Tag Archives: Before We Lose Each Other Again – Max Ryan & Where Were You At Lunch

August Pin-Up Poet: Max Ryan and Where Were You At Lunch (part v)

With the QLD Poetry Festival 2012 knocking on the door (that’s right, it starts this Friday!), it’s time to wrap up my discussion with Max & Kishore Ryan. It has been nothing but a pleasure rambling with both of these gentlemen and I have a stirring in the gut that there show together this coming Saturday (August 25), alongside avant-blues trio, Bremen Town Musician is going to be talked about as a festival highlight!

So with that said, let’s check in with the Ryan boys one last time…

Don’t miss Max Ryan and Where Were You At Lunch + Bremen Town Musician at QLD Poetry Festival 2012, Saturday August 25 from 10:00pm – Midnight as part of the session, Pierce the Salty Darkness.

ALS: The way we listen to music and read poetry has changed so much in the last 5-10 years. As artists, how does this affect on you? I am also interested to know how the experience of working together on Before We Lose Each Other Again has influenced you.

Max: The more it changes, the more it stays the same I guess. A great poem or a great song in the right hands will get you every time but I suppose in terms of music and poetry coming together there’s definitely more collaboration these days. Maybe we’re just reaching back to the roots of all verse which was chanted or intoned in some kind of musical setting? Poetry with music has never gone away really in terms of popular song, especially in the hands of the great songsmiths. Poetry recited in a more loose and not strictly song-structured form can be something else again. In some ways, without the defined structure of verse, chorus, bridge etc it can be harder to pull off and can easily run off the rails or, just as badly, end up with the music and words chugging along together but never really merging or sparking off each other. So I do hope our collaboration can’t be accused of that, which leads me to your next question…

One of the real delights of working with WWYAL has been the overall sense that we’ve been creating something bigger than the parts: it isn’t just their making some kind of background sound to my reciting the words. This kind of performance demands a deep listening, especially, I’d suggest, from the musicians and I think the band (and producer Nick Huggins) have managed this splendidly. There are so many little instances where I can sense a real dynamic between the music and the poetry (Kishore’s organ chord on the line ‘the tide moves one step closer’ in the poem halfway home is one off the top of my head). I think we’ve made a fine little album and I’m happy with the way we’ve captured a strong sense of spontaneity in it all. As Bob Dylan says though: ‘Time will tell just who has fell and who’s been left behind!’ Still, one of the best things to come from this project for me is how we sailed through with a deeper sense of trust and openeness with each other which often ain’t necessarily so.

Kishore: The way I read poetry hasn’t changed much in the last decade. For the most part I still read it in books and rarely on the internet. But the moments when I sit down at home, put on a record and listen to it in its entirety without doing something else at the same time are rare. Despite the fact that listening to an album with friends, as an event in itself, is such an incredibly nice thing to do, I have only done this a handful of times in my life. But people must have done this more often in the past. Surely. Max has said that as a child he would sit around the radio with his family. I often listen to albums in their entirety by myself on my ipod while riding, driving, etc. but concentrated listening to recorded music with others is a rare thing. As a listener I can see the change you’re talking about, but it’s hard to know how this affects my creativity. I’ve never collaborated with anyone over the internet. Samaan has though. He’s done some small releases with people he’s never met. He did a small release with a noise artist called Soma from Japan and another one with with Rolf Wong from Hong Kong.

For me, music is, among other things, a way to express emotion that you can’t express elsewhere. It is an expression that is perhaps impossible to accurately describe with words. But even though it escapes description, to a certain extent, it can of course have a solid relationship with words. Great songs and poetry come close to we might call the sublime, whatever that is. I will always have an interest in music, with and without lyrics. I love poetry and I love music, but they don’t necessarily work together. But I’m proud of our album. Working with Max underlined the fact that limitations can be helpful. Writing music which is based around great lyrics is very fun. Making this album was a special way to spend time with my dad and also my friends.

ALS: And what’s next for Max Ryan & WWYAL, both individually and as a collective?

Max: I can only speak for Max Ryan re your last question… just to keep on truckin I guess. There’ll be more collaborations with us all I’d say, can envisage maybe something more thematically structured even. Main thing is to be there on the night at QPF. I’m really glad there are four of us. If it was just me I’d be terrified!

Kishore: I’d love to record many more albums with Max and WWYAL and because of the inexpensive nature of the recording process, that is, an absence of overdubs, this is very foreseeable. In fact Peter is already talking of recording another one when Max comes down for our Melbourne album launch in November. Pete is one of those humans who has endless enthusiasm for music and life in general and we have him to thank for making this collaboration happen without too much procrastination.

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August Pin-Up Poet: Max Ryan & Where Were You At Lunch (part iv)

With Max and Kishore Ryan, you feel like you could talk endlessly about the possibility of music and language. These guys are the real deal! So let’s keep talking…

ALS: As I mentioned Rilen’s X in the last question, and Max, you hint at the possibility of throwing some Modern Lovers or Velvets into the live set, let’s talk influences… I know they tend to change through the years, but who’s currently creating a stir in your respective world’s? And where do you see yourselves fitting into the artistic landscape?

Max: I listen to a lot of things, often on my little analogue radio in the middle of the night. Currently I’m enamoured of Leonard Cohen’s Old Ideas, I think it’s some of the best work he’s done. I can’t recognise any immediate influences on our album. Way back in India days I studied classical vocals (all Indian music is based on the voice); one of the features of this music is that it’s all improvised from the basic melody and probably this has sunk into the vocals on our pieces.

Don’t really see myself as part of any artistic landscape; I’m just delighted to be part of this venture with WWYAL. I’m down in Melbourne just back from a rehearsal with the band as I write this it’s more than warmed up my night.

Kishore: This is a hard question to answer. One of the only albums I haven’t grown tired of since hearing it as a teenager is Tabula Rasa by Estonian composer Arvo Part. It gets me every time.

Earlier in the year I listened to Toward the Low Sun by Dirty Three while driving and it sounded so good I had to pull over so I could concentrate on it properly. Now that I’m writing this I am reminded of an interview I saw on TV as a child. The interview was with Eric Clapton about some blues guitar hero – Stevie Ray Vaughan, or someone like that – and he said he heard a song on the radio (by whichever guitar hero he was talking about) and had to pull over because it sounded so good. At the time I thought to myself, “As if he actually pulled over. What a dickhead.” But now the same thing has happened to me. (I really hope that people don’t speed-read this and just see “influences … Eric Clapton … Stevie Ray Vaughan…” That kind of music really doesn’t do it for me. ) But anyway, returning to Dirty Three’s latest album, the first three tracks, Furnace Skies, Sometimes I Forget You’ve Gone and Moon On The Land, are my favourites.  Stupidly good.

Prior to recording Before We Lose Each Other Again, I tried to imagine what this collaboration might sound like and Velvet Underground, among others, were a point of reference. Lou Reed is someone with a background in poetry, and his voice, it could be said, is somewhat similar to Max’s.  But of course in reality the connection between our album and Velvet Underground is murky. They are a legendary band and we’re making music in Australia 40 years later. They were a rock and roll band – a somewhat experimental one, but a rock and roll band nonetheless. Musically, a lot has happened since then. For example, Harry Pussy, Merzbow and 7 Year Rabbit Cycle have happened and we’ve absorbed that to some extent. Max grew up listening to very different music to us, the Stones and Dylan, for example, so it’s great that he’s brave enough to make an album with us. A lot of people his age can’t dig what we do.

I’m not sure if this is evident on Before We Lose Each Other Again, but I’ve spent a lot of time listening to Smog, Blonde Redhead and Deerhoof, and although these artists are very different to each other, what they have in common is a certain amount of experimentalism in their early recordings and a progression to what could very loosely be called “pop” in more recent years. But even the later, more “accessible” albums are unconventional in various ways.  All good music is an experiment to some extent. If it wasn’t an experiment, then it would sound cliched. But I’ve started using too many inverted commas so I’m going to stop talking about influences very soon. Some other bands that I’m fond of at the moment are Drunk Elk, Tren Brothers, The Balky Mule, Alastair Galbraith, xNoBBQx, The Dead C, Akiko Igaki, Pumice, Armpit, John Fahey, Neil Young and Crazy Horse, Silk Ears, Townes Van Zandt, Roy Orbison, Beyonce and Leonard Cohen. Samaan, Peter, Max and I have been listening to and studying music in quite an intense way for most of our lives so it’s slightly weird for me to write a list of influences on the internet.

A running joke during the recording session was that we were the Australian version of the Lou Reed and Metallica collaboration. But to answer the second part of your question, maybe that’s not for the artist to decide where they fit in. Or maybe we don’t fit in anywhere. We sent the first WWYAL album to a lot of labels and no one wanted to put it out. That’s why we started our own label Obei Gong. If you don’t fit into a scene you have to start your own scene. Before We Lose Each Other Again is Obei Gong 002.

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July Pin-Up Poet: Max Ryan & Where Were You At Lunch

August in Brisbane is all about poetry… with the pinnacle event, Queensland Poetry Festival (QPF) held at The Judith Wright Centre of Contemporary Arts from August 24 – 26. The full program is now online and over the coming weeks, I will be taking time out to chat to several festival guests. First up, I embark on another ramble with one of my favourite Australian poets, Max Ryan, who is no stranger to the QPF stage.

ALS: You are no stranger to recording your work with musicians; your debut CD, White Cow, recorded with Cleis Pearce, picked up a few accolades including Spoken Word and Ambient Music categories in The North Coast Entertainment Industry Awards. You also gave some incredibly powerful performances as a duo, one that I will never forget was on the QPF stage in 2008. And now there is Before We Lose Each Other Again… an album recorded with Where Were You At Lunch (WWYAL), featuring your son, Kishore on drums.

As you know, I am passionate about bringing poetry and music together in a truly collaborative sense. American inventor, Edwin Land famously said, “politeness is the poison of collaboration.” After listening to Before We Lose Each Other Again several times during the past week, there is nothing polite about your collaboration with WWYAL. The band moves from noir-noise to quiet brushstrokes across the course of the album and more than ever, you are really giving the vocal some energy, breaking out into full-throated song on occasion. This gives the album a feeling of spontaneity; it’s like you are capturing ideas as they form. So just how did the pieces come together? Was it a process of jamming ideas or something more methodical?

Max Ryan: WWYAL are, as you’ve discovered, a powerful combo, and they bring that group dynamic with them. Blake said ‘without contraries there is no progression’ and I feel that interface certainly brought out some new and surprising things in me.

That’s a spot-on observation about how it came together. Apart from a couple of jams in the week before the recording, we had very little in the way of planned material. I’d have to say this is pretty well a live album done in four fevered days in the basement of the manse at Richmond Anglican church where producer, Nick Huggins’ dad practises his ministry. It all just spilled out in the studio from the first track where I started humming along with Pete the bass player and ended up singing out the words which first appeared as a prose poem in Rainswayed Night. I had the idea to just add on the short piece Fragment about my father as a sort of segue from the Leaving Newcastle piece. When I listened to the final mix months later I was struck by how even the slightly tentative tone as the voice leans in on that first track captures the way the recording unravelled. It felt vey much like we were all in it together and the brilliant Nick Huggins is definitely an equal player. Even though Kishore’s my son it always felt we were just two pieces in the jigsaw. But yeah there was a strong element of a very tight outfit that is WWYAL wanting to rip.

I did have a few ideas about pieces such as Boy City (written on my mobile phone just before) being sort of wistful and lyrical but the band had other ideas and what a friend described as ‘the vocals called out against the ravaged pounding sound’ of the band really evokes the industrial swirl of that harbour city (Newcastle again). There are lots of lovely accidents like that on the recording and I could go on about each one. The last track on the CD (and album title track) Before We Lose Each Other Again was the very last thing we recorded. I just came up with the refrain but we couldn’t seem to move it from there. Then the guys started just started singing that one line (that’s Nick on banjo) and I just intoned the lines between and we all went home.

Kishore Ryan: I like your description Graham. I remember after the second or third day of recording, Samaan said to me that it was very trusting of Max to let us help him turn his poems into songs. Very much so when you consider the fact that he spent several years writing the words. The music on the other hand was ‘composed’ – for want of a better word – in less than a week. We had one or two jams and came up with the outline of “Leaving Newcastle” and “Boy City”, but the rest was improvised in the studio. We did a few takes of each track and later decided which were the best ones. The fact that there were no overdubs whatsoever was a revelation for everyone, including Nick Huggins, who said, even when he’d done albums which for the most part were live, he’d always chickened out with the vocals. But that wasn’t an option for us because it was so interactive. Even on songs like “Boy City” that have a verse/chorus structure, the form is really raw. We knew that after each verse there was a chorus but we didn’t have an exact amount of bars set out. Sometimes I would play a drum fill or Peter would shift into the chord change or Max might starting screaming the refrain, and then everyone else would follow a beat or two later. I think the lack of politeness that you mention Graham comes from a fear of making a spoken word album with background ambience. It could have turned out really bad if we were too polite. Who wants to listen to someone reading their poems with a bunch of musicians noodling in the background? Not me.

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