Indies And The Underground

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Q&A:Ticktockman

Seattle alt-rockers Ticktockman have been making waves in the indie scene since the release of 2010′s Periscope, a five song EP that combined the quintet’s love of sound effects, strange time signatures and intense lyricism with catchy melodies and grooves. Now with  the upcoming Valentine’s Day release of their self-titled full length, the band is ready to carry out their mission to make fans forget about the current state of rock music. In a Q&A with Indies and The Underground, frontman Ryan Van Weiringen and guitarist Andy Lum talk about Ticktockman’s beginnings,  their hometown’s musical legacy, the state of the music biz, and why they’ll stick to lasers and fog machines onstage.

How did the band come together?

Andy: Ryan and I got to know each other through playing in different projects with each other. We definitely bonded over our similar tastes in music, we sort of both balance an obsession with the loud/technical stuff and pop music. In 2009 we got together, me on drums and Ryan on guitar – we just jammed through a ton of individual ideas and it just clicked. All the instrumentation on the EP was by the two of us, with me handling most of the keys, drums, and percussion and Ryan most of the guitar work and vocals. Ryan and I still handle the songwriting, but we put together a great band for our upcoming full length. We’re starting to click live and it’s feeling really good. With Ryan, it’s so rewarding to write music with someone you don’t necessarily have to communicate with through words. We can kind of riff off of each other in that drum-guitar jam mode and write parts really effectively together.

RYAN: Andy and I were playing in a band together called Wild Orchid Children.  I wanted to start a band where I could experiment a bit with the weird and sometimes chaotic sensations that tingled my brain.  I talked to Andy about doing it with me and he was totally down.  We didn’t really know what we had started, like if it would be a 2 man project where we play everything or what.  Turns out we put a great band together out of friends and respected musicians we knew.

Were any of you in bands before Ticktockman? How different were they genre-wise?

Andy: We really started to get to know each other in Wild Orchid Children. Musically it’s just as loud and rewarding as a player, we just had another voice that we wanted to get out together. We also played in a band called Search/Rescue that put out a record in 2008, which was definitely more straight forward pop rock. I think we’ve found our voice through this band, we have a lot of songs left to write and we can go a lot of directions genre-wise in the future.

RYAN: Most of us were in bands before Ticktockman.  I came from a band called Gatsbys American Dream.  It was sort of technical pop punk. So it’s a little in the same vein with weird time signatures.  Andy came from Surrounded by Lions which put out some great records.  Phil is in another band called Ghost Town Riot from Seattle and Brock is in a hundred bands.

What are some of your earliest musical memories/influences?

Andy: My Mom played a lot of older pop whenever we’d be in the car together – The Carpenters, Carole King, The Beatles, Michael Jackson, Peter Gabriel, James Taylor, records I came back to in college and really started to enjoy. When I got into middle school I used to only listen to rap. The really popular stuff came first like Notorious [B.I.G.] and 2Pac, and then I got into groups like Tribe Called Quest and De La Soul. In 8th grade I bought RATM’s Battle of Los Angeles and that was pretty much the path I followed from then on. It bridged that gap between hip hop and rock in such a unique way, I think I just got addicted to how much energy and frustration in those songs.

RYAN: My earliest musical memories are watching my mom’s band rehearse.  She was in a band with her 5 brothers and they played mostly Top 40 stuff.  I couldn’t get enough of it.  My dad listened to a ton of Beatles, War, Elton John which really helped shape my musical senses.  I can’t thank him enough for that.

What about them stood out to you the most?

Andy: The louder bands I started to find like the Blood Brothers, At The Drive In, Deftones, etc. were just bands that took rock music and explored different sounds while making it. I just remember putting on those records and feeling like someone set my head on fire. The more I listened to them, and the more I started to play music myself, I started to pay attention to the time signatures, the sound effects, the vocal noises, all that stuff that we try and put into our records to deepen our songs.

RYAN: Hearing all of that 70′s music when I was so young gave me a broad sense of what music could be.  You could have country grooves like the Eagles, you could write nonsense lyrics like Elton John, or structure your songs out of the typical pop structure like the Beatles and have it kick ass.  It taught me to not limit myself when writing music.

You guys hail from Seattle, which has spawned a lot of influential alt-rock acts like Pearl Jam, Nirvana, Alice in Chains etc. What do you think has made that sound so powerful and lasting?

Andy: We definitely have a rich musical history in this city. I think the atmosphere, the weather, the water, the mountains – it just breeds some powerful music. I think musicians and bands here are proud of Seattle’s musical resume and they want to continue down that path in whatever genre they may find themselves in.

RYAN: It’s a little of the cliche but it just happens to rain a lot in Seattle and we have nothing better to do than sit around and pound on instruments to take out some aggression.  I think no matter where you live though you connect with that type of music, especially as a teenager.  There is no doubt in my mind that Seattle is the best producer of music in the world.  There’s a ton of versatility amongst the most popular artists that come from here.  I think it has to do with the lyrics and how they speak to people.  We don’t sing about hitting the beach and going surfing very often.

Many of the tracks on Ticktockman are technically complex but still manage to “rock” for lack of a better word. How do you guys maintain the balance of being musically challenging without becoming too intellectual about it?

Andy: We’re just trying to focus on groove I think. Sometimes the technically complex can turn into a very tiring listen, but I think we capture complexity with simplicity well. We’re still constantly challenging ourselves, I just think we tend to explore soundscapes and tones more than we do time signatures JUST to be complex. The whole “can you bop your head to this” idea is something we talk about a lot.

RYAN: Our songs aren’t contrived or written necessarily to be complex.  That is just how they come out.  I had a couple of great mentors when I was really starting to write songs which helped.  We never want the music to be so mathy that it takes people out of the song or causes them to stop bobbing their heads.  The best technical parts are so good you don’t even realize until the 5th time you listen to it that they are in a weird time signature or go out of the key for a moment.

Being the band places such importance on great musicianship, is it difficult to appreciate bands that take a simpler approach to music or make use of theatrics ?

Andy: I think great musicianship comes in many forms. Cobain was a great musician in a different way than say Freddie Mercury – it’s about the impact you make and the care you put into you records that matters most to me. People would say the pop music you hear on the radio today is a much simpler approach to music compared to what we do, but it’s just complexity in a different form. We write grooves in 5, but some radio singles have 40 people who just work on what the bass drum sounds like.

RYAN: There would be so many great songs we would’ve missed out on if we there were no simple songs.  Early Green Day blew my mind.  I still listen to their first 2 records and wonder how they write such great, powerful hooks.  It’s important to have simplicity in songs.  You just can’t go overboard with it like you’ll hear on the radio quite often.  Theatrics can really heighten the experience of listening to music. Then again it can be used as a gimmick so you have to walk a really thin line there.  We’ll stick to lasers and fog machines.

The name Ticktockman comes from the short story “Repent Harlequin Said The Ticktockman,” which describes a dictator that wants to regiment society and make everyone the same. How do you feel this mentality has impacted the music industry and more specifically, rock music?

Andy: The music industry is all about niche now. They are these wild fads that pop up and become popular. It creates a cookie cutter for young people to latch onto. Man, spend 5 minutes rolling down a YouTube wormhole and you’ll find 6,000 bands that are doing this yo-check-these-metal-breakdowns-but-oh-wait-we-also-have-a-poppy-chorus-sung-by-a-teenage-girl thing going on. It’s fucking mindblowing. It’s so hard to discover that “new shit” because what are people that sell records looking for? They’re looking for the next _____.

RYAN: The music industry is in such an odd place right now.  It’s crazy how much things can change in a decade.  10 years ago our friends bands were getting $500k publishing deals.  That just doesn’t happen anymore. The industry just wants whatever sells and right now if you have an electronic dance beat and auto-tune, you have a better shot than us.  Maybe that is why rock bands that are on the radio right now are terrible.  The main rock station here in Seattle still plays Nirvana, Pearl Jam, and Soundgarden all the time because it’s better than whatever other screamo band is hot right now.  It’s sad, especially with the amount of good rock bands there are making music in the indie scene.

A  lot of the lyrics seem to continue the Ticktockman theme, with subjects like paranoia, being under the control of big corporations and the idea the individual has no voice. Did you draw on any personal experiences when writing the album?

RYAN: The themes in our album are more of just a reflection on the current times and what could be in the near future.  We still work day jobs so we draw on the experiences we have every day.  I’ve heard every generation goes through these types of paranoia but the earth just seems fucked right now.  Whenever I write something that feels futuristic and doomsday material, I always try to put a positive spin on it.  Like we still have a chance to turn this fucking thing around.  You gotta have a little hope.

What can fans expect next from you?

Andy: We’re stoked on the EP we’re about to record. It’s 4 songs that really explore our new direction. They’re longer, more dynamic, and way weirder. We’re also touring down the west coast this year Spring. We want to be that band that gives you something different every time around, so stay tuned.

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