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Only Crime - Interview with Russ Rankin

  by Alex Halls

published: 19 / 11 / 2004

Only Crime - Interview with Russ Rankin


Only Crime is a new punk supergroup which is fronted by Good Riddances Russ Rankin. Rankin chats to Alex Halls about his new bands highly acclaimed debut album, 'To the Nines'.

Russ Rankin is renowned in the punk community for his passion for both music and politics, shown most evidently in 'Winning The Hearts and Minds' on Good Riddance’s 'Operation Phoenix' album. With new band Only Crime he has sought to distance his music from the politics that had become synonymous with Good Riddance’s music and, instead, cast his perceptual eye over other equally as important and influential issues. Transforming every ounce of passion seen in his music over the past decade or so into the blinding music of Only Crime, Russ continues to appear relaxed and content, far from the aggressive nature that is ever-present in his vocals. Understandably musical ambitions change over time. I asked Russ to what extent he felt his current musical ambitions had been met with Only Crime's recently released debut album 'To The Nines…' Russ : I really wanted the chance to play with a new group of people, to push the boundaries of what I could do. I’ve been in the same band for 12 years and have had a great time but I really wanted to see what would happen if I did something different. I was just curious, feeling that I wanted to push myself as a songwriter and as a singer, whilst surrounding myself with people who were going to help push me; a bunch of guys on top of their game. I think that 'To The Nines' is a pretty good start. Asking further into the creation of Only Crime, including the renewed sense of excitement in starting a new band, Russ appeared positive regarding his passion for music throughout his career thus far and the feelings about his new band. Russ: It was weird the way it all came about. The first few times we all practiced together there was this weird sense of feeling about it. It has been exciting ever since, I can’t quite believe it at times as we all live in different States, I have to continuously remind myself that it has all come together and that is it still strengthening. It had appeared that Russ had hand-picked the other members of Only Crime, yet, in fact, he mentions only having really picked Aaron Dalbec (Bane, Coverge and Velocity Engine) and Zach Blair (Hagfish and GWAR). Russ: Right away I knew I wanted to play some really heavy music and get some guys that would bring another level of power to the playing. Having already invited Aaron, I wanted two guitar players, which is where Zach came in. I’d known him for years, as a bass player, and he wasn’t too busy at the time. Aaron and I had talked about forming a new band whilst on tour together. It was about a week later, in Kansas, I called him up and suggested the idea further, which was met with a lot of excitement. Aaron and Zach had never met each other, so they were talking on the phone trying to keep their spirits up. After that, the three of us were looking for drummers whilst trying to stay in touch with each other, making sure that we were all still excited about forming the band as we could have all gone our own separate ways after the tour and it would have all fallen apart. We wanted to make sure the band would actually happen! With three members on board the band was starting to come together but the full quota hadn’t quite been met. Russ: Bill Stevenson (Descendents, Black Flag) actually asked me if he could drum in the band, which I thought was pretty bizarre. It was really fortuitous and probably the best thing that could have happened. He’s always been a fan of my singing and my song writing [he also produces the Good Riddance albums] and he has known Zach for quite some time too. Bill had been playing sporadically over the years but didn’t have a regular band and really missed playing music. When I told him what direction I wanted the band to go in he immediately wanted to be a part of it as he felt he had unfinished business with Black Flag.]. One of the major points that has to be made about Only Crime if we stray from the music is their unity against drug and alcohol abuse. None of the band members even touch small amounts of these substances and therefore provide more of an example to younger generations than many bands playing at the moment. I also brought up the issue of veganism with Russ and whether it created a better rapport between the members of the group… Russ: There’s a better rapport through our understanding of not doing drugs. I’ve been a vegan for about 11 years now and in such a short time I’ve seen so much change in people’s attitudes towards it: it’s not such a weird and freakish thing anymore. NB: Good Riddance had in fact supported the PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) movement in the United States, an organisation set up to promote awareness of animal rights and campaign against vivisection, neglecting animals in our care and the use of fur in fashion. From the outset it is obvious to anyone who has heard Good Riddance that it is Russ on vocals, which is a positive factor of Only Crime. What is striking is the addition of backing vocals, which hardly existed in Good Riddance but add a perfectly harmonious layer to the music. Russ explained how these came about… Russ: Some of the backing vocals came about in practice but a lot came in the studio. This had a great deal to do with Bill being in the band. He’s a great singer and Zach is also a great singer and songwriter: Now I also have a guy on guitar who can do backing vocals. In Good Riddance I could sometimes get a few harmonies from Chuck [Platt] and I thought I’d like to get another guy on stage who can sing pitch perfect. It gives us more freedom. Most of Only Crime have a plethora of big named bands behind them, and I wondered whether the band had benefited from fans that had migrated from the previous groups. I put the question forward… Russ: I’m not sure. I’m going to assume that there is a crossover. From touring it is obvious when we have played places where the Descendents were really big that people came out to the show because they wanted to see Bill play. Now, whether they come back or not is where we will have to sell it, we have to put on a good show: there are a lot of people showing up out of curiosity. I’ve read some reviews that this is the best album Good Riddance ever did but I can see that if you have the same vocalist you can’t often shake the similarities between the bands. I do see, however, that if you listen to Only Crime as a whole, it’s no better or worse than Good Riddance, it’s just different. Our music is a lot darker, with a harder edge, which is by design. We’re also using a lot of dischords which may not sound as if they’re meant to go together but sound interesting, as if we are creating destruction. 'To The Nines' seems to have been met with great applause across the music world; certainly the reviews coming from the album are all more than positive. I was interested in how the album was doing across in the States… Russ: I know that it is doing modestly well. Our label Fat Wreck Chords sold 'To The Nines' on the fact that is wasn’t a side project. They were afraid we may only record but would never tour: they only had modest expectations of how the album would do. As a new band we didn’t want to be met by a fanfare, go into debt with a label, and therefore we did everything fairly cheaply. We had a modest advance coupled with some pretty good advertising, but not the best, and simply went out and toured straight away: a few Warped Tour dates and supporting Avail. Of all the records that were shipped, which was a fair amount, none were returned which gave the impression that the album was selling well and that the unsold records still out there were expected to sell. To be honest we’re pretty pleased, as today’s market doesn’t bode well for CD sales. What was even better was that every article written about the album, either online or offline, have given our album a really good review, which has never happened to me before. The funny thing is that we all look back at 'To The Nines' and think it is pedestrian at best, certainly a good start, but we already have plans to produce some further music that will completely blow it away. If this album has been so well received, people are going to be in a lot of trouble when they hear the next one! PB: What can we expect from the next record. Are you looking at experimenting with new sounds or different genres? Russ: Given the way the band is made up, the main body of 'To The Nines' was written by Zach and I, then everyone added parts here and there. I wrote the lyrics, and will probably write most of the lyrics on the new album, but it will be good having other songwriters contributing their ideas to the music next time. We’re all focused on making a record that is even more out there, darker, brooding, perhaps less that could be construed as pop. Sedated, off 'To The Nines', hit the mark as far as having a hook but stayed away from being a pop song. That’s an area we are looking at exploring. It is going to sound like John Coltrane or Nat Coleman but with massive guitars. Russ had mentioned that the music was darker on 'To The Nines' than any other music he had played before. The lyrics are also a lot darker and I wondered where Russ got his inspiration from, especially as the lyrics had lost their political edge… Russ: I took my general inspiration for the lyrics from poetry I had previously written. I wanted to create aesthetics on this album. As in Good Riddance everything happened really fast and we didn’t really get a chance to think about the subject matter of the albums. With the benefit of hindsight and experience I put some serious thought behind what I wanted to accomplish lyrically. I started thinking about other songwriters, guys I really respected and admired and what it was that made their music good and appealing, people like Shane McGowan and Richard Butler. That was my starting point. There were quite a few lyrics of mine that didn’t come right out and tell you what the song was about. It depends on your interpretation of them, what mood your in and what is going on in your life. PB: Do you think you have adapted well whilst changing from what were political lyrics to lyrics based more on life? Russ: The feedback I have received has been positive so far. People who were fans of the more political lyrics are wondering where that went but it is by design that Only Crime isn’t going to be painted with the political band slogan. Understandably we like to talk about politics because we care about things but we don’t want to box our band in. We would be limiting ourselves if we were to box ourselves in and seeing as the guys around me have real ability limiting ourselves is the last thing we want to do. I can’t wait to see what we start coming up with on the next album. PB: On title track 'To The Nines' you state that "Once upon a time I believed I could change the world, but I was wrong." Is this admitting a failure in what you had originally set out to achieve with your music, or simply highlighting the difficulties individuals face in trying to get their voices heard? Russ: Probably the latter to a greater extent. In general it is acceptance of the fact that despite all the ideals in the world, at the end of the day you are just one person. PB: There appears to be a great importance placed on the educative aspects of the 'Rock Against Bush' series and Punk Voter. Having both enjoyed and realized the importance of your statement on Saddam Hussein lurking outside people’s windows within the article on Punk Voter.com, do you see it as a social responsibility to inform the punk community or simply a will of mind? Russ: The American and British governments would like to have us believe that Saddam Hussein did lurk outside everyone’s windows. I am fortunate to have the ability to write a monthly column in a magazine, which, due to my nature, ends up being about politics. As far as Only Crime goes, although we are on the 'Rock Against Bush' compilation and the band aren’t particularly impressed with the current situation the country is in, we as a band don’t feel that we need to make people aware of the situation and stand up at gigs and tell the fans to vote for anyone in particular. All you’ll hear is music and destruction. I don’t feel a band should be compelled to make these points but at the same time they shouldn’t be chastised if they choose to. It is clear from Russ’ words that he has an unambiguous vision of how he wants his music to come across and the standards he sets with every passing moment. Only Crime’s music is dark, powerful and fascinatingly comes from both head and heart. Russ Rankin is no push over: he knows what he wants to convey and has the intelligence to put his message across so that it applies to everyone who chooses to listen. It is intriguing to hear him speak of the creation of the album as, if Only Crime were a bunch of inexperienced musicians, the whole project could easily have failed. The experience every one of the band bring to the album, 'To The Nines', is clear and can only bode well for future albums where deeper involvement from each member may bring a few surprises. Only Crime are a band on a mission: just ask Russ, he’s clear what he is looking for.

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Only Crime - Interview with Russ Rankin

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Virulence (2007)
Excellent experimental melodic hardcore on second album from punk supergroup Only Crime, which builds on the quality of its predecessore, the much acclaimed 'To the Nines'
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