John Ralston
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John Ralston

 

 

As the frontman of the band, Legends of Rodeo, John Ralston and his friends spent a number of years on the road without quite breaking through to the mass audience. Taking a break from the band, Ralston went to Knoxville, Tennessee to kick around a few demos with a friend. 5 days later, he had recorded his first solo CD, Needle Bed, that is connecting strongly with a new audience of music fans. During a stop in Chicago, Ralston sat down with Way Cool Music to discuss the new tour, the importance of support from friends, and why you might find him in the corner at the end of the evening.

 

 

Way Cool: 

Tell us about your background and how you got involved in music.
   

John Ralston:

Music has always been present in my life from when I was a child until now.  It’s sort of like a family trait.  But, it wasn’t until I was 16 that I picked up a guitar and realized I wanted to play music and write songs.  I started a band right away, a horrible band I’m sure!  It’s sort of the same story as everybody else.  I was in a few bands that toured all over the country over and over again.  We booked all our own shows and all of that.

But, the short of it is that I accidentally made a solo record.  A friend of mine (Michael Seaman) invited me… well I guess he conned me… up to Knoxville.  He said, “Let’s do some demos, maybe five songs, and see what happens.”  But we knew right away that it wasn’t a demo.  We knew from the first song that we could make a record.  I had a lot of stuff written, but I canned about half of the stuff I had planned on recording about three days before we started.  So, I wrote the rest of the record before I went up to Knoxville.  Jeff Snow (drummer) and I went up to Knoxville and recorded it and drove back.  It was funny because I had been in another band and we had just gotten out of a contract with a big record label, or a subsidiary of a big label.  It was like a messy divorce.  On the way home, the label called and said, “If you want to do a solo record, we’d love to do it.”  And I thought to myself that I wasn’t ready to do that.

When I got home, I made some copies for friends and the rest has happened so quickly that I can’t really remember the sequence of events.  This is the project that I didn’t try for.   But, it’s the thing that has resonated most with people.

 

 

 

WC:

Did you release the CD (Needle Bed) independently before it was picked up?

   
JR:

What happened was that enough people I knew were asking me for copies. I decided to press a few copies and, at the very worst, sell them to my friends.  You know, give them to my close friends and sell them to my acquaintances.  Another friend of mine called and asked me to go on tour, so I printed up 2,000 of them.  I borrowed the money from John Cohen at Vagrant.  I said, “Cohen, I need $2,000 to print up CDs,” and he said, “OK.”  I borrowed that and three days later, after three shows, I sent him a check for the whole amount. We had sold that many CDs.  It was pretty fun.  That was the funnest check I had ever sent.  “Look!  This is what we did in three days!”

A friend of mine, Julia, and I took our time and made some nice cover art.  We were proud of the record, so I wanted to make it look good.  I just didn’t think I would be pressing it again.  I thought one pressing would be cool.  And it would have been cool, but… I’ve been through three pressings on my own.  It got to be too much for me to control, so I ended up signing to Vagrant.  I already had established relationships there and the GM, Dan Gill, was helping me get TV placements and all that.  I thought, “OK.  This is how I always wanted to enter into a working relationship.”  Otherwise, you go in for a sit down meeting just like this.  We don’t know each other; it’s the first time we’ve met.  You sit down with the record label and they say sign these 80 pages.  You think, “What have you done for me?  And what have I done for you?”  Instead, I knew how things were going to work; I knew who I was talking to every day; if I had a problem I knew who to go to.

   

WC:

It seems to make complete sense given that you were already working with them.

   

JR:

 

I asked them if they wanted to put out the CD and, at that point, they hadn’t even heard it.  When I sent them the check, I forgot to send them the CD!  I was talking to Dan and asked if he listened to the record.  I was kind of offended that he hadn’t mentioned it or said anything about it.  He said, “You never gave me a copy!”  So, I immediately sent it and, after that, they were interested.

 

 

WC:

For a while, you fronted Legends of Rodeo.  What’s the status of the band?

 

 

JR:

Well, Jeff (Snow) plays drums with me.  Dan Bonebrake, who filled in after Steve Escherman left… Steve left to have a baby and all’s good with that.  He now runs my MySpace page.  Dan plays bass with me.  And so, two of the three are still with me.  What happened with Legends was that as we were getting out of our contract, we had made about 60 pretty elaborate demos and paired it down to 12 songs.  We went back into the studio and were making a record about the same time as I was mixing Needle Bed.  So, at that point, Needle Bed wasn’t out yet.  The ”friends” who were helping Legends handed us a 25-page contract saying, “You owe us 25% of whatever you make, blah, blah, blah.”  We just didn’t have the heart to go ahead with it and keep trusting people.  That first record will never get finished.  But, as far as the relationships, they are my best friends.  When I gave Steve a copy of Needle Bed, he said that it was the best stuff I’d ever done and told me to keep doing it.  He also said, “I’m going to make you a MySpace page.”  And I said, “What’s MySpace?”  Steve had the foresight to take care of it.  My friend, Anna, made a Web site for me.  A lot of things happened and a lot of people got behind this record.

 

 

WC:

 Even the guy who owns JohnRalston.com pimps you out on his site.

   
JR: That’s right!  That’s so funny.  He’s good guy.
   
WC: Tell us about your relationship with Chris Carrabba, how you met, and touring with Dashboard Confessional.
   
JR: He came to a show that my old band was playing with the band Far (Jonah Matranga) and he introduced himself.  This was years ago when Chris was in the Vacant Andies and we just kept in touch.  When Legends and Further Seems Forever toured, we were pretty good friends at that point.  It just made sense for our bands to play together.
   

WC:

What about playing the Today Show?

 

 

JR:

It was cool.  Everyone was really nice.  I expected them to be really strict and big assholes, but they were way nicer than most clubs.  They were really nice people.  I’ve done a few TV shows with Dashboard and it’s neither here nor there.  I don’t really care.  Of course, if they asked my band to play the Today Show, I’d do it!  I didn’t have a bad experience.

 

 

WC:

Was it early in the morning?

 

 

JR:
It was very early!  We woke up at 4:00am.  That wasn’t so fun.
   

WC:

You’re now headlining your own tour.  How’s it going?

 

 

JR:

Great!  This is what I do.  It’s been a great first tour for our band.  We’re not selling out places, but everywhere we go, we’re finding a handful of people who love the record and that’s the best that I could hope for.  If I’m playing a show for two people and one of them knows the record, that’s great for me.  I think, “I’m going to play a great show for them!”  They care enough to buy the record and know the words, so they deserve it.  I don’t have delusions of grandeur that it needs to be a packed room to be a good show.

 

photo by Steven Rullman

   

WC:

’Gone, Gone, Gone‘ seems to be well received and liked by the fans.  What’s the story behind the song?

 

 

JR:

There is no story (said with a mischievous grin).  It’s just a song I wrote for the CD.  The only difference is that it’s one of two songs that people have really liked.  People may not know who sings the song, but they know the song.

 

 

WC:

How has Townes Van Zandt influenced you and your writing?

   
JR:
I don’t know, he’s just my favorite.  It’s not like the genre or the playing; it’s more the sentiment and the lyrics.  It’s something to aspire to.  For some people, they list their influences and they sound just like them.  For me, I can’t sound like Tom Waits.  I’d have to gargle gravel for a year for that.  And I don’t have the Townes Van Zandt twang and I’m certainly not a finger picker like him, but those are the guys who influenced how I write songs.
   
WC: Did you come across them when you were a teenager?
   
JR:

Yeah, probably around 18.  That’s when I fell in love with the idea that you can’t just write a song, you can write a great song.  That’s something that everybody should aspire to.  Try to write a Townes Van Zandt song.

   
WC: Where do you see yourself in five years?
   
JR:
I don’t know.  That’s too far away.  I can tell you where I’ll be for the rest of the year.  There’s a tour schedule for the rest of the year and that’s as far as I can see.  We just made a video for ’Gone, Gone, Gone,’ so that’s happening.  It’s all black and white on 18mm and 16mm film.  I’m very pleased with how that turned out.
   

WC:

Do you enjoy being in front of the camera?

 

 

JR:

No, I hate it.  I don’t like photo shoots, either.  Even playing on stage is a little bit… I mean, I enjoy it, but I hate everything leading up to the stage and everything after the last note.  The 45 minutes on stage is a great time, but the rest of it can go to hell.  Having conversations is nice, but I don’t do well with crowds of people and I don’t like riding in the van all day.  But, this is what I do.  I’d rather be in the studio, though.  I enjoy playing live, but the other 23 hours kinda suck.

 

 

WC:

Have you toured with anyone who is really good at the fan aspect?

   

JR:

Yeah, my band is really good at it.  Chris is great at it.  There are a lot of people who are better at it than me.

   

WC:

We’ll start a rumor that you’re really moody and don’t like to talk.  Don’t touch him!

 

 

JR:

No, I’m really nice.

 

 

WC:

He may or may not come out tonight.

   

JR:

No, I’ll come out, but I’ll probably be sitting in the corner. 

   
WC:

What’s been your biggest rock star moment so far?

   
JR: I got to play ’Gone, Gone, Gone‘ at the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville.  I just thought, “Holy shit!  Here I am.”  If nothing else, I’ve played the Ryman, God damn it! 

 

 

WC:

Now itís time for seven questions.

 

 

   

 

 

1.

What's the worst job you've ever had? 

 

Painting houses.  No, construction.  I’d rather paint houses than work construction.

   

2.

What's your favorite movie quote or song lyric?

 

If you find someone, someone to have, someone to hold, don’t trade it for silver, don’t trade it for gold – Tom Waits.  I can’t say it’s my favorite, but it sticks with me.

   

3.

Who would you want to star in the movie of your life? 

 

Johnny Depp.

   

4.

What's your favorite TV theme song? 

 

I don’t watch TV.  I like the music in Lost though, all those crazy sounds.

   

5.

If you were a superhero, what would your name be? 

 

I had Green Lantern underwear once, so I’d be one of the new Green Lanterns.  Or if I was a new superhero, it would have something to do with sleep.  You know, as I was sleeping, I’d save the world.  But, if I were awake, it would be a total disaster.

   

6.

What do you want to be when you grow up? 

 

I don’t want to grow up, so I’ll just keep playing music as long as I’m allowed to.

   

7.

Finally, why are there so many songs about rainbows? 

 

I don’t know.  I hope not to write one.  I hope not to join that group.  Maybe I already have.  Have I?  I don’t think so.  Is this a loaded question?  Do you know a song I wrote about rainbows?  No?  Good.  Then I’d like not to be a part of that group.

 

 

 

 

To find out more information about John Ralston. visit his website at www.john-ralston.com.