Talk Talk: An Interview With Rays

Oakland, CA four-piece RAYS release their debut self-titled album on Friday 31 March. Recorded with California legend Kelley Stoltz, mastered by Total Control's Mikey Young and released on the ever-brilliant Trouble In Mind Records, it's a hotbed of lo-fi post-punk recalling the sound of the genre's most prolific years.

The band's members are Bay-area music veterans with current and past music projects including The World, Life Stinks, Violent Change, & Dadfag. The regularity with which the region seems to churn out bands points towards an underlying spirit of creativity. We spoke to Rays' bassist / vocalist Eva Hannan about the new LP and where that spirit comes from.

How did you get together?

We started to play music together because we thought our individual styles would fit well. Alexa, Stanley and I started the band and realised we needed a fourth member so Troy joined on keyboard and synth. Then we thought, what's better than synth? Guitar! So he switched over and we wrote another batch of songs.

Having the keyboard in the early arrangements helped us know where we wanted some additional instrumentation on the recording, it's fun to have something incorporated into your sound only sometimes. I guess we could always have someone else play keys, but I kind of like the edge of surprise it gives the group in the studio. We can do anything, add a violin to a song, and it's nothing crazy because we have some kind of additional instrumentation going on the whole time. We were discussing the theoretical versatility of a harmonica recently...

Are there any particular books, films, albums or artists that you could draw influence from while making the new album?

The Fall is an obvious influence for like, everyone. That's a big shared interest. Velvet Underground, Brian Eno, Rolling Stones, David Bowie... I mean, we're not really pulling from the deep end on this stuff. Alex Chilton! Wire! Krautrock! Visual artists: Jeffrey Cheung, Alexandra Eastburn, Olivia Gibb, Shiva Addanki, David Hockney, Ray Johnson, Edouard Vuillard, Troy loves Picasso. Film: Orson Welles, Robert Altman, Dogs in Space.

How did Kelley Stoltz and Mikey Young get on board? What’s it like working with them?

We are definitely very lucky to have worked with those two on the record. We knew we wanted to bring out the true sound of the band, so we were hoping Kelley would record it from the get-go. When we found out Mikey was down to mix and master it as well we were really excited. Making the sounds in our heads into a tangible object is challenging because there are so many steps involved, but I think we managed to do it. Working with those guys was terrible though, everyone should stop using them so they can stop being so popular and busy and just hang out and you know, shoot the breeze. They need to relax. I can't recommend not using them enough.

What resources are there available for musicians and the arts in Oakland? Is it a city that actively promotes that sort of thing?

There is a huge underground scene of performers here and nation-wide, but it has very little to do with the cities and everything to do with the drive and ability of a few people to keep things happening.

Most places that allow shows operate outside of the law, and even some legitimate venues risk being shut down every time the gig runs past 10 p.m. or gets too fun. There are a few bookers and clubs that consistently give people places to perform, but besides that the scene here really rests on the shoulders of a few people, who are constantly finding new avenues for everyone, publishing their own work or other peoples' and overall keeping the dream alive. I don't think any of them would tell you it's not a struggle.

No city in the U.S. actively promotes much of anything for musicians and artists. Outside of the realm of higher education, the best we as performers can hope for in terms of support is the lack of a direct effort to shut down our spaces.

After the Ghost Ship fire hundreds of thousands of dollars were donated to the Red Cross. The city of Oakland now has direct control over the distribution of these funds and there is very little chance they will be held accountable to use this money for what it was intended for.

Several art spaces in the Bay Area and 100's of spaces across the country got evicted or got an eviction notice, ostensibly for safety issues but obviously it's just another push for gentrification in these places. Artists are viewed by the city as scum on the rising tide of yuppies' return to U.S. metropolitan areas, and the sooner we just go away the better.

What’s it like having several different projects on the go. Does one inform the other or is it good to keep them completely separate?

In some ways the bands that share members are even more separated, we end up limiting who we can play with because nobody wants to have to play twice in a night. I like all of my bandmates' other bands a lot though, we definitely all go out to shows pretty often. There is some amount of inspirational back-and-forth I'm sure, even if subconsciously.

Do you have plans to come over to the UK anytime soon?

No definite plans, but we'd really like to do a European and Australian tour sometime soon. If you can set something up for next summer we'll be there...

Any new bands we should be listening to aside from yourselves, of course?

So many! Honey Radar, Angel (from LA), Cube, Mane, Lavender Flu, Terry, Lithics, Violent Change, CCR Headcleaner, Swiftumz, The Vitas, Warm Bodies, Bugg, Kaleidoscope, Lysol, Urochromes, Bronze... some of these bands aren't "new" but they are all current, and great. A lot of them have new records out in the last year.

Order Rays' debut LP via Trouble In Mind

MusicJamal Guthrie