Straight out of the United Kingdom, The Ramona Flowers are on a quest to share their love of dancing blues and electro-pop that stands the test of time. Taking their name from Scott Pilgrim vs. The World’s love interest, their sound is anything but comical. The group, made of up vocalist Steve Bird, guitarist Sam James, keyboardist Dave Betts, bassist Wayne Jones and are joined by Ed Gallimore on drums to round out their sound. Coming off their 2016 release Part Time Spies, the gang is back with a new single “Strangers” and capitalizing on the comparisons to U2 and the electronic side of Radiohead. We caught up with Steve, Sam, Dave and Wayne after their exhilarating show at L.A.’s The Satellite to chat about their origins, their music and what is next on their to-do list.
For the readers that don’t know about you guys, can you tell us the origins of The Ramona Flowers?
Steve Bird: Well, Sam, our bass player Wayne and Dave, actually, were friends and they’d been in a couple of bands and cover bands. And then they decided to start a new project and looked for a singer, and I answered an advert online. They auditioned me and I got the job.
It was that easy?
Steve Bird: It was that easy, yeah.
Was it Craigslist?
Sam James: It was.
Steve Bird: I think they were desperate, to be honest.
I hear a lot of bands that get together on Craigslist.
Steve Bird: Yeah, yeah. And then, we needed a drummer and Dave knew him, one of his friends knew him or something—
Dave Betts: He went on a date with one of my friends and she hated him, but she said that the one thing she remembers was that he was supposed to be a professional drummer, so I was like, “We need one of those. Sorry to hear it went wrong.”
Steve Bird: Yeah, so that was how it came together.
So, when you guys got together did you guys talk about the influences, or was it just, “I’m a musician, you’re a musician, let’s all get together and see what we like?” Or how did it come about to where the genre that you guys specifically chose is what you guys wanted to do?
Steve Bird: It was definitely influences.
Sam James: Yeah, we shared influences, we had the same kind of bands that we listened to at the time that we loved.
Same James: I think we started jammin’ out, didn’t we? So we did maybe like, seven or eight songs, just jammin’ it out, exploring different kinds of styles. And I think there was one that where we wrote and we were like, “That’s the kind of music we want to write, let’s do more of this.” We started playing around with— ‘Cause after you play the guitar for a long time you feel a bit limited by what you can do, and it’s all the same kinds of sounds and that, but we started playing around on the computer with different synthesizers, it seemed to open up a new world of electronics.
Did that put you into wanting to stick to electronic music, or is it just something that evolved naturally? Where you guys are, “Alright, I’m done with the instrument and I want to see what else I can do with the actual electronic aspect?
Dave Betts: I think I got bored of playing the guitar for a while. Now I like it, when you play live it’s great— But for a while I was like, “I don’t want to play guitar anymore.” But it all sort of happened quite naturally, really. We just sort of fell into it, and were listening to bands that had a similar vibe at the time.
Is there a difference between, let’s say, having instruments or a keyboard that’s making the music at a live show? Is that something that you guys aim to do?
Sam James: I think it’s always good for it to be a live band, in a sense— to have real bass, and real drums, and real guitar. And then you add the electronic stuff on top and the synths on top, and if you have that then when you go to a show as an audience member, then you feel the power and you feel the rawness of a live band, which I don’t think you get quite so much with synths and stuff like that, so if you mix that up then it feels more real, I think that’s just how we do it.
The song ‘Strangers’, I love that song, it just stands out. What is that song in particular about?
Steve Bird: It’s kind of about when you first meet someone and you have that special moment and you have that everything’s for the first time. You’re kind of just saying, “Let’s just be strangers and repeat it all again,” and do that whole— that whirlwind at the start of the relationship and just have that moment again and just keep repeating it.
So I read that you guys write separately and then come together with the stuff that you guys have come up with. Is that different than, “We’re all gonna do this together, and then come up with a song?” Or do you guys prefer that? How does that work with you guys?
Steve Bird: It’s not always like that, it’s different every song, isn’t it?
Sam James: It depends on how the song comes about. There are times when one of us will do a lot more on our own, and then we’ll bring to everyone and then we add on top of it. Or there’ll be times when there’ll just be a small element that somebody’s done, and then as a band we’ll all get
Steve Bird: It just depends when those moments happen, ’cause obviously we don’t all work together, so sometimes if we’re— at a time that we’re not actually in rehearsals and someone might just have a moment on their own and create something. Or there might be times when we can find that moment when we’re actually all together. So, it’s just different every time, really.
You guys have such a wide genre of sounds, there’s some melodrama, there’s some dance music … It’s all over the place. Is there a specific direction that you guys aim for? Or is it just, again, whatever comes up naturally that’s what you do? With regards to a song. When you write a song, do you say, “This is going to be a sad song, and I want to make a keyboard song,” or “This is a poppy song and I want to dance to this.”
Steve Bird: Yeah, I think we do. I think with whatever first kind of chords you get you can kind of feel what direction it’s going in, and then we kind of decide that that’s—
Dave Betts: If towards the end of the album and we had a few songs to write, you can definitely say that we needed to kind of put in more light and shade, so we need more upbeat songs to finish the album. Otherwise you can end up with a lot of songs with the same tempo, mid-tempo, kind of similar vibes, so obviously you have to keep it interesting by adding a bit of light and shade, some quite upbeat stuff, which I think we did consciously at the end of this album, which is—
Sam James: You do, yeah. As you’re working through it you just start to figure out the type of songs that you want on that album, start to figure out what you need.
So the upcoming album, ‘Strangers’. What was the most difficult or challenging part for you guys to produce that album?
Sam James: Working with Steve.
Dave Betts: I don’t know. It felt pretty good. We wrote it in just under 10 months for the whole thing, which is—
Steve Bird: Very quick.
Sam James: We wrote and recorded, right?
Dave Betts: And recorded, yeah. Which is pretty crazy for us.
Steve Bird: When we first started to write this album we weren’t planning to write an album, we were just going to do an EP. And then it started to flow really well, and then we just thought, “Well, let’s just— ” As it was going so well, “Let’s write an album.” And then before we knew it, it was October and we had an album. Which is great. I hope the next one is just as quick.
A bonus, for sure. So they say that being in a band is like being in a family. How do you guys handle disagreements, if there are any, or just the relationship between you guys? Because all males, and I’m assuming there’s brotherly love between you guys. Do you guys handle that very well? Is it all democratic … diplomatic?
Dave Betts: You’re probably chatting to the wrong people.
Steve Bird: Why are you looking at me?
Sam James: No, we actually get on really, really well. And then every now and there like, “Boom!” A fucking massive bust-up. And then you’re clearer the next day and we’ll say sorry and give each other a hug and then you’re alright.
Steve Bird: It’s normally about me. Everyone normally falls out with me at some point, it’s just normal. I suppose it’s like a pressure cooker, it’s unnatural the amount of time that we spend together. And then you throw in the mix tiredness and alcohol, and something you all care about—It does explode sometimes, but yeah, the important things how we just make up and get on with it.
You guys have toured extensively with the last two albums. You toured in Japan … Is there a difference between touring in a country like Japan, the UK, the US? Have you found any difference, or is it just you’re here to play, and collect as many fans as possible?
Sam James: The UK is shit. Japan’s amazing, America is amazing.
Why is the UK shit?
Sam James: Because there’s that vibe with Britons where they’re like, “Alright, impress me.” And for about five songs they’re like, “Okay, we might warm up a little bit.”
Dave Betts: It was so much the fans, it’s just a lot of promoters and the venues, you don’t really get a lot of positive feedback.
Steve Bird: Not hospitable, is it?
Dave Betts: You’ve been traveling say 340 miles, all staying in a tiny van, and you get there and you struggle to get a couple of beers or a sandwich or something. It just always feels like you’re fighting a losing battle. But there are a few venues that are great, and we’ll obviously always play them. But over here in the States and in Japan people seem to listen to new music, and they want to go out to enjoy themselves.
What advice do you guys have for new musicians starting out?
Wayne Jones: Don’t bother.
Sam James: I think you’ve got to be fucking serious about it. You’ve got to put in the time, you really have to put in the time.
Steve Bird: You’ve got to be resilient.
Sam James: You can’t just suddenly come up with a sound, I think you really, really have to think about it, develop it, work at it, in order to do something that hasn’t been done before, that’s different.
Steve Bird: You can never have too many songs. Yeah, songs, it’s all about that. And it’s hard, it can be really hard. But it’s also very rewarding at the end of it, so.
What is next for The Ramona Flowers?
Steve Bird: World domination.
Sam James: Get drunk.
Steve Bird: What’s next? In the immediate future we’re going to Japan, next month.
Sam James: And then after that, the next year, the album is coming out. We’ll be touring.
Steve Bird: Hopefully be back here, we want to come back to America, which I think we will be.
Is there a date scheduled for the new album?
Sam James: Yeah, around March. March 12th? Something like that.
Steve Bird: It’s around March, I think. Yeah.
And more touring. And more playing.
Sam James: Yeah. Exactly.
Steve Bird: Definitely, yeah.
The Satellite Set List
If You Remember
Out Of Focus
Skies Turn Gold
Lust and Lies
Run Like Lola