Our Interview with The Black Ryder

Our interview with Aimee and Scott the Australian duo behind The Black Ryder.

Jen Dan caught up with Aimee Nash and Scott Von Ryper, the Australian duo behind the psych-rock and noir alt-folk of The Black Ryder, hit all the right notes on their debut album Buy the Ticket, Take the Ride, which was released in 2009-2010 worldwide. Their follow-up, The Door Behind the Door, is due on February 24th on their own label, The Anti-Machine Machine.

In the ensuing years since Buy the Ticket, Take the Ride has graced the musical stage, well-deserved critical attention and accolades have been lavished upon the album, with music critics and connoisseurs pointing out the sonic lineage of The Black Ryder that ties into bands like Black Rebel Motorcycle Club and The Brian Jonestown Massacre (members of which contributed to the debut album), and My Bloody Valentine, The Jesus And Mary Chain, The Church, and Spiritualized. While the hypnotic droning-guitar distortion and dense wall-of-sound textures on Buy the Ticket, Take the Ride do recall the best of those bands, Aimee and Scott also interweave alt-country noir numbers that are stripped to their bare essentials; haunting vocals, spare instrumental arrangements, and stark lyrics.

While their debut album was restless and searching, upcoming The Door Behind the Door finds Aimee and Scott in a calmer and more centered mood. They’ve taken stock of their journey over these past few years and distilled it into an enthralling experience on The Door Behind the Door. There are still fiery waves of droning guitar present on the album, but many songs are also sustained by lush, extended symphonics and/or acoustic guitar reflections. Aimee and Scott have posted to Facebook that they are closing a chapter of their lives with this album – and it seems like they are now viewing the future with a more balanced and bright outlook as their journey continues…

NT: Hello Aimee and Scott! It’s a huge delight to have this chance to ask you a few Qs before the imminent release of your 2nd album The Door Behind the Door. I interviewed you both back in 2010 for Adequacy.net in relation to the release of your sensational debut Buy the Ticket, Take the Ride and I’ve been following your musical path ever since. You’ve been super-busy recently, gearing up for your album’s release by rehearsing for upcoming shows, working on music videos, and doing interviews. What has the pre-release vibe been like for you?

AN: Thank you & it’s nice talking with you again. Yes, it has been very busy. There was a lot to do with setting up our record label & this album release & everything that goes with that. Of course there is the songwriting + production of the album; Scott handles all of the engineering side of our musical production. Then there is the visual side, which I have been working on for some time; we both work together with the label & album release set-up.

So far though, things are feeling very positive. We’ve been very busy, but we’ve had some very encouraging support by people + press for our new music, so that’s good. It seems like our music is starting to reach & connect with more people, which again is a very encouraging & positive feeling.

NT: The Door Behind the Door will be bestowed upon the world on February 24th on your own label, The Anti-Machine Machine. While self-releasing an album has its rewards, it’s also a challenge to manage every aspect of this process. What was the impetus behind creating your own record label?

AN: We’d already released our first record on The Anti-Machine Machine through EMI Music Australia; with this new record we wanted to release it internationally. We had some friends who had told us very positive things about The Orchard, which seemed like the perfect match for us to set up our imprint. They have been wonderful. Yes, there has been a lot to navigate through in terms of setting up the release, but it’s so rewarding knowing that we’re across everything we can be, because we care so much about what it is that we’re doing; it just made sense for us to do it this way.

NT: Would you say that The Door Behind the Door is thematically and/or sonically a continuation or build up of Buy the Ticket, Take the Ride, or did you approach the new album differently than your debut?

AN: I think The Door Behind The Door is its own journey, but there certainly is something familiar & it is a complement to our first record.

There were many changes, geographically & personally. Scott & I no longer live together so we had to approach this record in a completely different way than the first record. We traveled to places like Joshua Tree & Idyllwild to write & record; we also recorded at our home studios.

NT: What have you been up to over the years between your two albums? I know you’ve toured a ton, but what other experiences during these intervening years have shaped the sound and vision of The Door Behind the Door?

AN: Moving to a different country causes quite a lot of upheaval. You leave behind all that is familiar, your family & friends, & you start over. The simple things you take for granted of everyday living are things you have to learn all over again. Even the most basic things can take so much time to figure out. So, finding places to live, getting ourselves set up. We quickly had to assemble a band. We’re very fortunate with our current line-up; Graham Roby who’s been with us for quite some time now on drums, and Nicole Emery on bass, guitars & vocals.

Scott & I spent a lot of our time here being quite reclusive & focused on making this record. It was an ongoing process. Some ideas took longer to develop than others. I took a course in graphic design because I wanted to be able to create artwork & imagery that would be complimentary to the music. There’s been a lot of time spent exploring new ways of doing things, always learning & growing, expanding our knowledge, pushing ourselves in different directions.

There were certainly some heavier & darker times that added a different kind of weight, atmosphere & perspective to this album. A lot can happen in 4 years of being away from the life you used to know… Perhaps the time we spent in isolation helped us access a different space during the writing & constructing of the material for this record.

We took a lot of time & care considering the various aspects of creating the music. Everything that went into the ‘final product’, we helped bring it to where it exists now. It has been an all-consuming process, but to come this far, it does feel rewarding to know that it’s already connecting with people & there is a positive feeling towards what’s been shared so far.

NT: What types of recording techniques or instruments do you use to get that signature expansive droning sound that envelops certain songs like “Seventh Moon” and “All that We Are”?

SR: Our physical environment when making this record was very important to us, and was very inspiring to me from a production perspective. When thinking about the ‘sound’ of the record and the instrumentation, I felt that it was my role to in some ways provide an overall sonic texture to our environment; to capture it.

When the sound and environment align, that’s when the music takes on a magical quality, and it’s at that point that inspiration for melody or lyrics, or more traditional instrumentation to be added, comes much more easily. Another positive outcome of that alignment is that this can help you survive listening to something so many times, as our process tends to dictate!

On “Seventh Moon”, the environment itself was recorded and included. That included coyotes, wind chimes, wind, etc. They were all recorded and placed as part of the background texture. These textures / drones are sometimes a significant combination of sounds mixed together like in “Seventh Moon” & sometimes a little simpler and originating more from musical / studio equipment.

One of the more “signature” droning sounds you may be referring to would be loops that Aimee creates through her guitar/pedal set up. They have been a starting point to songs on a few occasions. Sometimes I’ll import that from Aimee’s gear and leave it as is, and sometimes I’ll play with it more in the studio by turning it around every way possible to see what happens, and what else it inspires. “Let Me Be Your Light” is one track I can think of where Aimee’s guitar loop was the first sound on a blank canvas, and it was critical to inspire what came next and then develop into a song.

NT: Is that a smidge of didgeridoo that I hear at the very start of “Seventh Moon” or are my ears deceiving me? And is that a bit of crackling fire at the beginning of “Let Me Be Your Light”?

SR: There’s no didgeridoo on the record. It may be just the combination of sounds blended and manipulated in a certain way that’s creating that sound for you. There is fire at the start of “Let Me Be Your Light”. That is another track where environmental sounds like that – wind and fire were mixed with some other elements to paint an expansive landscape for the track to exist in.

NT: I love that both of you are lead singers depending on the song, and that sometimes you vocally shadow each other, like on “The Going Up was Worth the Coming Down”. How do you decide who will sing on a particular song?

AN: We’ve spent countless hours / days / weeks / months talking about ways to approach songs. Each song was & is unique. Some songs, we worked on them together; others might be ideas that we brought in; others were created entirely on the spot. “The Going Up…” was all Scott though; he had a very specific vision for it & I think the end result is really beautiful.

NT: Your debut is more extroverted in tone and driven by distorted guitar drone, while your new record is more insular in mood and synths/ symphonically-oriented. In the PR release written up by Matt Diehl, you state that The Door Behind the Door is comprised of a cycle of songs that take the listener on an emotional journey. I was wondering if you felt that what you created can also take the listener on a spiritual journey as well.

AN: What I love most about music is that it can ignite your imagination. It can be your best friend in your darkest hour. It can be the light at the end of the tunnel. It can ease your burdens & lift your spirits.

I think when writing some of the music, we were certainly trying to achieve a transcendental state ourselves. If you’re able to transcend whatever it is you’re going through, then you are closer towards enlightenment, resolution, catharsis.

NT: You enlisted the expertise of several guest artists for Buy the Ticket, Take the Ride, including members of Black Rebel Motorcycle Club and The Brian Jonestown Massacre. Who are some of the musical contributors this time around?

SR: We took a different approach to this record. I’m not sure if either approach was really planned out the way it ended up, but there were certainly a lot less guest musicians on this record. If I think about it, maybe it had to do with this record being a lot more personal or coming from a different place musically. Our live drummer Graham Roby played drums on the album, and we also had a few other musicians playing string parts, and backing/gospel vocals, etc.

NT: It looks like you’re going full steam ahead with touring this year, playing the Noise Pop festival in San Francisco on your album’s release date, then heading to NYC and the U.K. in March, and wrapping it up in May with a sweet supporting spot on the Jesus And Mary Chain’s 30th Anniversary Psychocandy tour! How did the JAMC connection happen and what can we expect from your live show?

AN: I’d been in touch with Alan McGee a while back about possibly opening for some of the shows. Alan had originally connected us with our U.S. agent, High Road Touring, who also represent The Jesus + Mary Chain, & I know some mutual friends put in the good word. In the end those things always come down to the band wanting you on the bill, so we’re obviously very happy about it; it really is an honor.

As for our live shows, we’ve been busy in rehearsals refining our sound.
We have an amazing friend & artist, Suzy Poling, who is making some films & projections for our shows. Suzy created the front cover art for our record & we love her. We’d been talking about doing something together for some time, so I’m really excited it’s finally all coming together & I honestly can’t wait to see what she’s been working on.

NT: Speaking of gigging, what are your nitty-gritty on-the-road essentials? I’m assuming an iPod/iPad or similar device is deemed as necessary…

AN: Sure, iPod + various electrical communication devices, pedal board with assorted effects pedals, 2 JazzMaster guitars (one of those would be my Bill Nash custom; thanks Bill!), suitcase + clothes… It all adds up quickly & then you’ve got a lot of stuff! I want to try and be as minimal as possible when we’re on the road though because I really don’t like having too much stuff. It can’t be helped sometimes, but if I can downsize, I’m going to try. I used to love having as many guitar pedals as possible; now I’m more selective because, honestly, it’s no fun lugging around a monstrous pedal board.

NT: You’ve dropped 3 singles for our listening pleasure, as well as a hypnotically dreamy video for “Seventh Moon” in recent months. You’ve shot a video in Death Valley for “Let Me Be Your Light” as well. What was it like shooting in that region and when will that video be unveiled?

AN: Death Valley is one of the most incredible places I’ve ever seen. Just breathtakingly beautiful. It’s been on our list of places we wanted to see, so when we connected with Director Juan Azulay & we started talking locations, it seemed too perfect. The textures of the earth out there is like something from another planet. The film has come together beautifully & I believe we’ll be sharing that very soon; can’t confirm exact details right now, but soon!

NT: You’re both native to Australia, but relocated to Los Angeles early on in your journey as The Black Ryder. Why that city and not Brooklyn/NYC or Nashville or Austin? Was leaving Australia and adjusting to the USA a strange or difficult process for you?

AN: I love being able to see the mountains; being close to the desert & ocean. There’s a mystical magical energy in the air in certain parts of Los Angeles. Particularly Old Hollywood Land (not city tourist attractions). There are some amazing places you can walk, hike… I think people who complain about L.A. are the ones who go to the most obvious places & then get disappointed because it’s touristy or tacky or whatever..

Brooklyn/NYC is a very busy city bustling with activity; some people prefer that kind of life. I’m more of a nature fan myself; I like to be able to see the sky and not feel too closed in by buildings. I love it here. We frequently see wildlife roaming the streets here; 2 coyotes this morning and we’ve had deer + squirrels in our yard. There’s something that’s just so wonderful & magical about that.

It was a difficult process getting here & getting ourselves settled, & I do get homesick often & miss my loved ones, but I’m hoping we’ll be returning to Australia this year to visit & play some shows.

NT: For some reason while listening to The Door Behind the Door I’m reminded of the book Picnic at Hanging Rock by Joan Lindsay; it’s mysterious, haunting aura, internal psychological contemplation, and depiction of the natural landscape of Australia. Have you ever read that book or seen the film adaptation by Peter Weir? If so, was it an influence on your album at all?

AN: Yes, I am indeed familiar; I remember seeing it as a child & the ending always bothered me because I didn’t quite understand what happened. And I really wanted to know what happened! I don’t want to spoil it in any case, for anyone reading this who hasn’t seen it & wants to, but the mysteriousness of the film certainly stayed with me (where did they go??). Not a direct influence on our music as such, but I love that our music made you think of it. It’s the visual quality to our music that I’m really proud of. It can be quite vivid & stir up all sorts of imagery & your imagination.

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