Thursday, June 30, 2011

Getting a sonic high with Ringo Deathstarr

No offense to sex, but I've always been more preoccupied with the drugs and rock-and-roll part of that equation. Historically speaking, there has never been a shortage of songs about drugs (or songs written while on drugs, or of musicians taking drugs to make songs to take drugs to), but actually capturing the feeling of space angels tickling your brain stem while swimming through gently swaying fields of purple grass isn't so easy to accomplish. That's why the songs from Austin noise-pop trio Ringo Deathstarr — in particular, the devastating dopamine rush of "So High," which features a string of effects pedals marked "MBV" and "J+MC" and twitchy, whorling waves of feedback and call-and-response male/female vocals — have me pressing the play button on my computer repeatedly, like a lab monkey waiting for the cocaine pellet to pop out.

Part of the dilated pupils and elevated-heart-rate blast of that song and others on Ringo debut Colour Trip (Sonic Unyon) is the nostalgia triggered by hearing it done so well. Not only does it sound like drugs today, it sounds like drugs gone by, and the music that we took drugs to listen to back then. Be right back, got to go make a call.

It's addictive stuff, this nostalgia. And unlike a lot of bands too stubborn to admit their influences, 28-year-old Elliott Frazier says he proudly claimed his from the beginning, when he was still trying to get the band off the ground at a house party at SXSW in 2005. "All these people kept flaking out on me, not taking it seriously at first," he says. "There weren't any bands doing this kind of sound at the time that we knew about — there was some stuff in New York City, but we had no idea. People were just like, whatever, this is a joke." Twelve members cycled in and out of the band's orbit before bass player and vocalist Alex Gehring came aboard in 2007. Daniel Coborn rounds out the line-up on drums.

Frazier doesn't mind the constant comparisons to recent tour-mates A Place To Bury Strangers and the Raveonettes, or any of those early-'90s UK bands. "That's what I was trying to do," he says. "The only thing that is annoying about that is when people compare us to a certain band, the way they write it is as if we're unaware of it. Everything we do is totally on purpose. Sometimes people say stuff like 'They're not inventing anything new.' We never set out to invent a new genre anyway, and we never said we were going to."

Whether or not you should call the genre they didn't invent "shoegaze" might be a matter of personal contention, however. "That's just a silly old term that people use," Frazier says. "What does it mean? You tell someone and they have no idea . . . you have to explain what it is. When people ask me, I just tell them noise-pop rock or whatever. If they seem like they would know what shoegaze is, then I say shoegaze, but whatever, it's all a bunch a hooey." 

Shoegaze is supposed to refer to guitar bands that are running their instruments through so many effects pedals that they spend the entire show staring at the ground. For Ringo, whose sets can be notoriously loud, figuring out the logistics of that sound can involve sometimes-problematic guitar-change choreography. It's worth it, though, says Frazier, who considers Ringo Deathstarr a guitar-led band first and foremost.

"The guitar is the leader of the band, it's the thing that we're trying to present to everyone," he says. "This whole style of music seems like the perfect way to have a guitar be front and center."

RINGO DEATHSTARRTHE VANDELLES + YOUNG ADULTS + THIEF THIEF | Great Scott, 1222 Comm Ave, Allston | July 2 @ 9 pm | 18+ | $9 | 617.566.9014

Boston Phoenix

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