He was dressed, of course, in a leather jacket. He wore his hair in a messy Mohawk with a feather hanging lazily to one side, and every time he gestured with his hands, the metal bracelets around his wrists jingled. Yeah, I’m in the presence of a rock star.
Meet Ryan Kennedy, lead singer of Rikers. Along with his band mates, Russ Davidson (Guitar, Vocals), Alex Perry (Keys), Colin Spencer W (Bass) and Curt Jackson (Drums), the band is currently touring with Big Wreck. Rikers recently released their debut album, Islands, which includes a mix pop rock jams that have a touch of 1980’s nostalgia mixed with a hint of synthesizer and the more traditional guitar, drums and bass. The results? Eight solid tracks that are equal parts catchy, heartfelt and might just make you feel like you’ve fallen into a John Hughes flick.
What was the creative process like for your new album Islands?
It was long. For any new band, the writing experience for the first record is long. You start the band, you write and you write. That’s what we did. We wrote probably 150 songs and some of them aren’t very good, but you start to weed through them and you start to get better at writing, writing with each other…Writing with five guys is always a struggle. Everyone has an idea and you want to accommodate people’s opinions, but ultimately you can’t get through the process without arguing. At the end of the day, we feel really happy with the eight songs that made the record. They’re on there on purpose.
When you have to narrow down 150 songs, do decisions often result in stalemate?
Absolutely. All the time. I guess the internal rule is that we don’t throw things away. We don’t say that’ll never work. We will say that doesn’t work right now…A lot of songs come from old ideas. We have a hard drive stacked with ideas. We go back and revisit it. On long band rides, we throw on the iPod and listen to demos we did 18 months ago. Sometime it’s like, yeah, we should go back and work on this.
The beauty of the Internet is that you can release some of the tracks that didn’t make the album.
Yeah. We’re actually going to start doing that. We might not even do that with a full band. There are songs that can work with me and just a guitar on YouTube. Like you say, the Internet has provided a freedom for us to do that.
With all the decision-making involved, the final record must be very different from what you started out with?
For sure. We had to learn how to be a band. When we started we all came from more traditional rock and roll backgrounds and we wanted to try something new. We incorporated drum machines, synthesizes – not that that was earth-shatteringly new, but it was to us. Sometimes when you do something that’s foreign to you, you end up having happy accidents where creativity is sparked.
What are some major points of inspiration that’s driven the band thus far?
Musically speaking, uh 1985 [laughs]. We’re huge fans of early 80’s stuff – early U2, early INXS, Psychedelic Furs. Sort of this little bit dark, little bit romantic, little bit heartfelt stuff…For me what’s really important in songs and what influences the songs lyrically is life. I’m not saying that flippantly, I’m not saying the general idea of life, but stuff that happens to me. Stuff that I feel, stuff that I may have been reserved writing about previously in my life, I’m now tackling more head on.
The song “Anywhere Else” has such beauty in the simplicity of its chorus. Do you think a successful pop song requires a good hook?
Since you said “pop tune”, yes. The answer is yes. To have a successful pop song there has to be a hook. Could be a musical hook, could be a lyrical hook. I think you do need something there. What’s interesting and also difficult is trying to work in the framework of a pop song to meet its requirements in a very interesting way. To have a hook, but not to be a dumbed down hook, to have a lyric that actually resonates with people, but is not too difficult to understand. There are people that will write pop music off in broad strokes and say it’s worthless and not a respectable art form, and I think differently. I say if you want to take on the challenge of working within the framework of pop music and you want to do something interesting, I’m going to applaud that.
They say the best pop songs sound like the ones written most easily.
“Anywhere Else” was written easily. It was with me playing keyboards with my feet, while I strummed the guitar and had the drum machine going in my living room.
The other guys are better at Garage Band and Pro Tools. I use a Casio keyboard. I have a little drum machine I press play on so every song starts with the same beat. “Anywhere Else”] came really easily and really honestly so I’m glad it resonates.
Last but not least, as a big John Hughes fan, if you were to soundtrack one of his films, which one would it be and which song off Islands would you use?
We just watched The Great Outdoors last night and I didn’t even realize it was a John Hughes movie. So I’m going to pick that one because there’s a lot of good scenes in there and I’m definitely going to pick “Island” as a song since it’s the great outdoors. “Anywhere Else” was the song, like, I wanted to write a song that could be in Pretty In Pink. That was the goal of that song, to be in some John Hughes movie. I just love his pace and the way he uses music in his movies.