They’ve honed their doomy weirdcore, bought a van and are heading this way


They’ve honed their doomy weirdcore, bought a van and are heading this way

Ryan Grubbs is an excitable man. By excitable we don’t mean one of those borderline A.D.D. chain smokers for whom every idea is, in Derek Draper’s immortal words about inventing rumours that shadow chancellor George Osborne had taken drugs and slept with prostitutes, “absolutely totally brilliant”. No, Ryan is excitable in a pleasant, almost childlike way that makes it very easy to imagine why his band’s music sounds the way it does and why they might go down a storm over here once they embark on their first European adventure in May. But first things first: Ryan’s band is called Ganglians (apparently nothing to do with those little balls made out of nerve cell bodies, although the connotation will no doubt please Ryan), they’re from Sacramento, California, and play the kind of demented, all-over-the-place indie pop your hippie uncle would listen to if he could be bothered to step out of his weed-induced stupor.

Their debut album, ‘Monster Head Room’, is released on May 10th and is a ramshackle collection of songs taking in the fumes of west coast weirdcore, Beach Boys harmonies, Pavement-esque slackerisms and the odd acid trip. Ryan says they want their music to have elements of slightly niche-y genres, “like jazz, where the focus is on the different intertwining melodies… like the brute force of pop music that hits you in the heart.  We wanted to have harmonies and have build-ups like Heavy Metal music,” he enthuses “really pummel people but with beautiful melody instead of loud riffs.”

The songs that constitute the foundation of ‘Monster Head Room’ were penned in the solitude of Ryan’s bedroom, shortly after he moved to sunny Sacramento from small-town Montana. “I always dreamed of moving to California and living on the coast, ideally San Francisco, but that was really expensive. Then I met this girl from Sacramento so I moved there, and, when we eventually broke up, I wrote those songs.”

What happened then is very reminiscent of the way The Replacements formed: on his way back from work at a Sushi restaurant, Ryan would pass by his friend Adrian Comenzind’s house and heard sounds that made his ears prick up. It was Adrian’s jamming away with chums Alex Sowles and Kyle Hoover that got Ryan to swap bedroom tales and, most importantly, tracks, with his friends, leading to a development Ryan had been craving for a while: “I didn’t want to do the solo thing – I recorded with a four-track and really got into the layering. I didn’t want to do it all by myself, so eventually Kyle and Eric came into the picture to flesh out these songs.” It wasn’t an easy birth, however, and a while passed before the songs were moulded into presentable material: “It took months – they sounded completely different at first, it just wasn’t working, so we tried different things out. Our first show was just awful. Just a bunch of noise.”

Their first album takes a more scattergun approach to indie pop than their eponymous debut EP (released on cool-as-fuck label Woodsist), juxtaposing Clap-Your-Hands-Say-Yeah-battiness and hazy nostalgia (‘Candy Girl’) with doomy, drony guitars Mark E. Smith would grunt at approvingly (‘100 Years’). “That’s the death of so many bands – trying to make every song sound like that one hit. They realise their strength and stick to it”, says Ryan. “We wanted the album to be like a mixtape, with every song leading into the next one. It doesn’t matter what kind of song has just gone before.” The aforementioned ‘100 Years’ hits especially hard, and Ryan readily explains the story behind that song: “We started out listening to stuff like the Wipers, and because we had so many pop songs we wanted something a bit more raw. Quite a few songs on the album are conceptual songs, and ‘100 Years’ is about feeling like a ghost. Wait, it’s actually about a guy who sold his soul to the devil, and then reawakens in a large society and he’s so amazed and perplexed by it and feels like he’s going insane.”

It doesn’t take a genius to guess that the band is partial to the odd, um, widening of the senses. “There’s not a practise that goes by without us passing around a joint”, Ryan laughs. “We’ve never actually tried playing on acid, because I hear that’s really difficult and not as fun as it sounds. One time I took acid and recorded a song, which I thought was super-happy and joyous. Then I listened to it the next day and it sounded like… garbage.” They maintain a curiosity in nature, too – Adrian is apparently a botanic buff: “He’s really into plants. On the road he always tells us what plants are edible and which ones are psychoactive. He’s into landscaping as well. I think he’s working in a nature resort right now, taking care of the place.” Who says bands these days aren’t well-rounded?

It’s also safe to assume that they’re quite popular with their new label, Germany’s Souterrain Transmissions, and scene mates such as Graffiti Island, which might have something to do with the enthusiasm they approach playing live: “If we play with a band we haven’t heard, we try and seek them out and get excited about what they’re doing. And by the time we meet them, we’ll be totally stoked and stand in the front row and watch instead of staying in the van on our laptops.” This kind of attitude, along with Grubb’s ability to “get stoked on” pretty much anything from new bands to skyscrapers (“I always get a rush when I see those big buildings,” he gushed. “I remember when I was a kid and we’d go to the city from Montana, I never could contain myself in the car seat”) will serve them well on their first oversees trip as a band, which Ryan sees as a high point in their development. “Our friends think we’re supporting someone else, and are like “no way” when we say we’re headlining our own shows! We’ll have our own van and stuff. Graffiti Island came over, and for them it must’ve been a different experience. They didn’t have visas and they had to kind of run from the law. But we’re super-excited to go over there.”

Ryan’s own last visit apparently came courtesy of his mum’s lucky streak: “She wins every contest she enters. She’s won us two family computers, a $1000-bike, a refrigerator, and a 2-week round trip in Europe for 6 people. We went to London, Paris, Rome and Pompeii. I got especially stoked on Rome because I got lost and I had to take a cab by myself. I was in a car with this crazy driver, going through these narrow streets. I was just thirteen and I’d never been in a cab before, I thought I’d never see my family again.” But he got out of that particular pickle, and he says he might have developed an extra skill by the time Ganglians’ UK dates roll around. “Yeah, I’m starting to get into Indian breathing, yoga breathing. I never thought I’d get into that kind of thing, but I get on a natural high from it, which means I won’t have to search around for acid, and just self-induce it instead. That’s my next goal – if you can figure out how to do that you can get high all the time and still be able to do normal things. By the time we get to London we might be experts in taking deep breaths.” Excited? We are.

By Matthias Scherer


Originally published in issue 15 (vol 3) of Loud And Quiet. March 2010

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