A little more than two decades ago, Sublime frontman Bradley Nowell stumbled onto Slightly Stoopid while on tour in Ocean Beach, signed them to his own label and sent them out on tour. Everything has changed since then — Nowell died of a heroin overdose, the entire music industry flipped on its head, and now we can listen to music on our watches. But the constant within has been Slightly Stoopid’s focus on touring almost non-stop and evolving as a band. Here, drummer Ryan Moran talks about their ninth studio album, Meanwhile, Back at the Lab, playing with his idols, and growing from a quartet to a 10-piece. A
Yellow Scene: Tell me all about the new album Meanwhile, Back at the Lab. What sets this one apart from earlier outings?
Ryan Moran: We’re all a little older, a little wiser. It has a different groove, but a similar direction. There’s a lot of variety on this record. It has some reggae, some hip-hop, some funk, some bass grooves, and some blues. It’s kind of a good mix of styles. We’ve been working on it for a while now for the last few years. We recorded a bunch of material and chose our best 15 tunes. We’re really happy about what we’re getting out to the fans.
YS: Why does the band choose to experiment with different genres?
RM: I think that’s what sets us apart from other bands is that we like to experiment, we like to challenge ourselves. We listen to a lot of different styles of music so we’ll listen to something and try our own version. We’ll be inspired by a lot of different stuff. You hear that in a lot of the previous albums and the most recent for sure.
YS: How do you fit into the songwriting process?
RM: It’s not really one way, but if someone has an idea or a groove, or a part, or a beginning, any inspiration really, we put it together piece by piece. In years past, we have all been in the studio all at once recording songs. …This record took shape in a cool way, because we have our own studio in San Diego, so we are able to work on combinations of guys in the group, two or three guys; sometimes the whole band. Sometimes the other half of the band. There’s different ways of building tunes and in a happy, organic way, it took its own direction.
YS: How is the band different than when you first joined?
RM: It’s bigger. When I joined the band, it was a four-piece, so it was percussion, guitar, bass and drums. Now, we have trombone players, saxophonists, and a keyboard player as well, so it’s grown quite a bit. With those instruments, we’re adding a potential for a different direction. They add elements of a blues/reggae vibe, jazz, funk. Our players are so versatile. It has opened up a lot of musical directions for us.
YS: What kind of influence do you think you’ve had on the band since you joined?
RM: I’m not really sure, I never really think about that. I try to be solid and stable, work hard and show up everyday and try to play my best, and that’s really the most important thing to me. I don’t really care about the partying, the whole “scene.” I just want to play a great show and get my satisfaction from that. My main motivation is just playing music and I’m really happy being in Slightly Stoopid. We have a lot of fun together. For me, the main gratification is that hour or two hours on stage performing.
YS: What keeps you from getting bored on the road?
RM: Opportunities. All the guys have something they pursue that is non-musical while on tour. A lot of guys will go on bike rides, and bring a barbecue set up. They’ll bring tons of bicycles, skateboards and other equipment, so that helps. It can feel a little isolated when you are in a new town every single day. Sometimes there are people, but a lot of times, you are just there to play. So you play the show, the show’s over, get on the bus and drive through the night. The main thing would just be getting out during the day and doing something cool, like explore the town a bit, hope on a bike, go on a bike trail, do something fun, experience the local culture a little bit, grab a local meal and then get back to the venue and do the show and go.
YS: How do you keep from getting on each other’s nerves on long tours?
RM: Well, we don’t. We all have our own lives, and stresses as men, as fathers so naturally things blow over but at the end of the day, we’re all there for a common purpose, to play good shows and music that we enjoy, performing and writing and recording, that’s the main motivation for all of us to be there. Sometimes there is a little bit of angst, we get on each other’s nerves a little bit. I mean it’s pretty normal. We share a tour bus which is basically like a shoe box when it’s filled with 12 dudes so it’s just a matter of time before something blows up, but typically it just gets squashed quick and we move on.
YS: Do you have any favorite stories from when you’ve been touring?
RM: The ones that stick out in my mind, but are not my favorites, are near death experiences… We had a lot of great shows, something white-knuckling over Loveland Pass in the winter makes you check yourself a little bit. We’ve had a lot of good experiences too. Some highlights for me have been the bigger shows like performing with Snoop and having artists sitting with us while we’re playing. We’ve had Snoop come up, Steven Marley, Cypress Hill, G-Love, the guys from Fishbone. Those to me are the highlight moments, having artists that we like and respect come up and sit in like Marley Asher, Don Carlos, Half Pint — the list is pretty big but those for me are like the highlight moments; playing at a show and artists that we grew up listening to and idolizing performing with us together, those are moments for me that are the pinnacle.
YS: Who’s been your favorite artist that has performed with you on stage?
RM: I don’t know if I have one, but we’ve been performing a lot with Don Carlos lately. He’s a reggae legend and he’s been doing it for close to five decades.
YS: What are some of the bands you’re listening to these days?
RM: I’ve been listening to The Aggrolites, Fishbone, a lot of Rancid, I’m a big Rancid fan, NOFX, Playboy Jazz All-Stars, Steel Pulse of course, Social Distortion. I listen to a lot of different stuff all the time. I listen to a lot of classic rock too: Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin, it’s a pretty huge list.
YS: What do you find most troubling about the music industry now?
RM: I think the thing that’s most troubling for me is that people think that you can just have a hit song and just retire and move on. I think for a lot of us that are out working as working musicians, that’s not the way it works. You work for hours and hours practicing, getting good at your instrument and try to do that so you can put on a good performance. Nowadays people think that you can just be on American Idol, win a million dollars and never have to work again. There is sort of this instant gratification with music especially with TV and their relation with TV. For me, the most troubling thing is that people think that it’s easy, and 99% of the musicians that I know will tell you that it’s the opposite; you have to work for hours with your instrument and you work, work, work and maybe you get a break, and maybe you don’t. It’s not easy. It’s the kind of industry that you need able to be able to handle your instrument and keep your head straight.
YS: What’s your stance on music streaming?
RM: I’m not really against it. I think that the thing that’s cool about it is that it is spreading the music out to people and we could benefit from that. No one is really buying albums anymore but they can listen to our music on iTunes, Spotify, iTunes Radio, Pandora or whatever Internet streaming service and if they like the music they can come to the show. So for us, that’s our bread and butter. We’ve never had a platinum selling album or anything, so for us it’s always been more about the ticket sales and so we’re able to look at that as a positive thing. More people will come out to live shows that have heard our music on a streaming platform.
YS: Red Rocks: Best Venue you’ve ever played or best venue ANYONE’s ever played?
RM: Yes and yes. It’s the best hands down. It’s incredibly beautiful, really friendly staff, excellent food, excellent facilities. The vibe’s there and who’s who has played there. For me, it’s the best place that I’ve ever played in my life. We play a lot of various venues, but Red Rocks has mystique, it has stability, the backstage is awesome … the sound is incredible, the locals that come out to support are super music fans. There’s a lot of great bands that come out of Colorado. Red Rocks has always been the best the best venue there. Hands down, the best all around for sure.
YS: What’s the weirdest gig you’ve ever played?
RM: We’ve definitely played a lot of weird gigs, so it’s hard for me to think of one off the top of my head. Playing weird gigs is part of your resume building in the live music world. I’m pretty sure that every musician will tell you that there is a handful of weird gigs where you play for empty rooms of two or three people and a bartender. For me, those are the weird ones, where there are like three people there and no one’s excited. You just play and do your thing so the club will want you back. Those are probably the hardest gigs to play, when the place is empty.
YS: If music wasn’t an option, what would you be doing now?
RM: Surfing professionally? I don’t know, I would love to do that. In my dream, I would be professionally surfing or doing some kind of sport where I could have that kind of lifestyle and travel. Other than that, in the real world, I would be a college professor, or something like that. Something completely opposite from what I’m doing now.
Slightly Stoopid plays Red Rocks on Aug. 1 at 7:30 p.m. Tickets start at $42.50, www.redrocksonline.com for more information.
Thanks to former intern Alexa Phillips for help with this feature.