Guttural, sticky refrains and dominant drums. Crunchy guitars and zigzagging bass. And coolly assertive, slick vocals. Seattle’s wimps – Rachel Ratner, Matt Nyce, and Dave Ramm – are behind some of music’s most visceral live performances, sardonic and syrupy deliveries, and observantly textural themes. Cliff’s Notes: Wimps are basically super sick. Their album, Suitcase, is one of my favorite LPs of the past few years, from the opening salvo of “Vampire” to the uncompromising closing notes of “Basement”. This is a band that deals in the currency of well organized chaos. We were stoked to interview Rachel Ratner, guitarist and lead vocalist of wimps, in advance of the Washington ensemble’s June 29th date at Soda Bar in San Diego. We touched on music videos, the importance of Los Angeles’ X, and the evolution of social media.
Rob Patrick: There are so many great bands and artists operating in Seattle right now, including Chastity Belt, Tacocat, Lisa Prank, and Mommy Long Legs. Modernly, what sort of impact do you see the city having on music, community, and culture?
Rachel Ratner: Seattle’s always been a city with a strong and supportive music scene. Matt, Dave and I have all been playing in bands for the past 10+ years and have felt so lucky to be surrounded by such talented and rad people. Despite differences in genre and influences, everyone supports each other and goes to each other’s shows. It’s as much about socializing with friends as it is about performing / making art.
All of the band’s videos are inspired, fun, and aesthetically immersive. But “Dump” is an amazing progression of hilarity and honesty. I think everyone has experienced a lifestyle like this, at some point in their life, which makes the song a sort of universal anthem – I live with two other dudes, and we coined our place “Trash Canyon”. What did you discuss when creating the visuals of the video?
Haha, Trash Canyon. When we wrote the song “Dump”, it was pretty easy to come up with ideas, since we’d all lived, at one time or another, in a variety of dumps. I lived in an attic room with no outlets so I had to run an extension chord down to the room below. We had friends that had an open sewer running through their backyard. We’ve played basements where rats had frozen to the carpet and piles of garbage towered up the walls. So when we started discussing visuals for the music video we tried to think of all the craziest things we’d seen / heard about happening in these places. But it should be noted that we’re not disparaging dumps…these dumps were our homes, where we practiced and spent times with our friends. And the availability of them made it possible to be in a band and to make a living. Now, even dumps are harder to come by in Seattle so if you have a dump, hold on to it tight! These dumpy years will be the years you reminisce about 🙂
Wimps have such a great online store, offering everything from vinyl to, my favorite, knit hats. How important has the reemergence of vinyl and cassette tapes been to bands, especially in the face of digital platforms such as Spotify?
For me personally, I like being able to check out a band online. If I like them, I’ll see their shows and buy their music. Ultimately, I like holding and looking at the physical artifacts, and I like being able to support bands. I don’t have a problem with digital platforms like Spotify, I think it’s a handy and convenient way to discover new (and new-to-me) music. It’s kind of like the radio. For smaller bands, it can be a helpful way of getting your name out there. But for larger bands who rely on royalties for income, they’re getting paid wayy less than they they probably should. It’s interesting to see new platforms like Tidal come up- I’m curious if it will encourage people to start buying for more mp3s again.
Lyrically, you guys are satirical, honest, fun, and culturally observant. What sort of words, lines, and ideas are important to you when writing a song?
Thanks! Though all songs are written a little differently, they typically stem from an idea or event that happened to one of us. Then I’ll play around with phrasing and try to find a catchy way of talking about it. Like we were practicing in our basement and there was trash everywhere and I was like “I live in a dump!” and then the song was born. The chorus usually comes first and then the verses. Since I’m not super good at coming up with metaphors, I try and take a real Hemingway approach and be as direct and to the point as possible. That said I always enjoy a good pun so I try and work a little word-play in there when I can to make it fun to sing and listen to.
Over the past few years, Pitchfork and various other publications have been a polarizing force with bands. As a musician, what are some things that media outlets and members of the press can better do to improve their interactions with artists?
I think, especially in the past before the internet, media and the press were integral to a bands success – it’s how people found out about new records and learned that bands were coming to town. A write up on Pitchfork could make or break a band in some instances. These days, while good press is still helpful, it feels like those publications have lost some of their sway. It’s always nice to get a good write up, and we’ve definitely noticed that getting written about in a local or national paper does help folks find out about us, but overall, we’re making music for ourselves because we like it, and if other people like it, even better! And if journalists like it, that’s the icing on the cake but it’s not something we think about too much day to day.
What three songs changed the way you look at music?
Dave: “Only Shallow” by My Bloody Valentine. It showed that music had a hypnotic power that I hadn’t felt before. It also sounded otherworldly.
Rachel: I remember listing to X in my early 20s and really liking the interplay between the male and female vocals. And I liked how Exene didn’t have what was considered traditionally to be a beautiful voice but her melodies and lyrics were interesting, and the pairing with John Doe made it seem better than when they both sang alone. I’d always liked singing but never thought I was very good at it and I remember hearing that and thinking, “I could do that!”
I love how cohesive, seamless, and fun you guys are live. Wimps have a great stage presence. What are some things that are important to you in a performance, whether you’re part of it or simply just watching someone else?
Thanks! We all love going to shows, and for me, unless the music is super sonically interesting, an energetic live stage show makes a show so much more enjoyable to watch. And, that enthusiasm and brings the audience and musicians together. I think we all wanted to be in a band that both was fun to play in, and fun to watch. (Which is also why our sets are usually like 30 min cuz it’s exhausting to play 15 2 min songs back to back!)
How has Twitter, Facebook and Instagram changed the climate of publicity for bands?
When I started playing in bands in the 2000’s, the internet was already a big part of the music scene. If I liked a band, I would listen to all the bands they put in their MySpace’s top 8. It was how I started to discover new music. Nowadays, it’s hard to be a band without social media (though there are some that do a great job with word of mouth). On one hand, it’s a handy way to spread the word about shows and new music. And it’s way easier to book and promote tours. Bands can do all their own publicity themselves. At the same time it makes for more work – having to maintain all those platforms. But it’s neat that we can reach out to bands we like and talk to them directly, and likewise that folks that like our music can find our music and learn more about us.
And, finally, what’s something you can reveal here that Matt and Dave don’t know about you?
Hm…we’ve spent so much time together these past 4 years with endless hours in vans driving around that I’m not sure I can think of anything super big they wouldn’t know … but my last name, Ratner, comes from the city Grodo in Belarus (used to be Poland/Lithuania) and when my ancestors came to Ellis island, the people granting citizenship changed their probably unpronounceable-to-Americans last name to “Ratner” because it sounded like the city they were from.