Regular John is an incredibly vital sounding band in the landscape of guitar rock in 2013. They are dark, moody, intense, heavy, weird and of course packed full of pop music skills. Regular John make music that is about the exploration and evolution of the Riff and while the band is rooted in the traditions of bands like Kyuss there is still so much more to the pulse of this band’s sound. When I listen to Regular John I hear the forward thinking hardcore punk of Fugazi, the LA drug sleaze of Jane’s Addiction, the free jazz freakouts of Ornette Coleman or Miles Davis and the poetic dust of The Doors. There is My Bloody Valentine cream and Rowland S. Howard steam with an incredible amount of Melvins Sludge and Carole King Hugs. Ultimately though, the band is their own thing and anything vintage that pops out is an exercise in saluting the history of music and manipulating it in their own vision as opposed to ripping it off directly.
Earlier this year I got the chance to have a chat with Singer / Guitarist Ryan Adamson from the band. I must admit, I was quite nervous going into this conversation because I am such a big fan of the band and because their 2012 release “Strange Flowers” had such a life changing effect on me. I had planned to discuss the album quite heavily with Ryan and was really eager to uncover the kind of mindset the band has towards the amazing sounds they create. Before I delve into the results of this conversation I just want to highlight that Ryan was one of the friendliest and warmest individuals I have ever interviewed. Our chat lasted for well over an hour and during the course of the conversation we talked both on and off the record about what we love about music. It was a joyful experience to relate so heavily to someone who I admire. I identified with his musical story and we both talked with a feverish enthusiasm about so many different bands. The one artist we really bonded over however was John Frusciante. It was at this point of our conversation that we graduated from it being an interview to two people discussing their love of music and the creative process. By the end of the interview I was so inspired and it felt so great relating so deeply with an artist that I admire.
This brings me to what we did discuss. As outlined above, my main aim was to get to the core of what the band were thinking going into the recording of their second album “Strange Flowers.” To my ears, it was one of the greatest albums released in 2012. In terms of the bands evolution it was a gigantic leap from their early sound. The whole flow of the album is amazing, the way it weaves in and out of songs and the various dynamics used to link each track shows a great artistic discipline. Further to this discipline there is an incredible amount of emotional territory covered on the record. The way the lyrics and the music have connected with me can be overwhelming at times. It feels like a personal record and also a very tender one. When I described this to Ryan he was very forthcoming in outlining to me just how the band went about creating the masterpiece that is “Strange Flowers”:
“This time round we really wanted to go more with what we wanted to do. We didn’t want to compromise any of our ideas. As a band, we are such devoted disciples of music and we wanted to channel everything, we felt it was all relevant to our sound. Music is a very spiritual thing and you have to let it flow like that. When you do that, anything can happen and that is why the album sounded like we wanted because we did just that, we surrendered to the process. The majority of the song ideas came from myself and Caleb. Caleb is brilliant at interpreting my ideas and we bounce a lot of our ideas off of each other. Caleb has a great way with words which also helps when it comes to giving the emotion of the songs a purpose. Everyone in the band was up for the Sonic’s and as a band we all love the idea of “albums” and we all set out to make sure we made an album proper. We really wanted to get some ambience in the sound, so we all made sure that was happening in the music. I’m personally really drawn to blissed out music that I can put on at night when I go to sleep and also stuff I can trip out too. We also loved the idea of having a really good flow to the album. In terms of lyrics, I must admit that I fucking hate writing lyrics, I’d much rather make instrumental music. This as I’ve said is why I bounce a lot of ideas of Caleb because he is so incredible with his words. There are moments I’m proud of lyrically though but they were songs that happened in the moment. Take our song “Slume” for example, I didn’t have any words until we recorded the vocals so what you hear in that song is pretty much word for word what was happening in that moment. The song itself is about a relationship breakdown that I experienced, so it was quite personal. Beyond that a lot of the lyrics are your typical escapism type stuff. I think it is important though to make sure your lyrics have personal connection to you because it makes it easier to perform the songs if you’re emotionally connected to it. Overall it has to be an emotional and spiritual experience.”
The other key ingredient to the band’s sound that I was interested in discussing was the role of Producer Tim Powles who plays guitar for the legendary band The Church:
“Weirdly we didn’t work with Tim because of The Church. It was more because of the work he did with Laura Imbruglia. He was also suggested to us and he was a bit of a space cadet, so that helps. He was happy to hear our ideas and we loved working with him the first time round. Working with us on “Strange Flowers” much like us he wanted to get more into the Sonic’s. What’s great about Tim is that he’s really good at riding an idea that happens in the moment. Take the middle section of the song “Sky Burial” for instance. Initially there was a lot happening in that particular section. I said to Tim to just take everything out and I’ll play the organ bit minus the other instruments. It really opened up the song quite a bit. That is what was great about Tim in that moment; he was willing to take that leap of faith with me. He is really good at nurturing the creativity.”
Having made such a brilliant album I was interested to know what Ryan thought of the rest of the modern music landscape:
“I guess for me the way I look at it is that now more than ever, it is almost like high school. People will like what’s cool you know, if Pitchfork think it’s cool then other people will assume it’s cool. Going to the other side of that though, I also think that people who listen to weird stuff for the sake of being different are no different to the people who blindly follow the Pitchfork bands. Obscurity doesn’t always equal quality and sometimes I wonder if it is obscure because it just isn’t that interesting. I mean I listen to a lot of it and sometimes it is amazing but at the same time I don’t think being the kind of listener who flocks to the obscure makes you any better. As I’ve said numerous times, music for me is a really spiritual and emotional experience so that is what I’m looking for when I listen to music. I don’t look at it in terms of what’s cool and what’s obscure, I just love the whole history of music so there is a lot to draw from. This can include bands as diverse as Darkthrone to Bahauus to Roxy Music and people like John Frusciante. There are so many bands who influence me and of course the rest of the band.”
The Australian music landscape seemed to be populated with a whole bunch of Psyche Rock in 2012 and in 2013 it seems to be no different. When you look at what is being offered there will always be the popular vote and the unpopular vote. It all depends on your ability to dig deeper beyond the radio waves and general empty calories of what the audience, record companies, promo companies and media sell you to find the good stuff. In 2012 the overweight 10cc sounds of “Lonerism” was the lazy man’s psyche rock record and in the tradition of Straya music continued the tradition of promoting something that sounds like a lesser version of an already established band. In short, Tame Impala is a poor man’s Flaming Lips.
Regular John on the other hand, they are the psyche rock band that Straya needs.
It’s not my job to tell you all what to listen too because music is a personal thing. This time round though I will say that Regular John have made an Straya classic that will sit next to the revolutionary sound of bands like Birthday Party, Beasts Of Bourbon and The Church. You can waste your time with the “Lonerism” hype machine, and of course anything else being offered up as Psyche or “The Alternative,” or you can actually spend some money on a band like Regular John who makes intense, experimental, vital and beautiful music. Regular John is a true joy to listen to and I’m so glad that they exist. Over the course of my hour long chat with Ryan, I felt a sense of relief that we have artists of his calibre making music in this country. When I was looking for a way to conclude this article I found a quote from the interview that best sums up what Regular John do as a band. Ryan explained to me that before a recent gig before the band took the stage Caleb gathered the band together. His advice to them all was to make sure that they gave it everything they had and to listen to the music and each other and to enjoy it. After his little speech Caleb then put out his hands and said that it’s important for them to hear it and to make sure that they feel it because “hearing and feeling is healing.”
That sums up the music of Regular John beautifully.
By: Dan Newton