Interview with Ryan Leach: Contributor Interview #04 By Lauren Trout

Feb 22, 2009

Ryan Leach
Camarillo, California
Razorcake Interviewer and Reviewer

Lauren: Ryan; do you read issues of Razorcake beginning to end, or do you flip to certain features first?

Ryan: I flip. I usually see who Nardwuar interviews first. He’s incredible with facts; his self-effacing manner is endearing…bordering on self-deprecation…Nardwuar’s definitely an auteur of rock journalism. He has his own idiosyncratic style…chock-full of superfluous facts.
Typically I only read interviews of bands that appeal to me. If a group doesn’t, I’ll skim the interview at best. However there are certain writers whose style and erudition really appeals to me. They are: Bradley Williams, Todd Taylor, Liz O., Amy Adoyzie, Kat Jetson, Sean Carswell…so many others. I’m a sucker for Peter Laughner, so Bradley Williams—who’s both an excellent writer and musician—has a real soft-spot in my heart. Chris Z.—who now runs LA Record and doesn’t really contribute anymore—is pretty bright. Certainly have to give credit where credit is due…
Some of my favorite interviews that Razorcake has done (off of the top of my head) include: Riverboat Gamblers, Alicja Trout, Ed Colver, Alice Bag, Billy Zoom, Howard Zinn…although I’m a narcissist I won’t include any of the interviews I’ve done….I really loved Sean Carswell’s two-part essay on pulp novelist Jim Thompson. Todd Taylor wrote a great article that caught the frustration and satisfaction of “working with the city of Los Angeles” to create a skatepark. 

Lauren: If a band makes excellent music, but the members have bland personalities, do they still deserve a Razorcake interview?

Ryan: Absolutely. Can you imagine interviewing the members of Wire or Gang of Four in 1979? Jesus! It’d be like pulling teeth!

Lauren: Have you ever contributed to a magazine besides Razorcake, and what was that experience like?

Ryan: I’ve written for a lot of magazines. Razorcake is far and away the best. My experiences writing for other magazines have mostly been bad. The thing with leftist magazines (which almost all rock rags are)—they mirror the “regressive” magazines they vilify. Using Chomsky and Hermann’s ideas on the political economy of the mass media—consumers are the products magazines sell to advertisers. That might not be conspicuous with esoteric leftist magazines. But most work from the same paradigm. Razorcake has never fucked me because an article “might not appeal to their demographic.” Todd Taylor is a guy who looks for quality; he’s incredibly trustworthy. And if something might not fit (which I can’t think of a time where that has happened) he’d have the brass to tell you. But digressing back to the economics of magazines: I can tell you stories of articles that haven’t run in the most diehard D.I.Y rags because a record label hasn’t purchased an ad to go along with the story…fucking ridiculous. Stuff like that…

Lauren: You recently did a Razorcake podcast. Did that run smoothly and do you think you’ll be doing more audio- based projects in the future?

Ryan: There were some hiccups. We weren’t using “legitimate” DJ turntables (i.e. we couldn’t cue the fuckers) so there were moments that were rough. But, yeah, I plan to do more of this stuff with Todd Taylor. It’s very empowering—playing Alex Chilton’s “Like Flies On Sherbet” as part of your set list; a song off of an album that was universally panned when it was released. I mean the album sounds like hell. Chilton was hip to the deconstruction of popular postmodern music. He’s a genius.   

Lauren: Are you very politically active? What are some issues in your local community and the larger punk rock community that really need to be addressed?

Ryan: Politically active? I don’t know how to define that—whether it’d be a “yes” or “no.” I go to protests…have covered polemics like Christian Parenti and Todd Taylor…interviewed my father (who’s a pissed-off Vietnam vet)…reviewed books for 7 Stories Press. I’m a socialist. I’m a member of the Industrial Workers of the World…although I haven’t paid dues in a while.
There’s was a group from France called the situationists. Their “leader” was a man named Guy Debord. His book The Society of the Spectacle had a profound effect on me. (I had a friend named Gib Strange who really loved Debord too.) Debord really interested me because he was (like dada) working in the negation…trying to create situations—reality in a virtual reality. I’m also a heavy reader of neo-Marxist critiques of capitalism…stuff like Henri Lefebvre, Jean Baudrillard, Fredric Jameson, Herbert Marcuse, etc. Their ideas on everything from music to architecture provide a different, refreshing perspective.

Lauren: Are you into skateboarding culture at all, or do you just like to grab your board, do your thing, and not really think about it any further?

Ryan: I grew up skateboarding. Skateboarding appealed to me because it wasn’t organized like sports. I started in 1995—way before the reality TV shows and all that bullshit. A lot of my friends became well-known skateboarders—Mike Taylor, Justin Case, and my pal Van Wastell—who died last month while on tour in Berlin. Van was one of my favorite skateboarders and a true friend.
The thing to remember—I come from a broken home. I was (and still am) filled with a lot of piss and vinegar. Skateboarding—no one fucked with you (outside of cops). You were doing your own thing. And that appealed to me. I grew up skateboarding all around Los Angeles and Newbury Park (Santa Monica Courthouse, the now-defunct Venice sand pits, Douglas Park ponds, Lockwood school, El Camino Junior High, Borchard Park, Newbury Park High School, etc.)
I don’t think skateboarding has a culture anymore. That camaraderie from before is gone now. Currently, everyone wants to get sponsored and throw themselves down 20-stair handrails.…The X-Games has made a mass spectacle out of something that was (and still is) criminal in most schools, shopping centers, etc.  

Lauren: Tell me a line from a song that’s on your favorite record to come out so far this year that really stands out to you.

Ryan: Nothing currently, but these lines from "5:45" by Gang of Four have always been some of my favorites:

“How can I sit and eat my tea,
with all that blood flowing from the television.
At a quarter to six,
I watch the news,
Eating, eating all my food
As I sit watching the red spot
In the egg which looks like
All the blood you don`t see on the television.

Still body now, no movement yet
Five men lie die flat on their backs
Were they born to lie in state
Defend the ever stagnate great?

Down on the street assassinate
All of them look so desperate
Declared blood war on the bourgeois state

Watch new blood on the 18 inch screen
The corpse is a new personality
Ionic charge gives immortality
The corpse is a new personality”

Also, anything off of Wire’s 154 record will be amazing…the “15th” for example

“Reviewed, it seemed
As if someone were watching over it
Before it was
As if response were based on fact
Providing, deciding, it was soon there
Squared to it, faced to it, it was not there
Renewed, it fought
As if it had a cause to live for
Denied, it learned
As if it had sooner been destroyed
Providing, deciding, it was soon there
Squared to it, faced to it, it was not there
Reviewed, it fought
As if someone were watching over it
Before it had sooner been denied
Renewed, it seemed
As if it had a cause to live for
Destroyed, it was later based on fact

Lauren: Tell me your that’s never been featured in Razorcake:

Ryan: Probably the Starvations.

Lauren: City in California:

Ryan: None. Wait…Lancaster because it’s the pits of hell and because Captain Beefheart was from there. Honestly, the United States disgusts me.

Lauren: Interview you’ve done:

Ryan: Christian Parenti and Greg Cartwright from the Reigning Sound.

Lauren: Classic author:

Ryan: So many…Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Celine, Knut Hamsun, Thomas Wolfe, Jean Cocteau, Kerouac (at least his first novel), Violette Leduc, Philip K. Dick, Don DeLillo, Walker Percy, John Fante, Nelson Algren, Charles Bukowski, Ernest Hemingway, Carson McCullers, Flannery O’Connor…I really like American writers from the modern era—especially Southern writers who really caught the zeitgeist of that time…that familiar theme of sin and redemption. Thomas Wolfe wrote the quintessential coming-of-age novel in Look Homeward, Angel. (Thomas Wolfe was undoubtedly a genius…even William Faulkner thought so.) 
Sociology and philosophy: C. Wright Mills, Herbert Marcuse, Guy Debord, Baudrillard, Derrida, Bertrand Russell.

Lauren: Punk documentary:

Ryan: The Clash’s Westway to the World, The Filth and the Fury, and the Decline of Western Civilization (go Claude Bessy!).  

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