Monday, March 23, 2009

Interview with J. Ryan of Six Finger Satellite

Six Finger Satellite is a band from Providence, RI that was signed to Sub Pop Records in the year 1990. Such an amazing collection of music followed and unfortunately I do not have the time to go through it in its entirety here. If you have not heard of this music you really need to get over to your favorite site and download it immediately (or fuck it, be brave and go to a record store). Highlights of their career for me have to be the 1993 release of The Pigeon is the Most Popular Bird, a double album that changed music forever. Also noteworthy is the 1998 album Law of Ruins which is a comprehensive mix of sadistic guitar work, evil keyboard, massive drumming and tasteful musicianship. Influential and extreme, Six Finger Satellite carved their own path taking many in the music world by surprise. Every release has been a well anticipated and delivered contribution, music that is very thought out and created with passion. With a past that contained drug addiction, death, insanity and other forms of rough living, Six Finger Satellite worked through it and continue to make music that is light years ahead of most that is going on in the year 2009.

The following is an interview I did with singer J. Ryan last week.

1. Six Finger Satellite has my deepest respect as a band and there is so much history I'd love to discuss but for this I'd like to focus on your latest releases. Can you tell me a little bit about Half Control, when was that music written, recorded and are you currently playing that material live?

HALF CONTROL songs were written and recorded in 2000-01. It was an odd time as I recall. Babies and break ups, blunders and baubles, etc. I feel the band had really hit a stride with Law Of Ruins and although that record has it issues, the sense of moving into a new song writing dynamic excited me. Unfortunately, the semantic autonomists arrived and things changed. I recall a conversation at the Parlour where Sub Pop had called and critiqued Law Of Ruins by saying that the bass was invisible and the vocals were under mixed and our illustrious guitarist at the time replying 'what do they want us to do? SELL OUT!" I was of the mindset that if you had a band for 10 years then balanced mixes were a sign of confidence. I was always the last to find out. Alas. Back to HALF CONTROL- Rick [Pelletier] had been playing with LANDED and the idea of working with Joel and Shawn [Joel Kyack and Dr. Shawn Greenlee] fell easily into place. We practiced quite a bit and wrote these tight, compact rockers. We recorded it ourselves on our 8-track, played a handful of shows around that time and then kind of slid into the ooze - movings out of state, family responsibilities, other musical endeavors and place holders etc. Rick and I attempted home mixing the songs many times over the next few years and finally got it right when we hooked up with Machines With Magnets [recording studio in Pawtucket, Rhode Island] to do a proper job. Load Records agreed to distribute and it will finally hit the ether this spring after being released as a downloadable gadget in Nov 08. We are playing a few songs from that record live and will eventually play most of them. 6FS is always moving forward baby!

2. How about the new stuff that is up on Myspace. It seems like a real new direction, what has changed in the band to produce this stuff?

The new stuff is a different line-up than Half Control. Rick plays guitar, Dan St. Jacques plays bass and Brian Dufresne is on drums. Originally this material was written with Jon Loper on skins in the tool shack at Rick's mansion in Tiverton, RI. I live in not RI, so I flew back many times over the year 2007 and we played - the guys jammed a lot and when I showed up we arranged and solidified the songs. Most of them on the new record were literally played once in the shack and then brought to the studio. I think the difference or direction is really based on the band members now - there are distinct personal styles at work and when combined -voila! - new magic. It is refreshing to know that there is no musical "agenda" going on either. We play things we like and make them our sound. There was a time when 6FS took ideas and turned them into rock songs - even the most retarded sounds and riffs could be cool but the band fell into a bit of style exercising at times in the late 90's - we're back to a free and easy approach to our excessively evil ways.

3. Do you feel like the music you make follows a certain tradition?

If bass, drums, guitar, throat is a tradition then yes.

4. What are you listening to lately?

MP3 player on shuffle - King Tubby, Mojave 3, Laughing Hyenas, MIA, Serge G., Galaxie 500, Minutemen, Everly Brothers, Der Plan, Kyuss, Dub Syndicate, Mission of Burma and Leonard Cohen all showed up today while driving to work.

5. What is the deal with record labels? I mean, Six Finger Satellite was signed to Sub Pop records, released five full length albums and one EP, now they have you as a "not active" band on their roster, but they still update their website on what your current shows are... weird. Any comment on that?

No comment I can think of. They recently declined to work with us on our new release. Probably for the best. Another day with the same problems. Sub Pop is into the retro 60's style vibe - popular independent music is mining the 60's subgenres for ideas and looks - mountain man folk yodels, boy girl sensitive soft rock, long hair jammers etc. If we worked with Sub Pop again the same issues from the prior experience would surface - we don't fit the style and they wouldn't know what to do with us. Give the label credit for staying relevant and with it I suppose. There are still 6FS fans there in the ranks. I think they're still sore we didn't play their anniversary shindig.

6. What advice would you give bands who want to work with a label in the year 2009? What does it take? Touring? A "fan base"? How did it happen for you guys?

I am not an advice giver these days. I have been away from the games. I'll gladly accept advice but I'm not in the giving spirit. I do believe however that it takes what it has always taken - strong songs, recorded well and playing convincingly live.

7. What goes into the lyrical content of Six Finger Satellite music? I hear a lot of characters Laughing Larry and now we are introduced to this Willy P. person. Is the inspiration from the music or more of putting some literature to the songs that are already established? You have some background in the field of writing correct?

Wilson P. The anti hero. The aging wizard. The yard worker. I don't consciously create characters in the songs. I always kind of marveled at singers who could do that and not make it sound forced. Dead Joe [Birthday Party song] for example.

8. Are there any established bands that are currently performing that you guys would like to play with?

Not sure about this one. So many are not good live. Not sure if you have to be these days. All the bands that I would consider are back doing the "best of" shows - reunions etc. Not sure if they are good anymore either. From the nyucks and fun side though it would be a blast.


  1. Love this band and interview! There was a time when I'd try to find as many of their shirts as possible on online shops or ebay - only one of the three I nabbed really fits me still (the one with the Neil Burke design)

    This band was/is(? would like to see this new lineup) a contender.

  2. They should just look at the good bands that aren't on their level of fame. Fuck how well known they are, just listen to them. I could name a shit load of bands they should tour with.

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  4. In reference to this: "They should just look at the good bands that aren't on their level of fame. Fuck how well known they are, just listen to them. I could name a shit load of bands they should tour with."

    They are starting of course with the bands they have asked to play with them on the 4/3 and 4/4 shows. Go to their MySpace page for details.

  5. I miss you guys. remember that fukkin hole in the wall sandwich shop on thayer we worked at? reggie barrows fired me for feeding poor homeless people. then it was on to geoff's on benefit for you, and i remember walking in one day and one of you tossing me a cd. it took me like two minutes to figure out it was a fukking nirvana cd and you guys were trying to tell me that cobain had signed with sub pop. beer, sandwiches and your amazing fukking music. those memories flood back every once in awhile if i go down to swan point to chill with a few beers. by the way, sorry, its jeff terranova. hope you are all doing well. you seem to be, but what the fuck does anyone really know about anyone, ever? peace.

  6. so bummed i missed them at sxsw!

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