Ryan Ferguson - 2007-10-29
Natürlich ist uns der Name Ryan Fergusons im Laufe der letzten Jahre des Öfteren untergekommen, stellte dieser doch zusammen mit Mitch Wilson die schöpferisch tragende Achse des aus San Diego stammenden Indierock-Quartetts No Knife dar. Mit
"Only Trying To Help" erscheint nun das Debütalbum des Mannes, der vor fast genau zwei Jahren die Akustik-EP "Three, Four" noch in Eigenregie veröffentlichte. Ganz entgegen dem minimalistischen Ansatz, den Ferguson noch mit "Three, Four" verfolgte, wurde "Only Trying To Help" voll instrumentiert aufgenommen und entspricht somit gängigen Band-Formaten. Jedoch wirkt Ferguson im Gegensatz zu eben jenen weitaus exklusiver und auch persönlicher. Der musikalische Ansatz ist dabei eher klassischer Natur: Ferguson atmet allem Anschein nach den Geist von Bands wie Superchunk, Sunny Day Real Estate und auch Cursive. Wir führten mit Ryan Ferguson ein Interview, um ihn in Hinsicht auf die Veröffentlichung von "Only Trying To Help" zu allem Wissenswerten zu befragen:
SJM: After the split of No Knife in 2003, did you already know you wanted to start a solo career or was it just the way it turned out to be within the last few years?
Ryan Ferguson: When No Knife split in 2003, the only thing I knew was that I wanted to continue writing and recording music one way or another. I didn’t necessarily want to start a solo career, it just happened that way. I’ve always written songs on the side, both prior to and during the No Knife years. It’s just something that I’ve always done. Three songs that I wrote towards the end of the No Knife days actually ended up being released on various solo compilations discs, so I was fortunate for the opportunities. Introducing those songs to people so early on really helped in my transition to becoming a solo artist. But I’m still getting used to it.
SJM: "Only Trying To Help" has been in the making for over a year. Did you always know in which direction you were heading towards musically? Did you have a clear vision and an idea of how the record should sound like or was it kind of an experiment that just ended up the way it did?
Ryan Ferguson: Well I had already recorded demos of all the songs myself before even entering the studio to record the album, so I had a real good idea of how the songs were going to turn out for the most part. A couple of them developed into bigger & more impressive songs than I was expecting them to, but overall I didn’t want to stray too far from the demos. I guess you could say that the record was an experiment, but that’s just because I had never recorded an entire solo pop record before. Now that I have one under my belt, I’m working on the next.
SJM: Unlike most of the records that are released nowadays, I think your songs are way more personal and consist of an intimate edge. Would you say that "Only Trying To Help" is even more personal than the records you recorded with No Knife? Was it a conscious aim to create songs as personal as that?
Ryan Ferguson: Yes, these songs are far more personal to me than ones I wrote with No Knife – but that doesn’t necessarily mean I like them any more or less. It’s really just a matter of song subject and substance. I wrote a majority of these songs with something very personal in mind. Most of that had to do with the lyrics and not so much the music itself. Some of the songs were specifically written for family members and close friends. “Remission” was written for my cousin who was battling cancer at the time, “Not on My Watch” was about my friends’ suicide, and “And I Worry” was based on the relationship between my father and I. I could go on and on. Overall, a lot of very delicate and emotional subject matter to write about.
SJM: The sentence that first stuck into my mind was "I'm a stranger in a foreign world". Is this the way you feel sometimes in a world like ours? Does making music and trying to express yourself help overcome a feeling like this?
Ryan Ferguson: To be honest, the lyric is actually, “I’m a stranger in a foreign room”, suggesting an unfamiliar hospital room. This song (Remission) was the one I was referring to in the previous question, and was based on my cousin’s bout with leukemia. (Sadly, she ended up passing away just two months after I recorded that song for her.) That’s the thing about reading and writing lyrics - you can intentionally write about something specific, but others will likely interpret those lyrics differently. That’s the beauty. Writing songs like this one really do help me get through some of the more stressful, tougher times. Music is clearly the most comfortable way for me to express myself.
SJM: Did you record all the instruments on "Only Trying To Help" by yourself? Could you please give us some information about the recording process as such?
Ryan Ferguson: No, I had some help. I recorded a majority of the instruments on all the songs on the record, but recruited my friend Chris Vanacore to play drums. My friend Shaun Cornell (who also produced the record with me) shared some bass and keyboard duties as well. But for the most part, I recorded all the guitars, vocals, percussion, bass, and keys – even played drums on “In the Sea.” I think that was the only song I recorded everything on. I’ve been playing drums and bass longer than I’ve been playing guitar and singing, so when I record demos of each song, all the instruments and their parts are usually written before I head into the studio. It’s almost like a (recording) rehearsal. Then it’s all about laying down the framework of each song before overdubbing all the separate tracks. It’s my favorite part of the recording process, listening to each song build and take shape. It’s so cool when everything comes together.
SJM: As far as I can see, the title of the record, "Only Trying To Help", does not relate to the lyrics of one specific song on the record. Is there a relation at all? Is there perhaps a deeper sense, an overall idea all the songs of the album relate to?
Ryan Ferguson: There’s a general positive theme to the record despite the fact that, overall, it deals with negative depressing subject matter. As I mentioned, the songs focus on issues like cancer, suicide, depression, heartbreak, stressed relationships, and identity theft among others, so the overall sense of the record isn’t to avoid the issues, but to try and alleviate them. I’m not trying to save the world or shed light on anything new, I’m just a normal guy writing about normal things that happen in life. I think a lot of people can relate to my songs, regardless of whether they know it or not.
SJM: From my point of view, there's certain records you listen to when it's winter, and others seem to be made for the summer season. As for me "Only Trying To Help" ist a record you listen to when it's winter, because most of the songs seem to be quite melancholical. What would you retort to that?
Ryan Ferguson: I could see that. Personally, I’ve never paid much attention to the season when I listen to a specific record. It’s more about the overall mood I’m in when I decide to pop that CD into the player. But because it is a pop record, I guess it has more of that summertime appeal to it. Despite the melancholy lyrical content, the music may be more fitting to listen to on your way to the beach or on a summer vacation I suppose. I never really thought about it, to be honest.
SJM: Your debut-EP "Three, Four" was an acoustic-based record. How come you arranged "Only Trying To Help" with a 'classic' instrumentation with drums, bass, and guitars?
Ryan Ferguson: Well I recorded most of “Three, Four” in my one bedroom apartment – so I had no other option than to record it acoustically. (The neighbors would have been very pissed had I set up my electric gear.) I did record a few of the songs at my friend’s studio, which I added live drums and bass to. But all the songs on “Help” have an acoustic foundation – though it might be harder to hear on some more than others. They were all written on my acoustic, but I didn’t want to get categorized as “an acoustic player” because I’m not. I enjoy the natural sound of an acoustic, but I’ve always been an electric guitar player and felt like these songs could benefit from a little distortion and big drums. I like the change in dynamics when switching back and forth between an electric and acoustic sound. It gives me more freedom as a writer, more options. I’ve owned an acoustic guitar before, but it really wasn’t until a few years ago that I bought an old beat-up one at a pawn shop and began playing more regularly. Actually, I think it’s harder to play an acoustic guitar. It definitely makes your fingers and hands stronger – it’s good practice.
SJM: I have read that you've been part of the San Diego music scene for quite a long time. What was it like growing up there? Which specific parts of this community made you the musician you are today?
Ryan Ferguson: I grew up a normal kid in a split suburban middle-class family. I knew I wanted to play music at a fairly early age. (I was either going to be a pilot, a pro skateboarder, or a musician.) I started getting involved in the local San Diego scene about my sophomore year in high school, when my band (I played drums) began playing live around town and we released some tapes… yes, tapes, and even got a little late night radio play. It was very exciting at the time. The local music scene was just starting to gain national attention – dubbed “The Next Seattle?” My friends and I were seeing amazing local shows every week. I started religiously listening to local music radio shows around town and bands like Rocket from the Crypt, Drive Like Jehu, aMiniature, Heavy Vegetable, and Three Mile Pilot. That’s when I really started playing more guitar and writing more songs. Growing up and living in San Diego has been wonderful. It’s an amazing city, and I feel lucky to know a lot of great people in this town. Despite No Knife’s success in San Diego, it’s a hard place to build a loyal following. I think locals are so used to seeing such great music come through town, it’s hard to impress a lot of people here. I’m lucky though, I’ve got my friends.
SJM: Listening to "Only Trying To Help" makes me think of bands like Jellyfish and Wire. When talking about your musical influences that have been and actually are quite important to you as a person – what bands are we actually talking about and why especially these bands?
Ryan Ferguson: Like you alluded to, there are probably 20-30 bands I could list as musical influences. But the ones that TRULY inspired me to write and play music would have to be U2, REM, The Beatles, The Cure, Bruce Springsteen, Nirvana and Rocket from the Crypt. (I remember seeing the movie “La Bamba” when I was a kid, and think back to just how I badly I wanted to be Ritchie Valens.) I really fell in love with the old American classic 50’s & 60’s music, so I’ve always had a special place in my heart for artists like Buddy Holly, The Beach Boys and The Four Seasons. Bruce Springsteen was probably the first artist I ever really followed as a young fan. I think I was 9 or 10, but I remember wearing the same Bruce Springsteen t-shirt every single day to school. My parents bought my brother and I a toy drum set and I tried to imitate
Max Weinberg best I could. But beyond trying to imitate all these artists at some point in my life, it was the catchy melodies and smart pop sensibility that always stuck with me. There was something about these bands, whether you like them or not, that I could somehow relate to. Maybe it was the “sing-along” factor that a lot of these bands possessed. But for whatever reason, their melodies and musical balance had a major impact on a pretty impressionable kid who knew he always wanted to play music.
SJM: Will there ever be a chance to see you performing live here in Germany? Have you ever been to Germany with No Knife? What is your experience like?
Ryan Ferguson: Unfortunately, I have never been to Europe. Can you believe that? I am hoping to tour over there some time as early as next year. I was lucky to get a great booking agent over there in Germany (Nadin Brendel @ Mikrokultur), so I can’t wait to come and play some shows. Years ago No Knife had a tour European tour booked. We had our plane tickets and everything. Then our label was sending Sunny Day Real Estate out on a big US tour and we were asked to be their support (just us and them), an ideal 2-band bill. As much as we wanted to get over to Europe, we had to postpone the tour and stay here in the US to meet up with SDRE. It was the right decision as the tour was very successful. But we never made it over. We did get to tour Japan twice, which was amazing, but I’m still waiting to get to Europe and see the fabulous sights and people. (I’ll make sure it will happen this time.)
SJM: I always leave the last statement to the band or the artist. Is there anything you'd like to say or add that hasn't been said before?
Ryan Ferguson: Yes, I’d just like to say thank you for not asking me how we got the name No Knife, and thank you for not asking how or why we broke up. I think this is the first interview I’ve ever done where neither of those two questions were ever asked. Thank you!