Teenage Bottlerocket founding member and co-frontman Ray Carlisle is the latest and greatest member of this little scene of ours to dip his Chuck Taylor-adorned toes into the ‘solo acoustic punk’ waters. Performing under the Ray Rocket moniker, Carlisle’s debut solo album, Do You Wanna Go To Tijuana? is due out April 1st on Rise Records, and features a dozen tracks, two of which are new, and the remainder of which are reworked (sometimes almost unrecognizably reworked) versions of Teenage Bottlerocket classics. News of the album just dropped officially last week, and brought with it the title track’s music video that will undoubtedly go down as one of the best damn ways to spend three minutes that you’ll have this year (get your minds out of the gutter, you filthy animals).
By now, you’ve all seen it, probably way more than once. The clip for “Do You Wanna Go To Tijuana?,” the lead single and title track from Teenage Bottlerocket’s Ray Carlisle, features Ray and his nine-year-old son Milo hanging out and doing all the rad stuff that dads and their kids get to do when it’s just them hanging out: practicing karate, snowboarding, dance parties, and just sorta generally spending time together being awesome. (Haven’t seen it or need a refresher? Go here.). It’s all of the adjectives that we’re not supposed to use when describing things on a website with its roots planted in the punk rock community: funny, sweet, adorable, inspiring, heart-melting… You get the idea. “I really just wanted it to be sort of a Saturday with me and Milo,” Carlisle tells me over the phone. “Even though we filmed it on a Thursday! I took him out of school for the day, that’s why we were the only people at the ski area; that’s the local ski area near Laramie. I think that we totally captured that. I love the feel for the video.”
That sort of positive, uplifting feel is a pretty recurring theme on Do You Wanna Go To Tijuana?, as you would probably expect given Ray’s typical wheelhouse. After some demoing and fine-tuning, Carlisle holed up at his recording studio home-away-from-home, the legendary Blasting Room in Fort Collins, Colorado, to lay down the dozen tracks that appear on the album. The bulk of what you hear comes from Ray and his recording partner/engineer Andrew Berlin, with the exception of backing vocals from fellow Bottlerocket Kody Templeman, an appearance from the Spastic Hearts’ Angi Phalangee, and drums on “First Time,” the album’s final track, from Carlisle’s late brother, Brandon. “That’s Brandon on drums,” says Carlisle, sounding about as choked up as I felt upon hearing those words. “That’s the last song Brandon ever played drums on before he died.”
As it turns out, production on …Tijuana would wrap on October 27th of last year; Brandon fell into a coma on November 3rd before eventually succumbing four days later. The track, which the Carlisle brothers penned together following the death of a loved one, takes on particularly heaviness given Brandon’s death. “It’s not conventional the way that he plays drums (on “First Time”)” says Carlisle. “It really shows off everything that Brandon was capable of with his drumming. He was spectacular.”
Though the Ray Rocket album was obviously planned and recorded while Brandon was still alive, the project seems to carry his spirit throughout. “Brandon was into it,” says Carlisle, before half-jokingly noting that “(his) number one concern was that it was going to suck!” Fans of TBR and the Carlisle brothers can undoubtedly rest assured that Ray’s solo project, and the album itself, do not, in fact, suck. Carlisle notes, and yours truly agrees, that “it just turned out so cool and I hope that people don’t judge it (based on it being interpreted as strictly an acoustic TBR album). Everything does have its own personality, and I changed it up enough that the excitement is there!”
While it might, on the surface, appear to the outsider to be on the early side for Carlisle and his Bottlerocket brothers in arms to get back on the active side of the music circuit, Ray is careful to run most decisions through a “what would Brandon want” filter, particularly as Brandon served as chief decision-maker in Teenage Bottlerocket. He “was always such a huge decision maker with our music, as far as every aspect of it goes. I mean, the songwriting, the production, the T-shirt design. Brandon was always driving the boat, you know? So things are gonna change, and we’re all gonna miss him, especially this first handful of shows.” The coming year will prove to be a busy one for Ray and company. Teenage Bottlerocket will shake the rust off in mid-March with a few local shows before Ray hits the road for his first solo tour, opening for the likes of The Copyrights for the bulk of the month of May. “I think that it’s cool that I get to get out there and get my mind off of stuff,” says Carlisle.