Sweet Sweet Music spoke with Ryan Allen about his beautiful new ‘digital music album’ ‘What a Rip’.
You adjust your style slightly on ‘What a Rip’? Perhaps more than just a little. What caused this change?
I’m constantly searching for inspiration and never want to settle into doing the same thing all the time. All of my bands over the years, at least to my ears, have been different to some degree – with really one thing in common, which is a focus on melody and lyrics above anything else. But there’s a lot of music out there, and if you’re stuck just listening to one type of thing for inspiration, well, you’re not going to evolve much.
No offense to the artists, but I feel like my one gripe about power pop is that a lot of artists settle into a lane and never veer from it. I love all kinds of music – punk, hardcore, indie rock, power pop, metal, hip-hop, country, electronic, Motown, dub, folk, funk…the list goes on. This time around I felt really compelled to dig into 60s British invasion and classic pop with a bit of garage and psyche thrown in. I was listening to a lot more of that kind of stuff around the time I started writing – Creation, Music Machine, the Byrds, Nazz, Zombies, the Association (along with the standards like the Beatles, Kinks, Stones and Beach Boys) – and this is just kind what came out.
Sometimes all it takes is a little nudge, and in this particular instance, a friend let me borrow a Mellotron guitar pedal, and since nobody is playing gigs right now, I felt like it would be fun to write a song, record it, and try to use the pedal on the recording. So what started as one song (“Feeling You Feeling Me”) quickly multiplied to 10 over the course of a few weeks. It’s funny how it works – I didn’t really plan on making another record (I put out one solo album already in 2020 and have been working on a ton of stuff for future Extra Arms albums as well), but when inspiration comes, you just have to hang on for dear life and ride the wave as long as you can. So that’s what I did and “What A Rip” is the result.
You are incredibly productive and on social media you clearly show that Robert Pollard inspires you. Is there a relationship between that productivity and that inspiration?
I got into GBV at a very formative time in my life when I was really starting to learn how to write songs. I heard “Alien Lanes” when I was 15 years old and it just totally blew my mind. First, I couldn’t get over how terrible it sounded but how simultaneously the songs were so catchy and brilliant. And short! I really gravitated towards Pollard’s ability to cram a ton of hooks into something that was only 1 or 2 minutes long, much in the same way that early Motown songs are only about 2 1/2 minutes.
It really inspired me to follow my gut and not overwork my songs, and it’s something I continue to adhere to this day. In terms of productivity, I mean, Pollard is STILL cranking out music at an alarming rate (the new Cub Scout Bowling Pins EP is amazing!). And it’s shocking to me that the quality never seems to go down – you could make an argument that he may be better than ever, right now, as a 60-something year old guy. It’s just really inspiring to watch somebody continue to do the work, and at such a high hit ratio to boot. I’m not saying I’m trying to emulate him, but I certainly feel like if he can do it, so can I.
Surely there were more sources of inspiration for the adaptation in style? Have you been actively looking or did it come your way?
Like I said – it sort of just happened. I think I’ll always want to make high energy, loud melodic rock. It’s in my blood and it’s what I can basically do in my sleep. But I want to continue to challenge myself, and this time away from shows during the pandemic has at least allowed me to follow whatever muse I’m inspired by. I mean, in the past 11 months I’ve made a shoegaze EP with some friends called Soft Wires, I made a hardcore album about the pandemic called Quaranteen Idles, made a couple of covers albums, a few one-off singles, and a 20-song solo album called “Song Snacks Vol. 1”. To me, “What A Rip” is just another thing I wanted to work on to challenge myself to get better at everything I’m trying to do – be a better songwriter, lyricists, arranger, and even engineer of my own recordings (which is something up until the pandemic I never really cared about).
I heard a podcast recently with Ian McKaye and he basically said he works on whatever is in front of him. He doesn’t think too much about the past, or too much about the future. He just does the work in front of him and it’s very satisfying for him – whether it’s an archive project or new music. I’m really inspired by that idea – just do the work. Keep doing the work. Don’t stop doing the work. And see the work through until it’s done, then do something else. So the work this time around was “What A Rip” – and now it’s done and I’m on to something else!
The quality of the songs is unbelievably high. It has been for years. Do you have a sense for quality control? Or how do you ensure that there are no blanks in between?
Well I really appreciate you saying that. That means what I’m trying to do is what is actually happening, which is encouraging, so thank you. I really just trust my gut most of the time. If something “feels” wrong, I usually move on from it. I feel like I know pretty much right away if something is worth pursuing or not. When I’m working with the band, their intuition and tastes factor in of course as well.
I do feel like I know what they like and try to write to our strengths as a unit, so Extra Arms music comes out a certain way because of that. When I’m working on solo material I can be a little more…experimental I guess? But either way, I work very much on feeling. If it sucks, I can feel it in my bones. If it’s good, I get a rush. So I try not to waste too much time on the things that feel wrong, and spend time on what feels right.
Artist: Ryan Allen
Album: What A Rip
Label: Dad Pop Records
Release Date: 2/5/2021