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CJ is a Punk Rocker: An interview with CJ Ramone

CJ Ramone has just released his fourth studio album The Holy Spell on Fat Wreck Chords, an album we called “one of the best punk rock records of the year”. We have a chat.

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It is hard to find a music group as synonymous and as important to their genre than the Ramones were to punk rock. The legacy of the name ‘Ramone’ is one that continues vibrantly today in music and in culture. Having joined the Ramones in 1989, CJ Ramone was a vital part of the band’s revitalization through the 1990s, re-energizing the band up until its final run. His post-Ramones career has seen work in bands Los Gusanos, Bad Chopper, and as a solo artist. CJ Ramone however, has been more than just continuing a sound made famous all those years ago. He has created a legacy of his own; creating music that connects to new generations of punk rockers who have found his music as life-affecting as the Ramones music was to him.

CJ Ramone has just released his fourth studio album The Holy Spell on Fat Wreck Chords, an album we called “one of the best punk rock records of the year”. He took some time out to chat to us about the new record, his friend Steve Soto, his love for touring, and perhaps, a surprising music history for someone synonymous with punk rock. But most importantly, we learned that above all else, CJ Ramone still loves this music thing he does.

Congrats on the release of The Holy Spell. How are you feeling with the record now out?

Proud as heck! Definitely my most mature record, but as fun and positive as I hoped it would be.

It’s a great record- and the reception has been really positive. After all these years, how do you respond to people saying positive things about your music?

With most sincere thanks! I’ve got some great DMs from people telling me why certain songs really affected them. For me, that’s the highest of praise I can get.

The Holy Spell

How was the writing and recording for The Holy Spell– did you write most of the songs solo or were Dan (Root), Nate (Sander), and Pete (Sosa) involved from the get-go?

I write the songs, but Dan, Pete, and Nate write their own parts. I wrote several of the songs in the studio so we ended up with 20 all told.

Working with producer Paul Miner once again, what are some of the things he brings to the sessions that help create the sound you’re after?

Paul does everything you hope a producer will do for you. Arrangements, riffs, sounds, and an unfailing ability to write and sing harmonies. But the thing that makes working with Paul unmatched for me is the speed at which he makes it all happen. The creative flow never gets broken. We spent 21 days locked down with only two days off. I slept in the control room and we worked from 10am to 10pm almost every day. That is how much we enjoyed doing it. We knew we were making something special.

You’ve stated that The Holy Spell is about your undiminished love of music. And that the two songs you cover on the record (“Crawling from the Wreckage” and “There Stands the Glass”) are songs from your childhood. Were your parents musical- did they get you involved with music at a young age?

My Dad and Mom were both music lovers of all styles but did not play. They encouraged me to sing as a kid, so I sang in the school choir. I was small and sang soprano. The highlight of which was singing Elton John’s “Philadelphia Freedom” at my school’s concert. I also played soccer, but an unusually large growth spurt between 8th and 9th grade left me wearing knee braces for 2 years. That’s when I picked up the bass.

What are some of the records that you hold close, as those that help keep your love for music strong?

Johnny Cash – I Walk The Line, Hank Williams Sings, The Everly Brothers’ Best, Creedence Clearwater Revival’s Willy and the Poor Boys, Black Sabbath – Paranoid, Leave Home, and Iron Maiden’s Killers.

I hope you don’t mind me asking, but for a lot of us who didn’t know Steve (Soto) as well as you did- what was he like as a fellow musician, songwriter, and friend?

I owe Steve a lot. He believed in me and gave me confidence in my songwriting. He was the most giving person I ever met in a business full of takers. He did a lot for a lot of people and his contribution to the music scene is immeasurable. He was a solid bass and guitar player who sang with more feeling and soul than most of us could hope to muster. Get his solo record Songs About Earthquakes and Girls. One in million kind of friend.

The song “Rock On” is a terrific song. Its a wonderful tribute but also (from a listener’s perspective) being as uplifting as possible instead of being incredibly sad. Is that something Steve would have wanted- for all of us to rock on in life?

Absolutely.

You’ve been releasing music with Fat since your 2014 release last chance to dance- what are some of the things you like about working with Mike and the team at Fat?

They care about the scene. They care about their bands. Can’t ask for more from a label.

The road beckons again soon for a tour of the record. From your time with the Ramones, Los Gusanos, Bad Chopper, and now as a solo artist, are their places you just love going back to both as a musician and a visitor?

I love the road. In general. I’m out for the better part of 30 years now and I still look forward to it. Giving people an hour or so to let go of the everyday grind, dance, smile, and have fun, is something I relish. The connection you make with a crowd when you’re on stage brings a kind of happiness you don’t get from anything else. It is the one thing in my life that’s never lost its magic.

CJ Ramone’s new album The Holy Spell is available now via Fat Wreck. Photo by Joel Ricard / Radio Metal.

Interviews

Everything Will Be Alright: An interview with Ogikubo Station

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There is great joy in simple chords and simple melodies. It is, after all, the feeling of comfort that these things often bring. Comfort from the day’s burdens, comfort from the issues that disappoint us, comfort when the sunsets bring us joy. Ogikubo Station, the music project of Maura Weaver (of Ohio punks Mixtapes) and Mike Park (of Asian Man Records), is that kind of comfort. It is music that makes us think of the week we’ve just had, music that makes us want to do better in our every day, and music that makes us laugh, cry, and sing-a-long.

Fresh off the release of a new 7” EP Okinawan Love Songs, we chat to Maura and Mike about the new songs, making music from distances, and how Ogikubo Station came to be. The chat was a reminder that music can be the result of many things and many reasons. Some simple, some more complicated. It was also a reminder that if we’ve got the music, then maybe, just maybe, everything will be alright in the end.

You released your full length We Can Pretend Like last year- was there a catalyst that sparked getting back into the writing and recording again so quickly?

Maura: I think Mike just called me and said do you want to come out to California and do some songwriting, and then while I was out there he booked two days in the studio and said “Guess what? We’re gonna record a 7 inch.”

Mike: Is that what happened? Haha. I can’t remember. I know we had “Would I Break My Heart Enough For You” written and we were playing it live, so I thought “let’s just add a couple more songs and release a fun 7 inch.”

Did you write these songs the same way you’ve written in the past; from a distance?

Mike: Not this time. Since it was only a few songs we just rehearsed for a day and then recorded.

Does that process ever get easier, being quite far apart?

Maura: Not really. I prefer being able to collaborate in person and I believe that’s the plan for the next record. We started writing 4 new songs aside from what’s on this 7 inch to go towards the next Ogikubo full length.

Mike: Yeah, it’s not the best case scenario, but I’ve been doing with a lot of different projects over the years. Sending mixes and vocal parts and asking various friends to guest on records, so it’s not that bad actually.

Okinawan Love Songs

How was having Dan (Andriano) play bass on this EP? Will you be working with him again in the future?

Mike: I’ve known Dan since he was a teenager, so I just called him and said “Dan, I’m gonna send you a couple of songs for you to play bass on” and he was like “okay”. He has his own home studio and he’s kind of a gear head, so I knew it would be easy for him to do. I’d love to do more stuff with him, but I guess we’ll see.

Maura: Heck yes! I’ve been an Alkaline Trio fan since I was 14, so this is all kind of geeking out excitement for me.

For those who are new to Ogikubo Station – tell us how you ended up collaborating together?

Mike: Maura, you want to tell it?

Maura: Sure. So I was visiting the San Francisco/Oakland area where my sister lives and we were hanging out with my friend Danielle Bailey who is also friends with Mike. Danny had posted some photos of us hanging and Mike called Danny and said: “ask Maura if she would record a song with me”. So we drove to San Jose and we recorded a song called “Weak Souls Walk Around Here” and that was it. Just a one-time thing.

Mike: And at that time I believe I told Maura I’d like to put out her solo album and so for the next 2 years I would bug her every couple months to see how it was going and she would say “oh, I’m still working on it”. And then I finally said “hey, let’s start a project together” and thus Ogikubo Station was born.

How many bands are you in now Mike?

Mike: Kitty Kat Fan Club, Ogikubo Station, Bruce Lee Band …are the only ones that play, but I’m working on a couple of new projects. Always doing music.

Maura, how different has it been with Ogikubo Station than say, writing and recording with Mixtapes? Do the different processes give you new ways to write and approach songwriting?

Maura: I guess the biggest difference is the distance factor and that Ogikubo is not a full-time band. Mixtapes was my first real band and it was at a time in my life when everything was a first. First tour, first record, first van, the first van breaking down. I was still in my teens with Mixtapes and we all lived in Cincinnati. So it’s very different with Ogikubo. It’s hard to explain fully, but both bands have definitely been influential in different ways. But the basic idea of writing a melody over a strummed guitar chord is the same no matter the situation.

I love the TMBG cover on the new EP, and the fact that you chose to keep it lo-fi—what are some of the other bands you say would have directly led to the music and songwriting of Ogikubo Station?

Mike: I guess I’ve been listening to a lot of 80’s bands as of late and just kind of falling in love again with bands like Hoodoo Gurus, the Replacements, REM, and then newer bands like ALVVAYS, PUP, and Laura Stevenson. I’m always just looking for a good melody and some lyrics that aren’t filler bullshit.

Maura: I listen to so much music. From Kate Bush, TMBG, Desmond Dekker, Operation Ivy, to Beyonce and Taylor Swift. It’s hard to say what influences Ogikubo Station, but those are some bands I’ve been listening to lately.

Mike, I know on Twitter recently you’ve expressed your frustration and anger at a lot of the political things that are happening in the US (hopefully that’s not the cause of those grey hairs!) – but as songwriters, do you feel that it’s more important than ever to provide listeners with fuel to fight for equality and kindness, or do you feel that its just as important to provide an escape through music?

Mike: I’ve always felt music is political even when you aren’t trying to make it political. The sounds fuel the soul, creates the body to move and puts you in moods that you may not even realise are happening. Music has been my solace when it comes to expression and emotion. An outlet to get my ideas across in an artistic and productive manner. I don’t feel it’s imperative to be overtly political. I try not to shove politics down your throat, but if something comes to mind and I write about it and it happens to be classified as political, so be it.

Maura, you did the artwork for the new EP, an illustration of your Okinawan grandmother. The art is beautiful, can you tell us a little bit about your art and how you came into illustrating?

Maura: I’ve always enjoyed illustrating and painting. Creating art: With a guitar or a brush or a pen/ pencil. I wanted to draw my grandmother and give it to her as a present.  When Mike saw the drawing he asked if we could use it for the 7-inch cover. It wasn’t meant to be the cover, but after mike brought it up I said of course.

What are some of the things you’re looking forward to on this UK tour? You guys are going all over England, and then to Wales, and then Scotland. 

Mike: Sadly I’m not going on the tour this time due to some hearing damage I have sustained, but I’m still going to Brighton for a wedding, so I will be there for 3 days. And I’ll try to do every stereotypical British thing. TEA/MILK/FISH/CHIPS/MUSHY PEAS.

Maura: Getting to travel with my best friend Megan is the most exciting part of this UK tour. She’s never been before and that makes it that much more special being able to share this experience together. We are both Vegan/Vegetarian and one of our favorite things to do is eat, so we’ll checking out the different vegan spots in every city. And just meeting new friends, seeing old friends, and Edinburgh. I can’t wait to go to Edinburgh.

Is there a new full length on the horizon?

Mike: I’d like to work on one next year. I’m tapped out for this year. I’m gonna work on some new Bruce Lee Band stuff next and then I have a couple of other collaborations, but hopefully sometime next year we can start the process for the next full length.

Maura: That sounds good to me. It will give me a chance to keep writing songs.

Ogikubo Station’s new 7″ EP Okinawan Love Songs is out June 14th on Asian Man Records. Find out more about Ogikubo Station and their upcoming tour dates on their Facebook page.

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