Get Drunk, Play Records with Loose Pill Ryan Ellsmore
Loose Pills (fron left) Stu Wilson, Matt Galvin, Ryan Ellsmore and Bill Gibson
Remember when ‘super groups’ played ‘pop music’ that rocked? Yes, both terms have been bludgeoned into redundancy but Sydney’s Loose Pills are doing their level best to re-introduce some relevance.
The membership should be enough to make you prick up your ears - New Christs, The Eastern Dark, Lemonheads, Orange Humble Band, The Scruffs (the Aussie edition), Pyramidiacs and too many more to mention dot the collective history. The debut album, “Rx”, seals the deal with a dose of raucous guitars, powerful dynamics and pop smarts.
We spoke to singer-guitarist Ryan Ellsmore to get the lowdown and what makes a great Heavy Pop record.
The bio says there was a sense of inevitability about Loose Pills coming together because so many members had played with each other. Can you expand on that. How did the band actually come about?
There’s a lot of shared history between us, so when I was looking to put something together in 2010 these were the ‘go to’ guys for me. We didn’t need to try anybody out and we knew exactly what we were getting.
The short version is, Stu and I have been playing together on and off since we were about 16. Matt and I played for years together in The Scruffs, and I’ve been crossing musical paths with Bill for years. On top of that, Bill and Matt have worked with each other on a number of projects through the years. And of course, Stu and Bill were both in the New Christs, albeit at different times.
You’d recorded most of these songs for a solo album, hadn’t you? How many of the guys played on those recordings?
I had a bunch of songs I wanted to do something with, I was living on the north coast and didn’t have a band so I headed up to my good friend Steve’s. He has a farm in Alstonville with a great little studio on it, so we tucked into these songs, with him handling the bass, drums and engineering (he’s a bit of a whizz kid). Matt then made the pilgrimage up for a few days and ended up laying down guitars on all the tracks. A few months later I also got Bill involved to do a bunch of backing vocals. By the time it was close to wrapping up I found myself back in Sydney again with a new job and a new band in Loose Pills.
I really liked the recordings that were made but it was obvious, once Loose Pills began rehearsing the songs, that there was something happening sonically that wasn’t present in the original takes. So in the end, the recordings ended up being the demos for the album.
Talk a bit about how you moved to Sydney last decade. What bands have you played with and whatever happened to The Scruffs?
Stu and I first moved down in the early ‘90s and formed Hammerfish. We lasted a few years and released an EP. I then formed the first 3 piece incarnation of The Scruffs with Dan Bell and Marty Doo. We had an EP ‘Take A Bath’ and then after a period morphed into The Scruffs (MKII), now a four piece with the addition of Matt Galvin and Richard Weinman.
I think The Scruffs were a top band, we recorded an album that I’m pretty proud of ('The Actual Size'), played a lot of great shows and had an eventful tour of Spain with The Pyramidiacs in 2001. The band was going along nicely but some things in my life went a bit pear shaped, and sadly the band became a casualty of my inability to commit to it at the time.
Of course that band name was shared with the American group. Were you aware of that when the Sydney band formed?
No, not initially, even though I was into a lot of similar bands from that era. Although it didn't take long ‘til everybody that did know told us.
When it came time to release our album in Australia (already out in Spain as The Scruffs) we finally, and begrudgingly, changed our name to The Wake Ups to end the confusion. In hindsight it probably just added to it.
Back to Loose Pills. You don’t hear this sort of music played on the radio any more. Any theories about how that came about?
Not really. I don’t think radio’s as relevant as it once was, with YouTube, podcasts, etc. Those mediums cater for people who still enjoy this type of music. You just need to dig a little deeper for it.
Big Star is an obvious influence on Loose Pills. What else do you listen to?
I’ve always enjoyed listening to as much music as I can, and if I was to get specific (and segue into a plug), you could refer to our video for ‘Get Drunk, Play Records’. The video is pretty much me flipping through my collection over a few beers. Just like the song says!
How many gigs have Loose Pills played now? When you’ve played as many gigs as the collective members have in other bands do you think constant roadwork is relevant? How often do you get together to rehearse?
We’ve played a modest number of gigs in the last few years but we definitely don’t play as much as we’d like. I don’t think constant roadwork is necessary or, sadly, even possible in today’s landscape – there just don’t seem to be as many options. We’ve adopted a ‘less is more’ attitude.
Your name’s on most of the songs. What’s the writing process involve? Do you bring a song to rehearsal, fully formed, or do the others contribute much to arrangements.
The songs on the album have had a stupidly long gestation period, most songs having been written and demoed before they made it to the band. Even Stu’s two tracks were older ones he had kicking around earlier. We tweaked a few things and the guys transformed the songs with their playing, but these ones pretty much arrived fully formed. Now that the decks are cleared I’m looking forward to working on new songs from scratch with the band.
Stu Wilson contributed two songs to the album. How do you juggle having two (or more) songwriters in the band?
I’m a fan of Stu’s songs and we’ve played in bands previously where he’s always contributed a few songs. Bill contributed a great song ‘Fall From Grace’ to the ‘Not The Driver’ EP, and even Matt’s been known to write the occasional tune. I think we’re all on the same page, there’s certainly no one-upmanship.
What do you think about being labelled power pop? Does the label adequately cover what you play?
I don’t think any of us are overly fond of the term ‘power pop’ even though we certainly like a lot of the bands that get put under that umbrella. I think it’s because there’s also a lot of ‘twee’ sounding bands that like to wave the power pop flag. We like to give it a good nudge so we’re calling it Heavy Pop. Plus, I think there are a lot of other influences evident in our sound.
Where did that great cover from Adelaide's The Spikes come from?
Someone started talking about The Spikes at rehearsal one night and it turned out we were all fans. Matt had played ‘River of Love’ in a band when he was a teenager and put his hand up to sing ‘She’s Melting’. When we were recording the EP we had a bit of time left on the clock so we decided to have a quick crack at it with Matt nailing the vocal in one take. His vocals great on it and it’s good fun to play, so it ended up in the set and as a bonus track on the CD version of Rx.
And what’s the band name all about? Is the album title a statement in itself?
There’s not much in the name. It was more a case of ‘we can live with that’. Everything else we liked was already taken.
Bill came up with ‘Rx’ for the album, which is medical shorthand written on prescriptions which means ‘take this’. With a pharmacist and a psych nurse in the band, ‘Rx’ seemed fairly apt.
”It’s your prescription for a good time!!” (copyright Bill Gibson)
Bill Gibson with Stu Wilson behind him.
If you could play on your dream bill, who would Loose Pills surround themselves with?
I can’t speak for the others, but I would give a kidney to play with the Replacements.
The album’s only just out but are there plans to take it on tour or overseas?
Not at the moment, but we’d love to.
You’ve played in Melbourne. What was the reaction?
Great. We played two shows down there at the end of last year. Hoping to get down again later this year.
Since we’re in a bar, what are you drinking?
Coopers Green thanks.
Rx is out now on CD through Off The Hip and will be available on vinyl in mid-September through China Pig Records