Interview: Ramona Falls
Solo records by members of already well established bands are nothing new, but rarely are they as dynamic and absorbing as the recently released album by Memomena member Brent Knopf. Playing under the name Ramona Falls, Knopf and his laundry list of collaborators (including Janet Weiss, Loch Lomond and Talkdemonic) recorded Intuit (out this month on Barsuk), an invigorating and complex collection of neo-pop that moves from bleating downtempo grooves to Raymond Scott-like polkas sometimes in the course of one song. Knopf was kind enough to speak with The Voice of Energy about his new project, taking a small break from his first U.S. tour.
What prompted you to make a solo album?
The thing that prompted me the recording of the next Menomena album was taking longer than I had anticipated so it seemed like I had time to move forward on something else. It’s not like I’ve had aspirations for a long time to do a solo record, it just seemed like there was time to do a different project.
Were the songs on Intuit ones that were rejected by Menomena?
A couple of the songs I sent to Danny and Justin and didn’t hear back about. So, I knew then that they weren’t going to become Menomena songs. There were others that right off the bat, I knew wouldn’t work in the Menomena context. The general philosophy of writing songs is that Menomena gets first dibs.
You worked with an impressive number of collaborators on the album. How did you choose who would play on each song?
I made two lists. One was a list of the songs that I thought would be cool to have people add to them. The other had the different musicians that I’m friends with or was acquaintances with. I even cold called some people, those musicians that I wanted an excuse to work with. And I put the lists together. Like the song “The Darkest Day,” I decided that it needs drums and I though that Kevin O’Connor from Talkdemonic would be a really good fit. So, I went to his house and he beat me at foosball and we recorded some drums to that song. It was just connecting those lists together. And, boy, was it fun. It was wonderful to be able to spend a couple of hours with each of them.
Did working with these different people help change the direction of a song?
I wanted to be changed. I wanted to subject the song to something unpredictable. That’s one big reason why I wanted to include the participation of additional musicians to see what would come of improvising and playing around. Often what would happen, the first half of the recording time, I really wouldn’t give too much direction. I would play them the song and ask them to play around with it. The second half was me knowing exactly what I wanted and asking for it very specifically. When it came time to glue the performances together, I was able to have both kinds of material to choose from. Their participation did change the songs a little bit but in ways that I wanted them to change. I mean, I didn’t it to sound strictly like a solo record; I wanted it to sound like music that had been made by a group of people.
It’s hard to tell whether these songs are based on purely fictional storylines or if they are coming from personal experience (the ones I’m thinking of are “Russia” and “I Say Fever”) – is it one or the other or both?
I would say personal experience informed each song. As you know, I’m an expert tamer of dragons so that’s obviously autobiographical. Usually the songs that I end up pursuing are ones that work in complicated ways. I think the best way to describe is with a song like “Always Right.” I feel like I wrote that song from both from the perpetrator’s point of view and the victim’s point of view to use extreme words to describe two sides of the coins. There’s often strange symmetry in what I was a participant in creating having weird intersections with different parts of my life. Certain things repeat themselves in different projects and end up being informed by personal experience. There’s not like a one to one connection between something specific person or experience, but I’m often on both sides of the equation.
It’s an interesting choice to have included that short piano interlude (“Boy Ant”) into the middle of the album. What inspired that?
I’ve noticed in myself a tendency to over complicate things, so I wanted a breath. A moment of clarity. A moment of like just total sincerity and total directness wasn’t filled with 5,000 different ideas. Most people might put something like that at the beginning or the end of a record, but I felt like that’s where the album needed a moment of direct communication.
What is the live version of Ramona Falls going to be like?
In the US, it’s a four piece. I’m doing the singing and most of the keyboard and some guitar. Matt Sheehy playing guitar and mandolin. Danny Seim [Menomena's drummer] playing the bass. Paul Alcott he’s the drummer and one half of the band Dat’r. In Europe, I’ll be playing with different musicians. We’re not just going to play to [prerecorded] tracks. We’re going to play together and be live. It’s very dynamic. Lots of louds and quiets and really I couldn’t ask for three nicer guys to play music with.
Can you give us any insight into how things are going with the next Menomena album?
That’s a hard question to answer. There are 12 songs being passed back and forth. We’re working on it. I’ve brought the sessions with me on tour I’m hoping to work on it in the van as we drive around.