Creator Chats: Alien Boy + Strange Ranger
Sonia: What’s your favorite song you’ve ever written and why?
Isaac: I'm always biased towards newer stuff, but I think my favorite song I've written is a song called Living Free that's gonna be on the new album. I was just really happy with the lyrics and usually liking or disliking lyrics I've written is probably the main thing that informs how I feel about a song.
Sonia: Last New Years Eve you told me that Green Day’s “When I Come Around” music video is highly influential on the look of you/your band, is this true? Is your band having “a look” important to you? If so or if not, why?
Isaac: Ya, I love that video. That song obviously rules and everything about the video looks so cool. That shot of them walking towards the camera that sort of ties the video together is so great. I never used to think about fashion too much but the way they're dressed in that video to me is like the height of Cool as silly as that probably sounds. I would love to look that awesome. Having a look is obviously important although it kind of sucks to acknowledge that for some reason. Even if the look is like an "anti" look, it's still a choice that someone is making. I try to just not think about that stuff, but it's always there somewhere whispering in your ear.
Sonia: What was the first band or artist that you loved or obsessed over? Did you ever have band posters in your room growing up? When’s the moment you knew you had to be a rocker?
Isaac: The first music I really loved was Jimi Hendrix. I think my parents got me his greatest hits for either my birthday or Hannukah when I was 5 and I was immediately completely obsessed. Even when I started listening to other stuff he still remained a huge part of my musical life. I had a big poster of him on my ceiling above my bed when I was in high school. Pretty weird. This is one of the most embarrassing things about my whole life but I wanted to play guitar after seeing School of Rock because I was jealous that my dad thought the guitar playing kid was cool.
Sonia: Aw that’s really sweet. Also just wanna say I had a poster of “The Used” above my bed where they were curb stomping themselves (wtf!?!) and it was terrifying so Jimi seems pretty mellow and cool to me.
A few years ago at the record release show for “Rot Forever” did you see me cry when you played “If You Let It”? Because you looked me right in the eye and I was so embarrassed. I think that song is really beautiful, as well as so many of your others but that was my first favorite (though technically not even a Strange Ranger song?). Can you still tap into the feeling/emotion/sentiment of songs you wrote years ago?
Isaac: Ya, I actually remember looking at you when we were playing that song but I didn't know you were crying. I think I looked at you hoping for some sign of your approval because I thought you were really cool but I didn't really know you very well and I wanted you to like our music. Usually the first few times we play a song it feels really cathartic and then you kind of get used to it and go through the motions. After a while, I will sometimes be struck by how I am again effected by performing an old song that we've played a gazillion times. It doesn't happen often but when it does, it makes me a little emotional and feels like a finding a thread to an older version of myself.
Sonia: After all this time I’m glad I asked/I think you’re cool!
What’s something you still really want to pull off in a song that you haven’t yet? Do you ever feel constrained by what people think Strange Ranger is supposed to sound like?
Isaac: We're making an album now that's really drum loop heavy and that's something we've wanted to do for a long time. I'm really excited to finish it and for it to come out because it's a lot different than everything else we've done and that to me is one of the most satisfying parts of being in a band. I think all of us in the band get really bored if we make the same stuff for too long and there are always other musical aesthetics we want to mess with. It can be sorta silly when people just want you to make the same album over and over again, but we definitely like doing different stuff and hopefully we don't get trapped just making one sort of thing all the time.
Sonia: Seems like some of the songs on the new EP are shorter and more “hook” oriented, which is something I feel like we talk about a lot. Do you feel like this was an intentional move or just a natural evolution of y’alls sound? Is there an over arching sentiment for the EP, something that came up for you a lot when writing it?
Isaac: We basically made the EP because we had a few songs that wouldn't really fit on the album but we still wanted to release them. We really like lots of fun/kinda cheesy guitar pop from the 90s and 2000s and had a bunch of songs sitting around that more or less reflected that influence. After making the EP it's really not as aesthetically streamlined as we thought it was going to be but it's still a lot more traditionally rock n roll than the thing we're making now. As far as "hooks" go, I think everyone in our band is a total slave to the hook and it's usually the main thing we want out of a song as listeners. Obviously there are tons of important parts of a song but when the Major II hits and Liam Gallagher says "in the morning we don't know what to do", that is basically everything I want out of music.
Sonia: HELL YEAH I am with you on that part of that Oasis song
Isaac: Somewhere Without Me is a really beautiful song. We're you struck by it when you wrote it? How do you feel about your own music- are you satisfied with the music you make?
Sonia: Aw thanks! I was struck by it, yeah. It’s still my favorite song I’ve ever written. I came home kinda drunk one night at this house I used to live in in St. John’s (where I wrote most of “Sleeping Lessons”) and wrote it all it one go (except for the guitar solo which was added last minute). I was having a really hard time, missing someone I was still in love with and spending too much time wondering why it all went down the way it did. The main guitar hook was inspired by the song “Francis Forever” by Mitski and was in a song I had already written that I didn’t really like. When I woke up the next day it was done and I was STOKED haha.
I am pretty satisfied with the music I make! I think it sucks sometimes but 90% I’m really proud of it. I don’t know how to explain it really, but I never really thought I would be in a band that was a band with my songs, and I definitely never thought I would like them so every song I write that I like I feel pretty dang proud of. That being said, I now crave that feeling and and am constantly trying to write stuff that’s better than the last thing. Sometimes it feels like I have two different brains.
Isaac: How do you want your music to make people feel? How do your favorite songs make you feel?
Sonia: I want big feelings. All of them. Sad, happy, confused, turned on, sing into your hairbrush until you cry, blast it with the windows down and your crush in the passenger seat kinda feelings. I want that feeling where you’re 13 and you just heard your first favorite band for the first time and figured out skateboarding is cool and will always be cool and your life is totally changed forever. Or like when you turn off all the lights in your room because you’re so heartbroken all you can do is listen to the one song that tells you how hurt you are over and over again. That’s how my favorite songs make me feel and that feeling is the only reason any of this is important to me, really. Ask anyone, when my favorite songs comes on I totally freak out.
Isaac: Who are some of your biggest influences that the internet never mentions when talking about your band?
Sonia: Oh damn okay, I don’t think anyone has mentioned Jawbreaker but specifically “Dear You” by Jawbreaker is huge for me right now. Guitar wise other than the many already noted (The smiths, MBV, Wipers) Fever To Tell by Yeah Yeah Yeahs and a band called Hot Snakes are huge for me. Some other notable mentions are Team Dresch, The Replacements, Sculpture Club, Oasis, Hole, Joyce Manor, Against Me!, Bury Me at Makeout Creek by Mitski, and Coral Fang by The Distillers. Ugh there’s so many!
Isaac: Where do you want to go aesthetically after Sleeping Lessons?
Sonia: Look wise I need everyone in my band to get their ear pierced (Update: Derek got his ears pierced a few days after I wrote this). One or both I don’t even care. Other than that I have so many ideas! I’m always trying to better capture what it could be like to have the catchiest poppiest songs ever with a like MBV/Sonic Youth type energy and chaos. I’m just not convinced you can’t have both of those things at the same time. And more eyeliner. I just wanna see how loud and heavy we can be and become even more of a pop band at the same time. And I want looks, so many looks.
Isaac: Over the next 5 years what do you want to do with music/your life in music? What would make you happy?
Sonia: I just wanna see how far I can take this. I’ll work as hard as I can and take this as far as possible but I’m also happy with the idea of in 5 years if it’s time for Alien Boy to be done just playing in a bunch of projects for fun forever. I love playing in bands, and I don’t ever see myself not doing that whether it be with Alien Boy or not. I want to put out another record that I’m more proud of than this one and hopefully go on tour with some bands that I like, I especially would really love to tour in Europe or Japan or anywhere I haven’t been before! Right now the more time I can spend doing Alien Boy stuff the happier I’ll be. It’s most of my whole lil world. I also at some point would really love to start my own show booking collective or even record label in Portland. Helping foster a more supportive community in the “scene” has been at the forefront of my mind lately. You can’t have a bunch of flowers with no gardeners *wink emoji*