I’ve said it a million times at this point – I know Josh Ricchio. I went to high school with him. I have incriminating photos, mostly featuring him wearing a 311 t-shirt. So for me to actually interview him for his “band” Freak Owls, an outfit mostly featuring Josh and Kolby Wade, his bicoastal partner in crime, made total sense. I didn’t have to try to be nice, or even coherent. I didn’t have to pretend about anything, especially about liking his music. (Except that I actually like his music. What are you looking at?)
Josh has been around – he’s recently moved from Brooklyn to Los Angeles, and is reacquainting himself to West Coast living. (He spent some time in San Diego several years ago.) He just came out with a new record, Orca City, this past January on Ricchio’s own Sing Engine Records. It’s a great step forward, a soundtrack to an imaginary film (more on that later), and finds Josh and Kolby branching out in lush, orchestral directions. I reviewed it. You’ll see more of that link, too, throughout this post, so you should probably read it at some point.
And now, without further ado, or sincerity, here it is. It’s a blindingly beautiful conversation.
Critical Masses: Maybe we should get this out of the way first: You and I performed (along with some ham named Brian Melcher) in the legendary basement project Hollywood Lobster Trio in the mid-1990s, back when you and I were both taking guitar lessons. As the former third wheel looking up to the two of us, you were obviously inspired by our incredibleness. I would imagine that the percentage of our influence to your current style is at minimum 90 percent. Tell us about these formative sessions.
Josh Ricchio: Well, I’ve done a fair amount of drugs since that time (mainly to forget), so my memory’s a tad hazy. I do, however, remember being quite the inspiration to the two of you. With no life experiences to speak of between either of you, you both turned to my wealth of knowledge and lifestyle for lyrical fruitfulness. Even something as mundane as my pair of $80 sunglasses found their way into those songs. To your credit, that’s like buying $100,000 sunglasses in today’s market, so it was certainly something special to sing about in those days. I was certainly something special to you kids back then. So, yes, I would wholeheartedly agree that my influencing you influences my current style at around 90 percent. [Ed. note: The Hollywood Lobster Trio, previously Abe Lincoln, did indeed reference Josh’s sunglasses in the rap song “Bucketful of Blues.”]
CM: I … don’t think you understood the question, actually. But it turns out the joke’s on you – we amounted to nothing! NOTHING! Where are your idols now?
Speaking of lobster, you’ve released two albums (Taxidermy, Orca City), an EP (Orchestrates), and are now embarking on a single-a-month series. Which format to you is the sweet, succulent tail, which the claws, and which is the nasty beady ol’ eyes?
JR: Dude, I fucking LOVE lobster.
I recently moved from Brooklyn to L.A., and started writing the songs that we’ll be releasing as monthly singles on Bandcamp. The change of scenery, and the ability to be able to write collaboratively with Kolby online (he’s still in NY), has been the juice in my cup. As you know, I hate the idea of B-sides, and really strive toward making every song memorable, melodic, and catchy. So, this whole new venture of releasing a single-a-month has been really fun and motivational. Kind of like Stop Boys (I hope you explain what they are to your readers, as I still have no idea). Instead of being any particular part of a lobster, I consider these songs as uni. Delicious uni. Yum.
CM: You released your most recent album, Orca City, in January. We reviewed it. What did we get wrong about it? What did we get right? How do you feel this album compares to your earlier output? What’s different in the songwriting, the production, the performance?
JR: You actually (and surprisingly) got two things right in your review. “I Would” was stationed as the first track on Orca City purposefully, as much for myself as for others, to be a gateway from Freak Owls’ past music to what lies ahead. The rest of the album is a more natural progression, but I wanted to start off the album with a bit more rock instead of the usual paper and scissors combo.
Orca City was also meant to be a soundtrack, of sorts, which brings us to the next correct portion of your review. The second track, “Bodies,” embodies (ha) the repetitiveness and climax building (ha) normally associated with soundtracks and scores. I focused less on song structure and more on mood, texture, and layering. This track is also a, sort of, gateway to the rest of the album, which I wanted to come across as a soundtrack to an imagined movie. One of my main goals in writing is licensing, and I’m beginning to lean more toward that as I get older. And wiser. And stuff.
I think, as a whole, the new album is a completely different beast than the first two releases. Taxidermy was a foray into a new way of writing and recording for me, and Orchestrates was more a collection of songs written more for the live band. Orca City, however, became a natural melding of the two, as the songs became one idea that was fortunate enough to live in both worlds. Deep, son.
CM: What’s the imaginary movie about? Does it star Michael Douglas and Kathleen Turner?
JR: If it were up to me, Kathleen Turner would star in every movie. But it’s not, so she doesn’t. Do you know there’s a 1984 film called Romancing the Bone? I don’t think she stars in that one either. If I were to remake the porn remake of Stone, I would have no choice but to give Ron Jeremy the role Danny DeVito had. I mean, no offense to either of those guys, but who else?
What was your question again?
CM: Um. So who would play General Zolo? I can’t fathom how the line “Lookit them snappers” would be used. Cartagena would get such a bad rap. Actually, forget it, don’t answer this question.
I’ll get back to the Bandcamp releases, but I want to know more about the move. This has to be really transitional for Freak Owls, and for any band frankly, when a bicoastal relationship is involved. What brought on the move? What’s different about living and playing music in LA for you? How different is it working with Kolby via the internet – writing process, recording, etc.? What’s the future live iteration of Freak Owls?
JR: The move to the West Coast was a personal one, and one that I’ve dearly needed for a while now. I sowed my proverbial oats in New York, and now it’s time to make some oatmeal. The steel-cut kind. I’ve always been a bit of a drifter, and I had lived in Brooklyn for 8 years. I needed sun, ocean, and room to breathe. Also, most of the licensing houses I deal with are out here in L.A., and I’ve been writing for television and film more and more lately as opposed to touring. That’s kind of where my focus is right now … making money, not spending it.
As for working with Kolby via the internet, we’ve been doing that for years, so it’s an easy transition with the move. We can get to the music separately whenever each of us has time, instead of trying to get together once a week (maybe) just to work shit out and rehearse or whatever the fuck it was we did when we got together. I only remember cigars and many das boots.
Freak Owls has no plans to give up touring and performing (we love it more than anything), but right now we’re focusing more on writing and getting material out there. When the right time comes around again, after the dust settles, we’ll be in your town and in your face. Although, “in your face” sounds like we’re a lot harder sounding than we really are.
CM: No, I think “in your face” is a good descriptor. Your tour with Mastodon pretty much proved that. [Ed. note: There was no tour with Mastodon.]
So I guess at the moment the Bandcamp singles series is the most logical step in your progression. Not only does it allow you to continue to release music, but it allows you, as a format, to explore the different distribution possibilities as well as hone your recording relationship. (Even though you and Kolby have already worked this way, the possibility still existed of meeting in one place when you were living in New York.) What’s the plan for the series? Will the songs exist forever on Bandcamp as single entities? Or will they be compiled into a whole at some point? And honestly, why not do a 7” or a limited cassette release? Cassettes are in, hoss.
JR: I love that cassettes are in now. I still have a pretty sweet cassette collection … there’s every Mötley Crüe up to, and including, Dr. Feelgood; Hysteria and Pyromania; a White Lion, a Winger and a Slaughter … man, I was into some good shit! Then, there’s this weird transition into Ice Cube’s Predator, followed by a bunch of Snapcase and VOD tapes. Weird. A ton of hardcore in here, and a compilation you made me about 20 years ago riddled with Pavement and Pixies tunes. You did your best. [Ed. note: It was THE best, not just my best.]
Kolby and I have been talking for years about putting out vinyl, though, so you might see all these upcoming songs in that format. Maybe something like a Cattle Decapitation release, where the LP looks like someone bled and came all over it. I think our fans would appreciate that.
CM: My favorite line from Predator: “I even saw the lights of the Goodyear blimp, and it said ‘Ice Cube’s a pimp.’” That’s true poetry, you know. I can hear that influence in your lyrics. I think you should release one track a month forever. Saturate the market. No more albums. Addict your audience to the crack rocks of your creativity. Or do a double C80 cassette release to ensure your underground credibility. (What was that you said about licensing?…)
So besides an affinity for pop metal, rap, and terrible hardcore, what’s the Freak Owls back story? What were you doing before this, and how did you get to where you are? I know you’ve played in “harder rocking” outfits prior to your Freak Owls output, like Pela, which has now become We Are Augustines. (Seems like you jumped that ship a little too early…) Did you ever think you’d have settled into this style of music? What led you here?
JR: I had been toying around in different genres for a few years before Freak Owls came about. Kolby and I recorded a group of R&B songs with this really talented singer about 5 or 6 years ago, as well as a ton of Portishead/Massive Attack kind of stuff over the period of a year or so.
The whole Pela thing happened when I was playing guitar in a straight-up dance pop group with my friend Kerry Beach (The Beach Project). I was working at a cafe with Nate Martinez, who was Pela’s guitarist at the time, and they were looking for a keyboardist. At the time I was not a very good keys player, but was really into the challenge. Luckily, I didn’t have to learn any ballads or anything. I had the best time with all of those dudes. Our first live performance was on Jimmy Fallon, and our last was opening for Sonic Youth in front of 6,000 people. How could I not have a blast? They had been together for 7 years before I joined up, so it was nice and fun to be able to step onto a moving train for once, instead of having to build something from the ground up. That came next.
I wrote most of what would become Taxidermy while I was in Pela, and finished the record with Eric Sanderson (Pela bassist, who also worked on the “Orchestrates” EP). I went into the writing process with the main focus being on simple, catchy melodies with universal, catchy lyrics. I wanted to get away from the loud guitars and drums that I had gotten used to and start using more acoustic instruments. I bought a mandolin and a ukulele and went to town. The whole process was very liberating, and I started to really feel like I was finally doing something for myself. Good times. I was all like, “I gotta go, cuz I got me a drop-top, and if I hit the switch I can make that ass drop.”
CM: I don’t understand that reference. Is it still Ice Cube? I’ve only ever heard that one line that I quoted above, actually. Ice Cube was always a little too tame for my tastes. I like the real hard stuff. Like Eminem.
I also like ukuleles, and think they should be used much more often in pop music. What’s Jimmy Fallon like? What’s Thurston Moore like? What’s Kim Gordon like? (I don’t care about Steve Shelley or Lee Ranaldo, although they’re clearly cool dudes.)
JR: Fallon was actually a really nice guy. He was just getting started with the show, and took the time to come back to our dressing room to say hi before we went live. He was cracking jokes, but you could tell he was a bit nervous. After the show, all of the guests, Jimmy, The Roots, and us stood on the stage in front of the audience like at the end of an SNL episode. Our singer, Billy, leaned over and told Jimmy he was doing a great job, and Fallon said, “Really? Thanks, man, I’m scared out of my fucking mind.”
We never actually met Sonic Youth. Even though we shared the same green room tent with them, we were shooed out after our performance by the promoters so the band could have the room all to themselves, which actually made them way cooler in my mind. They destroyed that night. Pela had a pretty energetic live show, but somehow middle-aged people wiped the floor with us.
CM: Sonic Youth sounds like a bunch of dicks. (Just kidding, Sonic Youth, I love you…) In that case, would you consider yourself the Björk or the Joan Baez of your generation?
JR: I would consider myself the John Tesh of my generation. But, obviously not as good a pianist. Penis.
CM: I don’t think that language is necessary. Here’s a good question that I’m sure all of the soccer moms are going to want to know: Mark Kuykendall, who engineers your tunes – any relation to Bobby Kuykendall (cka Bobby Dall) of Poison? Does he ever go by “Marky Dall”?
I always thought it was just “Bobby Dall”!?! I’m gonna start calling Mark that now. It’s funny, I only met Mark once about 8 years ago in Tulsa, Oklahoma, while on tour with an old band Kolby and I were a part of. He’s an old friend of Kolby’s from high school, and they’ve been collaborating on projects for years. Even though we both record most Freak Owls music from the comfort of our own homes, you can’t beat the nice expensive preamps and other gear actual studios are privy to. Mark takes our mixes and just makes them sound better. It’s kind of hilarious that we’re spread all over the country like this, never actually getting any face time with each other, but it works.
CM: I don’t think this interview is going well at all, and I don’t like your attitude. You’re a guest on my site. What do you have to say for yourself?
JR: I’m really happy for you that you were able to get this interview with me. This’ll, no doubt, boost your career up into the big leagues. “It’s all about the little people,” as I always say. I ALWAYS say that. It’s crazy.
I’m gonna have to cut this interview short, though, as I have to get back to work on these new Tesh tunes. These new songs are some of my favorite Freak Owls have done. I like the songwriting process, as well as the end results, and can’t wait until people hear them.
Hey, also this dude (Olav Christensen) has been doing some remixes of my songs. Maybe throw that in there somewhere. I posted a link to the remix of “Karaoke Angel” a while ago.
Before I go, isn’t your brother in a boy band? Is there no age limit on boy bands anymore?
 I couldn’t decide whether to answer, “No goddamn way,” or “They’re the best inspirational/educational boy band featuring my brother you’ll ever hear,” but I’ll let that be a choose-your-own-adventure with no further direction.