In 2014, my band with Nelson Slater, Andylousian Dogs, randomly shared the stage with the Heavy Birds, one summer evening at the Bowery Electric in the East Village and that is how I met today’s featured artist, Ryan Drag. The tribal rhythm of Jim Laasko, heavenly guitar-drone-magic of Lia Moon and psychedelic poetics and graceful strummings of Ryan Drag make up the Heavy Birds. They have a sound that is in my mind somewhere between Lou Reed guitar amp tapes VU and EVOL-era SY. But I shouldn’t compare them to other bands. Heavy Birds are doing THEIR THING. There is a certain mysteriousness about this band that I find extremely interesting. They have several releases that are just so amazing, that I highly recommend, and they can often be found on stage or setting poetry into motion somewhere in Brooklyn or elsewhere in NYC on any given day of the week.
LT: It’s been nearly 3 months of lockdown in NYC during these weird times. People are ready to get back out and hoping things get back to normal soon. How have things been going for you during all of this? What have you been up to?
RD: Have you ever noticed the sky starts bleeding at 4am?…
Ohhi, Tom. I’m happy to know you’re healthy and doing these artist profiles. I’ve always admired your love of music and your playing.
I’ve been fortunate thus far. My immune system has always been resilient and isolation suits me. Being a writer requires time. Poetry (specifically) breeds with reflection, details, and the subconscious mind. Though I love the electronic waves present in NYC and the madness of mass population, I highly enjoy peaceful solitude. Plus, I cherish my time with Lia. We share a very small apartment, but we are more than partners, we truly are great friends and collaborators. We also like all the same records. No compromise on that front.
However, it has been a bit difficult to concentrate from time to time when you know people are going through such awful situations, but I’ve always believed that it’s an artist’s job to persist and create.
At the moment I’m almost finished with a second collection of poems. We also have a couple albums ready for release. One that was completed just before the lockdown (we’re calling: VISUAL PURPLE) and one that we made for our immediate amusement. The later we did with a Farfisa and 70’s drum machine with the only rule being: “First thought. Best thought.” We’ll put it up for free on bandcamp soon. VISUAL PURPLE will have a proper vinyl release and was recorded onto tape with a full band (although some background vocals and Farfisa was translated via iPhone because of social distancing.)
LT: Besides music, I know that you also write a lot and have been known to make appearances and read your work. Are there any Ryan Drag publications out there?
RD: Yes. A publisher / poet (now a great friend) Ryan Buynak of Coyote Blood Press / Paradisiac, published my first collection of poems titled, MAGNET. It’s available via Amazon, considering all of our favorite bookshops are still closed.
I miss reading in public. I always enjoy it. I find it amusing presenting such an archaic art form in punk venues. Although, nothing’s more punk than poetry. Just ask, Dr. John Cooper Clarke.
LT: When did you begin making music and what originally inspired you to start playing music?
RD: Wow. A long time ago (haha.) I started at 13 or 14, I think? Middle school. I wanted to be in Nirvana. I started a band after learning two chords. We scored gigs quickly at bars (I know we were underaged) and parties, but mainly did feedback and smashed nearby chairs. I grew-up in a factory town outside of Worcester about 50mins from Boston, but there were a few of us “skater kids” who bleached our hair and smoked cigarettes, so we needed a band, right?
Also, there was a small music culture because it was a drug town. All the big 90’s bands would stop by, cop drugs, guitars, and then head to Boston. I was too young, but the vibe lingered. Kurt Cobain actually bought his unplugged acoustic down the street from my parent’s. Also, local groups like Wicked Farley’s and NPF were an inspiration. Those bands taught me work ethic. Rob Laakso (Jim’s brother & at the time in the Farley’s) recorded our debut LP, and is currently in Kurt Vile & the Violators. Oh, I can’t forget my father was a wedding singer. I played bass in his band when I was sixteen.
LT: Are there any specific releases that you’ve made, that you feel have completely captured the true spirit and essence of what you have been trying to achieve in your music?
RD: Hmm. In the words of Dylan: “I [haven’t] even been born yet.” Lia and I are both Capricorns. We are always changing. Even if what we put out isn’t vastly different. Each album represents us at that specific time. We do take our time between records (not by choice.) Mainly this is because we both find analog recordings more pleasing to our ears, so we never have enough coin to go record everything. To answer your question directly, I suppose “I’ll Follow You” from our album Drag defines us the most. It has far-out lyrics, some of my favorite Lia cello drones, and Jim & myself doing a psychedelic Stones-vibe. However, our next LP is really going to expose us. We are currently into more concise, melodic songwriting. VISUAL PURPLE will include a full-band (made-up of some of our fav NYC musicians) all jamming 3 minute tunes live to tape.
LT: How does a Heavy Birds song get made? Is there a certain process that you follow … or a certain person in the band who writes the songs?
RD: Lia and myself. Usually one of us plays a chord progression for each other and we either reject it or become intrigued. It happens quickly (at first.) We play around with structure then usually Lia comes up with a riff. From there a song is born and I write the words. We go over new songs with the band in rehearsals, play them live, then fine tune it. A song usually evolves and changes right up until the day of recording. Once it’s down on tape, Lia and I overdub a few drones or doubles to add a layer of movement. We also listen to a ton of other people’s music. That seeps in.
LT: Are there any upcoming releases, events or anything on the web that you would like to encourage our readers to check out?
RD: Our next LP will hopefully be out later this year (possibly under a new moniker, VISUAL PURPLE.) For now one can check out Heavy Birds on Spotify or heavybirds.bandcamp.com & our video Everyone on YouTube or Venmo. As for my writing: www.ryandragpoetry.com or you can buy a physical copy on Amazon: Magnet by Ryan Drag. Well…Thanks for showing interest and I hope to see you and others without masks at some point…remember…
CONFUSION (OR DOCILE LIMB)
BATTLING WONDERMENT WITH
AGED BRASS HORNS
WHOSE RUSTY SONGS ARE
NO LONGER FUNNY
AS CAREFULLY CRIPPLING PASSIONS
HIDDEN IN A LABYRINTH OF GREEN
TERROR SLOWLY DRAINING TO RED AND BROWN
FAULTS ARE NOT
A PLACE TO PAUSE GRACEFULLY
SHADOWS OF YOUTH’S SADNESS
LIGHT SWITCHES TO ELDER
CONFUSIONS CAST WILL HEAL BONES FOR
WALKING COLD STREETS
CONSTITUTED IN MADNESS
AFTER SEWING SEEDS OF ISOLATION
WITHIN SULLENLY PALE BOXES
ONCE A DAY GIVES ANOTHER
SOLITUDE FORGES RESERVOIR WATER