Written by Chris Osifchin
Gotham without Batman is riddled with crime. A summer without new Slightly Stoopid should be a crime. After three years without a studio release, 2015 sees reggae-rock superheroes Slightly Stoopid’s long-awaited return to record store shelves with Meanwhile… Back at the Lab. The record is a ska-inspired romp through the summer months that simultaneously slips in a myriad of sounds in typical Stoopid fashion.
As one of the most eclectic bands in the reggae scene, Stoopid has always separated themselves from the pack of simple skankers and reggae imitators by creating a unique blend of styles and influences that stem from each band member’s personal experience. As the band has gained in size, it’s also gained in sound. Not just a bigger, fuller sound, but a more musically diverse and mature one. Whether it’s reggae, punk rock, jazz, or grunge, they’ve never been afraid to throw their sounds at the wall and see what sticks. Everything hasn’t always been awesome, but, as the Magic 8 ball might say, the outlook is good for the group as they head out on the Everything Is Awesome tour with the Dirty Heads and The Expendables this month.
We spoke with Slightly Stoopid drummer Ryan “Rymo” Moran about the band’s process for choosing songs for Meanwhile… Back at the Lab, the Everything Is Awesome tour, and the differences between the East Coast and West Coast crowds, sounds and reggae bands.
Getting ready to start the tour?
Yeah, man. We’re super excited. It’s been a long time in preparation so we’re ready to get the ball rolling.
The cover art for your new album Meanwhile… Back at the Lab is pretty rad. Do you think that’s an accurate representation of the Stoopid lab?
Yeah, actually, it really is. It’s a little more condensed obviously because it’s a drawing, but almost all the stuff in the photo, in the art, is in our studio. So we have a studio that we’ve had for about four years. Basically all the stuff you see in the art is totally legit.
I thought so because I noticed that in the back of the art there’s a Yellowman poster that I saw in the behind the scenes video of the lab.
What we did was we took a bunch of photos of the lab and sent it to our friend Shaun Logan, who is a great artist. He’s done work for just about everyone in the circuit, including us in years past. He did a really cool rendition and it worked out well with the title. You know, ‘where have you guys been?’ Well, meanwhile… back at the lab. It’s a comic book kind of thing.
Meanwhile… You guys have been away touring and it’s been about three years since your last album, right?
Yeah, we dropped Top of the World in 2012 and then shortly after that we dropped an album called Live at TRI, with Bob Weir at Bob Weir’s studio. Then we’ve pretty much been on the road.
With such a long period between two records like that, you guys must have a lot of material built up.
We’re always writing and recording and coming up with little snippets of ideas. We have literally hundreds of songs that we haven’t even recorded, or that we just work out during sound check. The touring thing has always been our focal point. We just record a ton of music, pick our favorite fifteen and then that’s what we release to the public.
How do you choose?
That’s a good question. Basically, we throw a bunch of stuff at the wall. We probably record like fifty tracks and then we just choose our favorite fifteen that we felt best represented the band. Ones that we just like too, you know, the vibe or the energy of the song. That’s how we choose. We put music out that we enjoy and want people to check out and dig.
So there’s no set criteria for number or the content in the songs?
Not really. We’ve released albums with like 20 tracks and we’ve released albums with like 11. It’s just a matter of where we are at that point in time. With this album we’ve had some time to work in our studio in between trips and also be home with our families a bit, which is necessary. Year after year, touring is really hard. Sometimes you just take some time to be at home with everyone. A lot of the guys are married with kids, so it’s also nice to not solely focus on your career and have a bit of a life outside of that.
Moving on to the current tour, I think it’s interesting that the tour’s been named the “Everything Is Awesome” tour, with the LEGO theme. What was the preface for that?
I don’t even know, man. I didn’t choose the title, but I think it’s funny. Some of the guys have kids and probably saw the Lego Movie with their kids and thought it would be funny to call it ‘Everything Is Awesome.’ Everyone’s in a good place, so for us we are grateful that we can do this year in and year out. I think its something fun for people to laugh at a bit for the summertime.
Any chance we’ll see a Slightly Stoopid cover of “Everything Is Awesome?”
(laughs) Man, probably not. I mean, we’ll see.
So you’re bringing the Dirty Heads, The Expendables on tour. You’ve know The Expendables for a while, but how do you know the Dirty Heads?
They’re from just up the way, Huntington Beach, California, which is a couple hours away from where we live in San Diego. I’ve seen the name and I’ve seen them play over the course of a few years now. We’ve had the chance to play some dates over the years and become friends and acquaintances. It just seemed right. We did a big festival show with them in September down in Mexico that we call Closer to the Sun. The Dirty Heads were on that. We had G. Love, Citizen Cope, Steel Pulse – there were a bunch of great bands on that bill and everyone just hit it off. The Dirty Heads guys are great musicians and really nice guys so it seemed like the right combination. Like ‘Hey let’s give it a shot for the summertime and go have a good tour.’
A few years ago, Kyle rode a surfboard into the crowd at the Stone Pony. How did that happen?
It happened pretty spontaneously. We have a friend of ours who does paintings on surfboards. He did the Yellowman painting that you were speaking about earlier. He painted a bunch of old surfboards, the bottoms of boards, with artists we like. We had a Snoop Dogg surfboard, a Half Pint surfboard, a Yellowman canvas – all artists that we really enjoy. We had them as stage props and at one point we were starting to mess around at soundcheck playing the song “Wipeout.” (sings riff) One thing led to another and I think it was during the encore, we started playing it and he grabbed the surfboard and acted like he was paddling and popped up to his feet. He only did it a handful of times on that tour, so it was kind of a special thing. It wasn’t like we were doing that every single night. He probably did that two or three nights total. It was a good hit with the crowd I think.
You guys have also done some collaborations with G. Love and toured with him. He’s actually going to be about 20 minutes away in Manasquan the night before you play at the Stone Pony. Any chance we’ll see him at the Pony?
There’s always a chance. I don’t know if he’s around after if he’s performing too. Depends on the time frame. I didn’t know that he was going to be that close. I guess we need to give him a call and see if he wants to do an encore or something, or maybe he can come early in the set. I didn’t know that, so we’ll give him a call and see if we can put something together.
I’ve seen reggae shows on both the East Coast and the West Coast and I’d say that crowds definitely have a different vibe. What would you say is the different vibe between the East and West Coast crowds?
That’s a good question. Miles and I were actually just talking about that. The energy on the East Coast is usually way – it’s just a bigger energy. It’s way more intense. I feel like on the West Coast – well it’s probably true on the East Coast as well – a lot of people on the West Coast are like ‘Oh, that was a great show. Why was the crowd so mellow?’ Everyone’s just half off their head, you know, just super stoned. That could be just a generalization, but, you know, I’m not sure why. We’ve always had great shows here on the East Coast. I think this coming show in Asbury is gonna be no exception. It’s sold out and we’re gonna be coming in hot. We’re gonna be coming right in from Philly the night before, which is always a good show. I think people just really appreciate music. It’s not cold anymore so people are happy to be outside, having a couple beers in the sun and just enjoying it. Especially where we’re from in Southern California you can be outdoors all day just about every day. In a way people take it for granted. If it rains or if it’s cold one day people freak out and stay inside.
I think when you come to the East Coast, especially the Northeast where it’s cold in the winter and it’s hot in the summer, people really want to be out enjoying weather and enjoying the atmosphere. Especially with Asbury because it’s right on the beach so you can go for a dip in the ocean, go for a surf and see a great show that night just a couple blocks from the water. That’s always where we want to be, so it just makes it extra fun.
Having seen reggae shows on both coasts, I definitely agree. The West Coast was definitely a much more mellow vibe out in the crowd than the shows I’ve seen here in Asbury and New York and Philly. I think there’s some interesting differences in the kind of reggae bands that come out of the East Coast versus the West.
We’re all products of our environment. A lot of the bands that are playing the style of music that we’re doing grew up in a similar way, in terms of surfing, skateboarding, playing music and maybe having a dream of doing it big, but maybe never, from an early point, realizing how possible that was. I would say there’s maybe a little bit of a different atmosphere musically. The East Coast is home to some of the greatest musicians of all time. You’re immersed in a more musical culture in terms of a more dense culture, in terms of being closer to big cities where there’s great music every single night. That being said, it’s not that different really. We were inspired by bands that were Jamaican artists, you know, Bob, Toots and the Maytals, even Steel Pulse. Those were the bands that were inspiring us on a reggae angle, so anyone that has done that type of listening will probably have a similar inspiration. We also listen to a lot of other stuff too.
Punk rock was really popular for us when we were kids growing up. We were listening to that a lot. That helped shape our song. For other artists and other bands doing the style, and I can’t speak for everyone, but the thing I like about the bands that are doing this new reggae thing is that a lot of them have their own cross genre split. It’s not just reggae. For us it’s a mixture of a little punk and maybe ska. For other bands it’s maybe a hip-hop reggae thing, or like hair metal rock, guitar rock meets reggae. A lot of bands have this other thing they’re doing within this reggae framework, which I think is really cool. So I don’t know if there’s that much of a coastal comparison as much as what are the bands other influences. There’s bands that are playing this type of music from New York, or Florida, or Colorado, or Texas. But they’re obviously going to have a different environment of what they grew up listening to. That’s probably a more accurate way to figure out who’s from where. It’s not like there’s East Coast hip-hop and there’s West Coast hip-hop, where there’s a sound involved. It’s really a global sound because we didn’t start this music either. We grew up listening to these artists that were straight out of Jamaica. That was an influence for us and now we have taken that influence in our way and now it’s the way we play it. It’s really a matter of influence and a matter of being a product of your own environment and where you grew up.
As the band has grown together, how would you say the Stoopid sound has evolved since you first joined the band?
It’s definitely evolved in a lot of ways. When I joined the band it was a four piece. Drums percussion, guitar and bass. Miles and Kyle, guitar and bass would sing and flip flop. Before I joined it was just a three piece, drums, bass and guitar and the guys were singing. It’s just kept growing. When I joined it was four and it was like that for a few years. We did a tour with a band from Boston and upstate New York called John Brown’s Body. We would have the two horn players from that band sit in with us and eventually they joined the band about a year later. It was kind of this thing where the guys from Stoopid would meet other artists while on tour. That’s kind of how I joined the band oo. I was in this other band that was opening for Slightly Stoopid.
Then about a year after that the guys said ‘Hey, we’re going on tour, would you like to give this a shot?’ The way the band’s grown has really been through touring. So we added the horns and that pushed us from four to six and then we added a keyboard player from Boston named Paul Wolstencroft who’s been with us for seven or eight years. We’ve steadily added members and with that everyone has their own influences and backgrounds which has enabled us to go a lot of different directions with a fuller sound.