Black Gold | Sounds About Right

I think that the greatest lesson is really just how to maintain a relationship and how to keep the above point alive in a healthy way so you can really get down to business and make some music.

 

Eric Ronick is the nicest guy you’ll ever talk to. Our conversation was more like old friends catching up than journalist interviewing artist. He’s also incredibly determined with very high expectations for himself and the success of his music. After being in a couple moderately to extremely well-known bands for a few years -- first Ambulance LTD, then a little outfit called Panic! at the Disco -- Ronick decided it was time to focus on his own musical pursuits. He and a musical collaborator, Than Luu (Rachel Yamagata), pulled out the songs they’d been writing, formed their own band and crafted what became Black Gold’s debut album, Rush. The best way to describe it is genre-crossing pop: depending on the song and your mood, you can pull some indie vibes, some dance vibes, even some boy-band vibes. That’s something that Ronick loves to hear. He doesn’t want Black Gold to fit into a “scene,” but for it to cross genres and appeal to the masses.

 

So you’re working your way across from L.A.?

Yeah…well, we just started; last night was the first night of tour, technically. Although for us tour is kind of endless at this point. We’ve just been on the road for a quite a long time. We did have a few weeks off for the holidays, which were really nice. But just before the holidays we were in the U.K., and then just after we went to Australia. That was incredible; just being there was amazing.

All right, let’s start at the beginning with past bands and accomplishments. Basically, what got you to where you are now?

Basically, right after school I moved back to New York and I just set up shop there. While I was recording my own music, I started producing bands out of my various studios, from my first bedroom studio. Ultimately, I had a pretty nice facility in Brooklyn there for a minute. And all along the way I was getting calls to play in other bands, so I would jump on the road for a few years at a time. But the first call for a band was a really amazing band called Nebula Cell TV. And so often as it starts, it was a band filled with really talented musicians and really great songs. But the band couldn’t really hold it together and so that fell apart after a couple years of me being involved in it.

So I went back to Brooklyn and went back to work. At this point, I had started writing with Than [Luu], who is the drummer in our band. We met on that Ambulance [LTD] tour, actually. We would just hold up in my studio in Brooklyn and write there. Somewhere along the way, we got the call to go and play with Panic! at the Disco, which I did for a couple years. Those guys are really, really great people and dear friends of mine. We had a lot of fun until Black Gold started getting a lot of attention. I just ran out of time to play in other bands.

At least you’re at a good point where you could switch and do your own stuff. [The sounds of meows grow louder, hard to ignore] I’m sorry, my cat hates speaker phones; she keeps trying to talk.

What kind of cat is it?

She’s the tiniest little gray tabby ever.

I had a cat a few years ago that I basically lost in a breakup. I had a wonderful cat named Captain Pancakes that I dearly miss. And I have no idea where she is at this point.

She probably misses you, too.

I hope so.

I always wonder what they remember.

I used to go to the supermarket and buy fish and whatnot for her. I used the fish to prepare all her food. So I feel like I’ve earned it…I’ve earned her memory.

The only other background question I have though was, being in those past bands, all the experience you got, what did you feel like you learned from then that you feel was really essential that you don’t think you would have gotten on your own?

I think that it was an education for me of how to do this properly. Seeing how to write songs and how to connect with an audience. Really, most importantly, how to how to hold a band together. That’s the real trick of it all. You can be working with the most talented musicians in the world, but at the end of the day, you’ve got to be ready to sit in a van for eight hours a day for two years straight. And if you can’t maintain those relationships, that will bring out all the differences. All the playing and performing experience, it all helps. Especially with Panic!, looking out at a festival audience, which is usually 70,000 people. And just getting accustomed to that feeling and how to address an audience that large. That all helps and makes a big difference when you have to start yourself and form a band. I think that the greatest lesson is really just how to maintain a relationship and how to keep the above point alive in a healthy way so you can really get down to business and make some music.

So basically Black Gold is just the two of you and you add people as needed? Is that how its going?

That’s kind of a tricky question. In the beginning it was just the two of us. And this whole record, the bulk of that record is just the two of us. And between the two of us, with the instruments we play -- we can make up a pretty damn full rock band. Snd we definitely have a lot of real, real amazing help from musician friends; that came into place as well. But at the time it was just the two of us, at no point was the intention for it to just be the two of us; that’s just kind of how it worked out. It was just me and Than in the studio, and we just hadn’t found the right people.

It took us a long time to find the right people. We’ve been playing now with our guitar player [Alex Paxton] for two years; I don’t think we could do anything without him at this point. Although that record may be the product of just Than and I, at this point, Black Gold is four piece. We met our bass player [Jerry Wayne James] over the summer. And you know, when it does work, it really works, and you know that right away. I don’t think we could do anything without those guys anymore. The next record, which we are already working on, is going to be about the four-piece, not just Than and I.

Songwriting wise, have all four of you sat down to start writing?

We’ve started. Than, Alex and I have recorded a few new songs that will end up on the next record. We really need to start writing as a four piece. Some of the material hasn’t gotten down to tape quite yet, but it’s getting there. And it’s really exciting for us. Bottom line: We’re just having fun while we’re doing it. As long as we think we’re having fun, then I think the music will show it.

Where do your lyrics come from?

We’re trying to keep the lyrics a little abstract from specifics of a story; I think that that’s really the only way to transcend the meaning from my story to everybody else’s story. And that’s what I think makes a great song. If somebody can hear something in that song that I didn’t even intend, then that’s ideal. That’s really what we’re looking for.

You’ve played in front large and small audiences. Which do you prefer, and what are the best aspects of the different sizes?

My very favorite-size show is usually about a theater-size, anywhere between about a 1,000 to 5,000 seats at most. Somewhere in there is really the sweet spot. When it comes to sound in a small venue, usually those rooms sounds awful. The show never really communicates from the stage to the crowd, in my opinion. But in a venue with 1,000 people or so, you’re right there. You can still smell the sweat on the musicians’ skin. Once it gets bigger than that, although the energy of the audience is an extraordinary thing for people, I think that the show suffers because in those enormo-dome venues it just always sounds like a toilet bowl. You can’t really relate one on one, audience to musician.

I don’t think anybody ever really thinks about the crowd when they talk about those things. I think a lot of fans cherish the idea of being with a band in the smallest setting they possibly can; there’s something that’s very hip and cool about that. And it genuinely is; there’s something great about the room where it’s that small and there’s no place to hide. But the club venues are tricky to get sounding right. It makes a big difference, even to people who aren’t really totally aware of the quality of the sound at a venue. They still feel it. It communicates something when it’s not really sounding right.

Aside from the standard “all we want to do is make a living doing what we love” goal, what are your goals?

Honestly, I can’t relate to the idea of just doing what we love and making a living. I think for Than and I, from the beginning of this band, we were thinking we wanted to be very big, and I think it translates into the style of songs that we write. I think that there’s a lot of great music being made out there, even right now. Sometimes I feel bad about the where the state of music is. I’ve come to the conclusion that there’s tons of great music being made out there, but there’s something that is lacking in our world of music right now, which is that fans have been really sort of broken up and separated into these small groups: you know, your emo, or your screamo, or your hardcore, or your whatever.

But there’s a time that I remember when I was a kid and there were those bands that just stretched over everybody. It didn’t matter how you dressed, if you were a punk rocker, if you were a rocker, or if you liked disco or whatever the heck it was. Those kind of bands wrote songs for absolutely everybody. That’s what we’re trying to do. The ultimate answer to your question: I want my songs in the ears of everybody. And I want to share that experience with them and with as many people as I possibly can.

They always tell you to set measurable goals.

Ahh…measurable goals. That would be like if I sold two million records then I know where that’s at. But you know, these days I believe it’s very hard in music to measure your successes at all. We’re watching album sales diminish by half every year, but there’s no decrease in fans of music. People love music as dearly now as they ever have. It’s hard because half the time your music is in the ears of thousands of people who haven’t spent a penny on your music. There’s no chart for stolen music. I hope I’m not coming off sounding like I’m on a high horse about stealing and piracy; I really couldn’t give a shit about that. Really, I’m just saying its tricky these days to figure out how you’re doing and how your really connecting with your audience.

Right. You can measure, but how does that translate into money?

Sometimes people get all sorts of hits on the web and they can’t still really sell out venues. It’s tricky to do the math these days. That doesn’t change my interest in doing it. | Laura Hamlett

 

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