When The Pope and I first heard the incredible new album "Westering Again," by Old Californio, we were speachless. Literally. I was on the road that day and we were on speaker phone, and neither one of us could dream of the words to capture the simple, dusty beauty of that gem. Finally Pope said, "It's like you're in the mountains above the desert, and you're walking on a dusty trial, and the sun is high in the sky, and the world is expansive. Imagine that's music."
Yep, I agree. So it was our true joy to have Old Californio's scribe, Rich Dembowski come join us on the Ripple red leather interview couch and spread his views on music.
When I was a kid, growing up in a house with Cat Stevens, Neil Diamond, and Simon and Garfunkle, the first time I ever heard Kiss's "Detroit Rock City," it was a moment of musical epiphany. It was just so vicious, aggressive and mean. It changed the way I listened to music. I've had a few minor epiphany's since then, when you come across a band that just brings something new and revolutionary to your ears. What have been your musical epiphany moments?
Rich Dembowski: When I was a kid my mom would take me to Catholic mass, the congregation would sing hymns and my mom would join in. I remember being overwhelmed with the power of all these voices – my mom’s especially. To hear her sing so powerfully and forcefully left an indelible impression on me. At home my parent’s record collection was mainly big band, so I became aware of jazz, Duke Ellington especially, early on. To this day Duke Ellington’s "Queen’s Suite" is an epiphany for me – that and "the Portrait of Mahalia Jackson." My first rock and roll epiphany was when I was 12 - Jason Chesney, our bass player, gave me a cassette with The Beatles Rubber Soul on one side and Revolver on the other. Once I heard that I was in for good
Talk to us about the song-writing process for you. What comes first, the idea? A riff? The lyrics? How does it all fall into place?
Rich Dembowski: The idea comes first. Something that resonates in me and makes me contemplate my consciousness or state of being. Then to investigate what that is. If it’s something I read or heard then I might start with lyrics and wait for the line, syntax and meaning to drive a melody and chord structure, to wrap the music around the thought. If it’s a feel or emotion then it usually starts with the music, timbre or tone – in other words, start with a riff or a chord and wait for the words to fill the feeling. It’s really all the process – the interpretation of self.
Where do you look for continuing inspiration? New ideas, new motivation?
The motivation is intrinsic. The process of writing a song fills me up. But, once I’m up and running and chasing an idea then I look around for ways to express it. Most often the things that help me get back to myself are literature (other thoughts), visual art (other images), geography and mythology. I can use these things to relate back to myself and see and hear what I’m thinking or being as I go through time.
Genre's are so misleading and such a way to pigeonhole bands. Without resorting to labels, how would you describe your music?
Western, but not in terms of genre or geography, more the spirit of the west. The sound of searching, going further, that has in it all the colors of the places you’ve been.
What is your musical intention? What are you trying to express or get your audience to feel?
The idea is to create a sonic and visual image or environment of feelings, ideas or emotions that have left an impression on me – to say that these are the colors and sounds of my experience, here in this place now. And, if it’s done right, to have it be both specific and vague enough to be interpreted or participated in – for the listener to go “oh yeah, you meant this, or whatever”.
In songwriting, how do you bring the song together? What do you look for in terms of complexity? Simplicity? Time changes?
I just try to serve the song. Sometimes it’s simplicity, sometimes it’s complexity – but, whether it’s musical complexity in terms or meter or melody or rhythm or lyrical abstraction – I’m just trying to serve the song through authenticity.
The business of music is a brutal place. Changes in technology have made it easier than ever for bands to get their music out, but harder than ever to make a living? What are your plans to move the band forward? How do you stay motivated in this brutal business?
I think our sort of mission statement is to make ourselves accessible to as many listeners as possible as purely as possible. Musical purity and honesty come first. So, if people hear us or find out about us through gigs only or records only, or CDs or the internet, or word of mouth or whatever - we want to be able to be as self reliant and self contained as possible. The music comes first and numbers are second to the idea.
We’ve really done everything ourselves, everything’s been done in house, so we really only have ourselves to answer to. It has left everything creatively at our discretion; there’s been no outside pressure to do this or that. We can make the music we want to make, as we see and hear it – the only pressure comes from ourselves. We figure the music will speak for it’s self one way or another, so, the big thing is just making people aware that the music is out there, getting the word out. We’re gearing up to get out into the rest of the country and take this music on the road –connect with new audiences in a live and tangible way.
Where do you see you and your music going in ten years?
That’s too big a chunk of time to grapple with… but, I’m sure we’ll be making music one way or another.
What makes a great song?
As a writer any song that satisfied all the criteria for allowing the song to become it’s self whether you like it or not. As a listener, it just has to speak to me – it’d be tough to nail down any sort of specifics.
Tell us about the first song you ever wrote?
I can’t remember other than it was written on an electric bass without an amp and made me feel great.
What piece of your music are particularly proud of?
Usually the song I’m the most happy with is the one I just finished. I guess because it speaks closely to who and where I am at that time. Of course, as time goes on and I get further away from the song, it’s meaning and the way I see it changes.
Vinyl, CD, or digital? What's your format of choice?
Either records or CD’s, it just depends on the mood.
We, at the Ripple Effect, are constantly looking for new music. When we come to your town, what's the best record store to lose ourselves in?
Poo Bah’s is a great spot in Pasadena. They used to be in an old Bungalow up on Wilson with weird R. Crumb like plaster figures and statues everywhere and a whole lot of dust. I think each of us in the band probably bought our first records there. They moved over to a spot on Colorado now and most of the dust is gone. Penny Lane also has a great selection of new and used vinyl too. Both are within a mile of each other so they’re both easy to hit up.