Ten years ago Scott von Ryper left Australia with friend, fellow musician and ex-wife Aimee Nash. They headed for Los Angeles to reach a bigger audience. The Black Ryder toured with The Jesus and Mary Chain as their support for some time. Two albums later they decided to take some time off and concentrate on their own projects. Scott ended up replacing Phil King, guitarist of The Mary Chain: ‘There are still some rare moments when I’m on stage, lost in the music, look to my left and think: Oh, there’s William Reid!’
Hester Aalberts | Pictures Chris Almeida, Mel Butler & Scott von Ryper
How are you holding up in this Corona madness?
Although I obviously miss touring, I am quite used to spending time at home and in my studio, so this quarantine is not a big change for me. And I am thankful to be healthy.
I’m glad I caught you guys in Bognor Regis last January: two months later all your shows were cancelled.
Ah, you were at Butlin’s! That was probably one of the strangest shows I’ve played! And Rockaway Beach itself was one of the strangest festivals I have ever been to. It was fun and I certainly enjoyed myself, but I never could have imaged it might be the last show we would play in over a year.
Gradually the whole tour came down. How did that feel?
It was weird, because it was only fully cancelled less than a week before we were about to leave. There was a lot of uncertainty leading up to it, but the strangeness of the cancellation got overtaken by the strangeness of the whole situation.
Is The Jesus and Mary Chain in contact with each other? Some of you are oceans apart.
Not all of us are far apart. William lives about ten minutes from here, but I am not sure if he is in LA right now. He spends quite a bit of time in Ireland. Brian, the drummer, also lives in LA, but not as close. Mark, our bass player, is originally from the UK but spends most of his time in New York and Jim lives in the UK. Our crew comes from all over the place, so we have some pretty serious accents to deal with!
And yes, we have been in contact a little. Increasingly so when more shows were being cancelled or moved around. The first one that dropped out was Milan, for obvious reasons. Unfortunately, some of our band members were impacted by friends being effected by COVID. Adam Schlesinger, a very close friend of Brian, sadly passed away recently. They were in Fountains of Wayne together.
You are a producer and a mixing engineer as well.
Yeah. I spent a lot of time in my studio, writing, recording, mixing and playing around with technology. I worked heavily on both The Black Ryder records and I’ve occasionally done some mixes for other groups, but right now I am solely working on my first solo record. It’s been on and off for some years, because I was distracted by other things. Like touring with The Mary Chain. This period is an opportunity to finally finish it.
In 2017 you wrote on Facebook: ‘Homeward bound to continue new The Black Ryder music with Aimee.’ What happened?
After the second album, Aimee and I both wanted some time away from The Black Ryder for a while and to concentrate on doing other things. I was also touring quite a bit with The Mary Chain. But I certainly don’t rule out that we’ll make another record someday. In fact, we were just talking about making some music together recently.
Given your personal history it is great to see how close you two still are.
We go back a long time. I met Aimee when she was fifteen. I was nineteen or so at the time. We moved from Australia to the States simultaneously, although we were no longer a couple at that point. But yes, we are still good friends and live close to each other. Aimee feels like family.
Family far from home.
That’s exactly right.
In September 2015 you were still touring with The Black Ryder as the support act of The Mary Chain. Three months later you joined them.
Yeah, crazy huh? During the tour Aimee picked up some inside gossip from The Mary Chain camp. Their longtime guitarist Phil King was thinking about taking some time away from the band to be part of Lush that was starting to reform back then. So after the tour I sent both Jim and William an email to ask if they needed someone to jump in. And of course I didn’t hear anything for a long time (laughs)! But a couple of months later I got a random email from William with just one line: ‘Okay, that won’t interfere with The Black Ryder?’ And I let him know that The Black Ryder was more of a studio project in those days so it wouldn’t be a problem. Again, I didn’t hear anything for quite some time (laughs again) and then I was told: ‘We’ll see you at the first show in Japan. You need to be ready for then.’
Without any previous rehearsing?
Pretty much, yeah! William, Brian and I had a few jams at some point but it was very laid back and mostly left up to me to get myself ready. So I had to be a little industrious. Brian was helpful. He had some live recordings of the band. Those proved to be very useful because live, they play many of the songs in a different way. In another key or a different version altogether from the album versions. It was towards the end of the Psychocandy tour, so I had to learn that album, plus the JAMC favorites set. And apart from learning how to play all the songs, I had to get my head inside how to recreate the JAMC-sounds.
Tricky in the case of Psychocandy with all the white noise going on!
Right! And besides, certain pedals very much define the sound of The Jesus and Mary Chain. I convinced the management that it was crucial to send me some pedals from The Mary Chain’s lock-up in the UK, so I could work on recreating them as authentically as possible.
How did the brothers respond to all your efforts?
In typical William and Jim style! The first time we all played together was in Japan, during the soundcheck for my first show. We ran through the set twice and neither of them said anything at all. I was a little concerned by the silence, so afterwards I asked Brian: ‘What’s going on here?‘ He told me no comment is a good comment. It’s been pretty much like that ever since. From time to time there’s a slight glance from William or Jim during a show but it’s hard to tell if they’re just sharing a moment or trying to get some point across. I usually assume the former, as the brothers pretty much leave you to your own devices.
Were you a fan of The Jesus and Mary Chain?
Definitely! I grew up in Goth clubs in Sydney and The Jesus and Mary Chain were an iconic group to me. It was a big deal when The Black Ryder was asked to tour with them. And thereafter, it was a very big deal for me to play with the band! I have played well over a few hundred shows with them by now, but there are still some rare moments when I’m on stage, lost in the music, look to my left and think: Oh, there’s William Reid!’. Or I catch myself in the middle of a song, linking it to a moment in my youth.
You are the only one moving on stage.
Ha, yeah I’ve heard that. At times I felt a little self-conscious about that, but it’s just natural to me when playing those songs and it’s my way to enjoy the show as much as I can. Touring is a lot of travelling, doing nothing and waiting around. There’s only an hour and a half every day to justify the other twenty two and a half so I want to get the most out of that.
Do you all have fun touring?
I wouldn’t go that far! I certainly don’t want to ruin anybody’s reputation. In all honesty, it’s a good group of people. Since I joined we pretty much have the same touring family. Everybody is comfortable around each other. There are no big personalities in the band and we’re all pretty quiet. Rather a mellow situation. Plenty of dead quiet times as well as humorous moments, but no fights or anything like that.
Like there used to be.
Yeah, like there used to be, I hear. I am grateful I missed that, because that kind of tension can really ruin a tour.
On stage William is on the far right and you are on the far left. Don’t you need to anticipate each other’s guitar playing?
I have William’s guitar really loud in my monitors. Not only to be able to play along with what he’s doing, but mainly because his guitar provides me with a great deal of energy for the show. So although I don’t see him much sometimes, through the smoke and shadows, I definitely hear what he is doing all of the time.
William taught himself to play the guitar. Is that what makes his sound so unique?
That might very well be true! Some say to break the rules you should know them first. But the other school of thought is that if you have no idea what the rules are, you are more likely to come up with something incredibly original. In the very early days he might have been more reliant on the sound of the guitar and creating a certain mood with pedals et cetera than on the technical proficiency of the playing. I know a lot of guitarists and they all admire William’s unique way of playing, as do I.
Do you think William is still renewing himself?
I think so. He likes to challenge what he is doing, soundwise, and pays a lot of attention to his tone. Sometimes we have the luxury of rehearsing a few days before a tour and, much to the guitar tech’s dismay, he might decide to completely change everything in his pedal board and rebuild it with something very different. So he’s not complacent in terms of his tone. Besides, he has an amazing ear for tones. I have learned a lot from him in that respect.
Does he pick up things from you too?
I can’t imagine he would be thinking about that. William is in William World. He is surrounded by his amps and his pedals at the back of the stage, on purpose, with his mind totally immersed in what he’s playing.
In The Mary Chain you are playing someone else’s legacy, instead of creating your own work.
Yes, but in fact, I love doing both. It’s amazing playing these iconic songs and making sounds that differ so much from what I have done in The Black Ryder and what I am currently doing on my solo record. But I also love coming back to the studio and creating everything myself. It’s different creativity. I’m blessed to have both in my life.
Do you have any artistical freedom?
Totally. There is mainly no instruction from Jim or William saying ‘Hey, do this or to do that’. It’s up to me to do whatever I think needs to be done. But obviously I want it to sound authentic and true to the band’s sound, so I have that guidance always. I grew up listening to their music and have a pretty good feeling what the band is about. So I can’t really imagine a situation where I’ve gone off the rails, doing something so inappropriate that someone would need to say something.
Jim told me new songs are in the making. Are the other members involved?
Well, mostly they work on the albums by themselves. Brian is brought in to record the drums though. But the rest of the instruments on the records are mainly played by Jim and William.
Which song do you love to play most?
That changes all the time. Right now it’s Darklands. We don’t always play it, but I wish we did.
There is something about the mood of the song. Guitar wise, it’s rather clean, without a lot of pedals or noise going on. Mark and I do some background vocals which is nice to do. Also, I find the chord changes and melody quite emotional. And I always love the reaction from the audience when we start playing it. I’ve loved it ever since it came out and it has great memories for me. On the completely opposite side, I also love playing Snakedriver, just from a blistering sonic perspective.
As a Cancer you are supposed to be shy, sentimental and emotional. How do you survive in the proximity of the Reid brothers?
Well, I’m not always super shy but Jim and William are both very shy themselves. Jim is incredibly shy and has to go through the torture of standing in front of the band every night. So it’s not really hard to be around them for other shy people. In fact, the whole band is rather shy and quiet mostly.
Most asked question by fans: What sort of pedals do you use?
I am not surprised by this question: there are a lot of guitarists in the fanbase and they are always super interested in pedals. Well, I use two Shin-ei Companion Fuzz Wah’s on stage. I think the band might have made these famous. I use maybe four other drive or distortion pedals, which is a lot! For example a Vintage FX – Colordrive, as well as some assorted Boss Overdrive and Distortion pedals to recreate certain sounds. I also have a very beaten up vintage vari speed tremolo on the board.
Is there anything you would like to say to the disappointed ticketholders?
Absolutely. I am desperately missing playing and I very much look forward to seeing them all as soon as we start playing shows again. I think many of the shows have already been rescheduled for 2021 so hold on to your tickets and, above all, … stay safe until then.