Losing a founding member can often throw a band wildly off course but in The Ramalamas’ case it opened up their sound and allowed them to draw on a wider set of influences for their third album East Coast Low.
“The first two albums were very much in a country-rock vein and on this one we’ve thrown the shackles off and we didn’t think about writing to any particular style, which allowed other sorts of things to creep in as the songs dictated. We just worked towards what each song needed.”
Songwriter and singer/guitarist Chris Neilsen is reflecting on the changes the Sydney band has been through in the last couple of years and how that in turn has shaped the new album.
“We lost Paul Everett who I started the band with. He had some other stuff going on in his life and decided he needed to give the band a break. He played a lot of mandolin on Brass Razoo and he did a lot of harmonies with me. We were really tight with those,” reminisces Neilsen. ”Losing the mandolin wasn’t too bad because it made us stretch out and the album became a lot more rock for that reason. It just shifted everything a bit – I think for the better. Good art is made from the constrictions you put on things. You have to work with what you’ve got and that shapes the project and everyone steps up and changes what they’re doing to make it work. That’s how interesting things get done so we were fortunate in that sense.”
The Ramalamas are one of those bands who slide effortlessly between genres. Often lumped in with the Americana crowd, they certainly draw heavily from country and roots rock yet they delve equally into the rock ’n’ roll swagger of the Rolling Stones and the Faces, or the nihilist swamp punk of The Gun Club. That gives the band their own flavour on the local scene and it made them an attractive proposition for Nic Dalton (Lemonheads, Godstar, Ratcat) when it came to signing them to his long-running Half A Cow label.
“Nic is fantastic, such a passionate dude about all types of music. We played a few gigs at the Green Room Lounge and we just started hanging out and talking and he just got us. He could see we were into Ronnie Lane, Flamin’ Groovies and the Velvet Underground and we just got him along to the Gasoline Pony and we put the album on over the PA and fed him drinks and got him to agree to put it out. It was just natural and cool. He has Alex Chilton and Johnny Depp stories too!” marvels Neilsen.
When they came to recording East Coast Low, the band knew they didn’t want to repeat the experience of their preceding album Brass Razoo which was self-produced and took two attempts to record.
“This time we decided to get someone else in and found Robbie Long, a crack session guitarist from Newcastle. He has a studio up there called Funk Lizard but we were too big to fit into it so we went to another one he knew of that could accomodate us and we laid it down over a long weekend. We wanted a Neil Young Tonight’s The Night kind of vibe, rough and live. The idea was to get that live sparkle on the recordings, we call it the ‘champagne sound’ – dry and sparkly. Then we add backing vocals, pedal steel via overdubs.” explains Neilsen.
With shows booked to support East Coast Low, Neilsen already has one eye on the next album and what the next chapter in the story of The Ramalamas might look like. “I’m always writing and I optimistically have half an album of songs on the go. It’s all sounding different again and shifting a little bit – so it’s exciting.”