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Interview with Elliott Frazier with Ringo Deathstarr

Although unwritten or not clearing defined, various rock star autobiographies via ghost writers notwithstanding, the rights of passage for music groups are varied. Sharing a house / practice place while working a restaurant job, then making it with your band to a point where you can quit that day / night job, from opening for a major act in your hometown to getting a chance to  jump onto a national tour with an act like the Smashing Pumpkins. These events can be career-defining. For Ringo Deathstarr, the Texas band that toured with the Pumpkins in 2011, that chance also shifted the way they made music and the direction the band took in making their second album, Mauve.

“It changed what we were doing,” said Elliott Frazier, lead singer, guitarist and songwriter for Ringo Deathstarr as the band traveled through the highways and byways of south eastern Washington. “We were planning on recording during that time, so we had a few songs ready to make the new album. But they were way different from what ended up being on our album.”

Indeed the timing was meant to be. The band members, which also include Alex Gehring on bass and vocals and Daniel Coborn on drums, were already in that song writing mode as they took the stage every night before the Pumpkins. It was during this time that the epiphany happened.

“Playing on the stage like that, we thought, ‘Wow, our music should be the kind of music that goes over well on a stage with a big audience. We focused on being more of a live sound rather than a studio creation like the last album,” he said of Ringo Deathstarr’s debut, Colour Trip.

Reflecting, Elliott acknowledges that without the interruption, “[Mauve] would have sounded more studio based if we didn’t do that tour. We learned a lot about how those kinds of gigs worked behind the scenes. We learned to keep everything consistent and eliminate variables.”

There was another influence to the second phase of the band’s songwriting, one that was again, a common occurrence when you’re in a band – you lose a band member. That threw off their ability to fully realize songs from Colour Trip on stage, causing them to use recorded backing tracks. That didn’t sit well with Elliott or the members, and they didn’t want to write their way into a corner again.

Given how many weeks he spent with the Smashing Pumpkins on the road, and given Billy Corgan’s decades in of experience and expertise (especially in the area of the music business, i.e. his guest speaker appearance at SXSW 2012), I had to ask Elliott if he received any words of wisdom from the veteran music maker.

“’Be yourself’ was probably the most important lesson I got from him. He is who he is. He does what he does. He has his personality and doesn’t care about pleasing the status quo. We didn’t really get to talk that often. The most I talked to him about was gear nerd stuff.”

At this point you may ask, whose idea was it to name the next album Mauve, the color made popular in the 80s by the cast of Golden Girls and Designing Woman? Was it the mischievous idea of Mr. Corgan, “Yeah, that’s the ticket. Name your album Mauve. You’ll sell millions to soccer moms on HSN!”

Unfortunately, that was not the case. ‘Cause that would have been pretty funny. But it was an inside joke, as the group didn’t want to put a lot of thought into it. The emphasis was simply on the making of the songs themselves.

“We were trying to come up with other titles. But the one that came naturally was Mauve. At this point we were just kind of tired of album titles trying to be too clever. We wanted to have something that you didn’t really have to think about, other than to just put the songs on and listen to them.”

Taking it one step further, Elliott elaborates, “I hate titles. I wanted the band to have no name when we started. The song titles for the most part are just one syllable words. We just picked one word in the lyrics and made that the song.”

Getting beyond the subject of pastels, the album’s real color and visuals hit the synapses in the brain as it absorbs dirgy guitar with amplifier tweaks, distorted rhythms via pedal orchestration, rapid fire percussion and Elliott’s urgent questioning, “Do you feel what I feel inside?! Do you feel what I feel tonight?!”

Then flowing into the picture is Alex. When she gets behind the mic it’s as if all the clutter of the day has magically disappeared. It’s more than angelic. It’s the flower that rises from a crack in the concrete, reminding us that the beauty can be found around every corner and every crevice if we care to look down and around once in awhile.

Alex came to Elliott with ideas for the song, “Rip,” which ended up being the first single on Mauve. She croons every so smoothly as the song rips chords at 80 miles an hour through the school zone. The song itself was a happy accident, so I had to ask Elliott if any other surprises arose during the making of the album.

Indeed there was.

“There’s this song called ‘Drag.’ The original name was ‘Twottle’ but we changed it to ‘Drag,’” he said almost in jest, making himself laugh again at the way they fuck with these kind of things. “Daniel had this drum thing that he did with his iPhone. It was an electronic drum sound that he played. That song was the most studio tinkering song that we have.”

It is also one of the more gorgeous songs on the album that of course, features Alex on vocals. Elliott describes how he took that to the next level. “There’s this effect with her breath that I came up with. Take the breath in between her words, put a gate on it, and then put a reverb on that, so every time she would inhale there’s this big sparkly sounding breath.”

There is also a harmonic energy transference in the vocal exchange between both Alex and Elliott, which appears on tracks such as “Burn” and “Fifteen,” providing a ying and yang balance between the rock and the roll.

For Ringo Deathstarr, armed with these new songs and a bit more wisdom under their belts, they’re well into their fall headlining tour of 2012, which has provided them an opportunity to drive past the large stadiums where they may have played as an opening act for a mega band (with the one exception, a one-off opening slot for the Smashing Pumpkins in Tulsa) and on to smaller venues with a more intimate, engaged audience.

“The tour thus far, a week or so in, has been positive, having hit west coast cities like Los Angeles, Seattle, Portland and San Francisco. But we’re trying to play smaller towns or weird places we’ve never been,” he said with both excitement and some slight hesitation, “but that can be kind of dodgy sometimes.”

True. But I think Ringo Deathstarr is ready for that right of passage of playing to five people, which includes the door guy and the bartender, in some Podunk town in Montana, right? Or to show up in a Blues Brother scenario where there’s a chain link fence in front the stage. These guys can totally handle it.

“Yeah, people don’t know who you are. But we figured we’d give it a shot. I love the old stories of Black Flag playing every place that they could get into, you know? We haven’t been able to tour the U.S. as much as we’d like to, so this time we’re trying to make up for it. We’re playing Boise tonight for the first time. Denver and Salt Lake City will also be the first time. So it’s uncharted territory.”

For your gig in Denver, the water’s fine. Albeit, we’re a land locked state, but Lions Lair, which resides on Colfax, is one of many watering holes, if that counts. And Ringo Deathstarr’s musical persona will fit in perfectly with this little rock club’s history, sticky floors and walls that tell too many tales of hearing and memory loss.

Because of that Tulsa gig with the Smashing Pumpkins, which falls right after their night in Denver, there isn’t a break from the day/night job. “We thought we were going to have a day off, but we’re having to load out and head out,” he said, laughing.

Not many people can say they love their jobs. The three people in Ringo Deathstarr definitely can.


Ringo Deathstarr North American Tour Dates:

09/27 Denver, CO – Lions Lair
09/29 Lawrence, KS – The Jackpot
09/30 Fayetteville, AR – Lightbulb Club
10/01 Norman, OK – Oklahoma University
10/02 Springfield, MO – Highlife
10/04 St. Paul, MN – The Turf Club
10/05 Milwaukee, WI – Riverwest Public House
10/06 Chicago, IL – Beat Kitchen
10/07 St Louis, MO – Plush
10/08 Louisville, KY – Zanzibar
10/09 Bloomington, IN – The Bishop Bar
10/10 Dayton, OH – South Park Tavern
10/11 Grandville, MI – Corner Records
10/12 Windsor, ON – Phog Lounge w/ Kestrels
10/13 Toronto , ON – The Garrison w/ Kestrels
10/14 Hamilton, ON – This Ain’t Hollywood w/ Kestrels
10/16 Cleveland, OH – Now That’s Class
10/17 Rochester, NY – The Bug Jar
10/18 Northampton, MA – The Flywheel
10/19 Boston, MA – Deep Heaven Now Festival
10/21 Brooklyn , NY – Shea Stadium
10/22 New York, NY – The Cakeshop
10/23 College Park, MD – WMUC
10/24 Philadelphia, PA – Pi Lam
10/25 Washington DC – The Red Palace
10/26 Baltimore, MD – Golden West Cafe


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