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Richie Ramone: 1, 2, 3, 4…

richie ramone

THE Ramones kickstarted punk, inspired a generation of kids to pick up guitars, and shook the rock establishment to its core.

Now, forty years after the New York band sang about beating on the brat with a baseball bat, drummer Richie Ramone is keeping their spirit alive with his own blistering punk-rock shows. Ramone touches down in Australia in late April for a run of east coast gigs with promises to play rock ‘n’ roll as loud as it should be.

“I’ll play some of the material from my last record and the one coming out.” Richie says. “Also songs I played with the Ramones back in the day, then I’ll play some Ramones classics. It’s a really good set, you know? It’s a complete Ramones set. In 2013 I played ANZ Stadium with Aerosmith. I had a good time and it’s beautiful over there. I’m really looking forward to this trip.”

In 1983, the then-unknown 26 year-old joined the legendary band just after the release of ‘Subterranean Jungle’, the quartet’s seventh studio album.

“I just happened to be in the right place at the right time,” Richie says. “Somebody told me they were auditioning drummers, they gave them my name and that’s how it worked. I didn’t know them beforehand, and they called me and I just did the audition like any other audition. It was an amazing thing that I ended up in one of the greatest bands of all time. Right away we hit it off. Joey took me under his wing.”

His song-writing and vocals provided a much-needed new dimension to the band, and Richie went on to appear in over 500 shows. Singer Joey Ramone is quoted as saying Richie “saved the band” when he joined.

“The last two or three records, the last two especially, before ‘Too Tough to Die’ were probably not great records,” Richie says. “When you get a new person in the band, it changes the blood and energises the band. ‘Too Tough to Die’ came out in 1983 and did that. They accepted [my songs]. A good song is a good song, you know? Johnny didn’t want me to have more than one or two songs if he didn’t make the numbers, but they accepted it.”

Dysfunction was allegedly rife within the Ramones, including constant tension between guitarist Johnny and singer Joey, mental illness, drug abuse, and betrayal.

“All of it was exaggerated,” Richie says. “They were one of the most professional bands. We worked, you know? But it’s also like a family that’s together a lot; there’s weird shit going on. But when it came time to play a show, we were all together; we made sure of that. But they wanted to break up many times, I think, but I don’t know what caused them to stop [in the end].”

Since departing the band in 1987, Richie has had an eclectic career in music, including composing classical suites and releasing his debut solo album, ‘Entitled’, in 2013. A follow-up is in the works and is set for release this year.

“I’m my own artist now,” he says. “I have the last name and the Ramones taught me a lot. They gave me direction and taught me about how to respect the fans, and I carry that with me, but I’m my own artist, not the Ramones. I can’t be the Ramones. [The new album] is a fucking really great record and I’m really excited about it. I’ve got a Depeche Mode song [‘Enjoy the Silence’] on there, which I really like. I’ll be playing one or two songs from it when I get out there. I don’t like playing a lot of new songs when I’m on tour, so it’ll be only one or two.”

The death of drummer Tommy Ramone in 2014 meant that no founding members of the Ramones are still around, but the spirit of the band is as strong as ever, helped by the ubiquitous Ramones T-shirt and logo.

“There are a lot of new fans,” Richie says. “The thing I see is parents bringing their kids. There’s a fourth generation Ramones thing happening now. Parents want to introduce their kids to good rock ‘n’ roll. There’s tons of fans all over; we’ve got people coming to shows from 65 to 16. But it works. And they’re all wearing the T-shirt [laughs].”

Richie Ramone plays:

Thursday 28th April 2016
Great Northern Hotel – Byron Bay NSW

Friday 29th April 2016
Wooly Mammoth – Brisbane QLD

Saturday 30th April 2016
Social Club – Sydney NSW

Sunday 1st May 2016
Cherry Rock, Melbourne VIC

For Scenestr

Record review: DIIV – Is The Is Are (2016, LP)

diiv is the is are

DIIV’s second album marks Zachary Cole-Smith’s return from the brink of career suicide, having been widely labelled a heroin-addled waster since his September 2013 arrest for narcotics possession with his girlfriend, singer/model Sky Ferreira. The project’s debut album Oshin was a somewhat overlooked masterpiece, and it took the frontman and songwriter to kick his drug problems and re-launch himself into writing for this album to even see the light of day. The result is an ambitious double LP that recalls much of the glory of Oshin while expanding deeper into the realms of indie-rock, dream-pop and prog. Droning, relentless riffs, jangling chord progressions, and the whiff of New York hobo chic are again the order of the day, which provide many moments of majesty, most especially on the title track, first single ‘Dopamine’ and second track ‘Under The Sun’. Ferreira makes an appearance on lead vocals on ‘Blue Boredom (Sky’s Song)’, which never really gets going, while the feeling of ‘Mire (Grant’s Song)’ is, as the name suggests, of a singer wallowing in misery, and ‘Take Your Time’ follows the same formula, albeit with much more sombre tones. Overall, the record’s no Oshin on the whole, mostly due to the feeling that fewer tracks could have made it a more attractive package (point in case: the unnecessary, 17-second ‘(Fuck)’) and too much of the latter half of the album sounds like a single, coagulated mass. Nevertheless, Cole-Smith remains both an intriguing figure and indie-rock creative worth keeping an eye on.

For Beat

Interview: Andrew Savage of Parquet Courts

andrew savage

BROOKLYN, New York-based indie-rock quartet Parquet Courts will return to Australia to play Splendour in the Grass, having been here as recently as January for St. Jerome’s Laneway Festival. With a new album – entitled Sunbathing Animal – about to be released, their show promises to be heavy on new material, with the band’s trademark energy and witty lyricisms being certain to feature. I talked to singer-guitarist Andrew Savage to find out the band’s plans and why the ‘slacker’ label needs to be taken out of circulation.

Congratulations on the new album. How do you feel knowing it’s about to be released?

Man, it feels great. It didn’t feel real until I held it in my hands. I just got my own copy last week. It’s the coolest looking album I’ve ever been on, that’s for sure; I love the way it looks. It’s my first gatefold, and it’s been my lifelong dream to have a gatefold record, as they were always the coolest ones when you were a kid. So yeah man, I’m feeling good about it. Throughout the whole time of making it, we were aware that we had a new audience, you know? We were very cognisant that we had a fanbase, whereas with Light Up Gold, nobody really knew us and we didn’t have to worry about it. I would hesitate to call what we feel worry, but it’s more of an awareness that kind of resulted in more of a realised album.

Did the realisation you have a fanbase change your approach to songwriting?

Not explicitly, because it was one of those things we knew in the back of our heads and slowly started to realise, but I think it did make me aware of not wanting to give people the same thing they got on the album before, you know what I mean?

Do you think about how the songs will sound live when you write them?

The songs in Parquet Courts are really fully written live, or half-and-half at least. A lot of times we’ll come up with stuff in the studio, and that’s really fun, but a lot of the songs on Sunbathing Animal are a year and a half old, so we’ve been playing them for a long time.

How have they been going down live?

We’ve had songs like ‘She’s Rolling’ that have been in the set since before Light Up Gold was re-released on What’s Your Rupture? Those have become kind of set standards by now. We’ve gotten mostly positive feedback from all the new stuff live.

Sunbathing Animal has come quite quickly after Light Up Gold – do you feel like you’re under pressure to release new material quickly, or do you prefer to do it that way?

It’s not that quickly, because Light Up Gold came out in August 2012, so in August it’s two years old. Even still, when it came out, we had already recorded it about six months before that, so that’s pretty well-worn territory. Honestly, we have been dying for this to come out as we want to give people something new. I don’t feel a pressure though, as there’s nobody who will even give it to me. We don’t go into the studio unless we have at least enough stuff to start; we only record when we’re inspired to.

How was your experience at the Australian legs of Laneway Festival earlier in the year?

It was great – I loved Australia. I had already accrued a few friends down there, so we got to see some people we hadn’t seen in a while. I liked the festival, although we played some club shows too in Sydney and Melbourne, and I think that was probably the highlight for me.

What can fans expect from your show at Splendour?

I hope they give us at least an hour (laughs). It’ll definitely be mostly stuff off Sunbathing. That’s what we’ve been waiting to do for a long time. We’ve held back on doing all new stuff because we realise not everybody knows all that stuff yet, and it might be a bummer for somebody to have a band come and play a bunch of songs nobody knows. We’ll be in Japan the day before Splendour in the Grass, and then two days after we have to be in Chicago, so we’ll only be in the country for about 48 hours.

You so often have the ‘slacker’ label pinned on you. How do you feel about that?

I think that calling someone a slacker is kind of slacker, because it’s lazy. If anyone takes just a little bit of time to investigate who we are as a band, you’ll realise that it’s not applicable. At the same time, I understand half of rock and roll is lore, so if someone says these guys are slackers, then people believe it because that’s kind of an archetype that exists in rock and roll; the slacker guy, or the guy who’s a deadbeat and doesn’t have to work hard for it. It’s a fantasy, you know? People like that are pretty rare. People who get called slackers or slacker artists would surprise people with how non-fitting that term is to them. You can’t keep making art if you’re a slacker; part of being an artist is staying hungry and continuing to do what you do. It’s one of those things that once someone says it, people don’t question it, and it becomes part of the language. Once upon a time someone called us that, and most people just say ‘that’s good enough for me’.

Do you read or care about reviews of your albums or shows?

To me, a bad review is when someone doesn’t really think about what they’re doing. Even if a review is heavily critical and against what we’re doing, if it was done intelligently I would still consider it a good review. To me, the bad reviews are the ones where obviously the person hasn’t listened to the whole record or maybe even made a blind endorsement. To me, that’s a bad review. When you work so hard on something, you want to hear what people think about it. I could pretend to be one of those aloof guys that doesn’t read reviews and don’t care what people think. I’m interested in reading or hearing about how someone analyses what I’ve done; that’s mostly what it is.

Another thing you’re often called is a ‘buzz’ band. Does that have any meaning to you whatsoever?

I think that’s kind of silly. I don’t even know what that means. I guess it’s just a band that’s popular at the moment, which we kind of are. That’s not something I care about. We’re not trying to maintain ‘buzz’ status; it’s kind of a dispensable term. There’s always a new buzz band, but I’d kind of like to be one of the bands that moves past that and becomes just a regular band.

Parquet Courts hasn’t embraced social media as much as most bands tend to do. Is there a particular reason for that?

I don’t have any social media personally, and I’m the only one in the band likely to maintain it if we did. I don’t have Facebook, Twitter or any of that stuff. I’ve got Gmail; I talk to people on that, but it’s really that nobody in the band wants to maintain it. It’s not so much of a statement, and I have certain convictions in that world, but with Parquet Courts it’s a if-it-ain’t-broke-don’t-fix-it kind of thing. None of us have ever done [social media] with a band, and I was playing music long before the advent of social media and I remember it being just fine for me. In other words, it hasn’t presented itself as a necessity to me. In some ways, it makes creativity harder and is kind of a big distraction. It’s kind of like white noise to me, and I’ve got enough white noise in my life to worry about; I don’t need more.

What are your plans for the rest of the year?

We’ll be touring all summer. I’m not sure what’s going to go on in the fall, as my brother – the drummer – is finishing up school and has to take five different math classes. Sean and his wife are expecting a child in September, so naturally he’s going to take time off to be a dad. I can’t exactly say what the future holds after the summer, but definitely this summer we’ll be hitting it hard and going everywhere we can go.

SUNBATHING ANIMAL BY PARQUET COURTS IS OUT JUNE 2nd. PARQUET COURTS PLAY SPLENDOUR IN THE GRASS.

Record review: Parquet Courts – Sunbathing Animal (2014, LP)

parquet courts sunbathing animal

It’s tempting to pin the ‘slacker’ label on New York indie-rock quartet Parquet Courts, given that their most well-known song to date, 2012’s ‘Stoned and Starving’, tells the simple tale of singer Andrew Savage wandering the streets fiending for “Swedish fish, roasted peanuts or liquorice”. To do so, however, would be a disservice, as there is much more to the band. Featured on their second album Light Up Gold, that song introduced the everyday laugh-out-loud ramblings of a young city musician describing his surroundings, and was enough to bag the band slots at both Laneway Festival and Splendour In The Grass this year. One of the great – and simultaneously infuriating – things about Parquet Courts is that it’s not always clear when they’re being serious and when they’re taking the piss. Undoubtedly a fine and witty wordsmith, frontman and lyricist Andrew Savage comes across as part Ivy League stiff, part frantic punk-rock poet; but his energy and commitment make him a believable street storyteller on Sunbathing Animal. Unlike the instantly explosive Light Up Gold, the album begins in more measured fashion with ‘Bodies Made Of’, before setting off at pace with ‘Black & White’ and breaking the momentum down to a slow crawl on ‘Dear Ramona’. Among the remaining full-tilt rockers are ‘Instant Disassembly’, which could easily be the soundtrack to a comedy Western, and ‘Raw Milk’, which adds a hint of blues to finish up. While they’re now opting for a more cautious approach to urban punk than the head-on take of previous work, it’s this progression which keeps Parquet Courts’ particular brand of indie-rock more exciting than most.

Record review: The Hold Steady – Teeth Dreams (2014, LP)

The Hold Steady Teeth Dreams

It’s been four years since The Hold Steady’s last album; a long time between drinks for a band often called one of America’s hardest working. The departure of keyboardist Franz Nicolay after 2008’s excellent Stay Positive left 2010’s Heaven Is Whenever sounding like a band re-grouping and consolidating their position rather than taking on a new lease of life. The breathing space Nicolay left has since been filled by the addition of former Lucero guitarist Steve Selvidge, resulting in a fatter twin lead guitar sound, but the flair and dynamism the moustachioed keyboardist took with him is still sorely missed on this sixth album from the New York via Minneapolis rockers. That being said, all the usual stories of booze-soaked lost souls “waking up with that American sadness” – as Craig Finn sings on ‘On With The Business’ – are present and correct, and the singer-guitarist’s lyrics provide more depth and ideas in a single verse than many contemporaries do on an entire album. The reason why Teeth Dreams won’t be remembered as a classic Hold Steady album is that each song melts into the one before and the one after with no real discernible difference in sound. There’s nothing of the standard of ‘Stuck Between Stations’ or ‘Sequestered In Memphis’, and even the attempt at an attention-grabbing, riff-laden opener ‘I Hope This Whole Thing Didn’t Frighten You’ wouldn’t qualify as a B-side on some of the quintet’s earlier work. Indeed, many long-time Hold Steady fans will be left with the nagging feeling that perhaps Nicolay left at exactly the right time.

Record review: Drowners – Drowners (2014, LP)

drowners

Named after Suede’s 1992 debut single, Drowners is a New York quartet fronted by a 25 year-old male model with all the pop pretentiousness of Morrissey circa 1985 and the unashamed retro-leanings of The Strokes on their 2001 debut; but don’t let that put you off. Being so obviously indebted to certain bands (including Camden likely lads The Libertines, and thus – to a lesser extent – The Clash) could either be a blessing or a curse (it worked for Casablancas & Co. after all), but Drowners have just enough chops to pull it off on this self-titled debut. Frontman Matthew Hitt moved stateside from his home in Wales while on the hunt for modelling work, but ended up forming a garage-rock quartet, releasing a little-known EP and supporting the likes of Foals and The Vaccines on their North American tours – as you do. Despite being three-quarters American, the band’s sound sits much more comfortably in that sweet spot directly between ramshackle and tight that so many groups of underfed and over-posh groups of London lads have done in the past couple of years. Spurts of Smiths-esque self-loathing, longing and alienation come from the likes of ‘Watch You Change’ and ‘A Button On Your Blouse’, while opener ‘Ways To Phrase A Rejection’ and single ‘Luv, Hold Me Down’ get amongst the angular guitar lines with alternating Johnny Marr-like control and Pete Doherty urgency. While sounding like a microcosm of garage-rock isn’t going to be enough for Drowners to build a career on, this is a pretty good starting point. (Frenchkiss)

Flashback: New York Dolls – New York Dolls (1973, LP)

new york dolls

The New York Dolls are a band that have, over time, come to be defined more by the drugs, debauchery, and deaths of various members than their actual music, although the original line-up has never been given enough credit for being good musicians, in my opinion. Much like The Sex Pistols and even The Ramones, they are always labelled as ‘influential’ in terms of style and attitude, without being given due respect for their musicianship and the songs they wrote and recorded.

Then again, the reputation they had as being hell raisers was well earned. It isn’t a widely-known fact that before they had even recorded their debut album, the band already had a member die in a drink and drugs-related incident. The young band were in London for the first time together – supporting Rod Stewart of all people – and during one particular house party, 21 year-old Colombian-American drummer Billy Murcia passed out, was placed in a bath of cold water, force-fed coffee by some well-meaning but misguided friends, and asphyxiated. Devastated, the band returned to the States and considered packing it in, before Jerry Nolan, several years older and soon-to-be drug buddy of Johnny Thunders, joined on the drum stool. Murcia was a pretty good drummer and an unfortunate loss; he can be heard on the surprisingly-good Lipstick Killers: The Mercer Street Sessions 1972 album, which showcases a young band, whilst raw and green, nevertheless already with a solid groove and plenty of that trademark venom.

My own introduction to the ‘Dolls came when I was probably seven or eight. By some fortunate oversight my mum had let me stay up late on a Friday night (she probably wanted me to be tired the next day for some reason) and the TV was on. I think it might have been BBC 2 that was showing re-runs of The Old Grey Whistle Test, and amidst the endless prog dirge that used to be on that show, there suddenly appeared what looked (to my young eyes) to be five extremely hairy aliens from outer space, making some kind of god-awful racket that was at once scary, bewitching, and damn exciting. I knew they were obviously boys/men, but seemed to be wearing girls/womens’ clothes. At one point singer David Johansen looked into the camera and spewed out the words “my bayyyybayyyyy” and I was scared to death and totally hooked at the same time. Years later I found this exact broadcast on Youtube (they were playing ‘Jet Boy’) and I had a minor flashback of the fear and exhilaration I felt all those years ago. It’s a pretty special band that can do that to you.

Arthur ‘Killer’ Kane, although the least animated of the ‘Dolls, was probably the most outrageous looking of them, as well as being an underrated bassist. Standing about fourteen feet tall in his high-heeled boots and with blonde hair down to his navel, he was an outlandish looking guy despite being a statue on stage. Johnny Thunders, my personal favourite of the Dolls members, was the ‘cool’ member of the group, and one who Sylvain Sylvain once admitted they let join so they could ‘meet more chicks’. His performance could range from fantastic to feckless depending on how he felt or what was in his bloodstream at that very moment. By many accounts he was also a despicable human being, and had more influence on music and modern culture than the rest of the Dolls put together, but that’s a whole other story. There are any books written about the man born John Anthony Genzale, Jr.

So much has been said of the ‘Dolls’ debut album over the years that it’s hard to separate fact from fiction, but one fact is indisputable: the songs still sound really good. Produced by Todd Rundgren, the album is full of tracks that the reformed band (the two-fifths of it that remains, should I say) still play, and still sound good today.

‘Personality Crisis’ is the perfect opener, and immediately has the ‘Dolls sounding like a sleazier, rawer version of the Stones (Johansen even looks like Mick Jagger to this day), while ‘Lonely Planet Boy’ is the ‘quiet’ track on the album, and was later recycled into ‘You Can’t Put Your Arms Around A Memory’ by Thunders on his So Alone album.

‘Frankenstein’ is the longest track at six minutes and brims with Johansen’s throaty screaming and wailing guitar lines before breaking down to an almost spoken-word finish. You can see where Johnny Rotten got his influences from on this track, that’s for sure. ‘Trash’ is one of the ‘Dolls’ most well-known songs, and for good reason. It’s three minutes of pure proto-punk heaven, and includes some surprisingly impressive guitar work by Sylvain Sylvain; who is also criminally-underrated as a musician. They do a calypso version of it on 2009’s Cause I Sez So, and while some music critics called it filler, it sounds fantastic and is well worth a listen.

‘Jet Boy’ is my favourite Dolls track, probably because it was my introduction to the band, as well as being a pretty catchy and gritty track. Sylvain Sylvain once said the ‘Dolls’ debut album contained all the riffs the band could play between them and nothing else, and while it sounds romantic, probably isn’t true. Johansen and Thunders could write a pretty catchy pop tune when they set their minds to it, and ‘Jet Boy’ is the finest of examples of that.

In the end, drugs, disagreement, dodgy business decisions and Malcolm McLaren would put an end to the Dolls as a musical force, but this remains a fantastic album and no amount of myth and legend can alter that fact.