Punk rock supergroup Only Crime are gearing up to release their long-awaited third album, Pursuance, on May 13th. Recently, frontman Russ Rankin (also of Good Riddance) took some time out of his busy schedule to sit down and do some Q&A with yours truly. We talk about the inspiration for the new album, their creative process for writing and recording, and Russ’ favorite songs on the album. Check out the full interview below!
Dying Scene (Meredith): Let me just say, thank you so much for taking the time to do this; it’s really an honor to sit down with you. I know our readers have been very excited on the site with the announcement of the new Only Crime album as well as the debut of new songs. What can we expect to hear on this record?
Russ Rankin: So, the way I like to think about it is that we had a vision of what we wanted our sound to be like when we first started the group and I think that this album is as close as we’ve gotten so far to achieving that. To us, it really sounds really coalescent and complete. Some songs on our first two albums, although I think they are really good albums, were a bit, I think, derivative of some of our other bands, whereas I think for Only Crime, this album, Pursuance, really sounds like its own band from start to finish – which I think is one of the coolest things about it.
So how did you all end up signing with Rise Records for this release?
We had the record pretty much done – we recorded it at our drummer’s studio. We recorded the album on our own and then, once it was finished, we sent a few songs around to different labels and Rise was the most enthusiastic and responded right away and wanted to be a part of it.
As we all know, it’s been 7 years since the last Only Crime album. Were any of the tracks on this album recorded in that 7 year gap? Or did you start over more recently to put together this release?
Well, we started writing new material in 2008 and we just sorta chipped away at it, given our situation – where we live in different states and cities and everyone in the band is just stupidly busy with other projects and families, things like that. It wasn’t start to finish like “hey, let’s get together and write an album; ok now it’s done,” we would get together for like 3,4,5 days at a time at The Blasting Room, which is our drummer’s studio in Ft. Collins, Colorado and we would just jam all day long and flesh out ideas and try things. Before we went home, we would go over what we had so far and everyone would go home with that demo and expand off of that. I would try to write lyrics and vocal melodies and stuff, then we would get back together again – you know – 6 months down the road, or maybe, sometimes even a year. We had alot of obstacles to overcome as far as scheduling and everybody’s availability. So, we didn’t do it the traditional way, we just chipped away at it. But we did start writing new songs in 2008.
You already started to touch on this, but do you feel as though the different members’ other projects (which includes Good Riddance and your solo work) influences Only Crime or is this your chance to try something completely different?
I feel like it can’t help but influence us, especially since we incorporated, or built off, some guitar riffs that our drummer Bill had sitting around on cassette tapes from back in the 80s. We had guitar riffs sitting around that were really bizarre and weird and would have probably never worked for the Descendents or ALL and he wanted us to use them in Only Crime. I think our other experiences and bands we have played in can’t help but inform the music we made, but like I said, our goal was to have a record where you couldn’t listen to a song and go “oh, that sounds like his band” or “oh, that sounds like his band” – it was important for us to make it sound like something completely different.
With so much talent on your roster – what does the creative process look like as you all start to write and record? I think you started talking about that with going to The Blasting Room – but is there a set process? Does everyone contribute?
Pretty much everyone contributes. In the past, I had written all the lyrics, and I still do. In the past I’d also written a couple songs here and there for Only Crime musically. This time I didn’t write any music for it. Matt – he’s new since we recorded our second album, but he’s been in the band since 2007 – Matt Hoffman started alot of material – more or less completed songs or large portions of completed songs which we were able to flesh out or build off of. Aaron, the other guitar player, brought in a bunch of riffs, and Bill had some actual musical pieces that he wanted to use. Once we started jamming and building songs off of that, it’s kind of an open forum – anybody can suggest things to anybody else – Bill was open to whatever people thought he should play on the drums for a certain part and so on. I wrote all the lyrics, but the guys had input on the lyrics and vocal melodies and stuff like that. Once we have a couple riffs going, it’s just a jam; it’s a pretty organic thing.
Since you write all the lyrics, what thematic elements lyrically inspired this album?
I’ve tried really hard, when it comes to Only Crime, to not really make the songs about anything specific in an attempt to not step all over the music or draw the attention away from the music. I don’t know if there is a theme; most of the lyrics are pretty dark, although there’s some redemption and overcoming obstacles and things like that. In the lyrics of this album, looking back on it, mirrors the process of what we’ve had to overcome to make this record happen and how long it’s been since we put a record out. The fact that we finally got it done and got it released and have a label who is really excited about it is really cool. Things weren’t always that bright in the Only Crime world. Alot of the lyrics are about that – what we’ve had to overcome and where we’ve been. Like I said, by design they’re not supposed to be specifically about any one thing.
Yea, I was actually the editor on shift the day we announced your tour in Europe and the message boards blew up with everyone asking “does this mean the new album is coming?” and then a week later you announced it and everyone was really excited.
What’s your favorite song on the record and why?
Wow, that’s tough. I think that “We Are Divided” or “In Blood” are my two favorites. I like that they’re really dark. I like that our stuff is really heavy but doesn’t have any metal in it. I found that those songs have melodic elements – like, they have hooks – but they are still really brutal songs. I like to be able to marry those two things – really heavy dark music with pop sensibilities – just enough like where the chorus is stuck in my head even when the song is over. The first song, “We Are Divided,” reminds me of old punk and hardcore that I grew up listening to, which makes me smile.
Correct me if I’m wrong, but the “Life Was Fair” video was Only Crime’s first. What was it like filming the video?
It was fun. The fun thing about it was that it was the first time all of us have been in the same place in like 2 years. We hadn’t really done anything together – the album was recorded, you know, Bill and Matt, or Bill, Aaron, and Matt, or Bill and me, so we weren’t all in the studio doing the album together – it was over a long period of time in small little batches. The fun part of it was us being able to get together and joke around with each other because we hadn’t all hung out and we get along really well and have really good interactions. For me, it a cool getting to hang out for two days with a bunch of guys I have a ton of respect for and I don’t get to see enough of.
Well, speaking of spending time together, I know you have a few European tour dates listed – any plans to extend the tour in the US/North America?
We do – we just don’t have anything firm yet. We have to and we want to play North America as much as we can with this record being out, just like I said, it’s a matter of scheduling and looking at everybody’s stuff. We have a shared calendar that we all put our different things in that we have to do and it’s so hard to find any time. Actually, these last couple of days we’ve been in contact with each another and our booking agent trying to nail down a little patch of the time when we’re free so we can play, some, what would be kinda late but, record release shows in the United States or North America.
Will we have to wait another 7 years for the next record? What’s next for Only Crime? Have you thought that far in advance?
No, we haven’t. Personally, I had sorta lost hope because it took so long to get this done, and it was just like we would have good news and then a bunch of bad news. We’d get together and have a really good show or a really good recording session and then all these obstacles would pop up and we couldn’t do it again for a really long time, so this whole process with Rise has been great because having an outsider look at what we’ve done and be that excited about it and that supportive has really lit a fire under us again and has made us really excited to be like “hey, these people really like this music and they’re stoked about it and they’re down to support us.” For us, we’re gonna play as much as we can to support this album, play as many places we can play given our schedules, and then there’s nothing saying we can’t go back in and write another record. It’s just a matter of us – like always, we all have so much other stuff going on – it’s impossible to devote the time to this band that it probably deserves, but we sort of knew that when we started the band back in the beginning; based on everyone’s pedigree, everybody knew what everybody was up to – we knew it was going to be something we couldn’t do full time. With this record being out, and how good the response has been, we definitely want to play as much as we can.
Anything else you would like to share with our readers at DyingScene?
Thanks for all the support and for people being patient. And for anybody who has supported Only Crime over the years – it’s been a really cool thing to be a part of and to see people get what we’re doing and being into it – it just makes us really happy.