Friday, October 4, 2013

On the outside, looking down | An interview with Aimée Nash of The Black Ryder

Your first album 'Buy The Ticket, Take The Ride' caught a lot of attention locally here in Australia and of course worldwide. TBR found itself a steady audience in psyche lo-fi punk listeners and yourself, a low key IT girl. What was the period of time and what do you think now looking back on that whole experience in time?

We started out feeling very driven to want to make something substantial, the way we saw & heard it in our heads. Not let anyone or anything get in the way of that. We had a very clear vision of the kind of music we wanted to make. We just needed to bring that out of ourselves & give it a life of its own. We’ve been so invested since the beginning, and so much has happened along the way that we’ve lost sense of time. Things feel pretty hazy looking back. I’m sure moving countries can do that to you too, logistically that part was very challenging.

Scott & I had just returned to Australia from touring throughout USA, UK & Japan. We’d just parted ways with a band that we’d been with for 3 years or so, and not on good terms. That forced us very quickly into making a decision I’m grateful we had to make. It’s reassuring and wonderful how those unpleasant / difficult life moments can end up being the best thing for you sometimes, even if it doesn’t feel that way at the time. It couldn’t have worked out better for us really.

I like the analogy of the Phoenix rising from the ashes, in that things are cyclically regenerated or reborn. Even though we were feeling uprooted, misplaced, discarded & as though we didn’t belong, we still managed to make something out of that, and move forward. There have been enough lonely & confronting times, particularly in the beginning, but then I’ve probably felt like that most of my life; like I didn’t belong. I think once you realize it’s okay to not belong anywhere & instead focus on making your own path, that’s when the magic & empowering stuff starts happening.

When I first came across TBR I was excited to discover this dark shadowed babe was in fact Australian. In 2009 yourself and Scott re-located to Los Angeles, USA. Would you say this was primarily a career choice and why do you think it was necessary?

Quite honestly it didn’t really feel like there was any way for us to grow or develop in Sydney (Australia). There’s a lot to consider if you want to make a career out of being a songwriter / making music / performance. I wasn’t interested in doing this as a hobby, but at the same time there just wasn’t much hope for development in Australia making the music we make.

The idea of playing local venues around town trying to get noticed just didn’t appeal to us at all. I dare say we’ve even been a little more on the elusive side when it comes to playing live. We were living in Surry Hills (inner city Sydney), and around that time most music venues were closing or closed, so local music didn’t really feel supported. 
We’d also had some pretty uninspiring treatment & discussions in the beginning that left us feeling more determined to take this in another direction. Primarily we knew we wanted to make our own music, the way we wanted to make it. The live extension of that would come later, although it did come sooner than we thought. Our first shows were opening for Black Rebel Motorcycle Club in 2009, we’d confirmed we’d play the shows before we even had a band together, we had music, but we were still in the process of pulling it all together, so that really pushed us to get things moving quickly.

Our focus was to finish our record, and we did this ourselves in our home studio in Surry Hills.  Scott is at the helm of the production and engineering side of our music. Although we work together on our music, he’s the man at the controls. We wanted to be very hands on with our music, sitting in the control seat ourselves, doing this in our own way & in our own time.

By the time we released our album, (on our label THE ANTI-MACHINE MACHINE through EMI Music Australia) we’d opened for Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, The Cult, Brian Jonestown Massacre, The Charlatans & The Raveonettes in Australia. We received some great press, but no radio support (outside of community radio stations). We didn’t consider ourselves to be a traditional album release. We didn’t want to go through the conventional channels. We didn’t really want to have a ‘single’ because we hoped that our album would be received as a body of work, we didn’t want to service tracks to radio (even if I think our music is a lot better than plenty of the nonsense you hear on the radio). We didn’t think they’d get it, and we didn’t want to feel judged by that process.

It can be very difficult when you really believe in what you’re doing, but that belief is not shared by the ‘industry’ you think you need to get your music heard.  We certainly encountered rejection in the beginning, and still do. The good news is we don’t buy into it & haven’t been discouraged. We know people connect with our music. I’m not egotistical. We ALL have insecurities, but I know what we do is good. That doesn’t mean we’re entitled to ‘success’ but it does give me confidence when I’m dealing with people who don’t get what we’re doing. I think it’s important to have that kind of belief & perseverance. There’s so much to overcome. You have to develop a thick skin, particularly being a woman in the world we live in today. There’s so much judgment, misogyny, criticism, and sexism, but it’s much easier if you learn to have some belief in yourself. If you can self-validate then it shouldn’t matter so much what people think of you.

We wanted to have the freedom to make the kind of music that was important to us without any restrictions or anyone telling us to do it differently. In this business everyone has an opinion. Just because they’ve been working in the business for however many years doesn’t mean that they have the answers though.

There is this dark ethereal aesthetic that visually surrounds the band. Is this something that influences the music or rather the influence of the music? 

I think this is a case of both influencing each other. I would much rather stand on the outside looking down at the abyss than stay inside it for too long. Human psychology is fascinating to me, as is transcendence, duality, ascension and healing. We have enough tortured ‘artists’ in the world, I don’t want to be one of them.

When I was in primary school (maybe about 10 or 11 years old) I was staying at my friends house. Her sister came home at some early hour in the morning & woke us up because she’d just been to see the Jesus & Mary Chain & was all excited because she got to ‘touch the lead singers knee. I was more than curious about her world. I was always quite enamored with her. She used to wear nothing but black clothes, veils, black lace, and heavy black eyeliner. I was drawn to that dark ethereal aesthetic you mention right from the very beginning.

The next day I explored her record collection. The Jesus & Mary Chain and The Cure stood out to me instantly. I fell in love. Finally I’d found the kind of music that sounded & looked how I felt. Even at such a young age, it just made more sense to me than the mainstream nonsense that the other kids were listening to (and still does). She used to go to some ‘goth’ clubs in Sydney. Before my 15th birthday I started sneaking into those clubs, that’s actually where I met Scott.

I’ve always identified with the immeasurable healing power of music; being transported to another dimension. Music has always been such an important and necessary part of my being. It can lift your mood, it can be your ‘safe’ place when you’re feeling vulnerable or sad, and it can soothe you when you’re angry.

Ultimately I think that’s where I want to be; moving up or moving through whatever it is that’s challenging you. These days you can take your pick. The world is full of ignorance, greed, war, unconsciousness, lack of compassion, violence, injustice, and entitlement. On a compassionate level I find myself feeling an overwhelming sense of sadness too often, & frustration, but that’s why I think it’s important to try and overcome those feelings & make something positive, do something positive. Be productive, make something that can help yourself AND others. What a concept!! Drugs & alcohol are easy. I’ve been down those roads enough times to know that nothing good really comes of it. I don’t want to be self-destructive anymore. It’s when you rise out of that stuff, that’s where I want to be, and that’s where the substance is.

People seem scared these days to show honest emotions. Everything is so ironic & sarcastic, which is frustrating. I came across this quote recently that speaks to me:

"Our souls ought to be on fire and no one seems awake"
I’m reminded of those words so many times in one day. We’re living in some very unconscious times, although I do believe things can get better. There’s an increase in people searching for more than what’s on offer in mainstream ‘popular’ culture. There are a lot of people who are searching for something with substance, beyond our own mere existence. There’s enough of the population who want to be famous these days, and for what? They don’t even know what they want to be famous for. There’s no longevity in that. I don’t know, I think reality television & manufactured ‘pop’ stars have a lot to answer for. I think those things alone are much darker than anything I’m interested in.

Over the years TBR has featured many supporting band members from such as band as Cat Power, Pink Mountaintops, The Brain Jonestown Massacre, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club etc etc. Who is the current line up, and how did this fall into place?

It’s a very difficult thing to keep a band together. You can’t predict too much on the road, but you can be certain that you are all unique individuals with your own story, values (or lack of), your own personal taste, moral code, and experience. People are who they are for different reasons. Without respect for the people you’re with, you really have nothing. If you’re in disharmony with someone and you find yourself stuck in a confined space rolling around the country together, that situation can become a bad one very quickly. I think our experience of playing music with other people over the years has made us very wary of who we invite into our space. It’s sacred, & we don’t want to be bringing the wrong kind of energy to it. We’ve been in that position before enough times now, we don’t want to find ourselves there again. We know what can go wrong.

We’re trying to keep what we do as honest, real, with as much integrity as we can. And let’s face it, who wants to be stuck in a small space with someone you don’t like or have anything in common with. When we first moved to Los Angeles from Sydney it was a little daunting at first. Who was going to play with us, and how would we find them?? Two weeks before our first tour in the USA, we still didn’t have a drummer. Then we crossed paths with an Australian drummer who’s been living out here for a while now, Hayden Scott, who played drums with us for a time.
For the last couple of years we’ve been playing with a lovely English chap by the name of Graham Roby (drums), who we’d met through mutual friends. We knew Graham had played with Goldrush, who we knew of from their association with Mark Gardener.
We also met a lovely & talented lass, Nicole Eva Emery, at one of our shows. We reconnected later through mutual friends, and voila! Nikki is now part of the Black Ryder family as well. Both Nikki & Graham are talented & natural musicians who are such a joy to play with. And there is also Gregg Foreman (Cat Power) who plays with us occasionally too. He gets very busy touring with Cat Power, but he also saved the day at one of our shows earlier this year in Los Angeles where Nikki fell ill. He came in to play bass at the eleventh hour, and pulled it off like a true professional.

 It took some time to find the right people but we really have the best line up that we’ve ever had. Scott & I are not terribly social, so meeting new people isn’t really something we do a lot of (which seems really ironic coming to ‘Hollywood’ to live like hermits), but we really did luck out connecting with our current line up.

You are touring at the moment playing shows with bands like The Black Angels and Primal Scream. What is it you love and hate about touring and what is your best tour moment this year?

One of the most memorable moments this year was playing Austin Psych festival. This was the second time for us at APF. We were scheduled to play between Black Mountain & Spectrum, on the Levitation stage. As we were making our way down from watching Black Mountain the heavens literally opened up & unleashed a downpour of rain (did I mention the Levitation stage was barely covered & down by the water?). It managed to rain heavily throughout most of our set. It would have been a lot easier, and safer, if we’d said that we couldn’t play. We might have saved some (musical) gear because electrical equipment doesn’t fair too well in the rain, but I didn’t want to go all that way to and not play. I didn’t want to disappoint anyone.

Although there were enough people who scrambled for shelter as soon as the rain started, there were also plenty of people who were standing down by the muddy stage waiting for us to come out, so we couldn’t not play. It was quite a dedicated group and we all endured the storm together. It was surreal, challenging, but there was something wonderful about that too.
We later received some really amazing messages from people. One that really stayed with us was from a couple who said they were actually at Woodstock in 69 and said our show, in the midst of a wild electrical storm with the rain pouring down, said more about the real spirit of rock and roll than almost anything they’d seen in the last decade.

 I mean, you can’t beat that. These are the kind of moments I think you aspire to evoke when you start out making music or performing. You’d hope to do something that will inspire, or emotively connect with people.

From one snappy black dresser to another what are your fave brands and fave places to shop?

It’s funny but I almost never go shopping in stores. I’m sure that’s got something to do with my being more on the reclusive side, and also that I’m always usually busy & spend a lot of time working from home. The convenience of online shopping is a win / win for me.
 I collect bits & pieces, I’m usually very specific about what it is that I’m looking for. I love finding treasures. One of my favorite pieces I found not so long ago was a black beaded vintage Escada jacket I found on Ebay, I picked it up for a steal but hate to think what something like that would cost in a store.

I love finding unique pieces as opposed to anything mass produced. Having your own sense of style & identity has always been very important to me. When I was a kid I used to wear long evening gloves & fox furs on the bus to go to the movies (because we never had a car), so I guess I always had a flair for the dramatic too. (I love that my mother allowed me to be a little eccentric).

As for contemporary designers though, I do love the aesthetics of Helmut Lang, Ann Demeulemeester, Alexander Wang, Rick Owens to name a few.
I can’t not mention my dears MANIAMANIA for their beautiful jewelry designs! For someone who wears a lot of black it’s definitely a good thing to have some accessories!

Okay, shopping aside, on to more important things... How does one Aussie rock chick wind up on the other side of the globe marrying one of her favorite rock stars Ian Astbury from The Cult? Does it ever stop being surreal? 

Life is surreal. I’ve always thought so. Surreal & fascinating since I was old enough to appreciate that every day is never the same, and life is what you make of it.

I’m a lover and a fighter. I’ve always pushed myself as far as I can. Sometimes that’s cost me, but I’ve won a few times too.

I try to live as consciously as possible. Very much in my head a lot of the time trying to make sense of things, pull things apart, dissect, analyze, understand, overcome. You don’t always find the answers, but that’s okay. Some days are better than others.

I don’t think life ever stops being surreal.

You are currently working on the new Black Ryder album. Can you tell us about it and what can fans expect? 

I’d love to tell people not to have any expectations and to listen with an open mind & ears, but I suppose that’s not very interesting, is it?

 There is a cathartic quality that comes with this record, which doesn’t surprise me. From the last album to this one a lot has transpired, there’s been a lot of growth. We uprooted ourselves from the comfort and safety of our ‘home’, friends & family, we embarked on a journey where we had no idea what would happen.
We left behind any comforts or peace of mind & truly dived into the deep end.

In some ways that worked out, in other ways not so much. I think the story is reflected in the material. When I couldn’t make sense of things or when things got too much in side my head that’s when the healing power of music would come in. It gave me purpose & a sense of self. It’s been very encouraging connecting with people, like yourself, who appreciate what we do, and inspires me to continue. Even if you do believe in yourself, there are those moments when things can feel bleak, but I’m grateful for the opportunities we’ve had, and I’m very much looking forward to playing the new material live.

Now that you have the benefit of hindsight is there anything you have done differently  this time around when it comes to the writing/recording process? 

I don’t know that I would do anything differently. This is only our second record. I already feel like I’ve learnt so much since writing, recording & releasing the first album, but then again, the jury is still out, isn’t it? Maybe ask me on our third album! ;)

Are we likely to ever see The Black Ryder back on Aussie shores for a tour? 

I hope so. There’s plenty to love about our home country. I really miss my friends & family. Logistically it hasn’t been possible for us to return yet. We don’t currently have a label there but that’s in discussion.  At this point there aren’t any plans for us to come back, but hopefully that will change on this next record. We shall see.

This is the beginning of a new ride for TBR what can we expect from you and Scott in the next year? 

Well, I can say for certain you can expect a new album!
As with the first album, we recorded the album mostly in our own studios (in our homes and in some special places we choose to set up and record), however we did spend some recording time at Ocean Way Studios (Hollywood), where some pretty epic records have been made. We’ve also had the assistance of Ocean Way’s Wesley Seidman, who has been working with us in raising the quality of this record to the level that these tracks require.
There are still many logistical things we’re still sorting through right now, but the music is most certainly there. We’re also having discussions about the visual compliment(s) to our new music as well. And of course some shows, and touring no doubt. Early days for us, but I know there’s a long exciting road ahead. We’re really looking forward to sharing our music as soon as we possibly can.