A lot of that fullness is due to songwriter Ryan Davis’ eye/ear/nose/fingers/toes for story. Davis’ lyrics lead double-lives as coffee-soaked short stories and violently howled hymns. There’s a heritage that pinballs between song-haunted fictioneers David Berman, Barry Hannah, and maybe most of all, zinester and writer Hunter Kennedy. From about 1992 to 2012, Kennedy wrote and edited The Minus Times, a zine/journal of modern fiction, illustration, poetry, pre-Florida Man absurdist news stories, and interviews. There’s one David Berman story in The Minus Times about a guy going to a bonfire after arguing with his girlfriend; he chops at a log in the fire with another log and says “You see, the log is trying to hold itself together. The log doesn’t want to burn. It’s freaking out. This is a bad night for this log.” In the first issue, Kennedy printed a newspaper clip that read “An Eastover man drowned Tuesday afternoon when he stepped into a Lower Richland County pond to rinse mud from his clothing.” When I listen to Davis’ songs, I hear a lot these type of lines; lines you can see in print, lines that explain themselves until they’re stark naked and yet, still, remain mysterious.
So, in celebration of State Champion’s forthcoming album, Fantasy Error, Ryan was kind enough to give Ninebullets some time for an interview. I thought it fitting to do the interview Minus Times style. These are the five questions Hunter Kennedy asked all of his subjects over the years–from Stephen Malkmus to Stephen Colbert to Chan Marshall to Vic Chesnutt. Thank you, Ryan, for your kind answers!
1) A family trip that made an early impression:
My parents took me to England when I was seven. In retrospect, I think I was a little too young for it. I remember complaining a lot about how much walking we had to do and generally just wanted to swim at the hotel pool and eat McDonald’s, but we took a day trip one afternoon to visit some extended family in the English countryside. I would perform “shows” for them in exchange for a few quid, which I would collect over the course of our stay and spend exclusively on chocolate candy bars. Fast forward 20 years and I’m basically doing the same exact thing except that now it’s in exchange for our standard pay of “two free PBRs per member”
I also remember my dad taking me to the Tate Modern and being enthralled, primarily, by their collection of Francis Bacon paintings. He bought me a postcard from the gift shop, I believe it was one of the Pope images (I should check, I still have it), and apparently I studied that for hours, trying to copy it by scribbling my own distorted Bacon-like portraits of people on the flight home.
2) A dream you can’t shake:
It’s only ever so often that I’m struck by a dream I can even remember. They tend to escape me pretty quickly, if I retain them at all. I can recall a few from over the years though. I dreamt once that Jennifer Aniston and I were climbing this ladder up a couple stories tall so that we could jump into a gigantic bowl of Caesar salad. Still think about that one sometimes.
From Stale Champagne, 2010: Keeping Time
3) An awkward moment with a neighbor/ stranger/ lover:
We were on the start of a tour back in Spring of 2013. Our first night was at some little fest in the suburbs of Chicago on the night that U of L squeaked past Wichita State in the Final Four. I’m a huge fan of college basketball, specifically the Louisville Cardinals, so we all had a blast watching it and this win meant a great deal to me. Two nights later, we were booked to play a house show in Bloomington, IN. When setting this show up a few months prior, I hadn’t even considered that if we made it to the championship, we’d be just an hour away from home (in Bloomington) on the night of the game. We were playing with excellent psychedelic homeys Thee Open Sex, so I hated to cancel, but I also hated the idea of missing out on such a culturally seismic celebration if we were to win. I’ve watched these games with my friends and family for my entire life and it’s always an important part of our year.
Anyway, we decided it was ultimately in our best interest not to cancel the show, so we made sure the game was on upstairs while the bands played in the basement. We were the jocks of the party, screaming and high-fiving and standing on things and drinking heavily in pursuit of a comeback that would soon result in our third national title. It was nothing short of glorious, and the celebrations continued through the night. To be honest, I couldn’t even tell you where we went after the show. Probably some bars on campus, I don’t know. But by some path of action, we ended up in a graveyard across the street from the house where we had played. We continued to finish off whatever beverages we had as we wound ourselves down from the intoxicating elation of victory and called it a night.
The next morning, I awoke to the sound of spraying. I was under a tree, alone, surrounded by empty bottles and cans and trash. Doug (Douglas Ryan, of Animal City) and Sabrina had apparently been unable to sleep as soon as the sun rose and had walked back to the house, hours earlier. It was 10:30 am at this point. I look to my right, and witness the source of the spray — a middle-age man pissing on the front of a tombstone. He meets eyes with me, penis in hand, and says “Hi! I’m Tom. What’s your name?” “Ryan,” I said. “Are you ok?” he asked me. I told him I was fine. He asked if I was going…somewhere. I didn’t understand what he said, but I was starting to gain cognizance at that point and realized that he must have been under the impression that I was homeless, using the shade of the cemetery as temporary refuge. I think he was homeless as well and, in retrospect, that he was probably asking if I wanted to go with him to a shelter of some sort. I said “No, thank you. I’m going to go find my friends.” at which point he shook the rest of the pee out of himself, zipped up, and told me to have a good day as he walked off across the graveyard.
I cleaned up the beer cans, dusted myself off, buttoned my own pants, and emerged from the tree in search of our van.
4) A missed opportunity (or second chance):
I was invited to participate in the on-stage theatrics of a Flaming Lips performance at a festival in Poland once, but I opted to take a cab back to the hotel and check my e-mail instead. No regrets.
5) Two artists you respect & a movie you’d pay to see but they’ll never make:
Michael Andrew Turner and R Clint Colburn. Stroszek II: The Search for Bruno’s Gold.
From the Horse Paint Cassette, 2008: Bite the Dus
Fantasy Error comes out on 5/26. Pre-order the LP now from Sophomore Lounge Records. Look for our review of the album and part two of our interview with Ryan Davis in the coming weeks. In the meantime, GO SEE State Champion on Tour:
MON, MAY 18 // THE GOLDEN PONY (HARRISONBURG, VA) 181 N MAIN ST W/ PALM + BANNED BOOKS + Z PLAN + FRESH HELL
TUE, MAY 19 // MILLHOUSE (PHILADELPHIA, PA – CONTACT US FOR ADDRESS) W/ WHAT NERVE + WELLBOYS + FLOAM
WED, MAY 20 // THE HALF MOON (HUDSON, NY) 48 S FRONT ST W/ MAIL THE HORSE + PAT LINNAN
THU, MAY 21 // UNION POOL (BROOKLYN, NY) 484 UNION AVE W/ SPECTRE FOLK + MILK DICK + MAIL THE HORSE
FRI, MAY 22 // HARLOW’S (PETERBOROUGH, NH) 3 SCHOOL ST W/ FOOTINGS
SAT, MAY 23 // OUT OF THE BLUE TOO (CAMBRIDGE, MA) 541 MASSACHUSETTS AVE W/ PILE + ANWAR SADAT + CROWN LARKS + LAIR
SUN, MAY 24 // RATSKELLAR (DOVER, NH – CONTACT US FOR ADDRESS) W/ RICK RUDE + IDIOT GENES
MON, MAY 25 // PSYCHEDELICATESSEN (BURLINGTON, VT) 156 N WINOOSKI AVE W/ PAPER CASTLES + DJ DISCO PHANTOM
TUE, MAY 26 // THE FUTURE (BRATTLEBORO, VT) 17 ELLIOT ST W/ GRAPE ROOM (EX-HAPPY JAWBONE/GREAT VALLEY) + PAPER CASTLES
WED, MAY 27 // HOLY FRIJOLES (BALTIMORE, MD) 908 W 36TH ST W/ DRAG SOUNDS
THU, MAY 28 // 123 PLEASANT ST (MORGANTOWN, WV) 123 PLEASANT ST W/ THE FURR + CULTURE THIEF
FRI, MAY 29 // DECCA (LOUISVILLE, KY) 812 E MARKET ST (RECORD RELEASE SHOW // FREE // DONATION SUGGESTED) W/ SAPAT