My friend Lucas likes to chug beer and run into the side of small sheds to see if he can knock them over. He sits in his car, slams Hamm's or Rainier, and listens to music to get fired up beforehand. He's a large guy, but I don't think he's ever actually knocked a shed over—he just gets off on the release from the impact. The other day, I slipped Lucas a copy of Wimps' new EP, Party at the Wrong Time (out on Help Yourself Records), and asked him to make it the music for his next shed-dozing escapade. I told him I wanted a review when he was finished. Two days later, Lucas called back, yelling, "Fucking drencher, yeah!" I asked him if that was good, and he said, "Oh yeah, I fucking loved it. Those songs are perfect for shed-hits. It's rhythm 'n' balls." There you have it. It's also scrappy punk, full of feisty, negativistic decrees. Party at the Wrong Time is Wimps' second release, and the trio of singer/guitarist Rachel Ratner, drummer Dave Ramm, and bassist Matt Nyce sounds spunky and honed. Ratner sings with hearty charges, issuing bummer-mandates in call-and-response with Nyce. Peppered lyrical content ranges from animal medicine to economic funk to phone tapping. For the interview, we imagined we were in an imaginary steak house. Lucas was not there.
How have Wimps changed as a band in the last year? Ratner: My body's capacity to digest pizza has increased tenfold. And my liver is as strong as an ox. Also, Dave's better than ever at Arkanoid. Did you know Dave is the premier Arkanoid player in Seattle? Go to John John's, he's got his name on the machine. They call him Arkanoid Dave.
Nyce: Dave has moved to Portland, moved to Seattle, moved to Portland, and moved to Seattle.
Ramm: We've toured a lot, seen more of the country.
What are the keys to being good at Arkanoid? Ramm: It's like Breakout from the original Atari. I started playing Arkanoid on the original Nintendo; it came with its own special paddle. I try to clear my mind and just focus on the game. It's tough sometimes in an arcade, when people are bumping into me or watching me. I wish I could have complete silence, but I try to let everything go. One of the keys to doing well, I think, is I don't use the laser that much. They lure you into using it—it seems like it'd be easier to shoot stuff. But it's a distraction, and you actually get more points if you just use the regular ball.
Where have been your favorite places to play on tour? Nyce: I really like the Know in Portland. It's not very far away, but every time we've been there, it's been really good. Like when we played with the Therapists, and the guy barfed on command four different times. It's a small room, but people come out and they dance.
Ratner: I've never seen someone vomit so much onstage and keep singing [laughs]. The mic was covered in it. And all I could think was "I have to use his mic after this." We've been on a few tours since we started two years ago—we toured the West Coast twice, and the US once. We travel in my Volvo station wagon. When all three of us and our gear are in there, it's pretty close quarters. Dave has to be strategically Tetris'd into the back seat. We call it the "Dave Cave."
Ramm: I liked the Buccaneer in Memphis. We played with this amazing blues band called Time. Also Wally's World in Chicago and Silent Barn in New York were both really fun. And that Harrisonburg, Virginia, house party at the Crayola House was really fun. Everyone was super nice.
Ratner: And we got the best payout at that party. They passed a hat afterward, and in the hat was cash, beer, a black crystal skull, some crushed cigarettes, and an assortment of pharmaceuticals.
Where do Wimps songs come from? Ratner: You know, the old existentially meaningless void that is everyday life in the modern world.
Nyce: The same old crap. Eating your dog's medicine. Write what you know.
Ramm: One song's about how I don't party much, but when I do, it's on a Tuesday night before my first day at a new job [laughs].
How do you all usually write? Ratner: Usually we each take a fistful of mescaline and then climb to the top of the tallest mountain and sit reflecting on the world and what it means to us, Father John Misty–style. And then the songs just come to us in a vision. Other times, we get drunk and play together and then we find something we like and then we play it over and over again and then record it on our phones and then listen to it later and if we like it then it's a song.
Nyce: [Pauses] Like Father John Misty.
Ramm: Sometimes Rachel will have a song almost completed and then bring it to us. We probably write songs every way a band can write songs.
What type of things do you think about when you play your instruments? Ratner: Don't mess up don't mess up don't mess up don't mess up don't mess up don't mess up don't mess up
Ramm: I'm really sweating a lot.
Nyce: If it's a live show, I worry about chipping my teeth on the mics. I have a bass amp that shocks me when the switch is flipped one way and I complete the circuit by singing in the mic, but I'm not shocked at all if it's flipped the other way. The "danger" direction changes depending on where we are playing. I'll spend the first part of the set wondering if I will be electrocuted, then the rest thinking about Father John Misty.
How long did it take to record Party at the Wrong Time? Who produced? Ratner: We recorded the EP over a weekend at MRX studios with Matt Stegner. He's recorded all the bands I've been in at one point or another [Butts, Partman Parthorse, and Wimps]. We tried to record everything as live as possible, though we did the vocals separate. Matt engineered, and our very own Matt Nyce assisted with producing and mixing.
In "Distraction," there is mention of a dis track. What's a dis track you all like? Ramm: The Spits have a dis track on the Dirtnap Across the Northwest comp that's great.
Ratner: My other band, Partman Parthorse, has quite a good dis song from the Emerald City Dummies 7-inch on ggnzla Records. It dissed every band playing in Seattle at the time.
Your song "Dog Pills." What's a dog pill? Why dog pills? What does it feel like when you take a dog pill? Ramm: I have trouble sleeping. I have diagnosed sleep apnea. So every day it's hard for me to wake up.
Nyce: Dog pills are prescription medicine prescribed to your friend's dogs.
Ratner: The song's about a hypothetical scenario where a person has reached a new low in life where they've tried all the human drugs, but they just don't give them the high that they used to. So they resort to taking their dog's medicine. I've heard that dog pills make a person feel really sleepy and then have a hankering to eat cat turds. But that's just what I've read.
How does Matt Stegner dial up the magic in the studio? Nyce: I've found one of the challenges of recording is getting a really great drum sound. MRX is a really good space—perfect for recording drums. Matt even remarked that we seemed to get the sweet spot by accident. So our drums sounded great, which was a nice start. And I think it always sounds better when bands record live. And Matt knows how to work the dials.
Dave, what's the status of your master's degree in speech therapy? What are the main goals of speech therapy? What would you like to do with it? Ramm: I graduate in May. I'm doing my final internship right now. Speech therapy is a wide field—you can work with adults who have had strokes and brain injuries, you can work on language and memory problems. There's a big range. I would like to work in a public school with children. Typically, we work on articulation problems and social and general language problems. I really enjoy doing what I do. I work with people on a case-by-case basis. For example, for people who stutter, therapy-wise there are things clinicians do, like encouraging an easy-onset voice, where you relax a little bit and talk as you breathe out. The therapies vary. Part of why I went into speech therapy is the counseling aspect of it. Ultimately, I like working with people.
I know this isn't really speech therapy, but I was in the grocery store buying a pear, and two people were having an argument. One of them said, "Fuck me, you know. Fuck you. Fucking A." I thought that was a pretty interesting sentence. If you HAD to guess, where do you think the phrase "fucking A" comes from? Who was the first person to ever say "fucking A"? Ratner: It was back in 1849. Josiah Brown was working on his farm in San Luis Obispo, California, during the great gold rush. He was one of the "49ers" looking to make a quick buck, and had just settled down into a stream to start panning for gold. Only he quickly found out that the area was overrun by domesticated camels known as alpacas. He couldn't turn two steps without running into one of those fluffy beasts. "Fucking alpacas," he'd say, as he returned home to his wife each day empty-handed. And thus, "fucking alpaca" turned into a colloquialism for unexpected forces getting between a person and their dream. Anyhow, "fucking alpaca" over the years was shortened to "fucking A," because it has fewer syllables and is easier to say.
How do your new songs differ from your first release? Ratner: They're newer.
Nyce: Didn't you write them on acid, Rachel?
Nyce: Right. Rachel didn't write them on acid. Write that down. And we wrote them more as a band.
Ramm: It's a fuller sound. A little less lo-fi.
Nyce: I'd say we're in lo-/mid-fi range.
Ratner: And I think we're always kind of progressing as a band and getting more creative in the kinds of parts we're writing. And always looking to get better at Arkanoid.