This summer I had the opportunity to get in the van with Rank Xerox and Rat Columns as they wondered through Europe to present their amazing music. I have met many bands and had the luck to spend some time with them but these fellows were definitely a bunch who stood out. They were funny, smarter than anyone I have met before and just lovely in a punk way. They killed it every night and it was as heartbreaking as life changing to get out of the van just few days later filled with memories that carry on to live vividly in my mind. I thought I will interview the mutual member of these two bands. He is David West a talented musician, anti-authorizer leader and the most fashionable van driver. Besides playing paranoid post punk with Rank/Xerox and landscape-ish bedroom punk with Rat Columns he is a member of Total Control, Burning Sensations and Lace Curtain.
MRR: How did you meet as friends and what were the reasons to pick the specific each other to play music with? And how did you recruit people into Rat Columns since it has started as your solo project? What was appealing for them to join this band?
DW: I met Jon, the drummer from Rank/Xerox, right when I moved to San Francisco. He put on a show in an obscure location outside of the city and I sent him a message on a now obsolete social networking/music website to find out how to get to this obscure location. When I got there he was very friendly and we chatted and within a couple of days I went to his practice space and lo and behold Mr. Kevin McCarthy, the bass player from Rank/Xerox was there too. This was the creation story for that act. For me, the reason to 'pick' them was that I knew nobody else in the entire city.
I 'recruited' people for Rat Columns based on already being friends with them, and knowing that they could play music. Actually Matt, one of the drummers that plays in the band, was originally playing guitar. Our then drummer quit and Matt casually mentioned that he knew how to play drums. It was a pleasant surprise. He is an amazing drummer! To this day I know not what was appealing about it for them.
MRR: What do you think about the connection of music and loneliness? As you said you started a band with Jon and Kevin cause they were the only people you knew. So rock and roll is based on a group formation. Still sometimes we are lonely in these bands. Is music for the lonely? The headphones are separating us while they are saving us, when we meet someone who shares the same taste in music we feel like we have found a piece of ourselves that was missing, instant connection. At shows where we are among many people our body language tells we feel alienated, hands in pockets, arms crossed, fist clenched. Still we go there to see people and be in a scene. For you how do these two things music and loneliness collide?
DW: Music is for the lonely, loser-y, lustful, lecherous, illiterate, illegitimate lads and lasses of this world. Music is for those who seek humiliating conditions and reverse parabolically destined lifestyles. Smart people do visual art, graphic design, architecture, literature, fashion, basically everything else. Anyway, I've never been lonely, never felt alone, I've always been accompanied by a small monkey named Fabian who compliments me all the time. I've never been part of a scene. I don't care if someone shares the same taste in music as me. In fact, that would be off-putting, as I have bad taste. Music and loneliness collide like a pasta splashing down into boiling water; the right amount and duration of loneliness makes for a delightful meal, too much and it turns into a soft mushy mess. If you're gluten-free, avoid loneliness.
MRR: What are you influences in creating music? Not just in terms of other musicians and band because as I see your bands Rank / Xerox is self conscious, controlled, even if it’s collapsing it still has an architecture-esque form, while Rat columns is more like sub-conscious, floats around like a cloud and it rather sounds like feelings and visions since on record it’s so eclectic and free. Both bands are unique I wonder what’s behind the writing of songs, the process as much as the motivations, or triggers and maybe other people’s art as influences too.
DW: Rank/Xerox's songwriting is a torturous collaborative process that might be described under the classic umbrella term of 'jamming'. Rat Columns has collaborative elements and some of the songs are co-written, but much of it is more classic songwriting where somebody writes a song, brings it to the others and they add their fairy dust to it, or not.
Influences are the usual pop culture detritus of the previous century and others. Music, books, movies. And then there are things I would call environmental influences, like stealing scenarios from other people's tortured relationships, urban/rural/pastoral landscapes, exotic lifestyles, ideas, the idea of an idea, Ikea, The Crimea, exotic lifestyles, ape-like creatures, memories, other people's memories, shows I went to, shows I didn't go to, horribly embarrassing situations, triumphant moments, Bleak Moments, the ocean, the desert, farms, rural towns, youth, old age, the future, Renaissance painters, underground car parks, inhabiting another person's body, dance clubs, parties, flashing lights, raves, mind altering substances, walking in the park, Indian food.
The motivation behind the music is totally unclear to me. Arrogance mixed with boredom, the desire for companionship and naivety?
MRR: Is there specific process in synthesizing the non-cultural more like life-based inspirations into sounds? I have read that Nabokov connected colors to words so when he was creating sentences, he also did something which in his head was drawing. But it was only in his head. So while it’s a rare thing that people are experiencing the same emotions when encountering something that’s like a song - for you, is there an approach when you want to translate everyday emotions into songs?
DW: Yeah, there is a specific process. Write down the event, subject, feeling onto a piece of paper. Reverse the victim and the victor. That is, make yourself the victor, Viktor. OK, now replace desperation with recalcitrant ambivalence. Scrub out Budapest and replace it with New York City. Erase feelings of inadequacy and insert feelings of non-directional aggression. Blank out crisp white wine and replace with heroin. Replace sweatpants with leather pants. Now sing, with some feeling, but not too much. Pat yourself on the back now. You are PUNK, baby!!!!! This method works for me, every time.
MRR: As I feel Rank / Xerox sounds like it exists in a trapped / hostile environment. Maybe I have told you this but for me sometimes you sound like being in a European block of flats and waiting for nuclear attack to happen during the cold war. A bit Kafkaesque frustration. While Rat Columns is more like out in the nature all alone wondering around. Are these real surroundings you are coming from or are these feelings you wanna create? Is there any feeling you wanna create with your music?
DW: I grew up around nature, on a farm, in rural Western Australia, so that is real, as real as a feeling or impression that somebody else has upon listening to your music can be, which is to say, really quite real, but it is more you than me, no? There are no feelings I want to create in others, but I do want to create feelings in others. It is non-specific. If anything we have done can bring out an interesting and evocative emotion or imagination in somebody else, that is a really pleasant thing. I don't wanna dictate. If we could frame somebody's loneliness into a more self-conceptualized, evocative loneliness, provide some comforting distance from discomfort, comfort via contextualization, or if we can make domestic chores less of a bore, both are fine results. Some say fine cheeses take on an even richer flavor when listening to Rat Columns' first LP. This is a good result too.
I have been in hostile environments but really my life is quite spoiled by global standards. Not everything can be holding hands in a field of flowers or neo-realism and I suppose an evocation of darkness is a luxurious activity for us comfortable westerners. There is a place for luxury. It could be a finely cut leather suit, a walk on the beach, a spare moment to cultivate an alternative persona, a fantasy existence. These are all luxuries. Rank/Xerox is a luxury brand. A luxury band.
MRR: You say Rank / Xerox is a luxury band. Couple days ago I was walking to a date and it was raining. I was listening to a band that sounded like they wrote songs for people who walk alone in autumn rain at night on empty streets. While I was out there I wondered about that what I saw and heard both total fit to each other and I felt like I was at the right place in the right situation. While the day before I lost my job and I couldn’t see my future. But still I felt if I could find joy in moments like this life is all right and everything is gonna be fine. Do you think art is luxury? Is it cheating? Should we wake up?
DW: We are a luxury band. Art is luxury, free time to create is luxurious. Cheating is a sensational sensation and a beautiful act. To be punk is to cheat, ignore rules, ignore morality, ignore the system. No, we should not wake up. To dream is to be granted temporary respite from this disgusting mutant octopus called Life. You experienced a classic synchronicity of sentimentality and circumstance. Slap yourself in the face Viktor. Wake the fuck up!!! The day before, you were an artist. The next, you were a consumer. Love is the drug, and I thought you were straight-edge. The supply of happiness is limited. Save some for me, lover boy.
MRR: Could you explain the violence in Rank / Xerox's music?
DW: There is violence in Rank/Xerox music? It comes from our tortured relationship with one another. When Jon hits the drums particularly hard it is because we have criticized trees in the van earlier in the day.
MRR: What about the nature in Rat Columns? It feels like when I’m listening to the music while I’m even in a town, the buildings just become things similar to trees or hills.
DW: That's a really nice image Viktor. That's a real compliment! That's really pleasant to hear. As far as evocation of nature goes, I am a bit of a classicist when it comes to imagery; I stick to things from the pantheon, to my advantage and detriment, so there is a lot of nature, earth and human nature. Flowers, night, love, loneliness, sadness, dark, light, empty streets, trees, grass, obscure sexual imagery. It's a bit lazy really. Traditional. Classicists are those without the spine to walk into the unknown, generate new ideas, reference the internet, make GIFs? It exists, it is powerful, eternal, I am going to use it. Why not?
MRR: Since there seems to be a boom in coalitions of punk bands and bigger indie labels (with major distros and coverage in lame media) and because your music could find fans in larger crowds do you feel like you need to act in protection of your music’s integrity? Would you mind stepping one level up?
DW: Hmmm, I think if you had existed in the 90s you would not be considering our current period much of a 'boom'. 'Punk' bands used to be signed by massive, multinational corporations, not 'major indies'. Going backwards, the Sex Pistols were on Virgin Records. This is a company that also has airlines, mobile phones, space tourism. Royal Trux were signed by a major label and released a record with an overflowing toilet on the cover. Things have been shrinking and shrinking to such an extent that anything beyond your housemate releasing 300 copies of your record is worthy of notice and comment. We are so aware of the machinations behind culture. Your housemate could rip you off, and use your massive profits to buy gourmet Danish rye bread, which you can't eat, because you are gluten-free these days. A major corporation could purchase you, lock you in a room for 3 years, shelve your album, let you out looking like Rip Van Winkle but with a million dollar handshake. Politics and business are worthy of discussion at times, but music and art have their own integrity that is not in the same sphere of existence as 'credibility', social networking, cheese sponsorships, tote bags. In answer to your question, our music is so inscrutably pure and sincere that I feel no need to protect its integrity, and sure, perhaps if I go one level up I will be closer to saving the princess and achieving the highest level of magic and the ability to fly.
MRR: Does the cruel gentrification of San Francisco affects your every days thus your song writings too? Do you feel like leaving the bay area? I know some of you already have.
DW: Hmmm this is such a hot topic. SF is really expensive partially due to gentrification so therefore you need to work more so therefore you have less time to write songs. So it has affected me. It is just like a force of nature, in my eyes, so I don't really think about it as much as some other people. It is a bit of a drag, I must admit. It is an idyllic spot in a lot of ways so people have always wanted to live here, have moved here, over many decades and cultural periods, but right now it is somewhat obnoxious. I don't have anything new or insightful to say about it. We need new industries that generate money that generate jobs for us art scum to work part-time at, but does it have to come at such a severe aesthetic and societal price? Rich people could at the very least, if they are going to change the social fabric of a city, wear beautiful clothes. Flip-flops are not appropriate for San Francisco's climate patterns. Toe shoes are not appropriate for anything. A lot of people have moved from here lately. If you want to live somewhat outside of the mainstream perhaps you can't live in the pop charts. I have left the Bay Area too but you never know, I might come back, perhaps technology is just a fad, lolz.
MRR: You are all engaged with different bands since you are fans of all different kinds of music. So it’s not just you like to listen to different music but also like to play different sub-genres. What is it that you look for in music? In other people’s music and also in the one you create?
In music I listen to or create, I just look for an combination of evocative melody, noise and/or rhythm, something to take me out of concrete reality for a moment or two.
MRR: Has it ever happened that you had a song that you liked but couldn’t fit into the whole picture?
DW: All the time! I wrote a lot of songs for Rank/Xerox that were overtly poppy or couldn't be integrated into our group-based writing system for some reason or another. Not good for productivity but good for having a strong identity, I am forced to admit, by my lawyers.
MRR: There seems to be a control in Rank Xerox. Is it shared in an anarchistic way or is there someone in charge? How much are you a perfectionists?
DW: There is always control, in everything, ever. I suppose it is democratic, kind of like a democracy where there are also slaves. Early USA? Our level of perfectionism, amongst members, ranges from low to high. I am low level, more based around tossing it off, letting it ride.
MRR: What is the horror?
DW: Toe shoes. Pop music without melody or songs. 'Janitors' aka stand-up paddleboard surfers taking too many waves, 'yes' you have the ability, 'no' you don't have the right. Flights back to Australia from the Northern Hemisphere. Environmental destruction on a massive scale in developing and non-developing and developed nations that we can't look down upon properly because we have been there and done that, and because we fly around the world guilt-free. People on their phones at the cash register. Sweatshops, the underground buying non-secondhand sportswear. People watching cultural events in person, through their phones. A constant presence, of anything.