Pistol for Ringo
Please introduce your band
PFR is a 5 member indie collective. 3 of us are in LA, 2 in Philly. Our sound is best described as Indie Rock, though through the years, some of our records lean more towards electronic, while others sound more 70's rock-influenced.
Tell us about your lineup
Brian Murphy is our lead guitarist. He and lead singer, Ben Arnold, bring most of the songs. Brian is the former guitarist of "The Bangkok Five" as well as many other LA bands. Ben Arnold is a journeyman singer-songwriter from Philadelphia, formerly under Columbia Records. He and drummer Matt Muir are based in Philly and have worked together in many projects including, U.S. Rails, Four Way Street, and Ben's solo records. Bass guitarist/engineer/producer Shane Smith is responsible for much of our sound. He and I have been bandmates since the 1990's when we met Brian and started working on the first Pistol for Ringo album. I [Steve] play the Baritone Guitar and usually find myself singing so many high vocal parts, that Ben refers to my backing vocal tracks in the studio as "The Girls."
How did the band meet?
John Mastro, head of Aeronaut records helped shape the band in mid-2001. Brian and John were in one band on the label, Steve and Shane were in another. We got together one night and tracked a few song ideas in a Hollywood studio. When it came time for vocals, I remember Mastro saying, "Stevie... you can sing. Get in the booth." We got together every night for a week and recorded the first record.
What's the story behind your band name?
"Pistol for Ringo" is the title of an old spaghetti western movie. Since Ben and Matty didn't join us until our second release, all of our drums on the first one were programmed by Shane... which had many people asking us if we hated all drummers or just Ringo? For the record, we hold no animosity for Mr Starr.
Tell us about your influences!
Some of our influences include The Velvet Underground, Radiohead, The Stones, Wilco, Bowie and so on. Brian has the chops to slay guitar in any hard rock band but always comes up with beautifully intricate guitar parts that are perfect for the song (and our sound). Ben is a great story-teller/ bluesy singer-songwriter - you can hear the Springsteen influence on some of his solo records - but when he tracks Pistol vocals, he brings this other sound that I like to call, "The Epitome' of Cool."
Could you describe your approach to songwriting?
This year, we find ourselves emailing new track ideas back and forth more than usual... typically we get together in LA for 7-10 day periods. We either play a bunch of West Coast shows or work on a record. When recording, we'll take one or two days to go through the ideas, figure out parts, even finish up a couple of them before we start tracking. Brian and Ben are both prolific writers, so they never seem to be lacking song ideas.
Describe your band's first big break
Depending on the year, budget, etc. Pistol for Ringo sometimes gets love on the college radio charts or in the music blogs. Lately, we've had some luck with our music in film.
Last year, we signed several sync deals and won an award for best original song in a film at an Indie Filmfest. And this year we recorded a cover of The Pixies; Wave of Mutilation for the credits of an upcoming feature.
Tell us about some of your most memorable gigs - both good and bad!
The most memorable gig is definitely at a club in Las Vegas. We pull up for soundcheck about an hour before the club opens, load in gear and find out that the act we were opening for has no gear... well, no musical gear. They had a chair and a bunch of whips, etc. for their S&M act! I like to support other acts when we're out, but I couldn't watch much of that and sat at the bar drinking with Brian during that one.
What advice do you have to those who want to start a band?
If you're lucky enough to have success, you'll be around each other for days or weeks at a time, so make music with people you want to be around. Treat each song like you would an intelligent conversation, add what you think is relevant... nothing more. The best bit for me is helping bring a song to life. Worst bits are avoidable if everyone is on the same page. Before Ben and Matty joined, we brought in a lead singer for our second record. The day after the entire record was mixed, the singer decided he was done with music. It was a heavy blow, but after we flew Ben out to re-record the vocals, we were ecstatic from the outcome.
What are some of the challenges you face being in a band?
Living 3000 miles apart is definitely a challenge, but at this point in our lives, scheduling time that works with everyone's schedule is probably the toughest part. Ben and Matty tour Europe once or twice a year. Shane has been touring with another artist as well. Brian is the hardest working musician I've ever met, he's constantly working on recordings or gigging with someone new. Fortunately, we're all devoted to PFR and find the necessary time to keep it going.
What does it take to be successful as a band?
Just to be able to sustain a band is a success. Ultimately, you create music because you love to create music. We've never tried to write music for the sake of commercial success, hopefully, people enjoy it, but if things are working well with a particular group of people, then you want to continue to create with that same group. We're going on our 20th year as a band.
How important is music theory?
Without Music Theory, recording parts or playing with others is hit and miss. It's not necessary to make compelling art but it sure is easier if you know what you’re doing. That being said, sometimes I prefer sounding out parts with the hit and miss approach, and figure out what I'm really doing later. It keeps you from preconceived notions.
Tell us about the releases you've put out to date
In 2002 we released, "Solid State Neo-Hedonist." Like most of our releases, it was low-budget but embraced by those who did hear it. I'm not sure how high it got on the CMJ's but it was on there for a while. After completing the record that got re-recorded in 2004, we then released a 5 song ep titled Slow Roller, in 2006 with some of the songs being held toward for the full-length Better Left Broken which was completed a couple of years later. In 2014 we released the full length, Awkward Species, which was one of our best-received records, despite having no label push. Last year we released a five-song ep, Kings of Bad Behavior which had decent success on college radio and has helped put new life into the band.
What has been your band's biggest achievement?
Every one of us has outside achievements that we're proud of; Shane has been Grammy-nominated, Ben just played the Light of Day concert with Bruce Springsteen. As a group, I'd have to say, the music itself is my favourite achievement, but the Pixies cover in the upcoming feature film will probably be our biggest mark so far.
How do you view the current state of the music industry?
We formed at the beginning of the digital revolution which saw record companies crumbling due to Napster and illegal streaming of mp3's. To watch some of our favourite artists get dropped from their deals was pretty disheartening. Musicians are still underpaid on the available platforms, however, we've reached a place where by the time acts are offered a major label deal they don't need the major label.
What are you working on right now?
Shane and I have stumbled into film scoring, and set to do another. Ben and Matty have been playing some virtual shows to support Philly restaurants affected by the closures. Brian is always working: currently he's in a really cool project called Cinderblock Tropic, recording a record live to 4-track. We're all very supportive of each other’s outside projects. As a group, we're currently doing pre-production for a new record. Due to Covid, it's mostly via email at the moment.
What is your focus for the year ahead?
Pistol for Ringo will put out our 6th studio release this year. Hopefully, live music will be allowed in 2021, and we can play a string of shows too! We usually do a quick run on the West Coast, but it'd be nice to get in front of some of Ben's loyal east coast following. Ultimately, the focus will be as always: keep it moving forward.
Thank you so much for dropping by the WeJam studio! Where can we follow your progress?