Earlier this year Brent Knopf’s Ramona Falls returned with album number two, the mighty Prophet. It was of course a masterclass in epic pop that stretched far and wide with its emotional impact and complex arrangements. We caught up with Brent to find out more about the inner workings of Ramona Falls.
Bowlegs: With the numerous passages and tempo changes your songs are often complex pieces – do you initially write these on a solitary instrument or slowly construct each one within the studio?
Brent: Seven of the 11 songs of Prophet were derived from old Deeler sessions. Deeler is that home-made layering program that I invented years ago. Most of these 7 songs blend together two or three different Deeler songs from my archive. These Deeler sessions are almost exclusively instrumental, so the task of writing lyrics comes later in the process.
Bowlegs: So the lyrics always come after the music? Where do you draw inspiration when writing the words? How literal are they? I am always drawn to the line in Spore “never knew my parents, wonder if they have the same color eyes”
Brent: For all of the songs from Prophet, yes, the lyrics came after the music. Most of the time I draw inspiration from something that I’m having trouble understanding or reconciling — often a dilemma will emerge in several areas of my life at once. It’s almost like the act of creating the song is like working a sudoku puzzle — it’s mystifying, but there’s a sense of discovery and directionality towards “solving” the song.
The “never knew my parents” line of Spore isn’t literal (few of RF’s lyrics are) — I have the world’s best parents, for sure. This song takes a more abstract look at one’s sense of belonging / feeling lost. How far back does a lineage go? All the way? If we are the Nile, then what is the Spring? What will we have in common if/when we find who we’re looking for?
Bowlegs: I find a naturally occurring melancholy in much that is on Prophet, not that I can always place my finger on the reasons why. Would you agree?
Brent: Yes! I’m drawn towards minor keys that modulate to major keys — I love the yin/yang of tonalities, the shifting of tectonics below my feet. However, the song Archimedes Plutonium was my attempt to write a truly optimistic tune.
Bowlegs: Do you ever write simple three minute pop tunes, is there a formula that qualifies for a Ramona Falls track?
Brent: I’m always trying to write pop songs, honestly. I’m never trying to distance myself from my audience. I have a huge soft-spot for the idea of pop music, something I’ve carried with me since Phil Collins’ In the Air Tonight.
A formula, eh?
Step 1 : Add an idea to the song.
Step 2 : Listen to the song, if you get bored, return to Step 1.
I’m being tongue-in-cheek, of course, but Ramona Falls albums certainly aren’t lacking in quantity of ideas! This is probably indicative of my short attention span and need for stimulation via the collision of diverse elements.
Bowlegs: The two records you have created as Ramona Falls are epic and stirring journeys. Where do you take the project from here?
Brent: Beyond the inevitable cover album of Barbara Streisand songs, you mean? Before, we were talking about how the music for Prophet arrived before the lyrics. Lately, I’ve been daydreaming about making an album where the lyrics come first. I’ve written like that before: the song Russia was that way, as were Menomena’s Intil, Rose and others. Paul Alcott (Ramona Falls’ drummer) has been particularly encouraging of this approach, moving forward.
Bowlegs: How does the record transfer to the live stage? Is there a compromise to any of the tracks?
Brent: I’ve had the privilege of playing with such outstanding musicians — I’ve been extremely pleased with how we’ve been able to interpret the songs in a live setting thus far. I may tinker with the Ramona Falls live show to allow a pared down lineup to perform the songs in an alternative manner. I’m working on that now, actually.
Bowlegs: How do you think Prophet differs from Intuit, did you approach it in a different way? Can you hear a progression between the two records?
Brent: I view Prophet as having more energy — more synths and electric guitars, whereas Intuit centered around acoustic guitar. Lyrically, Intuit was a bit sadder, and Prophet feels a bit brighter in my opinion. Like an optimistic groundhog about to forecast the weather.
Bowlegs: Finally what albums released this ear have had your attention?
Brent: Tu Fawning’s Monument is the most under-appreciated record this year, in my opinion. It gets better every time I hear it. I’m enjoying the new Shearwater record a lot too. I’d never heard of them, but somebody compared Ramona Falls to Shearwater, so I checked them out, and now consider it a real compliment!