Three years on from the death of their bandmate Stepa J. Groggs, Ritchie With A T and Parker Corey discuss what they've been through since, their decision to retire the Injury Reserve name, and why it's so important that their new release as By Storm is understood in and of itself, not in relation to wider music industry cycles
It’s August 2023, and Injury Reserve is no more. Since the passing of rapper Stepa J. Groggs – “the heart of the band” – in 2020, surviving members Nathaniel Ritchie (aka Ritchie With A T) and Parker Corey have extensively toured the last album they made as a three-piece, 2021’s By The Time I Get To Phoenix, taken some time to process the loss of their friend at just 32, and regrouped. And now they’d like to clear a few things up.
As I speak to them from their homes in Phoenix, they’re preparing to release a new double video featuring ‘Bye Storm’, the plaintive closer of By The Time I Get To Phoenix and “Injury Reserve’s last song” as the group announced recently, and new track ‘Double Trio’, their first under a new name: By Storm. Yet the release isn’t the start of a conventional campaign, the first taste of an upcoming album, or some grand statement of their new direction; conversely, By The Time I Get To Phoenix, and therefore ‘Bye Storm’, was never a eulogy for Groggs or an expression of their grief at his passing – it was pretty much completed before he died. The double video does draw a line under Injury Reserve, but just as the last album wasn’t initially intended as a comment on Groggs’ life or their time as a band, neither does this new release suggest anything definitive about what comes next for Ritchie and Corey; it’s a piece of work that’s designed to be understood on its own terms.
And on those terms, it’s pretty emphatic. The synth blooms of ‘Bye Storm’ open it up as shaky archive footage from the Injury Reserve years flickers across the screen, live shows, tour buses and backstage larks conveying the thrill of being a young group of artists on the road. It’s emotive and tender, but never cloyingly sentimental. The second part of the video, for ‘Double Trio’, is more high-concept, centring on a bed with a pyramid-shaped headboard in the middle of a dark studio space, from which Ritchie rises, then sits back down, then appears in a suit behind a mixing desk in an adjacent room, on and off the mic all the while as Corey sits on his laptop a few rows back in the studio’s plastic pitched seating. The track itself is a writhing, restless thing, Brainfeeder-y production collapsing and reforming over Ritchie’s urgent vocal. It’s forceful, committed, vivid; as keen as the pair are to emphasise that this is it for now – there’s no imminent new album or tour, for example – it’s hard to imagine what more anyone would want.
We speak a few days before the video’s release. We start with the basics: three years on from Groggs’ death and nearly two years since By The Time I Get To Phoenix, why is now, specifically, the right time to make this kind of statement?
Nathaniel Ritchie: That’s a good question. I would say that what happened was with the last record we wanted to make sure we fully lived it on the road, and we were fortunate to have the opportunity to tour it for a good amount of time. We definitely wanted to make sure we’d fully realised the record because over the years we’d realised how much touring is an extension of our creative process for an album rollout, so that was really important for us. We knew we needed time for things to settle down and to get a couple of personal life things squared away before we put this out there. We knew that we wanted to do this, and knew exactly how – we just needed to find the one song because we knew the concept of how we wanted to do it before we had the song. We knew we wanted to do the video.
Parker Corey: I feel like no matter how often we try to iterate that the last album was almost entirely finished as a trio, people aren’t going to believe that based on how it sounds. There’s obviously a lot of stuff on it that feels like it’s in reaction to [what happened]… That’s part of it too. It’s like that album was as the three of us and so this [new release is us] now.
NR: Yeah, the new thing had to come after the last one. And we are out of things that we did together as a group. I didn’t think of it that simply, honestly.
Luke Cartledge: You mentioned it just then, and I’ve heard you say before that touring is a massive part of the creative process for you as a band, to the extent that the first thing you wanted to do after Groggs died was get out on the road – like that would help you process it all personally as well as work out your next step musically. So how was that tour, for By The Time I Get To Phoenix?
NR: I would say, personally, that it went as good as you would think it could go. Like Parker just said, there’s been a lot of people have assumed that the album itself is this super responsive, reactive thing to what had happened, but I think maybe one could say that the tour was actually the first time where we were creatively and consciously deciding on how and what we were going to do with as a response to what we were going through. How the live show was, the way that we did it, how we would play the whole entire album front to back and then just play a couple of classic songs at the end, and then also the creative direction – the lighting and the presentation. I would say that, and I haven’t thought about this, but I would say that the tour was actually a closer representation of our conscious creative effort in regards to what was going on.
It’s hard, but people reacted very well; they understood that this was a very heavy moment but they wanted to be part of it.
PC: I feel like one sign of how it went well is when we first approached it, it was very delicate, like even logistics-wise. The first US shows – it was just six or eight shows – we were trying not to do too much or commit to hard to it; we were trying to keep it clean. But the more we got out there, we definitely warmed up, and eventually we did the whole Armand Hammer tour, which we definitely wouldn’t have done if the shows hadn’t felt like a good space.
LC: Early on, did you ever have any doubts about doing it or were you instantly like, “No, we’re going out on tour and we’ll see what happens”?
PC: Well, there kind of were doubts, so that’s why we were just trying to be safe at first. You know, it’s easy to play some cities, some have particular vibes; you take them into account, like “This is a rowdy city…”
NR: …and this city has gravitated more towards just wanting to have a good time at the concerts and this city seems to be a lot more like this or that. In the beginning we wanted to play the album live, but you also are just like, “How the fuck are we going to do this?” Of course that’s going to go on in your head, when you’re trying to figure out how difficult this is going to be.
We’ve been performing for a long time, you know, and trading back and forth between me and Groggs had gotten to the point where it was so fluid that I had to definitely reconfigure how I was performing live [without him]. We were definitely conscious of how the environment was gonna be, because we knew that we were gonna be sensitive and we didn’t want to be offended if we were playing this album that was really important to us and we could tell that people just wanted to go crazy. But it went really well.
LC: Good. So, By Storm then: when did you know that this was the name you were going to go with, and this double video was going to be the next thing you released once all the touring and promotion for By The Time I Get To Phoenix was done?
NR: You know, we toured the last album and we knew that, you know, we were pretty sure, okay, we were going to, that was going to be the last record. And then I remember Parker specifically saying, I want to do a double video. Someone suggested ‘Bye Storm’ for it, and then everyone was like “Yeah I was thinking the exact same thing”, because the name was interesting and it was the last song on the album, and even the sound of it. It’s definitely one of our favourite songs that we’ve done.
LC: So then you started to work on the new stuff just between the two of you – of course, not having Groggs there will have changed the way you work in certain ways, but has the way you two relate to each other creatively changed, or are you working very similarly, just without that third voice involved?
NR: At least on my end, because we had been through so much on the last record, by the time it came out, we were just so happy about what it was. And we had so little expectation that when it did really well, we were just like, “Oh shit, we have the opportunity to fully lean into the direction that we’re going and people are definitely gonna at least actually give it a chance.” And that would have happened whether Groggs was here or not.
PC: Yeah, it was probably more the year or two before he passed away that the big shifts happened creatively. We’ve definitely leaned even harder into our appreciation of just doing it ourselves, I think.
LC: So to an extent you were already going in a certain direction and you’re still going in that direction now?
NR: Absolutely. I think the only thing that could have maybe changed it is if the last record just did absolutely horribly and we had to eat the fact that if we’re going to keep going down this direction, we are going to lose some of the people that we thought we potentially outgrew. But we were pleasantly surprised that that number was a lot smaller and truly a lot of people grew with us.
LC: With that in mind, a lot of people are going to be wondering what comes next for you – whether there’s more music to come, if you have touring plans, that kind of thing. What’s the next step?
PC: Not really. There’s no plan.
NR: Yeah, we really talked about this as not being the beginning of a campaign. We’re not deep into any type of record or anything; this isn’t the first single for a record. Obviously there’s every possibility that you make a good record and this fits in on there, but the point of doing this was a lot more about capturing this moment, this transfer [to By Storm]. This has had our full attention – this hasn’t been like, “Okay, now we got to get the ball rolling.” We’ve been amping up to do this one thing because we wanted to make sure we pay respect to the history of the band; it’s not just a stepping stone. I think that would take away from everything before, do you know what I mean? “This is the beginning of a campaign, now here’s a new album.” Maybe it would make sense business-wise, but it would be less respectful.
PC: This isn’t to be harsh, and of course you’re happy that people wanna hear more music, but there’s a blind greediness to not being able to just take the song for what it is. I guess people haven’t heard it yet, so they don’t know that, but I still feel like in general that’s how they will approach it. But it’s like a dense, seven-minute thing and sometimes one song, a minute-long song, can be a lot more to chew on than most fucking albums. So just sit with that.
NR: I think the song [itself] helps. If it had been a regularly structured song that didn’t have as much weight or wasn’t to do with the whole situation [of Groggs’ passing and the retirement of the Injury Reserve name] it might feel more like it needed to be the beginning of something. But this really is a piece in itself.
Photography by Parker Corey