Thursday, March 7, 2013

Exorcism Number Eight: Joseph Michael Rankin

HI! Here is YET ANOTHER exorcism. Quick side note: last night I had YET ANOTHER terrible dream about the movie "The Exorcist." What was the dream? Simply that the movie "The Exorcist" was on television. No more and certainly no less.

Anyway! Today we have an interview with another amazing person from the Wallride Records scene: Joseph Michael Rankin. He is a multi-instrumental dude but I think of him primarily as an incredibly interesting and powerful drummer. His investment in how a song should sound is super awesome. I feel like he really thinks about shaping the song and making it fun to listen to. It's super inspiring. Joe plays in the Jons, Flying Faders, Head Home, Sounding Rockets, and has recently recorded and entire solo project where he plays everything. ENJOY!

It seems like the York/Westminster/Baltimore crew has known each other forever. When did you meet these musical soulmates and what has it been like growing up with them? Feel free to name names and embarrass people.

There are people in our circle of friends who have been around forever, and others who are more recent friends, but we love them all, so long as they’re laid back and nice. 

Jesse Davis (My Sister Kate, Head Home, Sounding Rockets, Flying Faders, Whiff, etc.) and I grew up together in the same neighborhood (Walnut Ridge in Westminster).  We were friends long before music entered the picture.  He used to sit at the front of the bus on the way to middle school and do imitations of an auctioneer.  He was completely oblivious to the social stigma this garnered him.  He also wore jeans with elastic in the waistband.  Strike two.  I liked him immediately.  It wasn’t until years later that he picked up a guitar, and we borrowed a snare drum, hi-hat, and empty suitcase (bass drum) and started murdering Oasis songs in his basement.

We played our first shows when we were 17 and met some other important cats like Jason Nicholls and Mike Boesler (Active Sac, Whiff, etc.).  Darick Sater and Mike Stearns (The Spark, Active Sac, Deep Sleep, etc.) were a bit younger so I didn’t meet them until I was about 22 or so. 

The first time I saw Darick play drums I thought “Who’s this chubby kid playing drums for Active Sac?”  My next thought was “Whoa, chubby kid can play!”  This was about the time I was obsessed with the book “Dance of Days” about the D.C. underground music scene.  I was talking to some other musicians in town one night about D.C. music when one of them told me Darick had memorized dates of Bad Brains shows from before he was born.  The next time I saw Darick was at the local movie theater with a bunch of friends.  I took the opportunity to approach him and say, “So I heard you’re a fan of the Bad Brains”.  I distinctly remember his answer because it said a lot about him.  He could have had a pompous attitude but instead he took one step back, looked down at the ground, smiled, and said “Yeah yeah yeah”.  Friends since then.

How and when did you learn to play drums? What other instruments do you play? Which is your favorite to play?

When I was 15 some buddies of mine wanted to start a band.  I had my choice between learning to play bass or drums.  Around that time I had been paired up in Biology class with a guy named Pat.  Pat had played drums for several years but was a total weirdo.  During an assembly one day the Jazz band performed for the whole school.  Pat sat down at the drum set for a rendition of “Moondance” by Van Morrison.  At the end of the song he played a fill, and was starting to stand up and walk away before he had finished the last hit.  It was the coolest thing I had ever seen in my life.  The next time I saw Pat in biology I demanded that he teach me how to play drums.  So he taught me a few basics on the classroom table and we became pretty close friends. 

I took the few things Pat showed me and went to work.  I sat in my bedroom listening to my favorite songs, trying to figure them out.  It was like a new world opened up in front of me that had been there the whole time, I just couldn’t see it.  I was Harry Potter, and playing drums was “practicing magic”.  Maybe more “Neville” than “Harry”.  Anyway, I was obsessed. 

Through the years the practice space for the bands was often at my house.  Every once in a while I would pick up a bass or guitar for fun and mess around.  You do that enough, and eventually you get a handle on it, intentionally or not.  I still don’t really know what I’m doing on bass or guitar but that doesn’t stop me.  I do it all for fun anyway. 

If I had to pick a favorite I’d say drums.  There’s something extremely satisfying about moving your limbs in a specific way to yield a specific rhythm.  You can produce emotions ranging from energetic to fun to sexual to romantic to frantic to badass and everything in between. 

Tell us about the first band you were ever in?

The first real band I was ever in was called “The Retro Delicatessen”.  Essentially Jesse pulled a bunch of friends together from different areas of his life who all loved Weezer.  We wrote catchy pop rock songs and lasted a few years.  It was the evening of this band’s first show that I realized I wanted to do this for the rest of my life.

What are some of your first musical influences and do they still inspire you? What about them is inspiring?

Some of the first musical influences would be Jimi Hendrix, Nirvana, Weezer, and Smashing Pumpkins.  When I learned to turn off the radio a few of the first bombshells in my life were Minor Threat and Poster Children.  Hendrix, Nirvana and Weezer are still a big influnce, as well as Minor Threat and Poster Children, but Smashing Pumpkins not so much. 

Tell us about your favorite recording experience?

Darick and I were just talking about this the other day.  We HATE recording.  It’s the worst part of playing music, especially drums because you have to get it all in one take.  The fact that it’s permanent is nightmarishly stressful.  Guitar, bass, and vocals aren’t as bad because you can punch in and out, so the end result is a combination of several takes.

We record all of our own stuff these days so we have more control over the sound (plus it’s cheaper).  We own a reel-to-reel ½ inch 8-track recorder, some outboard equipment, and pro-tools for mixing down.  If I had to pick a favorite recording experience I’d have to say the recent stuff we’ve been doing because we’re getting better and better at it. 

Speaking of recording-you recently recorded a new record with the Jons and a solo record! Tell us about those and when we might expect them out.

I’ll be checking in with some labels here and there to see if I can get some help putting out my solo record, but first things first, I still need a name for the project.  Once I have a name, then I can actually move forward with trying to put it out.  In the end if no one is interested, I’ll probably just figure out a way to release a small run myself.  In the meantime, I’ve gathered some friends to help me play the songs live, so we’ll start booking shows sometime soon.

The Jons record already has a home with South Paw records (owned and operated by our friends Rob and Amanda).  Right now we are finishing the rough mixes.  Next we’ll analyze them for changes and tweaks, and then work on the final mixes.  Once that’s done, we’ll hand it over to South Paw and they’ll make it happen.  I can’t say for sure how long it’ll take, but I assume a few months.  One thing’s certain, this is the fastest recording-to-release project I’ve ever worked on.  Pretty fun stuff.

You seem to really love to play live in a very internal way. Like, you don't "perform" necessarily, but anyone watching with any sense knows that you are clearly invested in what you are doing. Describe what it's like for you play in front of people and if that has changed over the years.

I hadn’t really thought about it like that.  I love playing shows.  When I was young I would get really anxious before a show, then use that “nervous energy” as fuel for a good performance.  I still do that today; only I don’t get quite as nervous beforehand. 

If I seem invested, it’s because I’m focused on what I’m doing.  I fear fucking up and letting everyone down.  I’ve definitely messed up before pretty bad, and then got depressed about it for a while.  No one else gets pissed at me, but I just get blue about messing up after putting so much time and energy into it.  So I tend to focus on what part of the song we are on, and landing fills correctly and evenly, etc.

Where did you go to school and what was your school experience like? Do you still think about grammar school and high school?

Here are the schools I went to in order:  St. Pius X in Towson, St. John in Westminster, East Middle School in Westminster, Delone Catholic High in McSherrystown, PA, Carroll Community College in Westminster, and Towson University. 

I was cripplingly shy throughout my entire school experience.  Plus I had a learning disability so I wasn’t even the “quiet smart kid”.  I was just a waste of oxygen.  By the time High School rolled around though, some of my friends were in honors classes and it became clear that I wasn’t stupid; I just wasn’t a very good student.  Three things saved my life during High School; friends, The Simpsons, and music.

I think about those times less and less these days.  I’ll still have the occasional dream that I’m back in high school though.

I feel like being in bands forces generally shy kids to socialize. Do you feel like music has made an impact on your life in that way? How much of that has to do with the time we grew up in? (where everyone and their cousin had 50 bands each.)

Like I mentioned earlier, I was VERY shy growing up.  I’m still a pretty “shy guy” but I’ve opened up quite a bit.  I accredit that to being in bands and meeting other people outside of my small crew, yet still in my age range.  We all developed a mutual respect for each other that translated into adult life.  This may have been because when you play a show, essentially you are forcing people to pay attention to you for 20 to 30 minutes straight (instead of quietly fading into the background).  After that, you have a certain amount of social currency.  You can walk up to people and immediately have something to talk about (You’re the bassist for the last band right?  You guys ruled!  Do you have any records?  What kind of bass/head/cab is that?  Where are you playing next? Etc.)  In your everyday adult life just do the same thing; pick a topic, ask a question, listen to the answer, joke around, become friends, respect them, enjoy your time together, repeat. 

Do you have any stories regarding the paranormal? Either firsthand or otherwise.

None firsthand.  However Frank Adams (Sounding Rockets, My Sister Kate, Four Letter Theory) grew up in a haunted house.  I did a paper on it once in college.  He told us there were times when you would hear someone call your name from a nearby room, and when you walked into it, no one was there.  One day Frank came home from high school, and was milling around in the kitchen.  He heard his mom upstairs fill the bathtub.  After a while he passed out on the couch and was awakened by the phone ringing.  When he picked it up, his mom was on the other end.  He said “Mom, how are you calling me from upstairs?”  She said “What are you talking about? I’m still at work.”  Frank hung up the phone, turned on the TV, turned the volume up, and waited for her to come home.  Pretty freaky.

Thanks Joe! For info on all the great bands mentioned check out

No comments:

Post a Comment