California rockers Ringside have shown a knack for crafting tracks that mix the best elements of dance and rock. The band-- made up of core members Scott Thomas and beatmaker/producer/actor Balthazar Getty, as well as other musicians like guitarist Kirk Hellie, live drummer Sandy Chila and live keyboardist Max Allyn-- combine fuzzy guitars, shimmering synth lines, as well as musical curve balls like a symphonic chorus, to create a unique spin on the dance-rock genre.
In a Q&A with Indies and the Underground, frontman Scott Thomas (pictured right) talks about the group's early days, the inspiration behind their latest release Lost Days, dream collaborations and upcoming projects.
How did you get the name Ringside?
Balt and I were on the road in Los Angeles, just driving. We were talking about how cool it was to have "Spanishfaster (AKA: Tired of Being Sorry)" being played in the clubs without any record label. We had just been making these recordings in my garage on an entrance level protools setup and had given it out to a few friends. It just kind of ballooned, locally. We hadn't even thought about making a real record and putting it out, so there was never a name for it. Eventually, though, we decided that naming it might be a good thing. He had this little boxing glove hanging from his rearview mirror that had a RINGSIDE logo on it. It was the first thing that came to mind and we thought it best to keep it that way, since our recordings were so of the cuff.
You were a fashion designer before deciding to start the band. Has your previous career helped you navigate the music business in any way?
I was not a fashion designer, intentionally. I was working as a stylists assistant to get by. Other bands that we were dressing, started asking me if they could wear my clothes, off my back. I was pretty broke back then, so without hesitation, I always obliged. Things just took off from there, but I also learned that trying to get paid designing for retail is just as difficult as making a living making music. So, I signed out by making my last design, called "Black Valentine", a leather jacket for Sean Penn. I felt that was a good way to go out. I still like making my own shit, though. But, I decided that I would return, again, to making music, exclusively. Something I had done since I was 5 years old. No more dressing other bands that were making music all day long. I wanted in.
You also sold everything to dedicate all your time to the band. Were the any low points or times you felt like giving up?
There were many low points along the way. Still are. LIke I said before somewhere, it's a struggle. Right? There's no room for giving up. I'm not interested in that game. Better to die, trying.
At what point did you feel the band was coming together, or could be something successful?
We always thought what we were doing was fun. Something that we would listen to. So it makes sense that we made some fans along the way. We are still fairly unknown to the masses, though. We're still swinging fists, you know? All in though, I guess I feel 'successful' just in knowing that I spend everyday writing, recording, and releasing. I probably feel best playing live. Big stage, screaming girlies, all that ego shit.
Some of your influences include The Stooges, Depeche Mode and The Clash. What about them inspires you?
The music, the clothes, the spirit, the blood. Stuff that is so good that it stays with you forever. Like a lover. Someone that you could never get close enough too.
What influences do you have that may surprise people?
I don't know. Philip Glas, Eric Satie. Choir music, Bulgarian woman's choir, the Cossack choir. I listen to a lot of world music. Japanese koto and shakuhachi, that kinda thing. Great stuff that came out on the Lyrichord label. Sixties stuff. Serge Gainsbourg, Anton Jobim. A lot of Herbie Mann. Old school country, Merle Haggard, a lot of pickers. Folky stuff. There's some great modern stuff out there. The Delta Spirit, Fleet Foxes, Kings of Convenience. Everything from Leadbelly to Liberace. Who doesn't love a little Windham Hill? I love the 70's singer songwriter movement. A.M. Gold always feels like summer.
What was it like to collaborate with Ben Harper on "Lost Days"? What do you think he added to the track?
I have toured with Ben for a while, so we're close. We actually met in the nineties. We wre both getting our new records out, his "Welcome to the Cruel World', and my lesser known "Shine Like You". He came in to try a few things together and really liked "Lost Days". He really put his stamp on it. Effortlessly. Started with singing along with me, then threw down some great lapsteel. His very honest spirit really shines through on that track. The kids choir seemed like a good fit, too.
What other singers/producers would you like to work with?
I've worked with Dr. Dre a few times and he's up there. I have always wanted to work with Brian Eno. I have been a big fan of his ever since I was a kid. Even before U2 worked with him, I was following him. Through Roxy Music, the magic collaboration with Bowie. His "Warm Jets" era, the ambient "Discreet Music", his work with Harold Budd, "Pavillion of Dreams".Awesome. I have a lot of instrumental music that I've recorded over the years, that I will be releasing at some point that is very inspired by him, Satie, and Glas, among others. As far as me producing other artists, I guess today it would be Band of Horses, or maybe Rihanna. She does to me of when Stevie Nicks voice always did. Woman like that make it hard to fall for just anyone.
Do you draw inspiration from any books, pieces of art, photography or movies? Which ones and why?
Absolutely. Films like "Withnail and I", "How To Get Ahead in Advertising". "Love Serenade" is genius. ""the Castle". The Aussies make great films. Wim Wender's work. Gus Van Sant. There are too many to to list. I love vintage shit like, "Logan's Run" on a good hangover. Fine art and antiquities is a real passion is for me. My grandfather owned a gallery that specialized in European and Asian works. So, I got the bug pretty early on. My place is a real mix of stuff. Navajo Carpets, Viennese wedding chests, and Danish Modern. There's some modern artists that I really like. Jorge Santos, Christian Vincent, Brad Noble, Shepherd Fairey and of course Tom Ford. I read as much as I can. I never tire of anything by F. Scott Fitzgerald, J.D. Salinger, Martin Amos. I love the Russian poets Lermontov, and Pushkin. "Confederacy of Dunces" by John Kennedy Toole is amazing. "Sin in the Second City", by Karen Abbott is a real page turner. I love period stuff, especially old Americana.
In what way is Lost Days different from your previous albums?
Well for starters, we spent the better part of five years making it in a very swank place provided to by a very generous patron of the arts. It was a dream after working for so long within the limitations of small garage space, and a major record label. ( I had several solo records from before, "Shine Like You" on Mercury, "California" on Elektra). We were free finally, and that was great, but we were going through some very dangerous days, personally at that time, as well. On the upside, we were playing stadiums overseas and coming home and tracking, so I think that comes across. I had broken my back in a speedboat accident, so I became somewhat dependent on opiates for a couples years and that was hell. Still there was a underlying theme of hope in "Lost Days". Like, "I am going to get through this, come hell or high water!" Gods, shamans, angels, and aliens. I reached out to them all for divine intervention.
How does the songwriting/production process usually happen?
I usually start with a hook on guitar or piano. A melody comes instantly usually. I sing in tongue for a while until the words sort of form themselves,as though I am listening to something and taking notes. If I think about what is happening then I lose it. I just let it be. It comes. I always write a second or third song at the same time, probably because I'm so ADD, even when it comes to chasing the muse. I guess I'm always chasing more than one pretty girl at a time. The story unfolds. Something I'm going through, something or somebody I saw, a near death thing maybe, something about a lover or just a romance gone bad.
Is it challenging to combine organic and electronic elements together (for example, live drum and electronic drum beats)?
I really like both elements. I thought mixing the recorded loopy stuff, with live drums would be the right move with this record. I wanted to bring the live show back into the studio. Balt fought me every step of the way. I think he still is sore about it. I'm still a rock and roller, and I miss the flow of natural meter at times when I'm smoking the grid pipe. Balt felt like we would lose some of our fan base. I feel a different connection with our fans. I think it's deeper than just production value. Although, I must admit, I took the production of this record all the way and over the top at times. I don't know. The stuff I am doing right now has few tracks and a lot of open space. Sill, I am a fan of symphonic music. I think I had this idea that the record should reveal itself like it was coming out of an orchestra pit.
What can fans expect next from you?
Man, I have no idea what will come. I guess I am trying to focus on film scores, and "Matson Tweed", my side project with Gary Louris of the Jayhawks, Madi Diaz, and Kristen Hall of Sugarland. I've also been working with the Cossack choir on some solo stuff that really excites me. I'm hoping to collaborate with Yuri Bashmet on an album. Balt and I are in the studio today working on number three. Hopefully, RINGSIDE will get out and tour a bit, so we can play the new stuff out. In the meantime, let's see if we make it through another day.