“This Eventually Leads Somewhere” – interview with Rich Ragany from the Role Models
It was way way back in 2009 when your correspondent first encountered the Role Models on a visit to London from my then hometown of Leeds. Supporting the Loyalties at the 12 Bar, they came across as a group of spit ‘n’ sawdust good time rock ‘n’ rollers cut from the same cloth as Tom Spencer and Rich Jones’ much-missed outfit. After moving to the capital, I ended up running into them fairly frequently, usually as a support band at various venues especially the 12 Bar which was pretty much their second home.
So it was a bit of a surprise when their debut album, The Go-To Guy finally dropped in 2015 and showed that these barflies had used their time honing their craft on the London toilet circuit to evolve into a ferocious rock ‘n’ roll outfit standing head and shoulders above most of the competition. Lead singer Rich “Rags” Ragany described the band in the press release as the missing link between Tom Petty, Johnny Thunders and the Replacements and it wasn’t an empty boast – the Role Models genuinely did mix the tunefulness of the southern Heartbreakers with the streetwise scuzz of their northern counterparts and Westerberg and co’s endearing slacker charm.
Two further albums – 2016’s Forest Lawn and 2017’s Dance Moves followed and were of a similar high quality, before 2018 saw Rags announce the imminent release of a new solo album Like We’ll Never Make It. It seemed like as good a time as any to track Rags down and ask him some questions, and luckily for us, he was more than happy to oblige.
So, you’ve got a new solo album out next month on the back of having released three albums in two years with the Role Models. Does this officially make you the busiest man in rock ‘n’ roll right now?
Yes, a new solo album called Like We’ll Never Make It. It’s titled that for a reason. To give it your all for the moment, and to make the moments happen. That’s where the best stuff comes from, I think. I’m not sure if this makes me the busiest, but I do work hard and make myself available to write as much as I can while raising my family. So far, so good.
The Role Models seemed to be regulars on the London gig circuit for quite a few years before The Go-To Guy came out – can you give us a bit of history about the band?
Well, I am originally from Canada and have lived and played music in Calgary, Toronto and New York City. I eventually washed up on the UK shores by your typical series of close calls resulting in Zane Lowe of Radio One championing my New York band’s single, and us coming to the UK. All that, of course, led to the band falling apart. But it brought me here and I had to start all over again. I met up with some old friends living here also, musicians trying to butter their toast. One of whom, Rich Jones, really gave me a lot of support and talked me into being a lead singer.
So I started the Role Models, working at the 12 Bar, hanging on Denmark Street. We released an EP on a label out of Germany and toured there, playing with Leatherface and Sonny Vincent. Released a single, This Eventually Leads Nowhere that paid for an entire summer of safe play days for families with autistic children in North London. I’m pretty proud that a song from a bunch of meatballs like us did that. Another EP and I thought it was time for some full albums. Knuckle down and get down to business.
Man, I’ve had some great members in this band over the years… Justin Maurer of LA Drugz and Suspect Parts, Rich Jones of, well, tons of great bands… James Sullivan from Suspect Parts. He fronts a killer band called More Kicks now. They are all still close and still brothers. I am very lucky.
How did the idea for doing a solo album come about and what can we expect from it? Will it be different from the Role Models’ output?
Writing and recording as much music as we had, I mean, that’s as much as most bands do in 7 or 8 years! After it all I was writing and noticed the songs going into a more personal place. They just felt different. I thought it was time for a different set of walls to hang the paintings, ya know?
You’ve always been a guy who’s never been afraid to be quite brutally honest in his songs such as Bullshit Corner and Obituary Writer – can you give us a bit of a glimpse into your songwriting process?
I don’t want to sound all flighty, but it happens quite fast. The difference is now I have pockets of time that I MUST use. No more just propping up against a bar, feeling all Nikki Sudden and waiting for inspiration. I chase it down now.
What bands influenced your sound growing up?
God. So many. That little boy in Bullshit Corner was me. The one cross legged on the floor surrounded by vinyl. Four older brothers and one older sister. I was born many years after, about nine years. So that divide left me feeling a bit alone, but their records were some great friends. The first three KISS albums were killer. Cheap Trick, Beatles, Stones, Bay City Rollers and Ramones. Alice Cooper. Then The Clash, IRS era REM, Bauhaus, The Replacements. Man, they mean the world to me. Doing shit their way. Not quitting, but not becoming what anyone tried to force on them. Tom Petty. Beautiful orange summer sun going down and my brother George and I in his car driving to nowhere in particular, just two pals. I try to capture that all the time. The feeling of belonging and moving. Maybe in no particular direction but just… away. Sometimes that’s enough.
Your solo band includes a pretty impressive line-up of musicians – how did you go about assembling it?
These are all really good friends I’ve made over the years. I saw Gaff, the guitarist, years ago playing in the Dedwardians. That guy just knocked me out with the way he played. Like he belonged right there, for sure. A living, breathing amalgamation of my favourite guitarists. And he really seemed to love that two square feet of stage. I thought right away I would love to be in a band with him. Years later and here we are. Naturally. He is really a right hand man on this stuff. We also listen to tons of music hangin’ out and laughing our asses off. That’s most of what we do!
Every album I made in the UK has been with Andy Brook (guitar, also of Shush and producer of a lot of cool bands). I love him very much and now he is on the other side of the mixing desk as well with me. It’s awesome. I enjoy every second with him and he is integral.
Ricky McGuire (bass) I met watching The Men They Couldn’t Hang. He got off stage, we were introduced, and two hours later we were at his place surrounded by albums. BAM! Pals for life.
Kit Swing (backing vocals) has been a close friend for years. She sang on Obituary Writer with me. I always wanted her to be more involved. And Lord, now she is!
Kris Rodgers (keys) I met while on the Scott Sorry Tour. I love that about this little life I’ve made. Bonding with people through sweating and singing night after night. The friendship is set. “Let’s make some music”. It’s what we do.
Simon (drums)… well he needs no introduction. My heartbeat since the Loyalties days. The best dude. Hard to feel I assembled this. Feels more like it was happening all this time.
The Role Models were a regular fixture at the 12 Bar in Soho for many years and you even worked there for a bit. What’s your take on how the area’s changed in recent times and do you miss the way it used to be?
I’ve lived in Toronto, New York and London. All these big cities change. When I’d move to one, someone would say, “Well it’s different now. You should’ve been here when…” Then I would say the same thing six years later! I’m just glad I was a part of that place and scene. It gave me many friends, family, memories… and hangovers!
You’ve got a few gigs coming up in the next few weeks including supporting Steve Conte from the New York Dolls and Michael Monroe’s band and appearing at the Scott Sorry benefit gig at the New Cross Inn with the Role Models – how’s the preparation going for these?
Looking forward to them all. Introducing a new band and new songs, singin’ my heart out at a benefit for a brother. Things are sounding just as polished and cracked as they should. Happy!
Finally, what are your plans for the near future? I seem to remember you mentioning a Role Models album next year?
I have another album in the works with this new band. A bunch of new songs for Role Models… come on man! Give me a sec! Hahahaha!
Thanks to Rags for taking the time out to talk to us. You can catch him with the Role Models at the For Sorry’s Sake all-dayer at the New Cross Inn on Saturday 8th September. The Pledge campaign for Like We’ll Never Make It can be found by clicking on this link.