Elliott Frazier sounds exhausted. The heaviness in his voice comes with a dose of disappointment with the news that his band, Ringo Deathstarr, had to cancel a much-anticipated European tour. It was just one of those things that didn’t work out, he says, and they’re looking forward to coming home. The Austin band has been busy since the release of its debut self-titled EP in 2007. The success that followed includes multiple national and international tours, palling up with the Smashing Pumpkins, awing Japanese crowds and getting constantly compared to My Bloody Valentine—for better or worse.
Now, Ringo Deathstarr’s enjoying the results from their second LP, Mauve. In between shows of their latest national tour, singer/guitarist Frazier took time to talk to me about songwriting, touring, shaking up crowds and what it’s like to be signaled as one of the Austin forces reflecting a culture that “blends not just good times but inventiveness and tolerance” in The New York Times. I can tell Frazier’s passionate not only about his music, but about his city and other bands that call Austin home, and the man has plans.
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You’re currently on a U.S. tour. Have there been any favorite or memorable shows?
Elliott Frazier: During this tour, Chicago was pretty awesome; Seattle was awesome. But it was weird because a lot of stuff went down, then one of my guitar pedals malfunctioned, but we pulled it together and finished the show. Sometimes it sucks when people are just standing there with their arms crossed, like even when people like us, they just stand there with their arms crossed. So in one of the shows, I started fucking around with the audience. I started doing weird dances and told them, “If you don’t do this dance, I’m not playing the next song,” and they didn’t live up to what I wanted them to do, so I took longer tuning my guitar, really stalling. They were just too concerned with their self-image, I guess. People now come to shows and just sit down, you know? It pisses me off. So I took about five minutes to tune my guitar. I told them, “If you don’t chant ‘Mitt Romney’ I won’t play.” There were some people trying to get the others to chant, but they just wouldn’t do it!
Are there very different reactions to your music depending on what country you are in?
Frazier: It’s better in other countries than it is in the United States. There are places, pockets, in the States where it’s really awesome, but usually people don’t really know who we are. In other countries, we wouldn’t be going unless they knew who we were. You don’t go hoping people know who you are; there’s a lot of planning involved. When we go to other countries, people are really excited to have us there. It’s weird coming back to your country, and you’re playing in the middle of Indiana and there’s 10 people there who don’t even know who you are.
Where’s your favorite place to play?
Frazier: Japan. They give you their undivided attention. No one is on their phone, no one is watching the show through the screen of their phone. No one is even talking, because they’re giving you their full attention. For some reason they like us in Japan; I don’t even know why. Sometimes it gets really creepy ‘cause they show up and want an autograph and they bring really weird profiles they print out. I don’t know where they get those photos; it’s weird. But Japan definitely has the best audiences.
Let’s get into the latest album. How do you compare Colour Trip to Mauve? What did you guys do differently?
Frazier: On Colour Trip, we didn’t have a lot of the songs finished, most of them got done in the studio with all the bells and whistles of the studio. We thought to get some crazy-ass drum sounds, some unnatural things, you know? But with Mauve, we had everything done before getting into the studio and we didn’t use the computer very much at all. We didn’t use computer editing or computer plug-ins. We did it like people used to do, but today it’s rare to do that.
What are your favorite songs from the album and why?
Frazier: Probably “Burn” because I made it up in my head while I was driving. It was like with one of our old songs, “So High” where it just sort of happens. Also “Do You Wanna?” I think that song turned out awesome.
So I’ve read that you guys think you’re not “great songwriters” and you focus more on the musical side of song-making. When you are writing lyrics, though, how does that work? How do you guys collaborate and what sparks the storyteller side of you?
Frazier: I’ve always written songs since I’ve played music, but I’ve never really thought much about it. Some people ponder and think a lot and they try their song every which way, every possible way to play it. They’re never satisfied. A long time ago, I made a conscious effort to make a song, just pump it out, and if it doesn’t play out, just forget about it for a while. Some people are good at writing songs, they know how to make a song fit into certain formulas that are scientifically proven to work (laughs), but I’m not like that.
So, do you still read what people write about you? Album reviews? If so, what’s the worst and best thing you’ve ever read about the band?
Frazier: I used to but I don’t anymore. I guess it’s just a product of the internet. You can read every second of every day what people say, but I stopped doing that a year ago or so. I don’t need to read what people are writing about our band to know that we’re successful in whatever way. We’re not as successful as other bands, but we’re on tour and making records. As far as the best and worst things I’ve heard? That we sound like My Bloody Valentine, for both of those. Some people use that to say that we suck and some people use it to say that we’re awesome.
As an Austin band, do you listen to local bands, go to shows when you’re in town?
Frazier: That’s all we’ve been doing for the last six months before we went on tour. From about April until August, I started going to more shows, like at the 29th Street Ballroom. The only music I was listening to is local bands, like Gal Pals and Fleshlights. I’d rather see bands live. It’s kind of weird, but I don’t look up bands online, like their Bandcamp, until I see them live. With the way people are making music today, it’s so deceiving. What you hear on their Bandcamp, what they made on their laptop, is so different from what they actually sound like. People aren’t even really practicing their instruments very much. It’s not like what it was. Maybe we’re part of that problem, but I don’t know.
I read an op-ed piece in The New York Times today on how Austin is becoming commercialized, and the writer, Richard Parker, mentioned Ringo Deathstarr as one of the Austin forces that reflects a culture that “blends good times, inventiveness and tolerance.” Do you think you have become a representation of the city’s music culture, and the city itself?
Frazier: I’m glad they would think that about us, because I really fancy our band as something that is trying to be true to what Austin, the core of what Austin is, is all about. I see the changes Austin is going through and I don’t like them. I saw that the neighborhood association put things in people’s mailboxes telling them to call 911 to complain about the noise coming from Cheer Up Charlie’s. I feel like I have to do something about that when I get home. I don’t know; it’s just really crazy. The Austin we’re coming home to is gonna be different from the one we left. We can’t just sit there and watch all of this stuff happen. If I could afford to go to jail, I would just set up and play in the street in front of the houses of peoples who are spearheading Cheer Up Charlie’s. Maybe guitar is the weapon of mass destruction and it should be utilized. [laughs]
What are your future plans?
Frazier: As far as my personal activity, I’m going to be more involved with recording local bands. I’m already recording Gal Pals. I just have to finish up mixing their stuff and hopefully I can just get more local bands recorded and help promote them; just use my experience, help my friends and other bands learn from my mistakes. That’s pretty much my mission when I come home.
Watch the official music video for “Rip” from Ringo Deathstarr’s album Mauve below.