WRITER, consisting of brothers Andy and James Ralph have recently released their sophomore album Principle Web along with their friend Joshua Greco. They have mastered the art of making music with noise, and somehow making that melodic in the process. I got a chance to speak with James to finally find out what “IE” and “CNWN” stands for, and get insight on their sound which they have described as Hypnotic-Scuzz-Pop or Ghetto Tech.
SONIC HIGHLARK: Your new record Principle Web is out and it’s pretty awesome!
JAMES RALPH (WRITER): Thanks! You got a chance to listen to it?
SONIC: Yes. One of the things I noticed was that the song titles are pretty straightforward, yet cryptic. The song “IE” for example, was this intentional?
JAMES: “IE” is about the Inland Empire which is where Andy and I… and Josh who plays with us on this record are from. It’s Southern California, hilly and brown, kind of always in a drought. There is also “CNWN” which is ‘Can Not Will Not’ and it is cryptic, you’re right. I guess I’ve never been asked that.
SONIC: Ok good. For a second I thought “Am I the uncool kid? Should I know what it means?”
JAMES: Haha, no you shouldn’t.
SONIC: Now everyone will know because of this interview.
JAMES: Yeah, right on!
SONIC: The artwork is really cool with the golden spiral-thing going on. Did one of you design it or if not who did?
JAMES: The photo was done by this guy Nick McManus (IG: @dudemanshouse) in Brooklyn. Wherever he’s at, whether it’s a party or a show or at someone’s house, he makes this big ordeal and gets everyone together and takes polaroids so that’s his art or project or whatever you want to call it. We already had the name of the record Principle Web and had a thought to have our web of friends and things that are important to us in the cover art. We have done a picture like that before but we kind of wanted to do one with the people around us in this new environment in Brooklyn so when he did that we just asked him if we could use it. The gold part is actually a classic labyrinth design. You can find it in a bunch of places.
SONIC: I saw on your Instagram that you have pictures of all these pedals kind of connected together. Is this a big part of your sound?
JAMES: Recently, Josh was messing around setting up a keyboard stand and a piece of wood and lining a bunch of pedals. Sometimes it doesn’t work, sometimes it turns into a song. Also Andy and I used to be a two-piece band, so we were trying to figure out how to play songs live so it doesn’t sound like a two-piece. We experimented with a lot of things. One was a micro-synth, specifically a bass micro-synth which ended up being used for most of the first record. We didn’t use it for this record though. Basically all of us are interested with the circuit bending type stuff although none of us actually know how to make pedals or anything.
SONIC: Is that where the ‘Ghetto Tech’ comes from?
JAMES: Yeah, a lot of times we don’t know exactly what each pedal does so we kind of just sit there and have fun.
SONIC: Well, they sound awesome!
SONIC: I also heard you guys have matching tattoos with your brother Andy (“Brothers Ralph” around an anchor)?
JAMES: Yes we do. Our cousin is a tattoo artist out in San Diego, and before Andy and I moved out here (Brooklyn) he did it for us. Our cousin has an anchor in between his thumb and forefinger on both hands, but it’s a specific anchor so we kind of just said let’s make it a family thing. We have an uncle who was a sailor in the navy also.
SONIC: Very cool, we cover a lot of tattoo artists so we are all into that stuff.
JAMES: Oh really? You should check out my cousin, he works out of Black Anvil Tattoo in San Diego. His name is RJ Grajalva. He does serious work.
SONIC: Any other ink on you?
JAMES: I do, I have a ’18 year old’ ink around my chest and around my back.
SONIC: Was the “Brothers Ralph” the first tattoo your cousin gave you?
JAMES: I had the chest tattoo, and I had asked him to continue it around my back so that was the first one he gave me. Then it was the one with my brother.
SONIC: There are a lot of bands with brothers out there and I always wondered, does it get difficult at times?
JAMES: Only when it’s about stupid stuff. Working on music, writing together and working in the studio is great. It’s always stupid stuff or things that are going on outside of what we do and one of us can be in a bad mood or something.
SONIC: Does your brother have any strange habits? Or you for that matter?
JAMES: Hmmmm, I don’t know. Well when we are touring a lot, we drive a lot which kind of drives you crazy. So I think to escape from that we make weird noises, like super loud really weird noises in the van to let out the anxiety or annoyance of being in a car for so long.
SONIC: What’s next for you guys besides the record that just came out?
JAMES: We love the record, really happy about it. We would like to play some shows consistently, and also work on some new songs.
SONIC: I would love to see you guys in a live setting. I used to play in a band so I also liked making sounds with pedals.
JAMES: Yeah you can do it for hours sometimes. There’s a song on the first record Brotherface and there’s also a song on this one where it kind of came from that. It’s about the feeling you get when you mess around with pedals. I can’t even remember now on the first record but for Principle Web it’s the song “Canal Trip” and it’s that interlude of mixing different sounds and just putting them together. For the first record, oh that’s right, it’s called “Yamaha Trip” and this one was like a little Yamaha keyboard put through a string of pedals and recorded for a long time and just taking the parts we like and put it in whether it’s the 6th song or 7th song. I feel like it makes it more of an album this way, breaks it up a bit. You have to listen all the way through to even hear it.