Elliott Frazier, Alex Gehring, and Daniel Coborn of the band Ringo Deathstarr joined Tower’s Live Instagram show, hosted by Whitney Moore, to talk about the band’s new self-titled album and all things recording and surviving during quarantine.
The band joined us from Austin and said the atmosphere has been pretty crazy there, but the police chief has said they are going to ban use of rubber bullets. A lot of people got hurt by the cops everywhere, Frazier said. The news about the bullet restrictions comes as a relief.
Asked if they thought people are paying more attention to Black Lives Matter because they are at home, but Frazier thinks this does feel like a time of greater “momentum”. It’s easy to watch the brutality videos over and over again, unfortunately, and see how “insane and sad” it is. It’s a “really bad mix of stuff” we’re facing at the moment in the USA, Frazier said.
Asked about the title for the album, Frazier said they couldn’t come up with a name that they agreed on so self-titling made sense. Gehring said that a lot was happening while they were making the album and it made sense to make it self-titled.
Frazier just welcomed a second child in February, and now Coborn is now expecting a child, too! That’s a lot of change since their last album in 2015. New father Frazier said that the lack of sleep from being a dad is “really crazy” and impossible to describe, far worse than staying up while touring. That made it harder to focus on creating the new album. “It’s a miracle that I got any songs written, I think!”, he said. However, Gehring confirmed that Frazier’s children are “the cutest in the whole world”, which off-sets things.
Regarding the new album, Moore read that they recorded the new album on a tape machine, and they showed us the machine itself! They even bought a bigger one to have more tracks available. This was not new to them, since they did their first music on tape a long time ago.
Digital is now expensive, though, and it was cheaper to buy a tape machine than new computers and things. Frazier had a lot of fun with the new machine, he said. Gehring said it was a learning curve learning how to use the tape machine, and they did lose some material due to accidental erasure.
The band used 8 tracks for the music, then they did the vocals on the computer. It’s a lot of wear and tear to add the extra rewinding of vocals on the tape machine, so they went another way. They may do the vocals on tape next time, though.
They appeared from a practice space that’s actually a storage unit, decorated by Frazier! The band commented on Frazier’s decorating skillz.
How exactly do they work together to compose? They all write songs, then bounce them around together. They’ve been doing this “more and more” and they never know where the song will go.
Gehring said that she records using the Garage Band program in a very rough way, and then the other band members turn it into more of a rock song rather than a “dreamy ballad”. Moore commented on their tendency toward experimentation, discussed in previous interviews. Sometimes the band plays very fast intentionally, and then slow the song down after it’s recorded to get an interesting effect.
Frazier commented that it’s like putting a record on at a slow speed and “capturing that vibe”. He wants to do that a lot more on the new album, playing fast and at a higher key, then slowing down.
“In Your Arms” is a song they experimented with a lot, and when Frazier slowed it down, it changed the song a lot and Gehring loved it. It gave her an idea for a vocal melody “at the last minute”.
Frazier heard a song by Medicine, he said, that he liked, and this is his first time ripping them off, despite fan speculation to the contrary.
Hearing about their low-tech approach makes music feel more accessible, Moore observed. It opens the door to aspiring musicians to try things. But is there a right way to do it? “Use the ear.”, Frazier said, ‘It’s not about the gear, it’s about the ear.”
Even using Garage Band, you can listen and slow things down. People are rediscovering 4 track recorders, Frazier commented. Digital is useful, too. Whatever you have is something you should try, he recommended.
How much material makes it into finished versions of their songs? Most of it, according to Frazier and Gehring, who also said they start drinking and come up with some more “weird” tweaks and adds. Most of the time they enjoy working together, Gehring said!
They like drinking Lonestar when working, a very “Texas” answer to a fan’s question.
How does this album differ from previous works? As they progress, it has more of an “equal vision” than in the past. On the first couple records were not as clear about which band members would stay around, and now things are more, not necessarily “unified”, but they know better what to do with the ideas that they all have and how to support each other.
Gehring said that they all three, as song writers, have been writing more and more, whereas at the beginning it was more Frazier’s focus. She’s been in the band for 12 years and she’s been pushed to sing more and write more over time. Now she’s more comfortable with it, even though she used to consider herself just a bass player. Doing it made her better, of course, and now they pretty evenly write the songs together.
Ringo Deathstarr will be streaming Saturday June 6th on the Veeps platform with Levitation. You should check it out!
After an internet interruption, we got the band back online to talk some more.
Gehring said that’s it’s been a journey finding her own voice. She found it hard, starting out, to get up in front of people, even to play the bass. It made her struggle because she was “too much in her head”. Singing live added a “new element of fear”. The best thing for her was doing it more but getting vocals down through using an “in ear” device helped a lot. It was a ‘game-changer’ for her.
She highly recommends it since she could hear her singing a lot better. This is a technology that allows you to hear a stream of sound of choice in an earpiece. It helps her tune out the loudness of the other instruments. Trying to use a monitor to do it creates a lot of feedback, so this is much preferred. Some people don’t need to be able to hear themselves when singing, but it’s worked for her. It’s a “life-saver”.
It definitely works, since the band is known for being “amazing live”, Moore commented.
When Ringo Deathstarr released the album, was everything shut down in their region? Frazier said they didn’t really even see each other as a band until they got together to make a live video. After a tour, sometimes they don’t see each other for a couple of months, though, so it wasn’t that weird. It was very strange to have the music venues shut down and have no touring, Frazier and Gehring said.
Were they planning on doing tours? They had a West Coast tour already booked, they said, and it was cancelled. They were also going to go to Europe. China might have been in the works, but it “dissipated”, Gehring explained.
They went to Japan in January and were talking about going to China, too. It was known at the time that a virus was spreading, and everyone was already wearing masks over there. They were surprised to come home and have people tell them, “Masks don’t work.” Even an immigration officer at the airport said that to Gehring.
The band members don’t wear masks around each other now because they’ve been around each other for “weeks”.
Asked if they’ve found other ways to connect with fans when they can’t be on tour, Frazier said that’s the first thing they are doing tomorrow. Frazier and Gehring said they might have an afterparty after the show tomorrow, though, so keep an eye out!
They’ve created the video already that’s being released tomorrow, with multiple camera angles, mixing, and editing, with some snippets of them chatting thrown in. If they could, they’d release it on VHS, they said. They were inspired by the RUSH concert videos they saw in Canada, Coborn said, in making this one.
Coborn said Twitch doesn’t have a lot of musical presence yet, though it’s a good idea for musicians to use it. Moore recommended it since they’d be sure to find fans who would listen.
The band’s genuine leather couch in their storage unit is very impressive, and very expensive, Coborn assured us. It’s Ashley Furniture from 2003, Frazier revealed.
Asked if there’s an ideal scenario for listening to the new album, Frazier said, “Smoke some weed and start it up!”
Gehring said that every artist hopes people will “genuinely listen” to it when they release a new album, but in this case, it took them years to get this album together. “So much emotion, creativity, and drunken weirdness” are represented in a single album. She hopes people notice those things.
Downtown Austin has been opened and things are “back”. Are the band hesitant to return to outside life? Well, clubs aren’t open, except the “shittier” ones, Coborn said.
When they go to get groceries, there are still a lot of “precautions”. They just come to the studio and drink, and don’t feel the need to “hang out in bars”.
Asked if they have a favorite song from the album or to play live, Frazier said “In Your Arms”. He likes how it turned out. It’s a “challenge”, though fun for him. It’s a “weird experience” to play it live.
Gehring says she likes that song too, since it felt “a little different” from the other stuff they’ve done. She likes to listen to The Cocteau Twins and was inspired by them with a “nostalgic feeling” working on the song.
The song “Disease” is also meaningful to her, and “Heaven Obscured”. Both are lyrically important. Her mother passed away while she was making this album and “a million emotions that you go through while grieving” made it into the songs. Sometimes she “tears up” while singing them.
Moore observed that Ringo Deathstarr’s willingness to show their feelings while playing live “really comes through” and adds to their performances.
They released a video for “God Help The Ones You Love”, and Moore asked if they would be working with any particular directors on videos if they had the opportunity.
Frazier said they have two videos “on ice” right now waiting to be finished. Frazier directs the videos, which can be hard, but he has “so many ideas” that he doesn’t want to get upset with others if they aren’t “getting them right”.
They have a video in the works for “Cotton Candy Clouds”, which was filmed a lot in Japan. Frazier’s a big fan of using an iPhone to make music videos.
Frazier said that he was previously filming a video with another band in California with a budget of 10,000 dollars and it only got 4,000 videos on Youtube, so that made him a fan of low-budget approaches.
The band’s other video in the works features a “ton of clips” from their iPhones during tour, especially Gehring’s. The photos of their artwork on their iPhones also end up on albums. “Why try to recreate something that we already have?”, Frazier asked. Post-Punk bands often have “super high res” versions of art, but that’s not for them. They like to be “goofy and stupid” and love the DIY aspects of being a band, Gehring explained.
Lady Gaga’s video was shot on an iPhone, Moore pointed out. It created double the ad revenue, too!
The band also uses a VHS camera to film things, playing it on the TV, and filming that with their iPhone, Frazier said, since they don’t have a way to digitize their VHS recorder.
Talking about their popularity and presence in Japan, Ringo Deathstarr aren’t quite sure why they are popular, but are very grateful since it’s a “magical” place to be. Frazier is surprised that they “still think we’re cool”, every time they get on stage.
In Japan one time, Sugizo, from the band Luna Sea, came to Osaka just to come and see them. He had a balcony to himself, with it all dark, and he was dressed in black, with a black facemask. It felt like Michael Jackson was there and fans were going nuts. The band went out to eat with Sugizo and the restaurant workers were reacting. He has huge posters on buildings over there, so it’s a big deal. Gehring wouldn’t mind being on a billboard, but Frazier isn’t so sure.
Gehring said that they’ve toured so much, but they feel that it’s always a “blast”. They have made “great friends” wherever they go, and there are always couches to sleep on. Touring with Smashing Pumpkins was a huge deal, hanging out with Billy Corgan, which was “surreal”.
Returning once a year and checking in with friends “all over the place” is part of the lifestyle they love.
Who else would they love to tour with or collaborate with? If The Cocteau Twins ever got back together, that would work. Dinosaur Jr. would be Frazier’s choice. Coborn says Mud Honey.
These bands feel like the same vibe as Ringo Deathstarr, Moore reflected, and Gehring observed that it naturally makes its way into what you create when you listen to other people’s work all the time.
Asked what they’ve been listening to lately, Gehring said that she listens to her mother’s favorite musician, Sarah McLachlan, also some Enya. She saw McLachlan live before quarantine, and it was “amazing”.
Frazier listens to his friends bands, like Pleasure Venom, who he’s been doing a record live session with. Freak Out was the last band he saw before quarantine. Stargazer Lillies is a favorite. Public Practice are good friends of theirs. Also Tapeworms, from France. They’ve been working with BLXPLTN again, and there’s a new video out.
Are Ringo Deathstarr working on new music now? Gehring said yes they are, but they haven’t made any “real steps” yet. They have been trading songs that they’ve been working on. Life right now tends to interfere.
Parents with kids at home who can’t go to school have an “insane” experience right now, Frazier commented. Maybe they’ll look back on it and laugh, but it’s been hard. Gehring is a real estate agent, and things have been “surprisingly busy”.
They work on music independently during “down time” and the ideas for songs have to just “come to” them. Trying to accommodate their lives means that they can’t work on music daily, Gehring said, even in quarantine.
Coborn sent two songs over to the others recently, though. He doesn’t write them frequently and finds it “hard”. Often it’s just “not happening” for him.
Gehring wants to make “something meaningful”, but the pressure sets in during this difficult time and makes things harder.
They’ve been able to make donations through their ticket sales to Color of Change and NEEVA. They feel like at least they are “doing something”.
Frazier has started working on a song with BLXPLTN and they are going to release a song to raise money soon. Their donations to Color of Change and NEEVA are just for one event on Saturday, but they want to think of some more long-term options.
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Next Saturday we'll be releasing a 70+ minute session with tracks from the new album + some old ones too, with visuals by @astralviolet, for @Levitation Sessions. We're also releasing it as a live album on cassette, with some t-shirts and other fun stuff. $1 from every ticket is going to @nivassoc. Art by @cmrtyz Tickets + bundles at : bit.ly/levitation-sessions (link in bio!)
Moore had read a Vice Interview from 2012 in which Frazier speaks against the music term “Shoegaze” and Moore wanted to know what they think of those terms. Frazier said that in marketing a band as “Shoegaze”, it excludes a lot of people who may not know what terms mean. You need to reach a wider audience with music, he feels.
For Frazier, one of the “big moments” he had in discovering this was playing with Jane’s Addiction, where a guy in a Nirvana t-shirt came up and said they sounded like the band on The Crow, by which he meant the band Medicine. If people hear the music and it’s good, they’ll like it. If they hear the term “Shoegaze band”, many people won’t click on it or explore further.
The Shoegaze Forum on Facebook actually kicked Frazier out, but Gehring explained that she loves that forum and is still in it. They are very supportive and educate her on more bands. She loves being part of that scene and doesn’t think they ought to “knock” it.
Explaining how Ringo Deathstarr define themselves, Gehring said they are a “three piece rock band”.
What got Frazier axed by the Shoegaze Forum? Apparently, he put up a picture of his shoes and said “Gaze at this”, which got him kicked out.
But as for our big Tower Records question, what do Ringo Deathstarr think about “No Music, No Life”?
Coborn said his life would be “void” without this band or bands in general. He would just be “working at a shitty restaurant”.
Gehring joined the band at age 18 and is now 31, about to be 32. She’s gotten to “travel the world, express her creativity, and make something that really matters” to her, so it’s No Music, No Life for her.
Frazier said that it’s hard to imagine life without music, and that was the sum of it.
Was there anything further they wanted to convey to Tower fans and their own fans?
Gehring thanks fans for the support, for this record, and also for their whole career, since they are just “normal people” with this amazing “side life” as musicians. She hopes some major changes are coming about in the world soon, though.
Frazier said, “every day is like, wow” right now. They love everyone and thanked fans for making this all possible. There are so many bands out there, but for Ringo Deathstarr to have reached fans is a big deal.
Frazier also hopes that the phrase, ‘All Lives Matter’ dies. Black Lives Matter should be the phrase used, he says. He’s never experienced Police Brutality but he wants us to “listen to other peoples’ experiences”. “The evil deeds of history must be confronted head-on before we can get past them.”, Frazier concluded.