Random Rules is a concept that I stole from the Onion’s AV Club where a musician, actor, or whoever puts their iPod on shuffle and talks a bit about the first five songs that come up. I thought I’d have some fun and try and introduce it to Sounding Off, and Ryan Rockwell, singer of the wonderful band Mixtapes, was kind enough to participate.
Mixtapes was one of the most surprising and prolific new bands of 2010. Their full-length Maps made my Top Five of 2010 and they followed that with two EPs ("Thought About Growing Up" and "A Short Collection of Short Songs") as well as a split with "Direct Hit!" with no signs of slowing down for 2011. They’ve already released a new EP titled "Castle Songs" and are set to tour in March. Here’s what Ryan had to offer for Random Rules:
1. Rancid - Junkie Man
Ryan: Well this song is obviously off of “…And Out Come The Wolves” and although not one of my favorite songs on the album it's pretty good. The important thing with this song and the best thing about Rancid is trying to figure out what Tim Armstrong is saying. Now I feel at the beginning of the second verse if you listen carefully the lyrics are "What a what a what a what a wacky sack, a parrots house, is on fire, well I swam unto the health store, beautiful ground". Listen and tell me that's not fairly accurate! I'm not sure there's much else to say about this tune.
2. Dillinger Four - Supermodels Don't Drink Colt .45
Ryan: I remember buying the first Dillinger Four album a long time ago at a place called Circle Cd's on the Westside of Cincinnati. The guy that worked there was always really cool and recommended the album to me one day when I was about 15 or 16. The first time I listened to it I thought it was good but didn't seem to have hooks or anything compared to most of the stuff I listened to at the time. I remember a week or two later sitting in my room with it on, and reading the lyrics booklet and the songs just hitting me so much harder, and it wasn't just the lyrics but the vocals and everything, they quickly became one of my favorite bands and are still putting out amazing records. This song is a great song that just shows how great of lyrics and tunes these guys can write. There is no reason anyone shouldn't be listening to Dillinger Four.
Tim: Have you seen them before? My girlfriend and I drove up to Minneapolis this summer and saw D4 on July 4th with The Dopamines and Banner Pilot and it was one of the craziest shows I've ever been to, they're always wild. Plus Paddy has some of the best banter I've ever heard.
Ryan: I have, my old band actually played with them and I've seen them quite a few other times. They always are great and the banter is for sure top notch, every time. I actually saw them once in Detroit where they played Sally MacLennane and maybe one or two other songs, then Paddy was so wasted he just took off his bass, got completely naked, and proceeded to talk for the rest of their set. He talked about the White Stripes a lot, I have pictures from it somewhere. Funny thing is a lot of people seemed like they wanted their money back, and I couldn't have asked for a better set.
3. Clipse - Champion
Ryan: Clipse I feel are definitely a rap group that never really got their due. They ride a fine line between being coke rap, but still writing great lyrics and catchy songs. I think the fact that they always refused to make pop songs just to have pop songs is a reason they never got as popular as they could have, and that makes them even better. Pharrell handles their production, they are friends with everyone from Kanye West to n.e.r.d., they are on a major label and most people still aren't familiar with them, but that also kind of makes it better. If you like hip hop I recommend the album “Til the Casket Drops.”
Tim: I loved “Hell Hath No Fury” when that came out, I still put Wamp Wamp on at parties when I get the opportunity. Does listening to hip-hop and other genres help you as a writer? I remember being shocked when I read Brendan Kelly saying that Eminem was one of his biggest influences lyrically, but that makes sense when you think about it.
Ryan: I think that totally makes sense. I do listen to a lot of hip hop and rap and always have. I think the main thing where it helps is being more lyrical, and saying more in a song. A lot of Mixtapes songs have a lot of lyrics and also don't repeat a lot of choruses, and if we do we change the lyrics, I just like to write I suppose. I'm not even sure that the influence is a conscious thing as much as it just happens. It's not that I have much in common with any of the rappers I listen to, but it's more I love the way they write thoughts and lyrics down.
4. They Might Be Giants - A Self Called Nowhere
Ryan: They Might Be Giants are actually one of my favorite bands, and talking about them is a feat because they have so many albums. That being said I actually really enjoy this album (“John Henry”) and this is one of my favorite songs on it. This isn't an album I would recommend to someone who has never heard TMBG, but as people have said if a bunch of TMBG fans made a greatest hits album every single person’s would probably be different. I believe this is the first album they made with all live instruments and it struck a nerve with some people. I like it a lot but it is probably my fourth or fifth favorite album that they have done!
Tim: I love the songs they did about The Replacements, but I've always been a little intimidated by TMBG's catalog. Where do you think is a good place to start?
Ryan: That is a great song, and their catalog is definitely one of the most intimidating I could think of. I would start with “Flood” then “Lincoln,” if you don't like those in the least, I doubt you will fall in love with their other releases, so I'd give those a try first. Then you will listen and say “oh this is magical!”
5. Charles Hamilton - Let Me Live
Ryan: Charles Hamilton kind of came onto the hip hop scene 2 years ago through a bunch of mixtapes he made that gained him quite a bit of attention. I downloaded his mixtape "Death of the Mixtape Rapper" and quickly loved it, and still listen to it frequently. The problem I've learned with Charles Hamilton is he records so many songs that some are amazing and some are borderline listenable, although I think for some reason that's kind of the point. This song comes off of his album The Pink Lavalamp and it's easily one of his best, this is my favorite song on it. It's easy to find all of his stuff as it's all free so if you want to you should go check it out!
Maps is available for free download from the lovely people at Death To False Hope. 10 songs. 18 minutes. You’ll fall in love. Also be sure to check out Thought About Growing Up and Castle Songs.
The band will be playing a show at the JFK House in Urbana on March 23 with Light Years.