Photo by Jonathon Augustine
by Michael Todd
Seems like there are more suspenders in this town than is necessary. At least two washboards call Lincoln home, and the number of songs about desperation rises like the Missouri River.
Folk music could well be having its second true renaissance here in Nebraska, and Kill County couldn't be better fit for the job of spreading the trend around the country. More than a thousand miles separate the band's leading members Josh James and Ringo, who respectively call Austin, Texas, and Ann Arbor, Mich., home. But this Friday, the band reconvenes in its original meeting place of Lincoln and joins a pair of punk bands.
And then Ringo (that's just Ringo, no last name) mentions that rap and hip-hop are more folk than folk music. Slowly, the renaissance seems to unravel, and the folkiest of groups begins to feel mislabeled.
Hear Nebraska: I heard you asked to be on this bill with Prayers for Atheists and Piss Poor. Since it’s an eclectic lineup, what made you want to play this Friday’s show?
Ringo: I mean, we were originally scheduled in Lawrence, Kansas, but that fell through. So we were scrambling for a show, and Brad Kindler wanted to play there, and it just worked out.
HN: Do you play on diverse bills like this often?
R: We have before. It’s a great idea, honestly, to expose your band to other audiences and vice versa. I think it’s going to be fun.
HN: You’re a band known for its nomadic lifestyle, so I understand if you want to keep a mystique around your birthplace, but where were you all from originally?
R: We all met in Lincoln, and I think most of us are from Lincoln originally, but I’m from northeast Nebraska.
HN: Are you all still living in separate places?
R: Yeah, Josh [James] still lives in Austin, Texas. I just moved to Ann Arbor, Michigan, and everybody else generally lives in Lincoln. So we’ll see how it works out. We’ll have some different members joining.
HN: Since you've been around the country, what keeps you coming back to Nebraska, back to your roots?
R: Well, Lincoln’s just a place where we all met. A lot of people we play with are there. So it just seems kind of like our hometown, but we just keep coming back. We play with bands there a lot, and our families are still there, so it seems most like home.
HN: OK, I suppose now I have to ask why you’re named Ringo before we go any further. It's just Ringo?
R: Just go by Ringo, yeah. There’s really no reason, it’s just a name that was given to me when I was about five. There’s no good story behind it unfortunately (laughs).
HN: And you played for a Love Drunk video at a farm southeast of Lincoln. Have you played anywhere, how should I call it, cooler than that skylo?
R: Yeah, that was pretty cool, man. We were excited Ross Brockley let us chill there. We really liked that spot a lot, it was inspiring. And I can't think of any place better. I might be able to if I had some time to think, but not that I know of now.
HN: I don’t know if you’ve seen either South of Lincoln or The Betties, but there seems to be a trend of musicians harking back to simpler times with their music and aesthetic. What is it that draws you to the folk genre you’ve adopted?
R: That’s a good question. It’s what I enjoy listening to. I love listening to acoustical music. I’m not sure exactly what draws me to it, but it’s just music that I play and listen. And I don’t know where the trend comes from. But is true, there are a lot of great bands playing folk out there, and I think some great stuff’s going to come out.
R: Actually, did you see Talib Kweli on The Colbert Report? Have you heard of him?
HN: Yeah, I didn't see that, though.
R: He talked about how rap and hip hop are more folk than folk music. It’s more a type of language you use. And I thought that was interesting because most people tend to think folk is more acoustic instruments. You bringing up why we like folk music made me think of that, so it’s an interesting thought. But anyway, just something to think about.
HN: Definitely. Now, since you are all dispersed around the country, do you write songs and share or do you find a way to collaborate somehow?
R: We generally just write independently and we send it online or send hard copies of CDs. And when we get together, we practice those songs. Whatever sticks with the other people is what we play, so you send them a bunch, and only a couple stick. It's a lot of experimentation, flying by the seat of our pants. We just play shows, we don’t really practice.
HN: Do you think it's a benefit or a drawback then that audiences get to hear you without having practiced much. Do you think it sounds more raw and inspired?
R: I don’t know, maybe there’s some of that. You can totally fucking suck if you don’t practice, too. That, or the music can be fresh and everybody’s inspired. There are moments of both. My favorite part of the band is practicing, and we don’t really get to do a lot of that, which is kind of a big bummer. But we make it work, you know.
Michael Todd is a summer intern for Hear Nebraska. He'd like to have his Love Drunk video filmed with him riding a Sicilian donkey walking through the flooding North Platte River by Cody Park in North Platte, Neb. Django and everyone else can reach him at email@example.com.