Dang, I am so excited to introduce to my blog a new feature where I get to promote bands and music I believe in. To kick off the series, I was lucky enough to grab an interview with Civilian‘s own Ryan Alexander. In between writing poetic and politically charged rock and roll, Ryan also records and produces for other bands and musicians.
Civilian is getting ready to tour the pants off their brand new full-lenth release ‘Should This Noose Unloosen’ up & down the east coast. I’m not sure how I got this privilege, but Ryan sent me the new record last week and I can’t stop listening to it. Both catchy and thought-provoking, ‘Should This Noose Unloosen’ drives with heavy guitar riffs and convicting vocals that instantly suck you into the passion and poignancy.
But don’t take my word for it (or you can if you want). Check out our convo below, watch the video, then go download the album for yourself. Taste and see – that the rock and roll is good. I promise, you won’t be disappointed.
JM: Hey Ryan. I’m excited to be interviewing you and talking about your band’s new record ‘Should This Noose Unloosen’. How excited are you?
RA: I am probably more excited to do this than I have been to do almost any interview in the past. Reason being, most interviewers want me to type the responses so that they don’t have to transcribe them later. I am also excited about this because I got to read the questions ahead of time. Most of the time I find myself answering with a million “umm’s” or by lying.
JM: Well we don’t want you lying, Ryan. Glad to hear you’re excited. I am too! Thanks for sending me the record ahead of time. I am already a BIG fan. Seriously. After listening to ‘Should This Noose Unloosen‘, I’m curious as to who some of your biggest influences are; musically and in general?
RA: Good question, m’lady. Musically…. If there were to be an ultimate Invincible Musical Robot, then I am sure that he would be constructed with the…
Mind of David Bazan
The Musicality of Patrick Watson
The Satire of Randy Newman
The Innovation of Jack White
And the timeless discontent of Minor Threat
O, and I LOVE No Knife. “Fire In the City of Automatons” is probably my favorite record of all time.
JM: Nice. That’d be some kind of robot. How old were you when you first realized you had 2 first names?
RA: Actually, I have 3 first names, ipso facto. I was in a bar the other night, about a week ago, and the bartender came back over and said, “Just so you know, I gave you a discount. Please don’t murder me.” And I had no idea what that meant. So I just turned my head to the left – the kind of turn that a dog’s head makes when some neighborhood kid won’t stop ringing the doorbell, or when the TV makes a high pitched ringing. He said, “Dude. You have three first names.” And I said, “Yes.” He said, “Just like all the famous murderers.”
I later found out, he was only half right. The murderers (actually, they are noted as “political assassins”) are guys that typically had three names. Such as, Lee Harvey Oswald, James Earl Ray, and John Wilkes Booth. He was only half right because the asssassins went by three names, not their first names. Needless to say, I am going to start going by three names. It makes living in downtown far more affordable. And, I like the tension.
JM: Are you going to murder me after this interview?
RA: Who knows? Depends how fast I can change my facebook info. It needs to be official. Facebook name changes are legally binding right?
JM: Probably……? Well, now that everyone is officially scared, can we move on?
RA: I think it’s “safe” to say we can move on. But who knows. I may snap.
JM: I’ll talk fast…. Hearing a musician use words like “caustic”, “sanguine psychology”, “dichotomy” and “paleolithical” makes me question if your day job is being a college professor.
RA: I love words. And I love education. And I love enlightenment. Songs have the potential to be both educational and enlightening if the writer chooses to orient themselves in a way that aims to communicate or uncover something that is hidden or undiscovered by most. That said, I hated college so, I quit.
JM: What did you study while you were there?
RA: And I hated high school, so I didn’t try. Unless trying meant that I wouldn’t be grounded.
I wanted to study Engligh. hahahaha. the best typo ever.
JM: I can see why you dropped out.
RA: I feel like choosing words is my favorite part of writing. Paleolithical isn’t an actual word, if I am correct. I wanted to use the word really bad, so I figured I would make it work by adding -al to the end (of Paleolithic). I wanted a word that expansively encompassed the entire era of cavemen. You know, because I really wanted to.
JM: That’s brave
RA: I also use the phrase “ever’gain” on Bottom Dollar. I don’t know why I wrote it that way, but it seemed like the perfect word at the time. It didn’t occur to me until after everything was recorded that I used a phrase that doesn’t exist. I used it to combine Ever and Again. I like words.
JM: Gosh…..me too.
RA: I heard it said once that words create worlds.
JM: If words were an island, I’d probably live there.
RA: Words Create Worlds. Capitol: Crazytown. Population: Me.
JM: But you’re a man – not an island, right?
RA: Right. Most of the time.
JM: Have you ever seen that movie ‘About A Boy?’
JM: I love the moment when Hugh Grant realizes he needs to be needed, and that being an island is a pretty lonely concept after all.
RA: My favorite song is from that movie…”Silent Sigh” by Badly Drawn Boy
JM: I love that movie, and BDB.
Ok, Ryan. I got a heavy hitter for you, son. Can you tell me about James Kent?
RA: James Darryl Kent. He was the guy that was around when my life completely changed. Before him, I was fine. My life was really easy. And convenient. He was a 50 year old guy that was a crack addict that had been an addict since his 20′s. It held him up. It made him burn bridges with everything he loved. It demanded his life. And he handed it over. And he lived on the streets for over 25 years of his life. Sleeping where he pissed. You know, a real life homeless guy.
And one day, I knew I had to do something about it. I had to help him. I couldn’t pass him on the off-ramp one more time. I had never talked to a homeless person really. Never had a need to. I didn’t even really understand the gravity of “homeless”. I just thought it meant a person who was dying to get in a home and get their life straight. Turns out, that even people with homes and beds and showers are homeless.
JM: So true….
RA: And so James Kent (Darryl) became best friends with me and my best friend/ roommate, Bobby Denison. We did everything together for a few years. Darryl, to Bobby and I, represented the hope that anything could change and that all of creation is livable. And for years he had a home. He was a struggling addict. He was a relapser. He was a saint. He fed the homeless. He was a good employee. He failed drug tests. He was a Christian. He was agnostic. He was everyhting I was, except, he was comfortable with himself to not lie about how messed up he was.
And after years of living together – living my life with him – sharing everything, he asked me and Bobby to go drop him off on the corner of Broward Blvd and 95. He was out. He couldn’t do it. We literally sat there in a Burger King for hours and cried and begged him to keep trying. We told him that no matter what, he was our brother. That no matter what we would love him for our whole lives. And so we ate our last meal together at Burger King. And then we dropped him off. And he walked away wearing all of the clothes we gave to him that were ours. His shoes were our shoes. And he walked back under that bridge and I didn’t see him again.
A few months later, another homeless guy (Tommy) that also had moved into our house; after relapsing, came back to our house one day with the newspaper and told me to look at it. It said that a guy described to look exactly like Darryl had walked in front of the train. And that was that.
JM: Oh God, Ryan…
RA: He got a mention in the newspaper. But he died alone. And then he had a funeral, and me and Bobby went. Not a tear was shed by a single person because no one knew anything about him. He died an addict to them. A fuck up. Not an overcomer – which he was. Not the sweetest person I’ve ever met – which he was. He died with a stigma. Not with dignity. And no one had anything to share about him becuase no one ever called him back. No one had any stories because they didn’t know where he lived. And when I walked out of the funeral home, I started wandering.
JM: You wrote a song about Darryl….a powerful, sad song.
JM: A beautiful song about a man who was your friend. I personally feel convicted after hearing this song.
RA: Well, the irony is that he died alone, for the most part his life was plagued with anonymity. No one knew him. He didn’t know how to be known. But I feel like by writing this song, he will have more of a legacy than I will.
JM: I think we as humans are capable of giving much more than we realize. You and Bobby were a light, a glimmer, if even for a moment in his life. I hate it ended the way it did. I hate addiction and I hate that you lost a friend. But I do love the song and I am certain he will have a legacy because of it……because of you.
RA: I feel like people hear and they don’t think, “what a well written song”. They think, “that Darryl guy must have been incredible.” The power of the story outshines the brash words it was written with. I really like the first line. ”James Kent, son of a bitch.” It really sums up how I feel about him. I love him and he is forever endeared, but at the same, I hate him.
JM: Sometimes strong words are all that will suffice to convey true feelings. That and/or a strong drink.
RA: Both work. I had the first line in my head for years. It wasn’t until recenty that I got the courage to start his song with it. I feel like that song represents the capacity to which I can care about and love someone. It’s the most emotion I have ever put out there in anything I’ve done. It really is a bi-polar song. And I like that.
JM: It’s wild how the one’s we love the most can evoke an equally strong hatred at times.
RA: Yeah. It definitely consumed me.
JM: Wow. Thanks for sharing. That is such a powerful story, and an undeniably incredible song.
There’s no good way to segue out of that story. But when in a pinch I try and choose humor. Here goes. So….are you like 7 feet tall? Do you have to shop at special tall people stores?
RA: I am not 7′. Unfortunately. I am 6″3″.
JM: Close enough
RA: And I have terribkle posture. And spelling.
JM: You should work on that.
RA: I have always been tall. And skinny. The tall thing is cool because I can always see the band that’s playing. The downside is that I feel bad standing anywhere except the back because the shortest girl in the room always finds her way behind me.
JM: You should just offer to pick her up and put her on your shoulders (I have often been that girl). Anyways…. next question?
RA: Moving on
JM: So, are you the main writer for Civilian, or do you collaborate with the rest of the band?
RA: I write the lyrics and basic song structures. Anything after that, the band does. They basically make it sound like us. They are the real talent behind the sound. And I mean that. They each have a really unique way that they approach their instruments. None of them play their instruments the way other people play it.
JM: Who are they?
RA: Alex Bennett plays guitar and sings. Nick Nardone plays bass, and can fix/ build/ destroy anything. And Nash Nardone plays drums. Together, the three of them make up the core of the sound of the band. I am lucky enough to get to be the voice.
JM: Awesome. Sounds like you guys are tight. I hear you guys are headed out on tour soon. Can you tell me 5 things you love about touring and 5 things you hate?
RA: 5 Things I love (about touring). 1. I love playing in front of unimpressed people. 2. I love being suprised by good shows. 3. I love yelling at strangers, when I’m singing. 4. As a band, we play disc golf in almost every city we stop in. We have played SOO many awesome courses. We played the national PDGA championship course in Knoxville, TN and it was one of the nicest places I have ever seen. 5. I love being in a new place. I love the mystery of being completely lost and and trying to make up something fun to do with my spare time.
RA: They are known for being incredible defenders and incredible offenders.
RA: Well the PandaTurtle. Is the size of a bear with a turtle shell. It’s not only strong spirited, but is also believed to be the only animal in the world that doesn’t feel bad about eating children. And the PantherTurtle…well he is as mean as a honey badger, as misunderstood as a great white, as ferocious as a …panther and as loveable as a baby monkey. It is the size of a baby monkey.
JM: Sounds like you’ve thought about this before. Glad I asked. Where are these futuristic mythological hybrid’s tattooed on you?
RA: I wanted to get a panturtle tattoo so bad at the time, but my girlfriend wouldn’t let me. She then dumped me. I got them tattooed above my knees.
JM: You gotta live your dreams and be who you are, eh?
RA: (on my legs)
JM: Thanks for the clarification.
RA: No room for confusion.
JM: I’m sure they give you super powers?
RA: I feel like they do. My friend Nate asked me to leave them at home when we went to play basketball a few weeks ago. He was terrified of defending them.
JM: Ok. Next quesh……everyone knows it’s close to impossible for music to pay all your bills. Do you have a day job? If you weren’t playing music, what would fill your time?
RA: It is impossible. I basically have to choose which bill to not pay every month.
JM: Oh shoot!
RA: I have a pretty solid rotation.
JM: That sucks.
RA: I do have a day job. I have had a bunch. I get let go from most of them because I never am around enough to work. Currently, I have been producing bands for the last year. That’s what I love to do.
JM: That’s good.
RA: I actually hate saying that I “produce” bands.
RA: I think it’s more appropriate to say that I record them and help them acknowledge what they are really good at and show them how they can do those things again and better. The idea of being a “producer” has an ego attached to it that I don’t understand. I just say, I record bands.
JM: You’re an encourager and you hit buttons…..?
RA: Yes. Other jobs I have had… Shipping and packaging for Rifle Paper Co., Art direction for a music video, data entry. I want to get an internship with a carpenter. I feel like I would be good at building one off furniture. I love details. Can you make this happen? I also like taking my time.
JM: I’ll see what I can do about the carpentry internship. I’d love to get an internship with a clothing designer. Just to learn how to make my own clothes.
RA: Like a hippie?
JM: No. Like a fashion designer.
RA: That would be awesome. I have friends that are studying that. I just tell them to try it for a few years, every day, and they will be able to do it.
JM: But I’d just want to make cool clothes for myself, my kids, my friends. you know…
RA: Your hippie friends?
JM: I only have one hippie friend and she’s more “Boho” than hippie. so….back to you, How do you take your coffee and waffles?
RA: Coffee black. Preference: Intelligentsia, Agua Preta. Pour-over method.
JM: Come on. Intelligentsia is…..like no other.
RA: Or their Honey Badger based traditional Cap., that is the best thing ever. You ever had Blue Bottle? Or Stumptown’s Hairbender?
RA: Awesome espresso. Waffles… I like Ego Buttermilk. I like to toast 4 of them. Then put a little bit of butter on them, then fold them in half and eat them like 4 little tacos.
JM: No syrup?
RA: Barely any, if any at all.
JM: Alright alright. Sounds nice – enough.
RA: It’s the reason I am going to have a heart attack. It better sound nice. And it better taste better than nice.
JM: No heart attacks. You have a tour coming up!!!
RA: hahahahah!!!!!! Yes!! And like every tour, dates are falling through, BUT….This is going to be our album release tour. And we are going on tour with some of our best friends and Fort Lauderdale cohorts, The Goddamn’ Hustle.
JM: Yeah stay positive….and on that note I have another question: With so many bands on the radar and so many of them making powerful music, what would you say makes Civilian stand out? What do you hope people “get” when they listen to your songs?
RA: The thing that makes Civilian stand out is how much we care about what we do. We don’t have a label. We don’t write hits. We try to do what we want to do in order to connect us with people that are going where we are trying to go. We want to make music that helps people 1.) dance a little 2.) get upset 3.) see the light and life in everything.
JM: That’s touching.
RA: We want to say what everyone has been thinking, but everyone is struggling to say.
JM: I really love the song “I Get What I Want”. Can you tell me about it?
RA: I can. First off, the lyric ”I get what I want”….. it’s really disgusting. If you think about it. It’s a matter of fact to the person saying it. ”I get what I want from you” is awful. It comes from probably the darkest place. So, the song’s written from the perspective of the Oppressor.
JM: Ok, I’m tracking…
RA: It’s this guy reminding his crew that they would starve without him, so they need to fall in line with what’s asked of them. And then I turn it on the audience… ”You see, everybody’s acting like they built us an ark….” It’s like saying, they think they saved you. But you aren’t safe. They think they rescued you, but you aren’t living. Examine what people are telling you about yourself becuase it isn’t true. And the second half is regarding the murdering of people we don’t like and how fucked up it is that we actually let each other feel like good people for being the cosmic gatekeepers between self interest and justice. I like the phrase “towelsnapping” in the song because I think it sums up what we do as people who have no clue what damage our decisons have on everyone else. It’s an illusion to picking on the easy target, fat kid after P.E.
JM: I hate bullying.
RA: That song came from my guts.
JM: I can tell. Seriously. So, what’s next for Civilian?
RA: I don’t know. I know what I want to see. I want to tour every day this year that I can. That’s really what we love doing. Of course we want to do art well, as in record good music, but we also want to love people well, and be apart of the national community as a whole. Touring affords us the chance to meet people all over the country and let’s us hear their ideas. I feel it is part of what makes us relatable to people in limbo on things…
JM: And isn’t pretty much everyone in limbo with something in their life?
RA: The fact that we hear a lot of different ideas from a lot of different places. The music is an outlet that I hope allows people to feel less alone in asking tough questions about love, race, religion, sex, capitalism, nationalism and purpose. And maybe some more things I am forgetting about. I just want to write more now. And better.
JM: I can’t speak for everyone, but it’s been successful here, for me. (The music that is).
RA: I hope to be a writer that is intentional with every opportunity for communication. Thanks for asking me questions. I forget a lot about what I care about. This reminds me.
JM: Glad I could help! I think we get reminded by telling ourselves, actually. I learn more about life/myself when I write.
RA: In the insanity of making a record – writing, recording, designing, printing, paying for it all, etc. – it’s easy to wonder why in the world you signed up for this.
JM: I bet. It’s a hell of a lot of work and sacrifice. Glad for your efforts though and the art you guys make in Civilian. And yeah, thank you so much for your time!
Nothing happens the way that it’s supposed to
Love doesn’t care if you want to, it’s going to move you
So lean in because I want to breathe what you’re breathing
I want to see my reflection, Lovely and Haunting
Then I opened up my mouth
And Lazarus came marching out
Upon the tongue of a once dead man
That now is damned to love again
GO BUY THIS RECORD NOW……click here