Ripping It Off: An Interview With Times New Viking

Singer and drummer Adam Elliott explains the importance of volume, mistakes, and equipment that you can spill beer on.

Times New Viking

Rip It Off

Label: Matador
US Release Date: 2008-01-22
UK Release Date: Available as import

The easy info: Times New Viking is a great new band from Columbus, Ohio. They write blisteringly loud pop songs that pretty much never cross the three-minute mark. Their new record, Rip It Off, was recorded on four-track tape and sounds every bit as raw as any of the tracks on The Velvet Underground and Nico.

But what is it that makes a stat sheet like this so compelling today? After all, isn't the tune all too familiar? Ever since the Sex Pistols and Ramones sprung punk rock on an unsuspecting world in the late '70s, legions of rock 'n' roll bands have flown the handmade flag of minimalism to varying stages of victory. Why should this old-fashioned racket continue, now that there are so many new options available?

What's more, digital home recording consoles have become more affordable and easy to use, opening the door to a seemingly unrelenting stream of bedroom recording acts who are, whether you like it or not, reaching considerable audiences via MySpace and YouTube. In today's multimedia-driven cultural climate, how much more difficult has it become to achieve distinctness and originality?

It was with these facts and questions in mind that I approached my interview with the Viking. Adam Elliott, who sings and plays drums in the band, offered some straightforward replies about shrugging off the "fidelity complex", plagiarism becoming this generation's creative platform, and simply "playing music because you can".

Regarding the band's recent signing to Matador Records (home of Pavement, Mission of Burma, Guided by Voices), Elliott was fairly tight-lipped, but noted, "We chose Matador for artistic reasons. We knew they would support any decision as long as it was good." Still, the band has taken comparisons to their legendary labelmates in stride. When I asked whether it was irritating being constantly measured against their influences, Elliott observed, "Those bands made great stuff around that time [the late '80s and '90s, presumably]. People like to compare wood grains in coffee tables to dead family members, so obviously bands get compared to bands often."

I suppose I did as much when I asked whether he would agree with my suggestion that the band's sound -- for all it's riot-ready enthusiasm and catchy hooks -- often makes for a challenging listen (30 minutes of incessant feedback wears on the best of us). Referring to both the jarring production values of Jesus and Mary Chain's 1985 debut Psychocandy and the unsettling aesthetics of the Velvet Underground's material (particularly when LaMonte Young protégé John Cale was still in the band), I wondered if Times New Viking would see themselves as inheritors to a tradition that seemed to keep "disturbance before entertainment" as a central maxim.

If this is in fact the case, Times New Viking isn't really thinking too much about it. By way of a response, Elliott suggested, "Our record is meant to be listened to loud. Psychocandy is amazing. The Velvets are probably the best ever. Just mentioning those two makes me happy. To me, our record puts me to sleep, but maybe I am not the one to ask about it being challenging. The songs exist whether you like it or not."

This kind of bottom-line, "get beyond the bullshit" ethos seems to inform the greater part of the band's character, and -- it seems -- most of Rip It Off. When I asked about the significance of the new record's title, Elliott replied, "Rip It Off has to do with the idea that plagiarism for our generation is a way to generate new ideas by exploring and reinterpreting everything that we know. We are asking the audience to rip it off, not necessarily implying we are."

Indie-snobs the world over will be glad to hear it, though if the members of Times New Viking aren't consciously laboring under the anxiety of influence, they're at least well versed in the musical history of their native Columbus. Among some of the local acts in Elliott's vinyl collection include such stalwarts as '70s blues guitarist/songwriter Raven, psychedelic folkie Tommy Jay, and proto-punkers Electric Eels. When I asked about the current scene, Elliott wryly noted, "[It's a] great music scene. [There are] too many good bands, too much competition. We might move to New York so we don't feel so much competition since bands suck there. Just kidding. Sort of."

When I asked about the recording of the new album, and what the band's thoughts were on the going debate amongst musicians, engineers, and listeners as to whether analog recording techniques remain superior to digital ones, Elliott responded, "Four tracks are cheaper than Apple computers. Tapes are free. You can accidentally pour beer on our mixing board and it still works, and people think you're crazy as opposed to practical." Tuneful and thrifty. There's a band that'll find success in an industry that's becoming less and less willing to take chances with new artists and expensive studio time.

When it does come time to record, Times New Viking are anything but meticulous, and the loose, caterwauling sound of Rip It Off testifies to this. The album seems to have been recorded entirely live, with few overdubs, if any. Asked about the band's work ethic in the studio, Elliott's response could've been culled from some indie book of proverbs. "Capture the essence, play loud, let mistakes take control."

And isn't that what great rock 'n' roll records from the early days were all about anyway? David Briggs, on-and-off producer of some of Neil Young's greatest records with the notoriously shambling Crazy Horse, famously quipped, "If you think, you stink." Nowadays, when an artist gets bogged down in the minutiae of the recording process -- a very separate sphere from the writing and performing that was once regarded as the more important work -- it's commonly regarded as a necessary inevitability of the job.

With Rip It Off, Times New Viking are harkening back to rock 'n' roll in it's purest form. After all, just as the Mary Chain mined the Beach Boys; just as the Beach Boys took pages from Chuck Berry; just as Led Zeppelin and the Stones stole riffs from Howlin' Wolf and Bo Diddley; just as a million young bands on YouTube and MySpace are hacking away at their own musical frankensteins across the globe: rock music has always been about "ripping it off", whether you've noticed or not.

Where does the band stand on all this? I asked Elliott whether he thinks indie rock is moving too close to the mainstream, now that artists like Feist and Of Montreal are selling iPod nanos and sirloin steaks by the truckload. His response was somewhat unexpected, but, I think, can be read as a good general statement about the band's philosophy. Wisely side-stepping a bad joke of mine involving Feist as the new Kim Deal, he explained, "Music will exist long after every blog writes its last entry. Have fun kids, fuck fidelity complexes, and play music because you can."






Jamila Woods' "SULA (Paperback)" and Creative Ancestry and Self-Love in the Age of "List" Activism

In Jamila Woods' latest single "SULA (Paperback)", Toni Morrison and her 1973 novel of the same name are not static literary phenomena. They are an artist and artwork as galvanizing and alive as Woods herself.


The Erotic Disruption of the Self in Paul Schrader's 'The Comfort of Strangers'

Paul Schrader's The Comfort of Strangers presents the discomfiting encounter with another —someone like you—and yet entirely unlike you, mysterious to you, unknown and unknowable.


'Can You Spell Urusei Yatsura' Is a Much Needed Burst of Hopefulness in a Desultory Summer

A new compilation online pulls together a generous helping of B-side action from a band deserving of remembrance, Scotland's Urusei Yatsura.


Jess Cornelius Creates Tautly Constructed Snapshots of Life

Former Teeth & Tongue singer-songwriter Jess Cornelius' Distance is an enrapturing collection of punchy garage-rock, delicate folk, and arty synthpop anthems which examine liminal spaces between us.


Sikoryak's 'Constitution Illustrated' Pay Homage to Comics and the Constitution

R. Sikoryak's satirical pairings of comics characters with famous and infamous American historical figures breathes new and sometimes uncomfortable life into the United States' most living document.


South African Folk Master Vusi Mahlasela Honors Home on 'Shebeen Queen'

South African folk master Vusi Mahlasela pays tribute to his home and family with township music on live album, Shebeen Queen.


Planningtorock Is Queering Sound, Challenging Binaries, and Making Infectious Dance Music

Planningtorock emphasizes "queering sound and vision". The music industry has its hierarchies of style, of equipment, of identities. For Jam Rostron, queering music means taking those conventions and deliberately manipulating and subverting them.


'History Gets Ahead of the Story' for Jazz's Cosgrove, Medeski, and Lederer

Jazz drummer Jeff Cosgrove leads brilliant organ player John Medeski and multi-reed master Jeff Lederer through a revelatory recording of songs by William Parker and some just-as-good originals.


A Fresh Look at Free Will and Determinism in Terry Gilliam's '12 Monkeys'

Susanne Kord gets to the heart of the philosophical issues in Terry Gilliam's 1995 time-travel dystopia, 12 Monkeys.


The Devonns' Debut Is a Love Letter to Chicago Soul

Chicago's the Devonns pay tribute the soul heritage of their city with enough personality to not sound just like a replica.


Jaye Jayle's 'Prisyn' Is a Dark Ride Into Electric Night

Jaye Jayle salvage the best materials from Iggy Pop and David Bowie's Berlin-era on Prisyn to construct a powerful and impressive engine all their own.


Kathleen Edwards Finds 'Total Freedom'

Kathleen Edwards is back making music after a five-year break, and it was worth the wait. The songs on Total Freedom are lyrically delightful and melodically charming.


HBO's 'Lovecraft Country' Is Heady, Poetic, and Mangled

Laying the everyday experience of Black life in 1950s America against Cthulhuian nightmares, Misha Green and Jordan Peele's Lovecraft Country suggests intriguing parallels that are often lost in its narrative dead-ends.


Jaga Jazzist's 'Pyramid' Is an Earthy, Complex, Jazz-Fusion Throwback

On their first album in five years, Norway's Jaga Jazzist create a smooth but intricate pastiche of styles with Pyramid.


Finding the Light: An Interview with Kathy Sledge

With a timeless voice that's made her the "Queen of Club Quarantine", Grammy-nominated vocalist Kathy Sledge opens up her "Family Room" and delivers new grooves with Horse Meat Disco.


'Bigger Than History: Why Archaeology Matters'

On everything from climate change to gender identity, archaeologists offer vital insight into contemporary issues.


'Avengers: Endgame' Culminates 2010's Pop Culture Phenomenon

Avengers: Endgame features all the expected trappings of a superhero blockbuster alongside surprisingly rich character resolutions to become the most crowd-pleasing finalés to a long-running pop culture series ever made.


Max Richter's 'VOICES' Is an Awe-Inspiring and Heartfelt Soundscape

Choral singing, piano, synths, and an "upside-down" orchestra complement crowd-sourced voices from across the globe on Max Richter's VOICES. It rewards deep listening, and acts as a global rebuke against bigotry, extremism and authoritarianism.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.