Interview with Rymo of Slightly Stoopid
Slightly Stoopid has done it all. Shattered the charts with stellar albums and toured the world. The boys are still taking this thing for a ride after all these years and have been setting new benchmarks for themselves along the way. Their latest album, Meanwhile Back at the Lab, has been met with critical acclaim and hit #37 on Billboard charts. Not content with just putting out great records, Stoopid hits the road for as many as 8 months out of the year often teaming up with aspiring young talents to help them spread their irie vibes with captivating live performances. Andrew M. of LiveMusicDaily recently spoke with Rymo (drums) of Slightly Stoopid about the history of music in America, the new album, their home studio, and much more.
The band will be performing tonight and tomorrow night at the Norva in Norfolk, VA.
I noticed how in earlier interviews you talked about practicing for hours on end. As a musician I understand how beneficial that can be. How has the development of “The Big Man Cave” (Slightly Stoopid’s in-house studio) in conjunction with having the independence to hone your own sound contribute to the creative and recording process of Meanwhile… Back at the Lab?
I mean the way that the album pretty much came together, you know we were taking our time. We released Top of the World in 2012 and we were just on the road since then pretty solid and then we started recording a bunch of music last year and at different times we were recording like crazy. Sometimes recording in different spurts, we would be in there working like crazy for a month and then we’d take some time off, then go on the road for a few months. Playing new songs a first time, a third time, a thirteenth time… just trying to get it comfortable and let the music shape itself.
That’s been sort of a different approach for us. In years past we have just gone into the studio and banged out a record and that was just that.
Nowadays with our own space and James Wizner who is also our front of house engineer, it has enabled us a lot of creative freedom. So yeah, we kind of worked on it between tours and when we were feeling motivated, someone had good song ideas or there was just a good vibe we would get in there, have a couple of beers, eat dinner, and then play. Having the space just for us has been great because its less pressure.
When you go into a studio and you think we have to come up with something amazing because we are paying $1,000 a day, in a month we are gonna owe 30 grand, plus the producer fee, plus cost of food & hotels. Having our own space enables us more creative freedom and its just a more relaxed vibe in our studio.
You guys have been very busy: you just played Jimmy Kimmel, “The Prophet” won at the San Diego Music Video Awards, you just wrapped up a tour around the time of LOCKN’ and you are about to head back on the road for some more dates. Could you tell us about the upcoming tour with Stick Figure? You’ve got Hulaween coming up and your own getaway vacation festival “Closer to the Sun”. Could you tell me about this next run and also reflect back on this past tour?
Yeah, so we’ve got this next run with Stick Figure who I just had the pleasure of meeting towards the middle of the tour. This past tour we did with the Dirty Heads and we had the Expendables at the end of the tour. Stick Figure was towards the middle of the tour. So we were on the road for about two and a half months. Now, everyone is just settling down at home for a few weeks before the next tour. So yea, we’ve never done Hulaween and that’s coming up. We’ve also got a few dates before that.
You’ve got Virginia Beach coming up, thinking about heading to that…
Yea, that venue is rad. If you’ve never been there it’s worth the drive. Even if you’re in DC. It is definitely one of the best venues around and just the vibe there is really cool. I mean its like a big huge rectangular venue with an upstairs viewing area, but the crowd is rad. We are doing two nights there, it has been a few years since we have played Norfolk. That’ll be towards the end of the tour. We are doing New Orleans. The Tabernacle is great. We are doing the Orange Peel up in Asheville, NC. A bunch of other cool rooms. It’s going to be fun!
You know I’m looking forward to getting to hang out with the Stick Figure guys in a little more laid back environment. When you’re doing the huge venues it can be a little more pressure, a little bit more stressful. You get into the clubs it is kind of like “cool we are home, lets have some fun, have a few drinks and play some good music”. More laid back vibe, super pumped for this tour.
We have about 5 days in Mexico at the Closer to the Sun festival 2. We did it last December and it went well and we had a ball. This year’s lineup is great. We have SOJA, Iration, Pepper, lots of great bands. Last year we had Steel Pulse, Citizen Cope, G. Love & Special Sauce, and Dirty Heads. It was a killer party. Stoked we are making it down there for that.
Fans have been calling all of the Cloud9 “bucket list”material.
You’re on the beach, it’s all inclusive. You don’t really have to do anything. There is food on-site, music on-site, you can drink as much as you want. It is pretty much a go-to. There’s lots of cool stuff you can do by day too, they’ve got snorkeling trips, you can go see the Mayan Ruins, there are a lot of excursions that make it fun. It is not cheap by any means, but you definitely get your money’s worth. You get to meet all the bands, different excursions are hosted by different band members. If you’re a real fan of any of the bands on the bill it is worth going because you can meet the guys from SOJA, Iration, and you can definitely meet all of the Slightly Stoopid guys because we are all hanging out drinking beers. It is more like a big party.
You’ve noted that growing up your parents were into jazz. Growing up you loved anything from the Grateful Dead to reggae. Some of those eras of music are timeless. Whether it was Stax to Motown, Boom bap hip-hop, or whatever era. Music is a timely thing in the context of history. The Slightly Stoopid sound has influences from Bradley Nowell and that era. There was a time where the Sublime/Nirvana era ended. It was a moment in music where some special stuff was going on. What do you think needs to happen to create a cultural movement in music that will have a lasting legacy like that, timeless records?
I think people have to be open to it, that’s the main thing. Especially at that time, music became sort of a one track thing on the radio and on tv with videos. It became really saturated. I think nowadays with the internet, Facebook, Twitter, and Youtube you have a million ways to find music. You have all these different ways to access music. So if you’re a fan of a certain style of music you put in the genre type into itunes radio, Pandora, or Spotify. Usually some cool stuff will pop up. So people have to be searching out bands they enjoy listening to. I think what happens with those sort of different cultural movements and shifts in music and people got sick of one style getting shoved down their throat for so long.
There’s been eras in sort of musical mainstream-ness where you have 80s rock, R&B, soul, hip-hop thing in the 90s, mid 90s you have Grunge, mid to late 90s was sort of the Sublime thing, then rap-metal kind of took over. There was a Ska moment. You had lots of moments where “this was cool now according to the mainstream”. I think people got burned out on that and sick of it. It is kind of like, people don’t want to have music stuffed down their throat. So what I guess I’m trying to say is that the computer opened up avenues for fans to find music they want to listen to. So if I want to listen to classic hip-hop today, I’m going to listen to De La Soul and A Tribe Called Quest based on my mood. People are more hip with how to access music and that has sort of changed exposure to bands that you may not have had in the past. In the past, before that we had radio and TV as our main sources of media. You could watch TV, you could be a fan of The Police, Peter Gabriel, or U2, whatever it is. Now fans have the ability to explore. You find one band you like, find 15 similar artists, then find 15 more, you can really immerse yourself in a genre now in a way you could never do years ago. I think that having the new medium, the computer, and finding new music has really shaped the fan experience.
Slightly Stoopid has had a lot of success with albums, but you’re also sometimes on the road touring 8 months out of the year. With less emphasis on the radio age with all of these festivals I think to a certain extent it has made it essential for bands to have a good live performance. What is the best balance of creating a song that can last, stand the test of time, and also being a great live band? You have many special guests from Ivan and Ian Neville to Don Carlos to Karl Denson who is an ‘unofficial’ member of the band. How do you treat the studio as the studio and the concert as the live performance?
They are two different worlds. In the studio you can play one song until it is right. When you’re playing live you’ve gotta get it right the first time because that’s what live music is. It is instantaneous, one moment it is there and then it is gone.
The idea is to create music that means something. There has to be two basic elements. You need the lyrical element and you need the instrumental element. You need to have lyrics with some thought — that is deep and profound. If you’re talking to me about an experience I’ve had, I’m gonna listen. If you’re talking about my love came, my love left me, now I’m alone… I’ve been through that so I can relate to that. Or if you’re like fuck I’m drunk again, I’m going to be hungover tomorrow, I’m down on my luck, things or tough, I’ve been through that too — I’m going to relate to that. I think there’s a certain element in lyrics that people connect to. There needs to be a story. Also, behind that story… If you had no music behind it then it’d just be poetry right? So now I take that poem/lyric and I add music that has kind of a cool feel, a cool vibe, an aggressive vibe or a somber vibe. That’s what music can express, those sort of feelings. I’m going to put feeling behind that lyric and that’s going to mean something in a song context.
For me music is… If it’s just instrumental music it has got to have some musical content. If it’s a song and I love the lyrics then maybe the music doesn’t have to be as important as the lyrics I’m connected to. But it has to be those two elements for fans to connect. You can connect on 100 different songs, 100 different ways based on what reality you’re living in. Who’s to say what’s good and what’s not? There’s things that I love that people hate, there’s things that I hate that other people love.
And that’s the beauty of music, it is an artistic expression. So some people might find value in our expression, some people might think that it sucks. That is okay, that is what music is all about, it is an art form.
We have had people love our music, we have had people hate our music and I don’t give a shit. For me the gratification as a musician comes when I have a feeling and a groove/song/vibe and idea, we put it out to the people and if they like it cool and if not, well it is already out there.
You’ve been playing drums since a very young age and played for a bit with the B Side Players. Could you tell us about how some of your time in previous acts leading up to Slightly Stoopid helped mold you into the drummer you are today?
When I first started listening to music, when I was young, I was listening to Top 40 Radio. I’m getting close to 40 here, so I was young in the mid to late 80s when it was anyone from like Chaka Khan to Aha to Duran Duran. I started listening to that stuff because it was what was on the radio. I grew up with two sisters who were way into polar opposite music. So I had really big exposure from an early age and I liked it all.
The first stuff I started playing, I had a good friend who is now a professional pianist in New York City, he’s a jazz guy. He was a huge influence, he was one step ahead. He was listening to the Beatles in like 5th or 6th grade. He was one of my best friends growing up. We were playing Beatles tunes and we would try to write our own corny originals. I was into a lot of rock at a really young age.
I started listening to Zeppelin, some punk stuff, some reggae and classic rock. That got me started into music. My same friend who was playing piano, he started getting into jazz music because as a piano player that is kind of a natural next level progression from blues or rock. You move up to jazz and even classical from there. So I started playing a lot of jazz with him.
I got super into it from a high school music instructor who was more like a mentor. He encouraged myself and other students to go for it, musically. Through high-school I got really serious and started practicing 4,5 even 6 hours a day just practicing my ass off. I knew I wanted to go to college and got into San Diego State, so immersed into the San Diego scene from there. I met some musicians and started jamming around town. I was able to make some friends around town through networking and that’s what got the ball rolling. I met Myles and Kyle I the mid to late 90’s as acquaintances. So when they called in 2003 after the drummer left I was like “Yeah, let’s do it.”
Do you have any side-projects or any gigs outside the band?
Yeah, I have a solo album that’s been out since 2009 called Structure and Flow. I have another one coming out in about a year or so. I work on it when I can find the time. I recently got married and started a family so that put things on hold for a little bit for some of that work. I play in a duo called Agent 22 with me a guy who plays the Chapman Stick. Which is like a bass and a guitar except it’s all tap. There’s a few variations of it. The guy that made it, this guy named Emmet Chapman was kind of a mad scientist back in the 60’s and 70’s. So he started creating this fretboard with that’s made for tapping with a super low action so you can kind of play it like a piano. I’ll play my drums, didgeridoo, some percussion. It’s more weird, kind of like fusiony rock. All instrumental no lyrics. Myself and Tom Griesgraber do a handful of gigs a year and a short tour whenever our schedules aline. It’s something that’s so different from Slightly Stoopid so it’s been a lot of fun. I’m actually recording the next solo record with him too.
In your interview with Weir, I could see your eyes light up when you talk about how important crowd energy is. Sometimes you get to a bigger venue and it’s great, but you might miss some of the intimacy from smaller places. Pairing that thought with the concept of having the family relaxed vibe that you guys have, where you might bring up Don Carlos or someone else at a festival or maybe Ian Neville might come out on tour for a few dates. How does that family vibe translate into how you guys go about the business?
We’ve met a lot of guys from touring. When you meet people on the street like that some people you click with instantly some you take a little while to warm up to. With all those artists, those are all guys we grew up listening to. We grew up idolizing Don Carlos and listening to his music. Also Half-pint, Sly & Robbie we’ve had the pleasure of touring with. That’s how the whole thing usually starts, as a friendship. Then at some point you say “hey do you want to come up for a couple songs, or do you want to come out for a week, or maybe do you want to do a whole tour”.
It’s always been an open door policy and never a forced issue. We’ve had guys come up and try to force their way in and it never really works out. It usually happens when someone learns one of our songs and get’s it ready beforehand to come out and perform. That’s sort of how it happened with Don who we’ve been working with for a few summers in a row now and it’s been a lot of fun because we love him. We respect him, and to have him come up and do a song or 2 or 3 is fun for the band. If you look at the lineage of Don Carlos he’s been a professional singer for 50 years. I mean, he’s the humblest guy and he’s cool and if theres anything we can do to help out his thing were stoked. It also helps out our show too by mixing it up from the same songs we play night in and night out. So in that sense, it makes it kind of fun for the fans and the band.
*Special thanks to Chris, Josh, Trent, and John