Johnny Ride aka John Ridenour has played with the Aluminum Group, Bobby Conn, Jim O'Rourke, Arthur Brown, Susan Voelz, and many others. He is half of ambient duo SPOOL with jhno. (SPOOL is also working on a new record).He is also a stay-home, home-schooling dad, urban farmer, psychogeographer, and has recently returned to college.
Very recently Johnny released his new collection of music titled the Guilt and the Ambiguity. It was a long time coming and worth every hour of the wait. It is a who's who of Chicago music as well as several other talents from the wider world.
I have been laboring over how I wanted to conduct an interview about this new group of songs. I even solicited a list of questions on my facebook page but that is another story all together.....
Q) As an admirer of the The Aluminum Group I was pleased to hear the tune "Vertigo" open the album. I know that you have a rich history with the Navin Brothers but how did this particular tune come about?
Johnny Ride-I was in the aluminum group from 1996 to 2001 when I left Chicago to move back to Austin. We recorded so much stuff in early '01, however, that I appeared on 2 more albums of theirs even after i was no longer in the group! I love those guys--I think they are geniuses. They are also brilliant visual artists, and Frank has spent more time in recent years making short films. I always want to do more music or art with them, and I was really pleased when they agreed to write lyrics and arrange vocals for Vertigo. john did a beautiful lead vocal that i was going to use originally, but Bobby (Conn) and I decided the first song on my record should have me singing, so i tried a different approach. I'm really happy with how it turned out.
Q) The title...the Guilt and the Ambiguity, how did that come about and what if any sort of private meaning might that have?
Johnny Ride-The title comes from a conversation I stumbled into one time. These friends of mine were talking about a motivational speaker or something, and one said "He combines the best of Christianity and Buddhism." I made a dumb joke about how it was better than the worst of those--which would be guilt and ambiguity. Everybody laughed, and I knew I had my next record title.
Q) Maybe because of the fact that I am a visual artist myself, I have to ask about the cover. The crows are really a powerful and mysterious image. Who did the artwork and how did you come about using them?
Johnny Ride-The cover art is by my old friend Joe Beck who lives and teaches in La Crosse. I really wanted a crow as the central image as I've been really into crows for awhile now, and I knew Joe would do a great job with it. I love how one of the crows looks mildly guilty. The design was done by my friend and neighbor here in Urbana, Gina Manola, and the photo of me is by another friend Virginia Pinkston. I took the 70s-looking prairie sunset. I wanted the cover to look authentically early 1970s, and i think Gina did a great job with that.
Q) Unbroken is a stand out tune for me. I hear shadows of 80's Robert Fripp on both this cut and Call Me Johnny as well. John Eichenseer who is credited on Unbroken has been a long time collaborator if I am not mistaken. Is Unbroken an extension of sorts of other projects you have worked on together or is this something that was done solely within the context of this album?
Johnny Ride- Jhno (John Eichenseer) is of course my long time partner in a band called Spool. We get together every few years and make music, and sometimes it gets released. We have an epic 3rd record in the works, but Jhno is a bit of nomad these days, and he works slowly.
Unbroken is a repetitive guitar thing I wrote in Chicago the day I heard John Fahey died. I played this thing over and over for hours. I had this silly idea of it being a sort of fusion between Fahey-style aggressive finger-picking and dubby minimal techno with sort of medieval reeds. but with Jhno's layers of viola, cello, and duduk, plus Jason Finkelman's percussion, it went somewhere else. Bobby Conn mixed it using this great pitch-shifting delay thing called, I think, Vallhalla or something. I think it gets a bit into Fripp/Eno territory. I think it sounds great. I want to do a more thumpin' version, but it hasn't happened yet. maybe I can get some remixes done...
Q)-What was the actual working process on this album. Were a lot of tracks mailed back and forth or was a lot of time logged in at a studio doing takes with the other musicians face to face?
Johnny Ride)- I began to write most of these songs in Chicago and Austin in the early 2000's, and I started recording at Pogo Studios in Champaign in 2005, but the birth of my daughter and buying a house in Urbana put it way on the back burner for a few years. in 2009, Jhno visited and helped me set up a Protools/Mac studio in my basement, and I dove back in. In 2010, Bobby Conn graciously agreed to help me finish and mix the record. I've been friends with he and his wife Julie aka Monica Bou Bou since about 2000 when they asked me to play on the Golden Age album. I've played on a few Bobby Conn records since.He's a busy guy, though, and the record took 2 more years to finish. Most of the stuff was recorded a bit at a time, with some emailing of tracks.
Q) What was the actual working process on this album. Were a lot of tracks mailed back and forth or was a lot of time logged in at a studio doing takes with the other musicians face to face? Which do you prefer? How much of the spontaneous is lost in the translation when tracks are mailed back and forth or is it just a matter of trusting that your collaborator is on the same page so to speak?
Johnny Ride- I like recording live in a great room, and the spontaneity that can occur, but I really love recording by myself at home as well. I think it can be exciting and liberating also to mail stuff back and forth. In any case, I like collaboration, whatever form it takes.
Q) Knowing you as well as I do, I know that you are a huge Joni Mitchell admirer. I even seem to remember that you had a treasured copy of The Hissing of Summer Lawns that was autographed. What was it that spoke to you about this particular Mitchell song and inspired you to include it here?
Johnny Ride- HAHAHAHA! I treasure that signed copy! But i think maybe it was a forgery...I have this funny little shtick I do--I cover a Joni song, sample her, or quote a melody or lyric of hers on everything I record. It's silly, I know, but it's sort of one of those vows you make when young and idealistic, and I continue to honor it. This song is kinda obvious, a hit, not one of her deeper ones, but I tried to learn it for a hoot night years ago in Chicago, and it is a tough one--I took it on as a challenge--to make it my own. I intended to make it super dark and sleazy, but Bobby really got into the slick James Taylor kinda production and so it isn't so dark. People either love this or hate it. It's a bit embarrassing, but I'll stand by it. i think Jhno's keyboards really make it.
Q) Are you sitting on material from this project that you hope to release later? Perhaps tracks that you wanted others to work on but for one reason or another couldn't happen on this time-frame?
Johnny Ride-No, this is it. it was always in my mind these songs in more less this order. of course, they evolved somewhat during the time it took to finish. I have a bunch of other material recorded around the same time, but it is decidedly unrelated.
Q) I know that this project took much longer than you had intended and life gets that way but I have to say that the time I spent waiting was a worthwhile wait. Do you think that the album was enriched by the longer gestation period, so to speak?
Johnny Ride- Definitely. Although it would've been nice to get it done a couple of years ago! Sadly, I would've had more time and energy to promote it then, and I think I had some momentum with the successful kickstarter campaign that i may have lost now...I've gone back to school, gotten more entrenched in home-repair projects, home-schooling the kids, and we're expecting another kid early next spring, so I'm not able to work it like I should, but oh well!
Give it a listen:The Guilt and the Ambiguity