RISHLOO – Art Rock
Many have grouped the 2002 formed and Seattle based Rishloo with artists like Dredg, The Mars Volta, Tool, Fair to Midland and A Perfect Circle, while the band admits in drawing inspiration from celebrated artists such as The Beatles, David Bowie and Pink Floyd along with more modern talent like Tori Amos, Deftones, Radiohead, to Porcupine Tree. Their debut album, Terras Fames, was released back in 2004, which sold about 2,000 copy and opened the way for the upcoming Eidolon, an album that attracted an increased and dedicated fan base, leading to a 6 months increase in LastFm plays from 220 thousands to one million. 2009 brought out their third album, Feathergun, about which I only read great reviews so far and which brings out a very well balanced mixture of both instrumental and vocal skills, on the scaffold of very inspired compositions. The band is a four piece group, formed by Andrew (Drew) Mailloux on vocals, David Gillett on guitar, Jesse Smith on drums and Sean Rydquist on bass.
Being an indie band, they are not signed with any label and every tour or release is self financed. Yet, they keep on doing the music they love since there’s probably few greater rewards than the words of people who appreciate your work and tell you that you have moved or influenced them. We spoke about this subject, how their songs made it on Rockband, how fans mail you unexpected gifts and as many other topics as we could cover during one hour and a half while the recording lasted. I went to Seattle to try to meet the band and have this chat so that I could maybe bring out new information for those already familiar with the band or bring them to the attention of those who haven’t. Below is a transcription of (most of) our dialogue and if that arouses your interest I recommend checking out their website at www.rishloo.com, listen to them on LastFm, Spotify, youtube, or whatever music sources you might use. There’s also an audio version of the interview located here, but due the huge amount of initial background noise, it’s not the cleanest recording ever.
Photo: Andrea Chirulescu
How would you guys introduce yourselves to people who have no idea who you are and what you sound like? How do you explain yourselves?
Probably one of the most difficult ones. Sometimes we could go with ‘we’re experimental, or psychedelic progressive rock’ and people would frown and ask what does that mean. And then maybe it comes easier to bring up the names of bands we grew up with, like Mars Volta, or Tool that we’re quite often compared to. We could also try to categorise us as an Art Rock band
Andrea: Art rock?
Yea, we put a lot of visual art into our live show. Not necessarily crazy visual art, but trying to make it more of an experience as opposed to just a performance.
Is it a personally created visual art or…?
Yea, set up our own lights and everything so we bring our props and what you see on stage is our original show. We try to vary it everytime, position lights a bit differently, create a different mood depending what we think is cool for that setting or so. We involve ourselves into the whole show.
So from what I’ve personally seen on youtube the shows can be considered psychedelic. Is that your aim?
Absolutely and we hope they are perceived like that. We try to make it as much of a visual experience as possible. We don’t encourage people to do any drugs or so, whatever they do is on their own, but we want to give people who come to our show a psychedelic experience regardless of their own experimentation.
Since you invest so much in the show, how do you feel about photography at your shows?
We work with a Swedish photographer, Daniel Zetterstrom – whose photos you can find on our website – who told us about times when he wasn’t allowed to take photos for one band or another. We think it sucks since when it comes down to it, it’s also an art form and they should just go together. But we hope it’s a way of doing things that’s going out of style because today probably everyone’s got a cellphone with a camera. It’s better to just portray your image honestly and accept it rather than building up an elaborate idea of who you are and then get mad when something comes out and it’s not in its range. People take thousands of photos of us, they’re free to post them no matter if we look good or terrible. But that’s just who we are on stage. It shows the reality of what’s going on rather than trying to control a perfect image of the band on stage.
Photo: Daniel Zetterstrom
Do you think that being Seattle based has anything to do with the style of music you play? Would a different region maybe turned you into a punk or thrash band?
We don’t all come from Seattle. But yea, some of us who grew here had an interaction with the local grunge sound but we don’t think it’s influencing so much what we’re composing. The gloominess of Seattle gunge is not something we really represent. We take a lot of inspiration from older bands like Led Zeppelin, David Bowie, Pink Floyd, bands that we grew up with and we believe it’s easier to find their influences in what we’re doing. Had they all been from Seattle, I guess it would have answered your question.
Do you plan the vesres and aim at sending some messages with your lyrics or is it more a collection of momentarily inspirations?
It’s a mixture of both. We don’t really try to have a moral with our songs, we don’t want to strictly say ‘this song is bout THIS’. But it happens that we might have an idea or concept that we try to present and other times we just sit down and free write, based on imagery in your head that you just try to follow along. It’s the same with the order in which we do things, sometimes we write the melody and add words to it and other times we have the lyrics first.
Any person in particular who writes the lyrics?
Dave and Drew.
Sean: I’m not very clever with words so I try to stay away from that. But they are pretty inventive
Drew: I use Boggle to put letters together in a box and make out words from them. Or just the random dictionary game.
How easy is it for you guys to get some visibility nowadays considering the multitude of bands out there and all these music sharing networks and programs?
It’s very tough. The internet has made it accessible to anyone but it’s also very hard since there’s so much that it’s so easy to get lost and miss many artists. We’ve been very lucky though. I don’t see anybody completely independent getting the fan base and support that we got so far. Our fans are very tenacious and have been very supportive. It kind of forces us to be and stay creative and pay close attention to how we present ourselves out there.
For us it’s been mostly the word of mouth. This person telling this person, and lately internet radio, pages like Last Fm or Spotify where people get recommendations, they’ve been good sources for our promotion. I believe our dedicated fan base is one of the things that kept us doing this for 10 years now.
Did you try to collaborate with other indie bands?
We did, sometimes here and there, either locally or all over the West Coast. There have been a few that we’re doing well with from time to time, but a lot of times it’s really hard as everyone’s life priorities change. So overall it’s been difficult to consistently rely on other groups. It’s great when we can, it’s hard to find them. In our 10 years career we’ve seen a lot of indie bands who come and go, or start very big quickly and drop off unexpected. For us it’s been a really slow crawl up this mountain so hopefully we won’t just jump off and give up all the effort we put into this together.
Photo: Daniel Zetterstrom
What holds you guys together as a band?
Really good glue. Super glue!
And besides that, I think it’s really important that we are very good friends, care a lot about each other. We can fight really well. When things come up, we always deal with it. Certain people in the band like to deal by driving away (???), while others would rather not, but this is in our advantage. We’re pretty good at living all together, as we actually live in the same house. We’ve been, for at least 6 years now.
In our career there were moments when things went wrong and we probably were on the edge of giving up, but it seems everytime we found the right elements to keep us going.
I believe it’s not a matter of you guys being driven by making money together, since I somehow doubt you’ve been getting rich at all.
Haha. None of us has taken any money from what we had as income. It’s all been invested again in the band – merchandise, album recording, financing our tours.
What do you guys have in common and what differentiate you within the goup?
We’re all geeks (approval mumbles coming from everyone). We share a common interest in real dialogue with people, we like genuine people and people who are honest with eachother, people with good energy. We share a common view and concern about the world and what’s happening around us. We are aware of such things and we enjoy talking about them. We all like to watch Jeopardy, Wheel of Fortune.
So that’s how you hold a band together, with Wheel of fortune. Does that help in the lyrics writing as well?
Yea, that’s right, it’s another way for us to pick our words for the songs.
As for things that are different, we’re pretty different people with our personalities. Jesse really likes cooking and is very good at it, Sean likes gardening, he has a strange plant fetish.
(to Sean) So that’s why you’re not good with lyrics, since you spend time with the silent plants and don’t work much on your human interaction skills
Sean: Nono, I talk to the plants. And they talk back. Sometimes even verbally.
But overall we think our differences are definitely a contribution to our friendship as we challenge eachother in many different ways and discover new things about us. The contrasts between us push us both as individuals and as a group.
You have to learn a lot of humility when you’re surrounded by people that have good opinions in general. It seems like you’re never really right about anything for very long and if you are it’s because we all agree. We treasure and respect people that are able to listen, digest information and modify their opinions after a rational process.
Photo: Daniel Zetterstrom
Are you guys musically educated or self taught musicians?
Drew: Jesse and I kinda are. I took violin lessons and saxophone lessons back in the day.
Jesse: Both of our fathers are musicians and so we just kinda grew up around the whole environment. My dad’s a drummer as well and that was pretty much what surrounded me as a kid.
Drew: My dad is a trumpet player. My mum used to be a singer.
Jesse: Drew and I went through the education system being involved in any sort of possible musical activities.
Sean: Those guys were dealing with music at any time in school, while David and I were more like the assholes of our families. We decided to do music because we were angry.
When it comes to purchasing instruments, how did you, for example, end up with your first instruments? How do you make supplies? Do you have any sort of endorsements?
None at all. We hope somebody endorses us after this. That’s your job!
Dave: Well, I have a guitar that it’s not quite an endorsement, but it’s kind of a testament of what we were talking earlier about fans. This guys kept emailing us asking for our address as he wanted to send us a package. It was very bizarre and even got us worried. Or maybe skeptical, yet curious. And he insisted as we didn’t feel comfortable giving the mailing address, but to make the long story short he sent us a very nice guitar. His reasoning was that he couldn’t find a use for it. He was going to sell it, but rather than selling it, he thought decided that our music moved him to the extent that sending us the guitar would actually benefit him more than the money would. That’s more than an endorsement for us. That’s amazing. It gives me goosebumps each time I think of it.
And when we opened the box, imagine how we were all like ‘WOW’. The impact of it was beyond words. That’s why we continue to do what we do. We seem to reach people. Such things reward you more than money. The fans keep us going so if we wouldn’t have the fan base we mentioned, we wouldn’t go on doing this. The fact that people believe in us makes us believe we are right in keep making the music.
How did you put the finances together for the first album?
I think we got a loan for Terras Fames, which we paid back eventually. But then we needed a loan for each album since it gets more and more expensive because we started to realise what we can do and actually try to do it. But we’re also lucky since Dave is business savvy, he worked in the bank for years and he manages the financial situation of the band. We’re also very serious about what we do, hence we don’t take any money for ourselves. Everything goes back to the band. I mean we don’t do like bands who for example would make 200 bucks at a show and at the end split it and drink it for example. If we want to have drinks we pay for them with our personal money, as we all work and we each have our income.
What do you think is your biggest accomplishment so far?
That we’re still a band. (a lot of laughter) but actually we believe that’s very true. We started this band to be famous and to make it to the world of ‘sex, drugs and rock’n’roll’, and that changed very fast for us as we started to experiment a lot. So we found out there was more to music than what we thought and what some people would push us towards. We must have also gotten lucky to see how plenty of the bands who started up with the same goal ended up doing something superficial and another luck I guess is that we didn’t get famous quickly. I think that would have become very superficial and wouldn’t have been able to impact anyone positively and never get to hear feedback such as ‘you’ve moved me’, ‘your music kept me from doing very bad things’ or ‘it helped me doing good things’.
Such comments or feedback is another thing that keeps you going
Absolutely. It’s hard to hear this kind of things and not seriously evaluate what you’re doing. I don’t mean that in a way of patting ourselves on the back about it, but it’s like we had such a sincere response from people…Even when we’ve doubted ourselves sometimes, we eventually know we can do something good because all these people believe in us and believe that we do something meaningful for them. So it really becomes more of a question on how do I create and keep creating something that’s meaningful, beautiful, that touches someone, rather than what would be a great hook for the song.
Photo: Daniel Zetterstrom
I have a question addressed to Drew, the band’s singer
Drew: I’m just here
Cause he’s such a nice guy
Drew: and a great singer
The first song I heard (Freaks&Animals from Eidolon) impressed me, vocals wise, but when I heard El Empe I was really blown away but how long you can sing a word and how you can hold you breath like that. Then I quickly checkout out live performances and it was rather incredible to see you manage that live. My question is how do you do it?
Dave: If I can jump in, even if I won’t answer the question, but when I look at the videos and what he’s doing, it’s insane that it’s actually live, when besides singing there’s many other energy consuming activities on stage. And sounding the same on stage is very powerful.
Drew: I think one thing is that I always had like what you might call breath capacity. I don’t know why, I just do.
Maybe it’s that talking for hours
Drew: That’s true. That must be it. Plus the fact that I played saxophone and then clarinet for a long time. But literally I can, and especially if you give me more drinks I will talk for hours.
So it’s not something that you took lessons for in order to do it?
Drew: Well I do now. It is kind of ironic. When we put out Feathergun, I haven’t done the songs in a row at all. And I realised I couldn’t just do it all at once. By themselves they were fine, but one after the other was very tiredning so I started seeing a vocal coach. Her name is Susan Carr and she’s worked with some big artists around here. She’s great and now I’ve took lessons for about 8 months or so after Feathergun and now I will probably go back, I just didn’t have the money to do it lately. But she’s awesome and helped me improving my technique a lot and be able to do all that stuff consistently live.
What’s the history of band’s name?
Oh, I’d love to tell ya
It’s a big secret
Actually there’s many stories that have been out. One we like is the Boggle one. The same way we do lyrics. We shove these Boggle dice down a guy’s throat, we shake him up, make them go to the stomach then when then they finally come out. As you can see it was an elaborate ritual. You can’t touch them no matter where they are, just take what’s visible on them and you start from whichever end came out first and follow the order.
Actually, it’s a made up word. We wanted to have something that wasn’t someone else’s. We wanted to be easy searchable and have an impact when you hear it. We also wanted to describe the idea of inspiration. We wanted that word to be defined by that so we created a word that defined the inspiration within. It apparently doesn’t mean anything in any language.
Drew: I actually heard it might be an Indian wood instrument. We discovered that long after we’ve been in the band.
Is there any song you’d like to cover?
There are a few but we won’t cover any, not at this point at least.
Not even live?
Nah. We don’t want to gain fame due a cover song. We mean no offense to the people who are creative, there’s a lot of incredible pieces out there but we find it more boring that being creative and presenting our own material. But eventually we might. We have some things we talked about, but we want to have more albums out first, our own body of work.
We don’t want to be famous because of a cover, like for example Alien Ant Farm was famous because they covered Michael Jackson’s ‘Smooth Criminal’.
As for the live part, the people who are there, come to see our own music and show, so blending in someone else’s song would probably break away from the mood we’re trying to create. But I agree, it might also draw us attention from the people who have no idea who we are.
It’s all gonna come down to finding the right song. It’s cool to cover something, but covering it kinda uniquely in your own way it’s something always a factor I’m looking for when I hear a band making a cover. It’s something that makes the cover their own. Among the songs we’re considering would be ‘Major Tom’ by David Bowie, ‘Us and them’ by Pink Floyd.
We’ve actually covered our own song live. That’s true. We said we’d gonna do a cover and then we played it, but it was our own song, just different. I think it probably pissed some people. They had no idea what we were playing and then we told them. It was a song called ‘Illumination’ from Terras Fames.
In the end, I guess that what we want to do is something like Johnny Cash did with ‘Hurt’. Even if it’s not his song, he owned it. So, to shorten it, we first want to be a band on our own merit and then when we’re old (or older than we are now), go for the cover.
Drew: I’d like to do ‘Sound of silence’ by Simon&Garfunkel actually. It would sounds like this (click to hear)
Photo: Daniel Zetterstrom
How did your songs end up on Rockband game?
We were contacted by a company based on some sort of demand or interest from fans. We just had released Feathergun at that time so we were very interested in the offer. Plus we’ve got a lot of responses from that.
Can you play the songs yourselves?
We haven’t even tried yet. We’d have to buy it first though, but I can tell you right now that we can’t. We’re scared by looking at these kids posting youtube videos and how good they can play. You tend to be impressed that they actually can play your songs you have composed and they do it better than you on that device. Plus it’s cool to see people getting excited over what we’re doing and having fun with it. We believe that’s the most important thing. It’s also a great way for people to get a more complete experience of the music, it’s another way to connect with the song.
What’s your position when it comes to piracy? I guess for you guys, on one hand, downloading can bring you new fans while on the other, it steals money from you.
It’s inevitable though. It’s gonna happen anyway and we are completely fine with it. The way we all view it is that if you can’t afford to buy an album at all you want to try something and don’t know what you’re going to get, go ahead and download. If you like it, then buy it. If not, no need to buy. You should know what you’re buying. It would be great if we could give albums away for free, but we spent money on making it so if you like it, then you should spend money on it as well.
Would you rather have people coming to shows and downloading or people who buy albums but don’t show up at concerts?
No, please come to our shows. We’d much rather have crowds and eventually give them an album or two for free. Also at the show there’s chances that they might buy tshirts or CDs that they already have downloaded, sometimes just because they want it signed. So in the end, if we’d say ‘don’t steal our album’ it would be like encouraging people not to listen to it.
Besides this, the live experience we are offering to the people we share the room with is different from just staying home and listening to the CD on the stereo. We want to move people. For example look at the Flaming Lips. They create their own world. They walk on stage and make sure everyone in that room has a great time. It’s something I’ll never forget and everyone felt that as a shared experience.
But back to piracy, to sum it up, this is the world we live in today, the world of digital things. What we hope for is that people will end up supporting what they care about. Be it an artist, a film maker, anyone who creates something of any kind.
How often do you guys rehearse?
We try like three times a week. Living together and having the rehearsal room there makes it really easy for us from that point of view.
What’s the best and worst about playing clubs?
The worst thing is that it happens that people who attend club shows just happen to be there and they have no idea what the concert is all about. They just sit at a bar or so.
Clubs are very stressful because a lot of small clubs don’t have everything set in place and often when we get there and it’s like 3 hours trying to figure out what is going on and the worst is that nobody has any idea what is actually going on there. Many times it’s a pain in the ass.
Intimacy on the other hand is a positive aspect. We also have some good relationships with some places and it’s really good to be able to go to a place, know most of the people you’re going to work with and they also have some understanding about how the show is supposed to go. We meet a lot of great people at clubs as well, made a lot of great friends. Daniel is one of these people for example. The connection with the crowd in smaller places is more different. We have more fun together and the energy is differently transmitted.
There was this one show in Utah in a little tiny kind of youth center place and we basically played on the ground with all the kids at the same level. They were rockin’ out, we started rockin’ out and it’s this kinetic, organic energy that it’s hard to obtain with bigger venues.
That’s actually what we are, we’re basically organic rock. We’re free range, cage free, organic rock.
What’s the furthest you traveled to play a gig and how do you spend time when on the road?
The furthest from home was Texas.
Drew: I sleep an enormous amount of time. When we’re on the road I’m able to sleep like 15 hours a day.
Dave: That makes me mad. It makes me so angry.
Drew: Jesse drives about 98 percent of the time
Sean: Everytime he doesn’t drive, a tire explodes.
Jesse: The one time on our last tour that I didn’t drive and I let Sean drive, a tire blew up. It was on my birthday
Your birthday sucked
Drew: Jesse and I spent the night in the van parked outside the auto shop there. And the moment the tire exploded we got a call from people coordinating our LA show that we were going go and announced that it got cancelled. It was such a terrible night. So no wonder we no longer recognise his birthday. It doesn’t exist. At least on tour.
Can he get a birth night instead?
We have to take a vote. But only after we’ve got to the club, played a show and everything went well.
What’s the weirdest musical thing you’ve ever heard?
There’s a band called Battles but they haven’t done shit in a while as far as I know. But they’re pretty huge and they play some really amazing organic music. The drummer has a speaker before his kick drum mic, it’s like a reverse speaker for example. I’m not sure that everyone would like them, but I’m sure it’s one of the weirdest things I’ve experienced
Can you think of the most embarrassing moment for you guys on stage?
I think some of the most embarrassing and most difficult moments are when we lose power on stage. It’s not easy to recover from it as we have a lot of lights and everything. And it actually happens at many clubs that are not prepared for what we come on stage with. We’ve gotten a lot better about dealing with it and moving on, continuing the set, unplugging the things that we can’t use since they take too much power or so, but it’s still difficult for us to set back into the emotional state before the power failure.
What’s coming up in the life of Rishloo? There’s a new recording in progress and how far have you gone with it? Are there any left overs from the previous albums?
We haven’t gotten to the recording stage yet. And no, we don’t do left overs. We go into the studio with the complete structure and everything.
The first two albums we recorded with the same guy, in a small like home studio. For the third one we had a guy who works with a lot of other bands and showed us a different perspective with all the knowledge he has. We’ve learned what professionals do when they go into the studio and what to look for.
One of the things we’re trying to do is set some sort of goal for ourselves and say by this time in this year we should be ready to go into the studio. We try to focus on that and keep it in mind. If we just let it be, it can obviously go on forever. One can try to keep on perfecting something, but it’s not going to take you anywhere.
Dave: I, for example have painted a god damn painting for seven years and it’s still not done. We can’t do the same with music.
When we look for a studio we do some sort of studio shopping. You go into a place, see what kind of vibe they have there, how the energy is. A studio with a terrible energy is not inspiring for you while you record. Right now we’re in the middle of this process actually.
How many songs do you have so far for the upcoming album?
We have 9 songs on the board. None of them are finished yet. We have a couple more in mind.
Do you think they follow any of the idea of the previous albums?
When we write music we really try to continue progressing and make a rather drastic change than stay in the same place. Musically, like from Feathergun to what’s coming up next, it’s gonna be different. We tried to do that with every album. We try to give people and fans new ideas about what our music should be.
Like now, as vague as it is, we have some heavy ideas for example, but also something that maybe can be called radioheadesque. But it’s a pretty wide palette I’d say.
Everyone who liked Feathergun, will hate this album. Everyone who liked Eidolon, will hate this album. Anyone who likes Terras Fames, will love this album (editor’s note: sarcasm floats in the air as I admitted I rarely manage to fully listen to this album). We feel that our new stuff will make people have an open mind.
Any estimation on when we can buy/hear it?
Which year? Some say the end of the world is at the end of 2012, so will we hear it before that?
Yea, hopefully long before that. We’re shooting for something within the next 12 months. Summer-fall we think. Giving you vague idea, just as vague as the music description was.
But you’ll keep fans posted with fans from the recording process like you did before, right?
Definitely. We’re kinda doing it right now. We are recording our practices. The problem with that is that practices tend to change so fast and even what we posted like a month ago is outdated.
Who’s editing the videos?
Jesse So far I’ve been doing most of the video editing on our updates and stuff. We’re looking into documenting what we’re doing and since we’ve been lacking a lot in this area started looking into option on how we can improve that.
The interview ended here, but the evening went on with more fun dialogues, a very nice invitation from the guys to visit their ‘mansion’ and the rehearsal room, where I got hear few more details about their live performances. I don’t have enough words to thank the band for the time they spent with me, for showing up in full formation and for their kindness in answering all my questions. I hope that you, who reads this, will end up giving them a try and if you like them, support in what they’re doing! I personally believe they’re worth it!