Wednesday, 11 May 2011

John Rattray

Aberdonian Zero pro John Rattray doesn't need much on an introduction, so let me just remind you how passionate about literature, science (John has a degree in physics from Glasgow University) and music he is. As is the nature of this blog, I asked him a bit about the latter. He spoke to Bite My Wire from his home in San Diego.

                                                                  Photo by Skin Phillips

Ok, the basics. Which were you into first? Skateboarding or music?
Hmm. Good question. Music for definite. I remember being 7 or 8 years old and I had this old tape recorder that I got from my Gran and I would use it to make these radio shows based around these collections of old blues, on cassettes my dad let me listen to. 

That's pretty cool.
Then my friends who lived round the corner were super into heavy metal- that was earlier than skating too. 

Did they get you listening to heavy metal? Or did you avoid that phase?
No, I was well into it. Andrew, the older brother, had a pretty amazing collection of picture discs in clear polythene tacked to his bedroom wall. The imagery and the names were all so fucking wild and esoteric in the eyes of a 9 or 10 year old. Overkill, Anthrax, Hell'oween, etc. Slayer of course. The band that got to me the most was Iron Maiden.
The songs were so full of war and dragons and fencing and Egypt. 

When you started seeing skateboard videos, did that influence your listening preferences?
Skate videos? Of course. 

Anything from back then that stands out, music-wise?
That Ned's Atomic Dustbin song 'Grey Cell Green' might be meaningless drivel to me if it wasn't for Rick Howard. 

I think Questionable (1992 Plan B classic) changed a lot of people's music tastes...I agree. The most skate specific stuff I might have lacked exposure to, were it not for skate videos, would have to be Dinosaur Jr. or The Minutemen.

Skate videos were such a good way to learn about music that wasn't being played on the radio, or sold in shops.
Like Del Tha Funkee Homosapien, for example. 

Hieroglyphics (legendary Oakland hip-hop collective, consisting of Del, Casual, Souls of Mischief and Domino) would probably never have sold so many records if it wasn't for those videos.
I'm sure it helped a lot. It would be interesting to see a study on that subject. Or would it? 

Can you remember the first record you bought with your own money?
'Killers' by Iron Maiden. On cassette. I never had a record player. Lots of Edgar Allen Poe in that album. 

Do you still listen to Iron Maiden? I imagine your tours must be quite Maiden-heavy.
Lately not so much. Here and there I'll let one play out when it comes on random. I have a couple of enduring favourites. Tours tend to differ. Zero tours seem to have been fuelled by bad mainstream hip-hop recently. (Project Pat's) 'Twerk Dat Ass', for example. Elwood trips are good for music. Drehobl often sits up front to smoke out the window and swings between tormenting everyone with songs from 'Team America' or some Shania Twain torture and playing some classic Springsteen, or some banjo oriented folk or blues or some such rad thing. On éS trips Danny Garcia is a big Tom Waits fan and Rick always has something interesting to check out. 

Do you get a chance to see much live music, in San Diego, or on tour? Scotland has always been good for bands passing through. How does it compare?
Not so much live stuff over the last while. SD is not exactly a thriving hub in terms of music. I miss Glasgow for that. There you can walk places easily to see music all the time. You know what though, there are a couple of worthy local acts. Earthless, which Mario Rubalcaba (former Alva pro, one-time drummer in Rocket Fron the Crypt and current Black Box employee) is a member, played the Captains Rest (intimate Glasgow basement venue) last year and I forgot to let people know about it. There's a couple of bands, I suppose it's called 'second wave of psychedelic prog', around here and some decent metal. Having to drive puts me off the live shows locally. I've seen some good stuff in LA over the last couple of years though.

                                                    Photo by Phillipa

So what are you listening to just now? Have you got anything in particular on heavy rotation?
Bill Callahan (of Smog). Always coming through with beautiful melancholy songs with that spark of levity that stops you from retreating to jump from the nearest tall structure. His lyrics are great. "You spent half of the morning, Just trying to wake up, Half the evening, Just trying to calm down..." Tom Waits too, and every now and then I'll dive deep into some Morbid Angel or something.

Tom Waits in Edinburgh last year was one of the best things I've ever, ever seen. Just brilliant.
I saw that. At the Playhouse.I
got tickets last minute somehow. I'd like to get the album of the tour. 

So, what was the first live band you saw? And the most recent?
The first live act I remember was maybe Boys of the Lough. A Scottish/Celtic band. The last thing I saw was the Pixies, in Oakland. They were really fucking good but didn't beat Tom. 

Who's idea was your music in Dying to Live? It fitted really well... Although it might not have for anybody else.
It was Skin Philips' idea. Jamie got really excited about it. I had reservations all the way, but then Wardy and the Bristo crew were singing along at the UK premier which was nice.

Did you have a say in it?
Yeah, but I seriously couldn't come up with a better suggestion. If we were going with a Scottish tune, The Proclaimers kill it.
One day I'd like to go through old footage and re-edit a retrospective part to some other music. See how it holds up. Maybe do that when I'm about ready to throw in the towel.

That'd be cool. Everybody should do that when they pack it in. Release a 'Best Of'.
Everyone should. I agree.

Do you you generally want to have input in what music is used? Zero always seemed very specific, music-wise. Until you skated to The Proclaimers, anyway.
Of course. I don't want to end up skating to some diluted pop punk or some other such shit. For the last video (Zero's 'Strange World') I had a specific tune in mind but then gave half my part away to various other projects and ended up in the montage. Hopefully I can get it together over the next few months and get that one together.

Everybody was pretty bummed that you didn't have a bigger part in that video.
I was bummed on myself but I'm getting older and it takes longer to get it together these days. Next time around I'll either have a full part or will be looking to re-train and find another job in this shitstorm of a global economy.

This is a bit of a hard one, but do you have an all-time favourite record?
That changes. One that was on loop for a while and I feel, although I'm not listening as much to it now, will go into the all-time-albums-for-my-time-on-this-planet section of my mind, is 'A River Ain't Too Much to Love' by Smog. I really like the song 'Shroud of Urine' by Exodus.
'Mule Variations' or 'Real Gone' by Tom Waits are perennially incredible albums. The song 'Love, Love, Love' by the Mountain Goats. Anything by Autechre, A.K.A. the-soundtrack-of-this-post-industrial-sanitarium-we've-unwittingly-built-for-ourselves. Those guys have been on loop a bit lately. They sound as if Skynet and HAL have got together and been inspired by Mozart.

Finally, Chomsky agrued that music is integral to evolution, as it essentially existed before language. Pinker countered that music is 'auditory cheesecake', and exists purely for pleasure. Your thoughts?
I don't know that it exists purely for pleasure. I think it's a way to enhance communication of emotions and ideas. As for it being integral to evolution, do chicks dig musicians? Do chicks want to bang musicians? Evolution? Could be a song in there somewhere. What about chick musicians? Do dudes want to bang chick musicians? Have you seen AC/DShe? (SF all-girl AC/DC tribute band). Do you want to bang them? Evolution.

I haven't seen them.
You haven't seen them. Well what about Lady Gaga? Do dudes want to bang her?

I'm sure plenty of dudes would want to bang her. Being on stage makes ugly people attractive.
What about Chan Marshall? Or Beyonce?

Of course. Who wouldn't?
Right then.

They're attractive anyway.
Music plays a part in evolution. And is it more enjoyable to make sweet love in a silent room or a room with some great love-making music? I rest my case. Without music we would be both bored and extinct. And boring.

Anything else you want to talk about?
"Well we stick our fingers in,
The ground, heave and
Turn the world around,
Smoke is blacking out the sun,
At night I pray and clean my gun,
The cracked bell rings as,
The ghost bird sings and the gods,
Go beggin' here,
So just open fire,
As you hit the shore,
All is fair in love,
And war.
Hoist that rag".
Those are the closing lyrics to 'Hoist That Rag' by Tom Waits. Fucking good song that.

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