Joining us inside The Sauce Pot Studios is one of San Luis Obispo’s most mystic and decorated rock’n’roll acts, the Ragged Jubilee. We caught up with them on their newest record, Pyramid Scheme, how their sound has changed over the years, and how the central coast music scene has evolved around them.
Ryan Corvese: Welcome! I understand you guys have been here at the Sauce Pot in the past; did you have a rehearsal room for awhile?
Chandler Haynes: Yes, we had a room for almost a year. We actually recorded our album that we just released in our room here!
R: That’s great! Big fan of Pyramid Scheme. Let’s do a quick introduction and tell me what you each play.
E: I’m Ethan Burns, and I play guitar and sing. Harmonica sometimes.
A: Aaron Wick, drummer, sing… once.
C: I’m Chandler Haynes and I play bass and do background vocals. Also played the Sitar once.
R: Alright, getting some eastern vibes in there.
E: You also played the Whale once, same song.
R: The Whale?
E: Four-string whale. It’s rare.
R: Speaking of instrumentation, what’s something that’s changed on this record versus the older ones? On some of the older ones I heard more slide guitar, acoustic was very prominent, now it’s more straight grit and rock’n’roll.
C: With the first two albums (In the Valley, and American Moan) we had Philip Wahl playing banjo and organ, and when Phil moved to Portland, so did his banjo and organ. So as far as instrumentation goes on those two albums specifically, Phil had a lot to do with that. But we also had Larry, Steady Larry…
E: A couple steel players too, and Danny Grivjack played organ for awhile. So to answer your question, maybe the people we had?
R: So Pyramid Scheme was released in October, following quite the hiatus… It’s been four or five years since the last album?
R: What inspired Pyramid Scheme?
A: Geez, I don’t know. I’d say probably a lot less drama; it’s more about the music this time around.
C: Yeah, when we took the hiatus, I did my own project, Ethan was doing his own thing, and I think we all were just kinda like, “why aren’t we playing again?” So we got back together and started writing some new music—music that we all wanted to play. We loved our old stuff and still play our old stuff but I think when we got back together, we were just like, “let’s play music that we want to play and that we want to hear.” That’s what Pyramid Scheme turned out to be, and that was the reason we got back together and recorded.
R: You mentioned still having fun playing the old songs, but also wanting to write new stuff. This album seems like such a departure from really everything you’ve recorded in the past. Was there anything specific that led to this new, harder sound?
E: I think just time and experience crafted this new sound. Everyone got to grow and mature in their craft, whether that was bringing bass rhythms or drum beats or guitar tones we hadn’t heard before.
A: I’d agree. We always feed off of what we’re listening to currently, so I think it’s that a lot of our musical influences have changed too. We used to listen to a lot of folk.
C: Now it’s just One Direction (laughs).
A: And Wu Tang.
R: Tell me about some artists that you’re listening to right now?
E: The nice thing is that we all listen to different stuff. I listen to a lot of hip-hop or classic rock, but lately I’ve been into MF Doom, Black on Both Sides (by Mos Def), and anything Wu Tang Clan. Blackout!, by Method Man and Redman has been my favorite for a long time. So nothing that really sounds like our band I guess.
A: I like hip-hop but lately I’ve probably been listening to King Gizzard (and the Lizard Wizard), a lot of surf music, anything psychedelic. I really like Pink Floyd, Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin, and am always discovering new stuff. What do you like Chandler?
C: Oh, Thanks for asking Aaron.
A: Don’t say hip-hop.
C: Just a lot of MF Doom… (laughs)
R: Wu Tang Clan….
C: Really though, I have been listening to a lot of MF Doom lately, and a really cool band called Soccer Mommy recently came out with a new album.
R: I got strong vibes from the Doors on some of your songs too, like on the instrumental opening of “Kill,” for example.
E: We’ve definitely heard that a time or two. Flattering, thank you.
R: “Poison in the Well” had almost a Temptations feel to it with the blend of harmonies. Has anything helped craft that sound?
E: Yeah, that’s all Chandler and Austin (I’anson, on Rhythm Guitar). They have an ear for that in a way I don’t really understand, but they make it pretty.
R: Dead Horse. I’m gonna put that out there, that’s my favorite track off Pyramid Scheme.
C: Yeah, I think Dead Horse is also my favorite song off the album.
R: It’s just fucking rock and roll.
C: Whenever Ethan asks me what song we should play next at a show, I’m always like, “Dead Horse!” And he’s like, “not now, not now.”
E: It’s usually cause we just played it. (laughs)
R: You guys have been moving crowds for awhile now..
A: 10+ years….
R: What’s next on the horizon; are you going to be promoting that for awhile, or do you have other plans?
E: Well, I like to say we strike like lightning, never in the same place twice.
C: That’s true, he does say that…
E: If you keep your eyes open in the next few months, we’ll probably have another thing out to listen to.
R: What could we expect from that?
C: I think it’s in the same vein. This last album we just wanted to record it ourselves as a challenge and we wanted it to be raw and garage-y kind of. But I think with this next thing that we’re gonna do, we’re gonna still keep that a little bit, but maybe have other people do the engineering so I don’t have to.
R: So you produced this last album?
C: Yeah, Ethan and I.
A: We definitely did most of the work.
E: It can be really painstaking doing it yourself.
R: It is a lot of work, but it’s also nice to have it be your child—you’ve brought it along this whole way and it’s yours.
E: It’s rewarding in a non-monetary way.
R: I understand you did a limited vinyl release?
E: We did, we still have probably about 300 copies… they’re a translucent red vinyl, 12”, it’s all Pyramid Scheme.
C: This is the first album we put on vinyl, so we’re really pumped to have that.
R: Really though, why vinyl, why not cassette tape??
E: You only play those like twice, ya know? Vinyl, you play four times.
R: Cassette tapes seem to be a big thing that Santa Maria bands have done. Where did you guys grow up?
C: Arroyo Grande
A: San Jose and San Luis Obispo.
C: You should just say San Luis.
A: I have been here longer…
C: Not that there’s anything wrong with San Jose… book us!
E: San Jose’s okay. I grew up in Grover Beach.
R: Now you’ve been around for over 10 years now, that’s a long time. How have you seen the scene change in that time?
C: I think the scene’s always changing. I think it’s starting to come together a little more now, especially with stuff like Sauce Pot and bands realizing it’s not a competition between themselves and coming together.
R: Finishing up, you have a decent local following——and there’s also a lot of bands that like your music. Who have been some of your favorite bands that you’ve played with over the years?
C: King Walrus, when they were playing around, that was always a fun show.
E: Threes and Nines was a great band from around before I started playing music. Ryan Delmore and Sparrow’s Gate too. There’s been a lot of great local bands that run for a few years and then kind of either give up or disappear, almost too many to name.
C: Zeb Zaitz last album was phenomenal, blew me away. Haven’t seen ‘em play around here in awhile, I think he plays a lot around Big Sur now.
A: It’s been a pleasure to play with them all. 10 years and still rolling… it’s been a journey.