Ryan Solomon: The smartest Dude in the room
This is by far the most satisfying interview I have ever done. I had the privilege to correspond with Ryan Solomon of San Diego’s DUDES. Trying to label his work at all is pointless. At times it reminds me of Air France, or Animal Collective, or Neon Indian, or even Wise Blood. And then it’s nothing like that at all. You’ll see.
Us: Can you give us a short bio in roughly three sentences?
Us: Perfect. Every mention of DUDES has a lengthy list of previous bands. How did DUDES come into being?
Ryan: DUDES was born shortly after my old band, Da Bears, disintegrated. Shortly before that, we went on tour with San Diego band D/Wolves, fronted by Joel Williams aka KYNAN. Joel helped us build the DUDES lineup with a few of the former Da Bears members. Prior to this, I started recording instrumental / loop based music as Nature’s Kid.
Around the same time former collaborator / Da Bears member Trung joined up with our buddy Brad to start the internet sensation TV Girl. There were several other collaborations and projects going on, but this was the core of our immediate group of friends.
Us: Can you elaborate on what “swag-rock” is all about?
Ryan: Swag-rock is all about, you know, being cool and being good, talented, relevant. But not really trying too hard. Pavement was probably the first swag-rock band in my opinion. The guitars might not be strummed exactly in time, and some of the vocals might be a little sketch. But overall swag-rock is much more expressive than regular rock.
Us: DUDES seems to skip around genres a lot. Was that your intent or did it happen organically?
Us: What artists do you get inspiration from (aside from Mike Tyson)?
Ryan: Elite Gymnastics is probably my favorite band making music right now. Every time they release something new it sounds like nothing I’ve ever heard before, and I strive to get that same effect with DUDES. I mentioned Pavement earlier, ever since I started listening to them I wanted to be in a band that sounded like them.
Us: How much of the music on Narcissists Anonymous is sampled?
Ryan: Not very much of the “music” is sampled. There are little clips like the applause, and monologues, but for the most part its all recorded / sequenced by me.
Us: Where does the monologue towards the end of your title track from NA come from?
Ryan: It came from a TED talk from Jill Bolte Taylor, a brain scientist who suffered from a stroke and experienced her brain functions disappear one by one. She starts to get hysterical on stage towards the end and describes what I can only summarize as a religious / near death experience, when all of the regular constraints of the brain are gone, and all that’s left is pure stimulation. I immediately thought, “I gotta sample this shit”, but the line “it motivated me to recover” was all too perfect for a song called “Narcissists Anonymous”.
The first part of the song is about hitting rock bottom because as a narcissist, you see the worst parts of yourself reflected in the one you love, who ultimately is too much of a narcissist to love you back. The recovery part is about having that experience that makes you learn to love yourself and the rest of the universe again. Her context is obviously different, but I think the overall message is the same. Stepping out of your left hemisphere.
Us: The album title and artwork for Narcissists Anonymous is really clever. Who is the artist and what is the title of the work on the cover?
Ryan: The painting is “Self-Portrait (with black dog)” by Gustave Courbet. My favorite painting of his is “The Origin of the World” (its just an up-close painting of a vagina). I’m considering using “Self-Portrait (The Desperate Man)” if Narcissists Anonymous 2 ever becomes a reality.
Us: How does living in San Diego effect your music?
Ryan: I haven’t really given it much thought, and would probably say not that much. Although growing up here and going to shows all the time, I was definitely influenced by a crop of local bands that was a “generation” before me. A lot of the ones I liked fell into obscurity, but they created the model for me of what a local band should be.
Us: Can you explain the apparent obsession with Lil B?
Ryan: There’s not too much to explain except I’m just a HUGE Lil B fan. I love bay area hip hop and was a big fan of The Pack even after they fell off the map. I always liked Lil B the most but expected Young L to be the breakout solo talent. It took me a while to appreciate Lil B’s solo stuff, but now he’s pretty much all I listen to. It reminds me of when I first started to get into Pavement. I asked myself, “do I play guitar like Malkmus because I’m obsessed with Pavement, or do I like Pavement because Malkmus plays guitar like me?” Its the same with Lil B. We have an extremely similar “freestyle” approach to writing / recording, and its awesome to see someone have so much success with it.
Us: There’s mention of a DUDES video game that unlocks tracks as you progress. Is your title accurate as “video game programmer” on your twitter account? What’s the status of the game?
Ryan: Calling myself a “video game programmer” is kind of a tongue in cheek exaggeration (along with everything else in my twitter description). But there really is a DUDES video game that kicks ass that I designed using an RPG maker program (yes, they exist). I was really disappointed by the lack of interest in the video game. I thought the idea was brilliant and I spent a lot of time on it. Unfortunately bandcamp wouldn’t let me upload the straight installation file, so the instructions are kind of confusing. And it doesn’t work for macs. Its about an hour of playable game time, and I was planning on making a sequel if the interest was there, but I doubt that’s actually going to happen.
Us: Your work as Nature’s Kid reminds me of Oneohtrix Point Never. Are you familiar with him?
Ryan: I’ve heard a little bit on blogs and in my friend’s car. One of those projects I’ve been meaning to look more into.
Us: As someone who seems to do a lot of digital self-promotion, what was the thinking around releasing something on cassette?
Ryan: The cassette idea came from EJ, DUDES guitar player and mastermind of Grizzly Records. We’ve always been fans of physical releases, so it just made sense.
Us: How soon do you see DUDES exploding (ha) the way TV Girl has? Do you think you’re maybe one tour away from being a buzzband?
Good question! I appreciate that the question assumes that it WILL happen. To be honest I don’t really see it happening like that though. My ideal road to a large fan base has been through slowly building a grassroots following rather than getting that explosion of hype all at once. Similar to Ariel Pink or something. But who knows, maybe someone from pitchfork will like one of our tracks and post it one of these days.