Oscar Wilde famously said that each man kills the thing he loves most.
“I think in order to survive we had to take our past formulas and blow them up. We didn’t want to rest on our laurels and do another album like past ones,” says Ethan Anderson, frontman and bassist for the Seattle, WA-based rock/Americana act Massy Ferguson.
“The songs are still cut from the same Massy cloth: American rock,” adds drummer Dave Goedde. “We just dialed up the 80s-Midwest-college-rock thing that’s always been there.”
The record they’re talking about is Run It Right Into The Wall, Massy Ferguson’s fourth full-length and seventh release overall. An eleven-track collection of songs inspired and influenced by the likes of 80s college radio – The Replacements, early R.E.M., Soul Asylum – this time around the band went for loud guitars and big drums, dropping the pedal steel and occasional ballads of previous releases, opting instead to dive head-first into the Americana college-rock of the 80s that has always been at the heart of Massy Ferguson.
Comprised of Anderson, Goedde, and Adam Monda on guitar, Massy Ferguson’s Run It Right Into The Wall is the sound of a band playing to their strengths, taking what they do best and doing it for an entire album.
“Adam and Dave came of age in the 80s, I came of age in the 90s,” says Anderson. “They were really influenced by the 80s college rock that they heard while going to Washington State University in the mid/late 80s; Dave was actually a DJ there.
“With this record, we chose to explore that space sonically, because I was always really intrigued with those 80s college rock bands, feeling like I missed out on that era of music just by being young. So, really, this is born out of [Dave and Adam] listening to so much early R.E.M., The Church, Love and Rockets, and The Cult. As well as The Replacements, of course, who both Adam and Dave will tell you is probably their favorite band from that era. For me, I can’t escape the Uncle Tupelo, Wilco, Ryan Adams, Drive-By Truckers influences that shaped my musical style and taste as I came of age. It’s an amalgam of all that.”
Besides the pedal steel, absent from Run It Right Into The Wall is the strong use keyboards, a result of their keyboard player, Tony Mann, departing for Costa Rica. Instead of using keyboards as a key melodic instrument, this go ‘round the band treats them as a compliment to the guitars on the record, used more to fill out the sound rather than feature it.
“With [Tony gone] we decided to fill up that space with heavier, louder drums and guitars,” confirms Goedde. “Also, whereas on past records, Tony typically contributed three to five songs, with Adam writing the rest, on this one they’re all Adam compositions, so they’re naturally more guitar-based songs.”
Other firsts for the band on Run It Right Into The Wall include hiring a drum tech to help them get the big drum sounds they wanted, using a chorus effect on some of the guitars (“very 80s sounding,” says Goedde), and bringing in a session keyboardist after all the drums, bass, and guitars were done – rather than working around keyboard parts as they have in the past with Mann. Geode also played a glockenspiel on a song and a ‘garbage percussion’ set-up on another.
The result, as Anderson puts it, is that it turned out “a little bigger than I thought, which is a good problem to have.”
While the whole band pushed themselves on the album, Anderson especially pushed himself on the vocals, trying for things he hadn’t done before.
“I really tried to push my range vocally and go for it in ways I hadn’t before,” he says. “‘Front Page News’ toward the end is evidence of that.”
When asked what the highlights of the album are, Anderson says, “songs like ‘For Awhile’ and ‘Into the Wall’ came together quickly and sound like we’ve been playing them forever, which is what you hope with new songs. Listening to the mixes and realizing that I’d never made a record with this much authority, that really was a highlight.”
While the band pushed themselves and didn’t want to make a record like they had before – as they try to break out of the confines of the alt. country/Americana genre – Anderson says some may still putRun It Right Into The Wall in an Americana box. Though, admittedly, not alt. country and Americana purists.
“[I think this record fits in] some sort of harder americana format – hopefully sandwiched between a Replacements tune and a The War on Drugs song, maybe,” says Anderson. “In particular, we wanted to go record something to our strengths – and make an album that was full on. We had moments of full-on on previous albums, but I think we also played some slower, sadder ballads, which we can do. But, it certainly isn’t our forte.
“With this album we stripped it down to what we do best: Loud, twangy, American rock, nothing less. We took what we do best and did it for an entire album. Rock and twang – American/Midwest college rock, however you call it – for an entire statement. I still consider this record in a ‘rock and twang’ wheelhouse, but outside, way outside, of what purists would classify as alt. country. That’s not to say it doesn’t have flashes of that, but I hope it will challenge people who have our previous records to accept a more inclusive and broad interpretation of Americana.”
Describing why they chose Run It Right Into The Wall as the album title, Goedde says, “it feels like someone has reached a breaking point and, out of desperation or abandon, just wants to push what they’re doing over the edge. With this album, we wanted to push things more, sonically, emotionally.”
Push they have done, delivering a record that, from start to finish, throughout all eleven tracks, holds up and doesn’t let go.