Q&A with Ryan Ferguson (No Knife)

As previously mentioned, I was able to chat with singer/guitarist Ryan Ferguson of No Knife, which is supporting three dates (Los Angeles, San Diego and Tempe) on Jimmy Eat World’s Clarity x 10 tour.

A story I wrote on No Knife advancing Saturday’s show can be found here. But there was plenty from my interview with Ferguson that was left out. So I figured I’d present it here, save for our geek talk about spring training and fantasy baseball. (Ferguson plays in an adult baseball league with former Rocket from the Crypt bassist Pete Reichert.)

(Both of 1999’s Fire in the City of Automatons.)

Did you guys envision doing anything beyond this?
“I guess it’s still too early to say either way. But we were gonna do one secret show here in San Diego in April for all the people that were unable to get tickets to any of these Jimmy shows or the Casbah anniversary show last month. Tickets for these (Jimmy Eat World) shows went so fast, there were so many people that unfortunately weren’t able to snake a ticket. … I can’t say for sure, but we are, as of now, technically scheduled to do one more show.”

How often have you been practicing?
“We started back in July or maybe August for that Casbah show. But it’s not consistent, not every week since July. It’s just kind of whenever people’s schedules allowed. We rehearsed maybe seven or eight times before that first show to make sure we were solid and felt comfortable playing those parts again. Of course, (singer/guitarist) Mitch (Wilson) and I, specifically guitar-wise, had completely forgotten everything.”

Had you messed with any No Knife songs since you guys took hiatus?
“No, although in my little pop-song records, I’m still the same songwriter, so I’ll still use some of the same chords and same chord progressions. Although, No Knife tunes higher than any other band I’ve played in. We all tune up to F. So it sounds a little sharper. Some people have described it as ‘candy coated’ sometimes or whatever they wanna say because there’s a weird little unique sharpness to the songs. I sometimes play the same chords and it’ll remind me of the songs … but, no, I haven’t messed with any of that stuff.”

You guys toured with Jimmy Eat World when Clarity came out. What do you remember from that tour? Was it a long tour?
“I don’t remember … we did so many little tours together and they all kind of rolled into each other. I don’t think it was some three-month-long tour. I think we did maybe six weeks with them and took a break then maybe three or four more weeks. I don’t really remember. I just remember there was a solid and automatic chemistry with all those guys immediately. When Static Prevails had come out, I was into the band because they recorded out here in San Diego with Mark (Trombino). I swear to God, and I told all my friends this … even playing together in these little tiny basement shows … we would play shows in people’s garages before or after the actual club show and even just playing these tiny shows in front of 25 people, there was something about Jimmy Eat World that I just knew. They had it. There was something about these guys … I just knew they were gonna go places. Therefore, I was just so stoked to be a part of it from the early days. Those guys have not changed one bit.

“We had so much fun. In the Clarity year, I brought my friend Eric out with us. At the time, he got this brand-new digital video camera. We documented about … I think we have 32 hours worth of tape. I don’t have a mini DV recorder or playback machine and he took his camera with him and he’s living in Argentina. I know he has half the tapes in storage and I was able to snake like 15 or 20 of them. None of it has ever been edited, none of it has ever been seen by the Jimmy guys. I’m sure they’ve totally forgotten about everything. We had so much fun on those tours. … They haven’t changed at all and their audience has only grown and grown and grown. It’s cool to see bands finally get the success they deserve, like true success.”

I remember a No Knife show at Modified and Jim (Adkins) came out to sing, swinging the microphone around. I’d seen Jimmy Eat World in small places around town, but that was a great memory.
“Oh yeah, he came up pretty much that whole tour. In fact, I’m sure these coming shows, he’ll do that same song (Charming), just because it’s been so many years and that was kind of a staple when the bands played together. … It was cool, they took us out on tour, I think, in ’01 or ’02, right after Bleed American. We had put out our final record (Riot For Romance!). They never forgot about us. They’ve always reached out to us, whether we’re playing as a band or individually.”

They’ve got Reubens Accomplice (from Phoenix) out on tour, which is cool. They’re always looking out for their own.
“Absolutely. It’s really cool. The music landscape has changed so much these days and I know so few bands out there nowadays. It’s bands like Jimmy Eat World that wanna keep you playing music because they do take care of their own and they’re good, quality guys. It’s been a total pleasure and a blast playing with those guys as often as we have in the past. The whole coincidence of this whole thing, how they’re doing this 10-year anniversary thing and how we got together for this anniversary show (at the Casbah) … it just made perfect sense.”

What is your set gonna be like?
“Looking on the contract, we’re slated to do 45 minutes every night. We’re slated to do 45, which would be about nine or 10 songs. We have 12 ready to go just in case they say we can play an extra five or 10 minutes. We’re ready to go an hour, which is like 12 songs.”

How are you guys deciding to do what songs to play? How many did you play at the Casbah show?“We did about 15 songs … we had two songs for an encore ready to go but we all kinda agreed that encores are kinda weird. Unless you’re a big band playing some big thing it makes sense. We all feel a little uncomfortable walking off stage …

“But it’s not too difficult. We only have four records … so many of the early, early songs … everyone was really young when they wrote the songs and nobody cares for half the material. We certainly like to play the songs we like playing and always keep in mind songs that were always kinda popular for fans. We tried to incorporate two songs off the first record. These shows in particular we’re doing more Fire in the City Of Automatons songs b/c we’re trying to keep the ’99 theme alive. I can’t believe that was 10 years ago.”

Is it weird for you to think about that?
“Kinda. Nowawdays, it seems like time just flies. So it doesn’t completely surprise me, but I specifically remember recording that record (Fire in the City) and doing it up in LA at Grand Master Studios. The Foo Fighters had just finished recording (The Colour and the Shape) and we were just real pumped to be in that same studio working with our producer Greg Wales that we snaked from Australia. We were just really excited to be in another city recording at this legendary studio and working with this new producer we felt so comfortable and confident with.

“I will never forget when we went to go do vocals, it happened to be Valentine’s Day. Greg suggested the three of us run over to a bar right next to the studio to do a quick shot to warm up the vocal chords. We happen to walk into this bar called The Bullet. As we walk in, we immediately stop. It’s literally from Police Academy. We stop and look around and all there are are handlebar mustaches and hairy guys. We’re like, ‘Yeah, we’ll do shots of whiskey real quick.’ Boom, boom, boom. OK, see ya, bye.”

When you look back do you have a favorite No Knife record?
“I think all four of us agree that Riot for Romance! was, as a whole, our most collaborative record and probably our favorite because we weren’t expecting to make it. The band was going through weird turmoil and we had already kinda broken up but not really, just one of these gray situations. We didn’t think that record was gonna get made and we ended up doing it. … It was just guerilla style in how we did it. And the songs are all over the place. … I think that was the more popular one for the band.

“I didn’t have a hand in Drunk On The Moon; I joined the band literally like two months after they recorded that. So for me personally Hit Man Dreams was always my favorite for a long time. I was 19 at the time and that was the first record I had anything to do with ever in my entire life. I remember that got airplay and it won a couple awards, including Album of the Year at the San Diego Music Awards. And I remember thinking, this is so cool to be a part of … the first record you ever record and co-write and it happens to get noticed here in town and wherever else. That was for me a personal favorite for a long time.”

In terms of breaking up, you guys were never like, that’s it, this is it. You just faded into your own corners?“Yup, exactly. In fact, I made a joke at last night’s practice … I think someone said, ‘You guys wanna break up’ kind of as a half-hearted joke. I said, ‘You realize this is the first time we actually said that?’ … That last tour we did with Cursive was just really awkward. There were so many internal issues going on with the band; and I know every band goes through things like that. It had just gotten to the point where no one was having fun anymore and we always said as soon as we stop having fun, what’s the point of continuing on? I know that may sound selfish for all the fans – Who cares? Suck it up – but it sounds easier than it actually is. It became no fun. It was too stressful and too awkward. So after that final Cursive show here in San Diego, I think we all knew that was going to be our final show, but it was never communicated, which was really funny. Then we took a leave … I got married shortly after that and moved away for a little while. … Everyone just kinda took some time away.”

What was that first practice like when you guys got back together?
“To be honest, up until that first rehearsal back in July in prep for this (Casbah) show … up until that time, the last time the four us were in a room together was at the reception hall of my wedding back in ’04. … But that practice was a lot of fun. It was one of those things where everyone was practicing on their own so we could kind of accomplish something. Playing those chords again, your fingers just started kind of going back to same chords and it all came right back. I remember looking up and everyone had little smiles, but they didn’t actually wanna smile. But you could see everybody was on verge of going into a big, old huge wide-mouth smile because it was fun again. And we were pretty damn tight on the first go-around after all those years.”

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