We sat down today with Mike Ransom of Ransom Price. My Kidnap Money is his latest album, and is due out on April 7th. What was the recording process like for the disc?
Ransom Price is essentially a studio project, so we didn’t face the usual deadlines of trying to get an album finished up prior to a tour or anything like that. Additionally, My Kidnap Money is being released on Unable Records, which I run, and so I didn’t have any pressure from a label or other outside parties. As a result, the recording process for this album was a lot more relaxed than it otherwise would have been.
We began tracking drums very late in 2013, and knocked those out fairly quickly because the drummer (Chris Mazure) was moving to Florida. So I think we finished drums in 3 consecutive days. After that though, it was a very laid back process. We were recording at 0x1 Sound Studio, which is a sister company of Unable Records, and both the studio and label were very busy with other projects. Since we didn’t have any deadlines or pressure to get the Ransom Price album done, we just took our time, worked on it when we could, and wrapped up tracking in July 2014.
My Kidnap Money is broadly thematic. What story do the tracks on the album tell?
The album was written during, and about, a very dark time in my life a number of years ago. I suppose it was caused by a combination of things: realizing that I’d grown up, depression, anger, a really rocky period in my marriage, the stress of raising small children, work, and the death of some friends. Anyway, things were pretty bad then, but I wrote almost continuously during that period and just after. I found that writing was a great outlet for me, and that it allowed me to step outside of my problems for a bit; to put my issues into perspective. A lot of those times it helped me feel better. That’s what My Kidnap Money is; it’s my journey through the hardest time in my life and the emergence on the other side. My writing is very simple, not at all complex or pretentious, and fairly straight-to-the-point. I think the main reason for this is because when I was writing these, I was writing for myself; not for anyone else, not even for the purpose of writing a song in most cases. I was just writing to get my thoughts on paper, in a way that felt comfortable and natural to me. This is what came out.
What are the biggest influences that shine through on My Kidnap Money?
Musically, I’m very heavily influenced by bands like Screeching Weasel, Green Day, The Bouncing Souls, and The Queers, among others. That’s what I grew up listening to, and it’s what I listen to today, mostly. When I write, I write for myself. I write songs that I enjoy playing and that I enjoy listening to, which is why I stay pretty much within my comfort zone. I like straight forward and simple punk rock.
Lyrically, I’m influenced by what is happening in my life when I write a particular song. I wouldn’t say that I draw lyrical inspiration from anywhere else really.
What dynamic does Amanda bring to the table on Enough is Enough and Drink?
This was the first time that my wife and I collaborated musically, and I love the result. I hadn’t really planned on doing it, but it just sort of happened. “Drink” was our first song together, and it’s about the night on which it was written. We had put the kids to bed after one particularly trying evening, and decided to have a drink. We have these shot glasses that are made out of salt, so we grabbed a bottle of Patron and sat down at the kitchen table and started doing tequila shots. We talked and got drunk; hashing out everything that had transpired over the last few years. We realized that both us were saddled with huge amounts of guilt, but for different reasons; whether it’s the shitty person that I had been or because we felt we didn’t have enough time with the kids, or whatever. At some point I grabbed a note book and started writing. Amanda would throw out a line, I’d throw out a line; we’d both do some editing or rearranging, and in very short order we had “Drink” as it is today: a documentary of that night. It’s funny how sometimes, even after being married for 10 years, it takes one of those nights to really learn more about someone. We both learned a lot about each other that night, had a ton of fun, killed a full 750 of Patron, and wrote a great song.
“Enough is Enough” was totally different because we set out to write that one together, after we realized that we enjoyed writing together. I had numerous lyrical lines, scattered throughout several notebooks, that I was trying to bring together to tell the story of “Enough is Enough”. I wanted to write a song about my inner struggle, about my desire to push myself to get into a better frame of mind. I brought these fragments together and added a few new lines, but then handed it off to Amanda. She knows me better than anyone else, and she knew exactly what I was trying to convey. She made a ton of edits; moving lines, rewriting lines, deleting lines. She just went. She was on a roll. When she handed the notebook back to me, I read what she had done, and I knew that we had it. “Enough is Enough” was completed; she nailed it and I didn’t change a thing after that.
The east and west coasts have traditionally had different sounds to their punk. How do you reconcile and update the sounds from each?
To be honest, I’ve never really paid much attention to the east coast/west coast thing. My favorite bands, and biggest influences, have come from scenes in different parts of the country (Screeching Weasel from Chicago, The Queers from Boston, Bouncing Souls from New Jersey, and Green Day from Berkeley). What matters to me is whether or not I develop an emotional connection to the music. I don’t really pay attention to, or care, if a song has elements of west coast punk or east coast punk. I just listen to, and write, what sounds appealing to me at that particular time. Traditions, expectations, whatever you want to call it, mean very little to me.
What did your recording set up look like for My Kidnap Money?
We recorded the album at the 0x1 Sound Studio in Cherry Hill, NJ. It was produced and engineered by Jason Ruch, who is without a doubt the most talented engineer I’ve ever known. We used an analog front end that fed to our Pro Tools HD system. The front end consisted of all-tube gear from world class companies such as Neve, API, Universal Audio, Vintec and Avalon. Our approach to recording the whole album was to get a nice, clean sound without being over edited. The drums were 100% natural, without samples added or the drums quantized. We were going for that live, raw punk rock sound and feel. We took this approach every step of the way really.
For bass recording we both a Sans Amp RBI and an Ampeg SVT. For the guitars, we tracked each rhythm guitar 4 times. We tracked a hard-panned left and right take using a vintage BlackFace Mesa Boogie Dual Rectifier, and a mid-pan left and right take using a Kemper profiling amp. The tone we chose was a fat, thick, overdriven sound. We used a Mesa 4×12 oversized cabinet, miked with a Sure Sm57. 100% of the sound was just a loud amp in a live room.
We took an old school approach to recording this album; just real people playing in a room. No punches and crafty editing. Just straight up punk rock with a modern sound and old school heart. It certainly isn’t the most polished recording to ever come out of 0x1 Sound, but we did it that way on purpose. I wanted this to be an honest album, and I felt that taking a “leave it alone” attitude in the studio would go a long way towards capturing and retaining that honesty. In fact, “The Departed” was recorded in one take, vocals and guitar simultaneously. To do it any other way just wouldn’t feel right.
How can individuals hear samples of the new album?
People should visit UnableRecords.com/RansomPrice to hear samples and buy the CD. After April 7th, My Kidnap Money will also be available from all major online retailers. It’d be awesome if they’d get it directly from us though, at UnableRecords.com.
What goals do you have for Ransom Price in 2015? Before you retire?
Before I retire I would love to take Ransom Price beyond the studio and go on tour. When I started this project I had no intention of ever making this more than a studio project, but now that the album is just about out and the early feedback is good, I’ve kinda been “bitten by the bug” again. It’s been 15 years since I’ve played a live show (I was in the NJ punk band Point Blank back in the late 1990s), but I think it would be really cool to get out there and do it again. I’d wait until my kids are a bit older though, so they could come along if they wanted. I’m starting them early. Last summer, when they were 6 and 4, we got them some ear protection and took them to a Bouncing Souls show in Asbury Park; they both thought it was amazing.
As for the goals for the rest of this year; I’m just going to focus on spreading the word about this album. I really want people to hear this record, to hear my story.
Finally, do you have any final thoughts for our readers?
Thank you for reading this interview and thanks for checking out my album! Thanks for supporting independent music! There are tons of amazing artists and bands out there, grinding away under the radar, that need support. The “streaming music model” is killing independent music, due to the cannibalization of sales (physical and downloads). Yes, streaming is convenient and cheap, and provides incredible access to huge libraries; but it pays so little to independent musicians that most cannot sustain their music careers. Please, if you enjoy an artist’s music and really want to support them, buy a CD or an album download. Leave the streaming for “music discovery”, otherwise we will see really talented bands and artists begin to call it quits.
Thank you so much for your time.