moments
have been playing music.

Come on, share with us a couple of your great, Spinal Tap, rock and roll moments?

ETHAN: The moment that comes to mind was when we played Europe in 2007. Our first show was at a youth hostel outside of Amsterdam called Camping Zeeburg. We should have known by the name that it was a campground for stoners who were too baked to do anything but drewel and play checkers. It was like playing an insane asylum. What was Spinal Tap-esque was that we couldn't find real drums for Dave, so he had to play our friend's electronic drums. Dave kept messing up the settings, sometimes he'd hit a drum pad and it would sound like trash cans clanking, other times like animals making noises.

The show was ... how can I say, unorthodox. It's amazing how electronic drums can have 1,000 different sounds, but none that sound like actual drums :) That show was also distinct because it's the first place that ever gave us 36 drink tickets. We're only a four piece, so you get the idea.

What makes a great song?

ETHAN: A great song is a combination of completely original and tastefully derivitive. When I say derivitive, I mean vaguely reminiscent of other great songs in the past. I recently heard Black Keys' "Unknown Brother" for the first time and I had this sad longing for something I couldn't place. It felt like a lost song that I had loved as a kid but hadn't heard in years. That's pretty impressive because it's a new song. It's hard to pinpoint one specific thing all great songs have. A great doesn't always need to have amazing lyrics, but
when it does, you get that deeper bond with it.  A great song can change your life.

Tell us about the first song you ever wrote?

ETHAN: Speaking of great songs ... my first was not. The first song I ever wrote was back in 1993 with my buddy Levi, when we were in high school. It was called "Why?" and, since I was really into Pearl Jam at the time, I tried to make it sound like I was Eddy Vedder singing. I think I even did one of those grunge "yeah-hah-hah" vamps. Think the lost Collective Soul song and you pretty much got the idea. Not my best work. I'd like to think I've improved since then. Me and him were always emulating guys that we liked, like most young songwriters. Levi had a song "I Want You Back Yeah, Yeah" that we used to sing that was kind of Best Kissers in the World inspired. I recently started hanging out with Gerald Collier, the former front man of Best Kissers in the World... maybe I should tell him I know where he can find his long-lost song :)

What piece of your music are particularly proud of?

ETHAN: Without a doubt the song I'm most proud of on our album is Freedom County. It is about some misguided militia guys who tried to break away from the county where I grew up and make their own rouge county. I always loved the story. It was so frontier, so emblematic of the anti-government attitude
of so many people in the northwest. Although I thought the guys were kinda insane, I admired their pluck.  I tried to write the song from the perspective of both sides, tried to make it pretty even handed. I'm proud of what the end result was. Some people think it's the best track on our album.

Who today, writes great songs? Who just kicks your ass? Why?

DAVE: I still think Ryan Adams can write some pretty great stuff when hewants to. Craig Finn from the Hold Steady creates a pretty evocative world in his songs. Jay Farrar of Son Volt continues to write some pretty amazing stuff.

Vinyl, CD, or digital? What's your format of choice?

DAVE: In a perfect world, we'd have the convenience of digital with the sound of vinyl. But I do think something has been lost with digital, unfortunately. The experience of taking out the record, putting it on the turntable and listening to it all the way through, maybe looking at the artwork while you're listening. You couldn't immediately skip the next song if it didn't grab you out of the gate. No random playlists; you were listening to one artist's work for a sustained period. The digital thing encourages less engagement with a single
work, and more flipping-about. Which I guess is perfect for our ADD culture.

We,at the Ripple Effect, are constantly looking for new music. What's your home town, and when we get there, what's the best record store to lose ourselves in?

DAVE: Definitely Easy Street Records on lower Queen Anne in Seattle.

Whiskey or beer?  And defend your choice

DAVE: Never really thought of it as an either/or proposition, but...generally, beer is the drink of choice with this band. We sweat a lot on stage, so beer is probably the better drink to replace those bodily fluids...

ETHAN: Beer is like our Gatorade, without the benefits (electrolites) and with quite a few drawbacks (hangovers, beer gut)

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