by Alex Gordon
Fans of upbeat, ambitious and slightly strange indie pop have a show to go to this week. Tuesday night, Brillobox hosts the Portland outfit Ramona Falls, on the road for their sophomore album Prophet. Local notables Nevada Mountains and The Show will open.
If this is the first you’re hearing of Ramona Falls, here are the bulletpoints (in paragraph form). Founded by former Menomena member and notable nice person Brent Knopf, Ramona Falls debuted in 2009 with an album called Intuit (Barsuk). It’s a great sounding record, beautifully produced and dark in a sort of quirky way, kind of like what Grizzly Bear would sound like if they had a little more fun. Or if they wrote songs like “Two Weeks” more often.
In 2011, Knopf left Menomena to work Ramona Falls full-time and the renewed focus seemed to pay off. Number two Prophet is near-perfect in terms of following up and escalating the ideas on the debut. It’s equally pretty and still refreshingly un-electronic, but more cohesive and (somehow) more personal than the first, all while cranking out some high-level highly accessible pop music. Start with “Bodies Of Water” (like the album does) and that’s a good picture of their sound, the way they balance the weird and their love of a strong, catchy chorus.
If you’re not sold, here are some hard-hitting gotcha questions I sent Knopf over email this week to help push you over. Show info at bottom.
I checked out your 9386 mile winter tour route on Facebook. It’s a beast. Do you do a lot of writing on the road? Can you think of any Ramona Falls songs you wrote on tour?
Songwriting, for me, is related to how much free time I have. I tend to tour-manage most tours that I'm a part of, and the time-commitment for advancing shows, booking hotels, and driving is significant. So, usually it's towards the middle or the end of the tour that I begin to find time to delve into songwriting, because that's when most of the logistics have been sorted.
The first song on Ramona Falls' debut Intuit was written in a dormitory stairwell of Grinnell College in Iowa. In fact, that stairway was so reverberant that I actually used some of the original takes in the final recording of "Melectric" (despite having recorded through a crappy built-in laptop mic). I remember that I wrote the lyrics for "Wet and Rusting" while sitting in the van. About a week into our most recent tour, I began jotting pretentious poetry into a notebook during some of the epic drives. It's always a fuzzy process.
I heard a rumor that Timbaland's tour bus contains a small recording studio, and that sounds like heaven to me (regardless of whether or not it's true). I'd love to be able to purely focus on writing and making songs while on tour, because that's the part of the creative process I find most fascinating / challenging / invigorating.
I’m a big fan of your music videos. It seems like you really enjoy the form and particularly the opportunity to tell full bodied stories in the medium. Do you have a favorite music video (or favorites)?
Yeah, Michel Gondry's music video for "Let Forever Be" is jaw-dropping (like most of his work). I'm really sad that musicians and labels are struggling financially these days, as it's becoming increasingly impossible to cover even meager production costs of a quality music video (even if everyone works for free).
I'm heartbroken that my attempts to create more music videos for Prophet have failed. That said, I've been so incredibly fortunate to have worked in the past with ingenious directors like Stefan Nadelman, Thom Glunt, Cullen Hoback, Trevor McMahan, Lance Bangs, and Jonnie Ross. With each music video, I try to get a sense for how I can be helpful, and how I can foster a context so the director can create something exceptional. My role has ranged from writing the entire storyboard, to weighing in on edits, to orchestrating an animated typewriter sequence, to just being a location scout.
Ramona Falls' video for "Fingerhold," directed by Thom Glunt.
I read an interview you did in May (Portland Monthly Mag) where you mentioned "Weird Al" Yankovich as an influence due to your “love of pop music.” What's your favorite Weird Al song? What makes a great Weird Al Song? And lastly, this is an incredibly difficult question, but what RF song has the most potential for a great Weird Al song? I won't ask you to come up with the wordplay yourself, but if you're up for it…
Ha! I think "Weird" Al's song "Yoda" is sensational (it's a parody of "Lola" by The Kinks). When I was very young, my parents (rightly) shielded me from adult subject matter, so buying Madonna's "Like a Virgin" wasn't an option. Thankfully, buying "Like a Surgeon" was, and "Weird" Al records became my gateway into pop music. Some of his greatness I, as a former middle-school kid, attribute to his ability to draw out the absurdity of culture and expression by purposefully confusing popular memes. His music has all the catchy / sexy hooks, but with the playfulness and silliness of youth!
I think I'd be more honored by "Weird" Al parodying a Ramona Falls song than I would by getting inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. It's almost like having an appearance on The Simpsons — inarguable proof of one's cultural influence (for better or worse). I have no idea which Ramona Falls song would lend itself best to a parody. Maybe "Bodies of Water"? Maybe the lyric "I have to let go of total control" could be perverted into a jingle for Depends? Replace the word "total" with "bladder," maybe? Keep in mind, our target audience here is prepubescent boys, so lyrics need to be gross to be effective.
Find Ramona Falls, Nevada Mountains and The Show at Brillobox this Tuesday. Tickets $10, 21 and Over. Doors at 9:00pm, music 9:30pm.