Pat Todd throws out his rearview mirror
Michael Passman photo.
Pat Todd is one of the greats of American music in recent times. I say that not just because he has one hell of a set of pipes on him, and is an incredible songwriter, but because he’s also combined elements of garage, punk and country all into one mix. I can’t think of anyone that has done that as long as he has, or has done it so well.
Todd makes music that I find hard to believe anyone could dislike. He’s one of the great American songwriters. Todd formed his latest outfit The Rankoutsiders in the mid-2000s and they pick up where his legendary group the Lazy Cowgirls left off. Their latest release “…….there’s pretty things in Palookaville” is up there with his best work, but every LP he does is brilliant and it’s hard to pick a standout “classic”.Pat spoke to me from his Los Angeles homebase via Zoom, where Rankoutsiders guitarist Nick Alexander greets me before Pat comes on.
Tell us about the new Rankoutsiders LP "…….there’s pretty things in Palookaville", what process went into making it?
Pat: Well you know, we already had 37 songs , brand new songs. We recorded this with Earle Mankey, who is in Sparks. He’s worked with the Beach Boys. He recorded Helen Reddy and the Cramps. He’s worked with just about anybody and everybody. He worked on a Runaways record I believe. I’ve worked with him since 1995. We just get together and got in and recorded, and have it all sorted before we record.
What is a Palookaville, or where is it?
Pat: It means "rank outsider". You’re not familiar with the term? It’s like American slang from the ‘30s and ‘40s. For example in a boxing match that was just a setup, someone that wasn’t special, might be a Palookaville. Maybe people like you and me might be considered Joe Polookavilles.
So the idea, Palookaville, the world itself, that someone like me lives in. I work for a special effects studio, I’m a driver. So I drive around LA all the time, and you see people of all kinds everywhere, men and women going about their everyday lives. And it seems so common place but a lot of times there’s beauty in them hills. So it’s about that all the things I see.
And I guess it’s a continuation from the band name.
Pat: Yeah that’s an idea, like an underdog, people that are not counted on to do much. Maybe surprise you.
This LP contains songs that I feel Hank Williams or Billy Joe Shaver would belt out but with a garage/punk band backing ‘em, Songs like “Love Comes As It Goes” especially feels like a Hank Williams track.
Pat: Well thanks. You know, I really like punk, garage, country, roots, rock n roll, folk. I guess you could call it the roots of all this, I really like all that stuff. So thank you, that’s a complement. But yeah that’s where it comes from, real life music, hopeful reality, hopefully something you can identify with. So you pretty much got it right.
I’m a big Stones fan, a big Dylan fan, I love the New York Dolls; pretty much like all the things you’re supposed to like (laughs).
“Cheap Nostalgia” was my favourite track. A great track about not living on past glories - something you certainly aren’t doing.
Pat: I know a friend of mine who was super inspirationa;l he was into a lot of music, he was always up on everything. Turned me onto a lot of cinema, French poets, and a lot of books. He was a great teacher, a person you can learn a lot from. But then, he just stopped, he quit searching and he only wanted to talk about the old days, and old things and he couldn’t see beyond that.
And so many people - and I’m guessing you’re into garage rock - a lot of the people, they toe the party line, and say bands were only good a long time again. It’s true with some bands, but sometimes some bands, they can keep growing and stay inspired and do a lot of things. And some people they think music was only good when they were vital, and they were a part of it. And once they’ve gotten tired and walked away from it, then they want nothing to do with it and close their minds.
And that’s something you’re doing with the Rankoutsiders, the Lazy Cowgirls went through a lot of members and you could have just kept that going, but you said enough of that, let’s move on.
Pat: Yeah, also another thing is, since the start of the Cowgirls, it was always my band. I wrote the songs made the decisions, and went through a lot of people, so I just realized it was time. My name was on it because, you never want to lose anybody you think is good, but it’s my “vision” to be poetic and pretentious. But my vision we talk about is like dirt under your fingernails, it couldn’t be more real.
And I thought my name should be on this, so instead of the Rankoutsiders, which was my initial name. I added Pat Todd to the title. And what you just said is what I did. And I’m not gonna rest on past laurels.
And another thing: I’ve been on the road doing this - and I’m still on the same road. Whatever road I’m taking till I’m dead, I’m still doing it on that road (and) not getting off it. And the music reflects that, all part of one big thing.
I recently went back and re- re- re read the Eric Davidson book “We Never Learn”, about the punk scene from the late ‘80s and early ‘90s that the Cowgirls where part of. I loved pretty much every band mentioned in that book, but a lot of those bands have reformed and are kind of living off the greatest hits, which I think is fine. But you’re out there still making great new music, and it seems like you’re as busy as you’ve ever been.
Pat: Thank you. You know, I love the Rolling Stones, and I loved the Ramones at one time. The worst thing about the Ramones was, after a certain point, it became a cheap nostalgia, greatest hits act. The Stones at least constantly tried to introduce new songs - even if you don’t like them. I’m so inspired to make music, more so then I’ve ever been. I might not be any good, but I’m better than I ever was.
And so is the band, that’s another reason I wanted to change the name. I wanted it to be check us out now, not forget the past but this is now. So it was very important to me to stay vital and inspired and do music that mattered to me, more than ever now which is what I’m doing.
That said, I take it you’re never short of an idea and don’t suffer from writers block?
Pat: Not at all. As they say: I’ve got a million of them. We got 37 songsrecorded and I’m going back to do more. We have 5-6 releases planned. From LPs, EPs to singles all through next year.
So with the band structure I take it you write the tunes and then take the song into the rehearsal room for a jam?
Pat: Exactly. With COVID, and we’ve all been vaccinated but we didn’t have the chance to go in and practise constantly like we were. We’re the kind of band that practices every week. So we haven’t been able to do that as much lately. So these days, I’ll bang out a song on acoustic or electric guitar, and send it to a group chat message we got going. Then everybody learns the chords and the basic melody and we bash it together.
The band, the musicians, are really good rock n roll musicians everyone has a lot of creativity. Everyone’s a lifer, and this is there thing. And that really leads to a lot of sparks when we play. We go in and learn 4-5 songs at a time. Start knocking them out together.
Now when we practice, we do two all day and all night seasons, from afternoon till late at night, and we come back the next day and do the same thing. And the following week we come back and record those songs. That’s why we made so much music in a short amount of time
The first LP you released, “The Outskirts of Your Heart”, with the Rankoutsiders was a double LP, and I thought that was a statement. Was it 27 songs?
Pat: Twenty-eight. I had all these songs ready and couldn’t decide on which to cut. I thought they were really good, I’m prejudiced of course, but I wanted to show people I wasn’t done, not even close. I like the Lazy Cowgirls, don’t get me wrong, but it’s like you or me talking about our high school, or grade school days or something. It just seemed like cheap nostalgia. We always move forward.
You mentioned before the Cowgirls had many members go through the ranks, what about the Rankoutsiders? Had it been a solid line up?
Pat: It’s been Nick and I from the start, he’s the first guy. I thought about bringing him in to the Cowgirls as a second guitarist. When one of the guys left, I decided after about one week I’m going to start a new thing, and Nick was the first person I spoke with. And he said yes, so we started getting people together.
People have come and gone, but the core of the band, the five guys we have now, have been together for 4-6 years, Kevin Keller’s been here longer, he’s the other guitarist. We really have a real band now, for the last 4-6 years, a band where as I said there’s a lot of creativity and spark. The bands in it for the long haul, whatever that happens to be. That’s a great thing to finally get.
On top of the band, there’s also Rankoutsider Records, do you do other rleeases or just your own stuff?
Pat: Well it’s still an ongoing project, but right now it’s been pushed into a corner. There are a few local bands that are doing records that I’m doing with them, mostly singles and EPs, but right now it’s not my main concern. The band is.
We’re lucky, we work with Hound Gawd in Germany, who get picked up by Rough Trade distribution, and we have a Spanish label called Ghost Highway that we do singles with. And we just released a new 45 on Heavy Medication in Poland, and we did a single with Wild Honey in Italy. They also book tours. They booked Radio Birdman and now they’re gonna books our (European) shows. And we’re going to do a single with I-94 Records out of Detroit. We have so much material, but none of it is filler. So we said lets do all these things. We’re gonna live forever (laughs).
Going back to the book “We Never Learn”, a lot of those bands formed in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, so I was surprised to read the Lazy Cowgirls beat a lot of those bands by a few years. Was it 1982 the Cowgirls started?
Pat: Cowgirls started in ‘82, Rankoutsiders started 2005. Before that I had bands in Vincent, Indiana, playing original material from ‘76, but we were just playing in a small town playing original songs. Four or five of those people moved to LA to form the Cowgirls
Would you say you’re more popular in the states or Europe?
Pat: Probably Europe, but how big is hard to say. We’re going to try and go this year so we’ll find out. I don’t know why, andI don’t know how it is in Australia, but America is a giant behemoth and doesn’t care about rock n roll. And maybe it never did in a way. I think the ‘60s bands just lucked out with timing that was perfect, and then it lasted into the ‘70s, at least with the mainstream people. But some good bands like the Rolling Stones capitalised from that.
And I think all music from the ‘40s onwards that was really good was never very popular, not with the regular people. And America is so unartistic (laughs). It’s the dollar. It’s our way of life. So that’s why in America you popular in big cities with small audiences. I guess we’re going in the way of folk and jazz, playing in small rooms, but that’s OK, it’s a great life.
Possibly my favourite cover of all time is the Lazy Cowgirls doing “Goodbye to Yesterday”, originally done by Billy Joe Shaver, who sadly left us last year. Did you ever have any interaction with him?
Pat: I met him here and there, by that just: “Hello, you know I like your music”. That kind of thing. And he said: “Oh thanks for coming”, and I’m telling him, “You know, yeah, I got a band myself” (laughs). Then I met him at South by South West, and someone introduced me to him, and said: “This is Pat Todd he’s a great songwriter”. (That’s not what I said - that was my friend.) He didn’t remember me of course. He was a bit loaded, I said: “I like your stuff, you’re an inspiration”, and he said” “Don’t’ you think I know that?” (laughs) and that was the extent of our association.
Pat: Hopefully an LP and an EP for Ghost Highway. The EP’s gonna be called “Blues Soul and Rock n Roll” with four great black American songs I’ve liked since I was a little kid. I’m going to get that mixed tonight. Then another LP with Hound Dog Records out in a little less than a year. Shows in LA through to January, just gonna keep doing it.