His pulse might be slowing personally but the music of Ralph Myerz continues to have the same vigour and spirit as when he first started out.
This is not what FLW expected. After receiving the call-up due to being mightily impressed with recent single ‘Take A Look At The World’ lifted from Ralph Myerz’, formerly of the Jack Herren Band, equally impressive new album ‘Supersonic Pulse’, the tape recorder was quickly assembled along with numerous questions in the hope that this notoriously reluctant interviewee was willing to spill the beans on his musical past and present.
The shock realisation arrived once pleasantries were exchanged due to FLW having the illusion of being greeted by a posse of hangers-on with all the intention of airport security staff of a thorough interrogation before being given the green light to the main man himself. The reality, in fact, could not have been more distant from this mental image as the vision of an LA Lakers (or whatever choice of team you want to apply here) baseball cap and tracksuit wearing gent, complete with Adidas footwear, was simply not present. Ok, so maybe FLW needs to make a mental note to self here and pack up the kit bag of 90s influences and move into the present, but surely the first few words emanating from this music producer, DJ and artist will be laced with a serious dose of petulance once the realisation dawns that we reside in two completely different worlds? Nope. Nothing. Not even a hint of arrogance as FLW is truly welcomed with open arms by a world famous artist who turns out to be the complete opposite of the often perceived image associated with celebrity status.
There is simply no hiding from the very first question, therefore, as now is as good a time as any to try and ascertain the reason(s) why there is a reluctance to conduct interviews, especially with a new album to promote. Despite the sensitive nature of this immediate questioning, and possible ramifications if our host decides to clam up, the response is instantaneous and once again surprisingly refreshing considering Mr Myerz aforementioned status in the world of music.
“I feel that there are probably a lot of other people that are better than me at doing interviews,” explains Ralph Myerz. “I have never really been comfortable with the whole idea of talking too much about an album. Basically, all the stuff I want to say is already on the album, so the whole idea of promoting and talking about my life is not something I am comfortable with, and I prefer to be in the studio making music. But I realise that I have to do it in order to get people to get to know an album when I have a record out.”
As the interview continues to unfold, FLW has never met such a genuinely accommodating, friendly and extremely warm musician in all its duration of conducting interviews over the years. Such admirable qualities become clearer once Ralph Myerz offers a philosophy when it comes to living and that is: “Always be nice; be nice and be with nice people and everything will be ok. Other than that, I don’t have a philosophy when I make music, as I never know what it’s going to be when I start making a track whether it’s going to be hip-hop or whatever as it just happens, but being nice is important.”
Ralph Myerz attitude and approach in life, and more notably to making music, stems from a rural upbringing where the population was more likely in the hundreds and life had a very idyllic outlook on the fringes of Bergen. This is where this musical journey began for this Norwegian, who initially considered a life of teaching due to a love of academia before the DJ turntables proved all too persuasive and the rest is of course history.
“It started a long time ago now, twenty years in fact,” answers Ralph Myerz regarding his first venture in music. “I got my first synthesizer when I was sixteen and I started to mess around with that. Then I picked up on DJing and got to borrow a few techniques – turntables and mixer – pretty fast and I was lucky enough to get my first release when I was roughly 18 years old. Pretty soon after that, I moved to Bergen to study to become a teacher. I had some possibilities with the music but I didn’t think it was really something that I could do for the rest of my life. I wanted to have something secure and I was quite nerdy and not that crazy during my youth as I was quite reserved. I really liked school and liked to study, and the music scene seemed a little bit scary. So I thought that if I become a teacher, I could make music in the holidays as they have really long summer and winter holidays.”
After such honest confessions regarding his first tentative steps in the music industry, there is no doubt that Ralph Myerz would have been equally efficient as a teacher due to the calm, affable and approachable exterior the man exudes. Fortunately for the dance and hip-hop fraternity Ralph Myerz decided to pursue the musical rhythms formulating in his mind, which were further encouraged by the people around him due to a glut of emerging musical talent in the very same village where he grew up.
“I come from a very small village outside of Bergen, and for some strange reason there was a really strong music environment in that village as there were already some people making electronic music before I got started. I looked up to these people and thought it was very cool in terms of what they were doing. There were people like DJ TB, who is a very well-known drum & bass producer, and there were several others making early techno stuff. So that’s how I started to become interested in the whole thing of making music.”
The momentum for Ralph Myerz’ music really started in earnest when Mikal Telle at Telle Records Norway offered the emerging musical maestro a DJing slot at a private party, which unbeknown to Myerz at the time was the first rung on the musical ladder.
“Mikal Telle from Telle Records was having this big party and he asked me to play,” explains Ralph regarding this major opportunity. “I wanted to do something special, so I asked two of my friends to join in with percussion and drums and got together a whole band. It was supposed to be for one night only, but something happened at that gig as it just exploded and worked really well as the audience really liked us,” he continues sounding somewhat surprised even now. “We were booked to do five more gigs after that show, and then another five gigs shortly after. So we didn’t really decide to be a band, it was a decision made by the audience in a way because we kept on being booked. So after twenty gigs together, we thought that maybe we should look into this [laughing].”
With progress developing at considerable pace in the Ralph Myerz camp, the decision was made to become Ralph Myerz and The Jack Herren Band who were responsible for one of the seminal dance crossover albums in the UK, at least, during the 90s. The album responsible for merging the indie kids with the dance and hip-hop loving brigades was ‘A Special Album’, which not only helped to launch the career of Ralph Myerz and Co. but to this day is still fondly remembered by FLW for the artwork gracing this special release with its hazy brown and yellow cigarette-stained impression of colours combined with a potbellied, doughnut eating American cop or clerk, giving a real impression of 70s American style television.
“Actually, the cover of the album came from a TV pilot in the U.S. as they wanted to make a show but it got cancelled after the pilot [episode],” recalls Ralph on this golden period regarding ‘A Special Album’. “So all of the actors in the show went downhill after the pilot, but we got hold of all the footage from that pilot and that’s what we used for that [album] cover.”
How did you manage to get hold of the TV footage, considering the projected show was cancelled after the pilot episode?
“It was people that we knew who had seen some of the stuff and shown me a couple of the pictures and I thought it was perfect,” explains Ralph. “The photographer was really nice with us and gave us access to everything, and we used it on all the 12″ records and the foldout cover [album]. But the whole album was kind of a compilation of all the music I had been making since I started. So the five years before the album was released, I was making a lot of sounds like the stuff on that album. My studio was basically in my living room for a long time during the early years, and then I moved into a big building where Röyksopp, Annie and Kings of Convenience also had a studio, and that’s where we all worked. Basically, I lived in the studio for almost one and half years and I used to sleep on the couch and I was just making music for many hours. It was a beautiful time with no worries; the only worry was to make good music but it was a great environment to make music, only leaving the studio sometimes to DJ and play new stuff. I really enjoyed that time and it was very focused on making music. So that whole period was kind of collected on to that album [‘A Special Album’] and that’s also why I wanted it to be a special album because for me, personally, it was a really good time.”
With FLW often residing on the other side of the fence when ‘A Special Album’ was first issued, which is not the scenario today we hasten to add, due to the likes of Primal Scream’s masterwork ‘Screamadelica’ and Massive Attack’s godlike ‘Blue Lines’ providing the backdrop during the 90s, the increasing notoriety of Ralph Myerz and The Jack Herren Band was unavoidable as their stock went up considerably and justifiably so. Such recognition was duly reward in the UK with music critics salivating over the band’s full-length debut album, and prestigious slots were given at major festivals as Ralph Myerz explains.
“We were fortunate to have a lot of good people in England supporting us during this period. We played at Glastonbury Festival three times and even played on the main stage – The Pyramid Stage – before Oasis. We had a lot of strong support from England, and played so many good gigs.”
Did you ever decamp with The Jack Herren Band during this successful period and record any new material in the UK?
“No, but most of my albums were either mixed or finished at Abbey Road [Studios] and I have been working at Metropolis in London, but I never really made music in England. I have a lot of friends who still make music from that time and I would love to go back there and work with, and I have had plans to do that for a long time but I don’t know as there is something about making music in Norway that I like.”
This, dear readers, is where we find ourselves in terms of this discussion, as the subject of returning to his roots is something Ralph Myerz is keenly aware of, and something he has wanted for some considerable time despite living in some very glamorous locations around the world such as Los Angeles for starters. Having spent more than a few minutes in the company of the genius that is Mr Myerz, a hankering for a return to his native homeland, which is now where he resides, does not come as a surprise considering his peaceful demeanour. The point in contention here, however, is latest album ‘Supersonic Pulse’, as both title and subject matter are definitely at odds with the mood, manner and lifestyle of the man sitting before FLW today.
A greater insight of the complexities encased between the grooves of ‘Supersonic Pulse’ can be gleaned from the previously mentioned single ‘Take A Look At The World’ featuring fellow Norwegian artist Annie, who considers the possibilities of escape to greater adventures while Ralph Myerz rains on such desires with dark thunderous beats. It’s a glorious first single, despite the dark undertones involved, but a curious one as it gives the clearest indication of somebody at odds with their very existence. Therefore, is ‘Supersonic Pulse’ a means of reflection rather than a current state of affairs in terms of where Ralph Myerz finds himself?
“That’s very well said and that’s also a lot of what the album is kind of about too,” replies Ralph Myerz looking very pensive. “It’s about me, and a very small town outside of Bergen, dreaming about doing all of these things, and if you don’t dare to try and do it, you only have the dream but if you actually go out and try to do it, then who knows what’s going to happen.”
Do you still feel the same way now?
“I’m very content now, but I haven’t always been,” says Ralph as FLW begins to delve deeper. “When I started out working on the album there were many times that I would’ve preferred to live elsewhere as there was a lot of dreaming about going away and leaving. But that has changed as now I’m happy!” continues laughing.
Was it Annie, therefore, who came up with the lyrics to the previous single ‘Take A Look At The World’ considering your new found contentment?
“Annie came up with the lyrics as she is a really good writer,” replies Ralph regarding his co-writer for this particular song. “In fact, she has been writing a lot of songs for a lot of very well-known English pop acts such as Girls Aloud. I’m not saying that Girls Aloud has specifically good lyrics, but Annie is very good at working with lyrics as she has great creativity with words and capturing that pop essence. The reason for having Annie on the album goes back to the idea of the memory book that I wanted to make as Röyksopp mixed the track and Annie did the lyrics and the vocal. Therefore, it was very natural to have their input on the album as that’s where I started making music with them. But the reason for having it as first choice of single is that it is a great introduction to the album, as the album takes place in a lot of different parts of the world and I just felt it was a cool introduction . Have you seen the inside cover of the album? It’s like a metro map of all the artists [involved] and where in the world they live. So, for example, you can follow Annie from Berlin up to LA and therefore it [‘Take A Look At The World’] has a lot to do with the cover really.”
The concept of a memory book really makes sense once the varied tones of ‘Supersonic Pulse’ have been heard because the notion of a period of reflection definitely becomes clearer not only form the lyrics but also the carefully chosen collaborations as these are musicians Ralph Myerz has developed a working relationship with but more importantly, in his eyes, great friendships.
“I wanted to make an audio-visual memory book for myself to have when I go to the retirement home and I’m 75,” he says with a smile. “I want to have this album and look at it and listen to it and see what was going on when I was this age. So that was the plan. We made a plan four years ago to make a memory for ourselves first. Then we had a list of people that we had already been working with, and a lot of people that we wanted to work with. So we just started from there. I had been doing a lot of hip-hop productions, so I had been working with Snoop’s [Snoop Dogg] cousin for many years. He introduced me to Snoop Dogg and a lot of other people – rappers – in the US. So that’s how I got hold of all the people I wanted to be on the album. Then I moved to LA and stayed there for two years, and I continued working on the album. I met George Clinton through Snoop’s cousin, as Snoop’s cousin’s father played in Parliament [Funkadelic] with George Clinton, so they’re all connected. So after approximately six months of working with them, they were really nice to me and I was given access to this amazing studio in Hollywood where Eminem, Snoop Dogg, and Rihanna, who is now there recording her new stuff, have all worked before.”
How long were you actually at the recording studio in Hollywood?
“I was there for almost two years, and I recorded a lot of stuff and did a lot of production work for people as a means of providing a return service. It was a great learning process for me to learn about ‘nerdy’ stuff such as mixing techniques and also about how songwriters are making music which, for example, George Clinton is a great producer with much knowledge and a very good guy. So it was amazing how much I learnt from those guys.”
With two years spent in LA adding more and more layers to ‘Supersonic Pulse’, the whole recording process for the new album was, in reality, a lot longer. A period of four years was the total duration spent honing and crafting the musical pulses of such distorted delights as ‘So Romantic’, complete with wondrous gravelled tones supplied by David Banner, to the smoother ‘Something New’ featuring none other than Diana Ross and The Supremes. The years spent perfecting this latest work by Ralph Myerz was definitely worth the wait and adequately lives up to the album’s initial conceptions only to return full circle to the quieter confines of Norway.
“When I started out [‘Supersonic Pulse’], I really had a feeling that I wanted to leave and go, and that’s also why I kinda left too as I went to LA. As I mentioned earlier, I’m from a small farming community with cows and sheep and it’s very, very calm in comparison with the whole scene of Hollywood and the stress as everybody seems to be climbing towards something and I don’t really know what they’re climbing for but they are!” he continues looking bemused. “I didn’t feel at home with that notion of chasing something as I prefer to be in a calmer place and luckily I discovered that and I’m much happier now as I’m back in the countryside. Also, my studio is located in an old barn and everything is very similar in terms of how I started out as I’ve gone back to my roots.”
A return to his environmental roots is not the only thing that has returned to base as Ralph Myerz’ influences remain largely untouched, as he informs FLW.
“I think I’ve had the same influences pretty much the whole time with early 90s hip-hop, mostly from LA – west coast hip-hop from ’93 – and a couple of producers like Ant Banks and DJ Quik. Also, New York hip-hop mixed with a lot of English electronic stuff such as Global Communication’s album ’76:14′ and The Orb.”
Despite your return home and the various influences infiltrating your work remaining the same, do you feel that your writing differs now in terms of your past works?
“I’ve been better at shortening the songs because if you notice on ‘A Special Album’ a lot of the songs are close to the seven minute mark, which is quite long for something that might have a pop element to it. So I’ve been better at compressing my ideas into at least four minutes but I still like to make really, really long songs as I think it’s fun to do when I make them.”
Do have a favourite track and favourite collaboration from your latest record ‘Supersonic Pulse’?
“My favourite track from the album is ‘A Dream U Can Feel’ because that’s been the theme song for the people who worked on it, and therefore the theme song for the whole project in terms of the lyrics. Also, the collaboration with K-Quick and Da Youngfellaz has been really good. I’m also working on producing their [Da Youngfellaz] new album as well.”
Just then Ralph Myerz receives the signal that time’s up as his carriage awaits for the trip back to his favoured rural surroundings. There remains, however, one final question before this extremely genial record producer, DJ and artist departs and that concerns these same three roles Mr Myerz resides under in terms of whether he favours one role over the other when it comes to working?
“I think I would like 75% of my time producing and making new music, and 25% DJing, because I definitely love being in the studio the most,” says Ralph. “It is good to go out sometimes though, and actually check out the tracks on an audience you’ve made because it’s no good just living in my own little bubble back at the barn and not seeing how the tracks are being received. I have to say though, that I prefer making music than playing it, but having said that, on a good night I really enjoy DJing as it has always been something that I have worked hard at, and watching the crowd to see what they like and their interaction; I love to do that, but I would choose the studio anytime over any gig,” he finishes laughing.
Ralph Myerz’ pulse is definitely one that is no longer competing for major contention when it comes to the bright lights of LA as the ‘Supersonic Pulse’ is consigned to the annals of his personal history, but thankfully the music being crafted by this Norwegian maestro continues to maintain the same vigour and spirit as the day he decided to trade his proposed teaching career for a life in music. As it stands, ‘Supersonic Pulse’ is riding high on the FLW playlist as it has evoked many memories of our own and in the process triggered a necessity to return to a few of those records that provided the perfect soundtrack during the 90s. For those very reasons, we thank you Ralph Myerz.
I have never really been comfortable with the whole idea of talking too much about an album."
FLW - From the Tapes
Leaving his turntables alone for five minutes, Ralph Myerz offered a few thoughts regarding his moniker; whether learning the guitar was ever an option; purchasing music and his involvement with helping soundtrack computer games. Over to you Ralph Myerz…
During our research of all things Ralph Myerz, FLW read somewhere that you were influenced by an ‘old school porn sound’. Care to elaborate?
“Yeah, and my name is accredited to Russ Meyer [film director]. I managed to get hold of a lot of the old vinyl as all of his movies had a great soundtrack and it was reprinted as vinyl and you had double vinyl and a great book with two hundred pages of pictures from his films. So that’s how it started out with me being obsessed with listening to a lot of the music from his movies. There was also a great mixture of dialogue from the movies mixed with the actual music. Later on, when I saw his movies such as ‘Mondo Topless’, which is just great, he was very experimental with his camera and colours; he was an artist who unfortunately was obsessed with breasts. If he hadn’t been obsessed with that, he probably would have made some really good proper movies but, unfortunately, he lost focus all the time!”
Did you ever consider learning to play guitar and perhaps going down the rock route?
“Basically, it’s always been hip-hop or disco and house [music]. I’ve been doing some production [work] for more guitar-based music, which has really been a more acoustic, mellow kind of things. I never really got into that whole [rock sound]. I did a few shows as an organ player with a few death metal bands when I was younger but other than that, I’ve worked with dance or hip-hop.”
How do you feel about the changing scene in terms of buying music?
“I try at least once a week to go to the second-hand stores to buy vinyl. At least 90% of the music I buy is vinyl. I want to hold a copy and read [details] like I used to do when I was fifteen; I knew every word on the cover and everything, but also to listen to the whole album as when you put on a vinyl there is no skipping [tracks]. So you have to listen to the whole of side A, and there might be two songs that you don’t really like but you listen to them anyway, whereas with your iPod you just flick through songs. I’m still really in love with the idea of an album, and I feel vinyl is the perfect album format. So, I never really got into CDs that much as I have always been a vinyl freak.”
How did your involvement with computer games come about?
“Actually, it started out with old friends who’ve been working in the music business and have since moved on to work with computer games. For instance, with Grand Theft Auto IV it was the former chief of Guidance Recordings, which is a great Chicago House label that I was working with in the late 90s; he’s now Head of Music Director of Rock Star Games. So basically it’s been old connections.”
FLW has always thought that FIFA Football, in particular, has always had a great soundtrack of different artists and a good way to hear new bands. Do you agree?
“Yeah, they’re really good. I think they have been very smart Electronic Arts and Rockstar Games by putting people who really love music into that job as they are really good at picking out new and exciting artists.”
Are you still being offered work in terms of soundtracking computer games?
“Yeah, I still have several things that I am planning to release this autumn as there will be several songs from this album [‘Supersonic Pulse’] popping up in games, but also in TV shows and movies.”