Interview by Victoria Llewelyn
RICH ‘RAGS’ RAGANY DISCUSSES THE NEW RICH RAGANY AND THE DIGRESSIONS ALBUM, UPCOMING GIGS AND PLANS FOR EVEN MORE NEW MUSIC.
From Role Models to Rich Ragany and the Digressions, Canadian born Rich ‘Rags’ Ragany is someone for whom music runs deep. Emotional soul sharing and dark thoughts come as standard, creativity and expression are the key, and his talent for twisting bleak lyrics into a positive and empathic response in his music is something very few can boast of.
MGM: Rich Ragany and the Digressions have just released their latest album ‘What We Do To Not Let Go’, to very positive and encouraging reviews and two successful album launch shows for hungry fans. How did the concept for Rich Ragany and the Digressions come about and how did you put it together?
RR: After Role Models, I planned to put out a solo record, since I couldn’t imagine replicating what we had there with another band. Simon (Maxwell), the drummer from Role Models was coming with me to work on this and it was supposed to be just us two. However, I was starting a really wonderful friendship with Gaff and Kit (Swing) has always sung on Role Models tracks so it became a natural thing that they would both come in with me. I knew Ricky (Maguire, UK Subs) through other musicians, and he was really interested when he heard what we were doing. He’s a real great bass player. It was really these guys that decided we were a band! They made up their minds and here we are.
Ricky called up everybody and said ‘Hey, I’m in this great new band and it really kicks ass!’ so I kinda had to say – okay, you guys wanna be a band? Then I guess we’re a band! My intention really was just to get these people in a room, this cool circle of friends, and just have some fun together, I guess this is what came out of that room!
Since then, we have never changed the line-up, it’s always been the six of us, we’ve stuck together, and it’s their band. These guys made this band, I’m just the guy that writes the songs. I’m not the best singer. I‘m not the best guitar player. That’s Andy (Brook) and he’s also our producer plus he plays keys for us! It’s a mad formula but everyone developed their own role and everyone knows where they fit.
Gaff is a mean lead guitar, which leaves rhythm electric to Kit, who plays very much in an Izzy Stradlin style, lots of bar chords, nothing too fancy. Kit’s very straightforward and she sings like an angel. Mix that with these jangly, crazy leads that Gaff pulls out of the bag and a song starts to drive down a certain street, it’s magical to hear it evolve like that.
RR: I write the songs in the sense that I come up with the chords and the melody for them. I’ll put these arrangements onto a demo, throw it out there and let everyone do what they want with it! This is the most exciting time for me. I’m thinking – what is Gaff gonna come up with that’s gonna make this song special? I take all the drums away from the demo, it’s just done to a click, and Simon will add in the ups and downs with the drums, the dynamics of it. Andy and Kit put in the harmonies and it’s like being in a science lab with test tubes bubbling around the place, hearing them experiment with different things. I’ll think – I wrote those lyrics, I’ve written that melody, and look, they’ve made it into a song!
There’s a song on the album, for example, ‘Forever Ghosts’, and I had a strong vision for how I wanted that song to sound, I had a Roy Orbison ‘I Drove All Night’ vibe to it in my head. I gave it to Gaff with this in mind, and he turned it into something straight out of a 2002 Strokes album! I was like – what the Hell’s going on, this is nothing like I imagined! But it didn’t take away from anything I had done, and I thought to myself – now am I creating here or am I being a control freak about it because it isn’t like I envisioned it? Don’t take yourself so seriously, Rich!
MGM: Let’s talk a little about the album itself – you’ve described it as a progression, almost an alter-ego to ‘Beyond Nostalgia And Heartache’, and your albums are in essence, cinematic, as a whole they create a movie-like experience rather than simply a collection of songs in the standard album formula. What went into ‘What We Do To Not Let Go’ in this way, and how does it differ from ‘Beyond’?
RR: We want to make every album a really beautiful movie, so much more than just the music. We think this album (What We Do) has a more physical, tangible sound, it has more grit to it, and our personalities show through a lot more. The music is very deep, as it was in the last, and it’s based more in the here and now, as opposed to a backward glance into events that have already happened which was the focus for ‘Beyond’.
Some of the songs, lyrically, are still looking back but it’s more about what you’re doing with those memories, those experiences, in the here and now. It celebrates spirits; ghosts come up a lot in the lyrics you’ll notice, and there’s a lot about how you move forward without forgetting those ghosts. I don’t believe in spooks and stuff like that, but I do believe that marks from the past are left indelibly on a person, and you move forward with them as a part of the person you’ve become. I think of it as a day and a night. ‘Beyond’ was a farewell to the past, ‘What We Do’ is a welcome to what’s ahead.
I wanted to capture those mornings, you know, when you wake up and feel the sun coming through the windows, or like meeting a best friend when you were feeling a little bit lonely the night before. That feeling, you may be a little tired or hung over from the day before but here’s your new beginning. ‘What We Do’ is that beginning, the night has turned into the new day again.
Check out our review below:
MGM: You have two live shows already done, both album launch shows in Huddersfield and London, and a series of gigs lined up with Star Circus, running from March 23rd-26th. How did the album launch shows go and are you looking forward to continuing the tour?
RR: We played a great place in Huddersfield called The Parish, I love that venue, and I love Yorkshire so much. I’m super happy to know people there and The Parish seems to draw people in from all over the place. I’ve lived in the UK for seventeen years and I gotta say, there’s something about the North of England, people have that straight-up, honest attitude which I just love. Then we went down to Camden, to the Assembly, and it was packed out. I got very emotional and went to have a little cry in the bathroom.
It was a great weekend, it was the announcement that ‘We’re back!’ and now we have a bunch of shows to look forward to, and I also just got news of some more, with some very cool bands that I greatly respect, but I can’t say anything about them just yet!
Playing with Star Circus is gonna be awesome, I know Dave personally, we were out in Camden one time and we just said ‘You know, we should really play some shows together. It’d work so well’ as bands we’re different enough but still have elements in common to make it work. Dave has a great energy; he just wants to go out and do it!
Then, we have another show on April 7th at Aces and Eights, that’s an all acoustic set alongside The Suicide Notes and Boss Caine. Something different again. And then we have Call Of The Wild. We’re the penultimate band on the Southall/Lawless stage and I think it’s perfect for us right now, we want to play more shows like that. It was difficult to go for them before, just with timing and scheduling, but now we can start to reach out and put ourselves forward for more events like this, and we’re going to do exactly that!
MGM: You reconvened with Role Models last summer for a few gigs, how was it to be back with those guys again?
RR: I’ve missed them. Of course, Simon is still with me, but those guys, they are my brothers. We honed our skills in that band. We’re going to be recording again though, there’ll be a single we’ll be releasing, and it was so great to perform with them again last year we can’t say we’ll never do that again.
When we did this short tour last summer it was incredible to see Nick and Dan again, I miss those guys so much. I organised that tour as a celebration of the life of our friend Roger Segal, who was taken away from us by a senseless act of violence. Bringing together Role Models again was very special, and emotional given the reason we were doing it. We felt each other’s presence very deeply.
I can’t wait to do the single with them, it’s gonna be great fun, but my focus right now is with the Digressions and what we’ve got going on. But sometimes, I look back, have myself a glass of red wine and listen to a couple of songs from a Role Models record and I’m so damn proud of it. So happy that we did it.
MGM: Now that you’ve got the album out and the shows ready to go, what will be the next step for you? Do you have any more plans in the pipeline?
RR: There is the small matter of a solo album! In fact, it’s already finished, mastered and ready to go out. It’s a very interesting record, quite different. I’m very nerdy, and when I’m creating something, I like to have mood boards, I like to plan a certain way. I’m holding it back for now so that the focus remains on the Digressions record, sometimes I think what you hold back works to strengthen what you’ve put forward.
Bringing it out in its own time will give it more backbone, its own feet to stand on. I don’t want it to get in the way of what we’re doing now. I can tell you that there’s twelve songs on it, but that’s all for now!
We’ve released three albums in around three and a half years, in seven years I’ve put out eight records if you include the Role Models stuff, and on top of that there are singles and EPs, so there has to come a point where it slows down a bit as that pace is hard to maintain, and maybe that’s where the solo record might come in.
I’m still coming up with new ideas for the next Digressions record, in fact we have already started writing some of it. One of my ideas for this was making the record more about the personalities in the band, make it more individual to each of us. I’d like to have Kit singing lead a bit more, she knows the door is open for her there and she’s just so good at that stuff. We may call the next one ‘Digressions’ and drop the Rich Ragany from it, to make it more communal, we’ll see. There’s a lot of different, fun things we can do and always so much to look forward to.
Rich Ragany and the Digressions are on tour with Star Circus this month –
March 23rd – Leicester, Soundhouse
March 24th – York, The Vaults
March 25th – Edinburgh, Whistlebinkies
March 26th – Sheffield, Record Junkee
With The Suicide Notes and Boss Caine –
April 7th – London, Aces and Eights