Backstage: John Ralston on Influences, South Florida Music, and Memories of Wilco's Jay Bennett
|Photo by Ian Witlen|
John Ralston: My first memories of music consist of Neil Young, Beach Boys, the Band, the Beatles... records like that. Those are kind of the mainstays. Then in high school, someone hands you a Pink Floyd/Zeppelin mixtape and you wander around there for a while. But Nirvana, Geto Boys, Minor Threat, NWA, Smashing Pumpkins, P.J. Harvey, Public Enemy, Dr. Dre, and Sunny Day Real Estate took me into my college years. Tom Waits. Velvet Underground. I love Otis Redding and Al Green. I walk around the house pretending I sing like Al Green all the time. I don't really have an iPod that works, and I am not online much, so I don't know what's current. I love every Fruit Bats record that comes out. Oh, all the Kurt Vile stuff is amazing. That new Dawes record is gorgeous. And Cass McCombs too. All-time favorite albums? Probably Harvest by Neil Young. Pet Sounds, Revolver...
Yes, sir. Self-released like Needle Bed at first. My time with Vagrant was fantastic, and I wouldn't trade it for anything. But in the end, I didn't sell enough records to justify them spending any more money. But I still have great relationships with the people there. And I wish commerce wasn't a factor. But for most record labels these days, the bottom line is the bottom line. I wasn't enough of a radio-friendly unit shifter.
I actually feel a lot of love from around here. There are people at my shows. Press has been kind to me. I play out quite a bit these days, but I don't make a lot of noise about it. And I don't lobby for attention. I am happy to be recognized for my work, of course, but I don't concern myself with attention or lack thereof. As far as what I think about the current scene -- I feel it has never been better. I have lived here my whole life, and I couldn't be prouder than I am right now. The Jameses, Dewars... all these guys are mind-blowing. Surfer Blood is killing it. Just got the Cop City LP. Fantastic! Chris Horgan. Everymen. Evan Mui. Blackfinger. Still jamming that Guy Harvey seven-inch. I am leaving people out, but everywhere you look... It's a great time to be from here. I am a big fan.
Yeah, I actually met Jay when Legends of Rodeo was looking for someone to produce our second album, which we never ending up making. But I stayed in touch with Jay. He was the kind of guy where you call him up and you enter this alternate universe where there is no real time. You hang up and realize two hours have gone by. He was the sweetest, the absolute sweetest. I read a tribute to him that was in the back of a tape op a while back. It was my story exactly. Jay was a guide. A big star that you could use to light your path musically. He was a brilliant man. I miss being able to call him. He was also David's mentor/best friend. A tribute to him felt right since that's how Dave and I became friends. And that record will come out someday soon for sure. Those were some of the best days of my life up there in Chicago.
Needle Bed, Sorry Vampire, the White Spiders EP, the "Jesus Christ/A Marigny XMAS" single, Shadows of the Summertime... I am pleased with all those releases. I feel like each one is its own piece of work. They all have lives of their own, and I am proud to have been a part of their processes. Musically, I am satisfied with my body of work, but I am always looking to the future. The friendships that have evolved out of each recording process are the things I keep with me. Jeff Snow and I traveling to Knoxville for five days to record a few songs -- that became Needle Bed. Mixing with Charles Dye through the wee hours of the morning, Jonathan Wilkins leading the final charge up to Knoxville with Dan and I to reimagine what became Sorry Vampire. Recording with jazz drummer Deric Dickens for "Marigny/Jesus Christ." Soooo many people have become a part of these songs. I feel honored by their presence on the tracks. Dan Bonebrake is really the key to all this too. He has been with me every step of the way, and without his influence, these recordings wouldn't be the same. The irony being that he hates the studio!
Of course! I think we will play a show here and there. Steve, Nathan, Jeff, and I always have fun. I just hate rehearsing old songs. I would love to do a new record with them.
Living the dream one day at a time. That's my sarcastic mantra. Musically, my plan is to first finish my next record. It's almost done. The vinyl packaging for that is gonna be special.