For those of you who have never partaken of one of UCSB’s Associated Students-sponsored noontime shows, I highly encourage you to take a long lunch this Tuesday, February 10. For one hour only, the L.A.-based garage rock outfit The Ringers will set up and rock out in Storke Plaza for anyone and everyone within earshot. Fronted by sometime actor Joe Hursley (the face and guitar chops behind White Gold, the genius fake rock band developed for the latest Got Milk? campaign), the Ringers have been picking up some much-deserved buzz since they formed in 2006. Known for their onstage antics, energy-fueled live shows, and the fact that three of the four bandmembers are named “Joe,” it’s no surprise that they’re being credited with bringing rock back to the Sunset Strip. The Ringers recently released a sophomore LP, Headlocks and Highkicks, that conveys the rock ‘n’ roll wrath their concertgoers have come to expect, combined with killer guitar work, and vocals that call to mind Iggy and the Stooges. Not too bad for a band known best for throwing a wicked party.
Recently Hursley and bassist Joe Stitelerphoned in to discuss the upcoming show, the resurgence of the Sunset Strip, and sharing the stage with the New York Dolls… sort of.
So, you’re playing a show on campus, outside, at noon:
Joe Hurlsey: I’m so excited there won’t be as many wasted people. It’s always fun to rock out with people at bars. Sometimes you find yourself in a headlock by a fan who’s out of control and [wasted]. We’ll be like, ‘Awesome, man. Make sure to hit us up and come to another show.’ And they’ll be like, ‘Well, what’s your band’s name?’ It’s like, ‘Well, you’ve been here for an hour watching us play and I’ve said it five times.’ So it’s always nice to play to the all-ages crowd and get a good mix. But the Ringers are all birthed out of one big party, so I can’t turn my back on our roots.
I’ve never seen you guys live, but I’ve read enough to believe it gets a little out of control. Do you want to describe a Ringers’ show to me?
JH: Well, there’s some, um, there’s some friction. [Laughs.] I don’t know how to describe it. Personally, I don’t want to say we all go crazy, but I genuinely believe that the camaraderie that makes The Ringers special is the creative, real organic vibe that makes us [what we are live]. We’re not all crazy great musicians. Personally, I’m ear taught on guitar and I don’t even know half the chords I’m playing, versus our drummer who knows all about reading music. It’s kinda cool that we’re not some super group of great musicians; [the band is] formed out of the fact that we’re all friends and my cousin is on drums: We’re all sloppy ninjas. We’re very deadly with what we do know, and I think our concoction together is: There’s no cliche of ‘Thanks for coming out, we’re The Ringers, and at this point in the song we always do this.’ We’ve toured with enough bands that sometime you can see [that happening] night after night. It’s like, ‘Wow, the first show blew my mind and the following 30 shows really felt like that first show.’ I understand what they’re doing, getting their set down and having those segues, and sometimes for us there’s that awkwardness in between songs where there will be three or four minutes in between songs and it’s like, ‘What do you guys want to play next?’ And I’ll be talking to the crowd, or someone will take the mike from me – it’s just kind of like anything goes. It’s controlled chaos:
Reading about you guys before listening to the album, I wasn’t expecting much. But [Headlocks and Highkicks] is an amazing record. It seems to truly capture that live energy.
JH:Thank you very much. Every time we get responses to the music – and especially the album – I get chills. The fact that people go out of their way to accept this music-I’m not surprised in my gut, all egos aside. I believe in it. I believe in all the lyrics I write, I believe in the music we create: It’s all out of the pit of my stomach and it’s good to get a good response. Every time somebody says that, it doesn’t feel like they’re stroking your ego. It’s genuinely like, ‘Well, I’ve got other shit to do and other bands to listen to,’ and they’re doing it because they believe in it and it’s all a collective effort. But we’re so proud of it, honestly. Our first CD is great for the fact that it’s 19 songs, but the production quality and overall vibe of it is very garage-y. It’s going to be a cool gem for people to find and go, ‘Whoa! Then they had this first CD!,’ like finding a demo after somebody has been discovered. I love finding early stuff, like recordings that never hit the air. If you heard “Backseat Lover” as it was on our first demo, it’s just so funny to see how much it’s changed. It’s almost comical. It’s like, I remember hearing the first thing we recorded and being like, ‘Oh my gosh. Holy fuck! This thing:’ and then six days later I was like, ‘What the fuck were we thinking?’ You get so excited about something and then reality hits. It feels good that Headlocks and Highkicks is an album I don’t have to hand off. Overall, we couldn’t be happier with the recording, the quality, the material on there.
So I have to ask, with three guys in one band with the same name, how does that work?
JH: Honestly, the whole Joe, Joe, Joe, Patrick thing has been – I don’t know how it works. We all have nicknames and whatnot. But it comes up at every single show and everyone thinks we’re bullshitting them. Joe will introduce himself as Joe, and then I’ll turn around and be like ‘Hey, I’m Joe,’ and then there’s another Joe, and people are just like, ‘Fuck off!’
Joe Stiteler: It’s interesting because it never gets old to people. And we have to remember a lot more names of the [people in] other bands we tour with and they never actually have to remember ours.
JH: They’ve got it easy.
How does it feel to get lumped into this group of bands who are kind of bringing the rock back to Los Angeles?
JS: It’s interesting because we started doing this about three or four years ago, and the Sunset Strip for the most part was pretty dead. We kind of saw a little bit of the revival in the past year with our residencies at The Viper Room and playing The Roxy and stuff. You can slowly see it coming back; there’s more of a cool, indie-type music scene over on the eastside of L.A., and you can see where it’s starting to build up a little.
JH: I think, moving out here to L.A. in general, if you only have seen what you see on T.V. – I’m celebrating my sixth year here, Joe’s been out here nine years – you see these documentaries on bands that you liked in their early days like Guns N’ Roses and The Doors and, you know, they used to play the Whiskey. Then you move out to L.A. and you find out that the Whiskey’s not the place to play. It’s actually the place if you want to pay to play. It’s this whole fa§ade. Going to The Viper Room, it’s funny how 30 people show up from Japan with their cameras, trying to find out where Johnny Depp is. We were really lucky to actually be involved in it. I really do believe there are a few bands that still play at The Viper Room and The Roxy, and they really have gone out of their way to try to package themselves and hook up with good bands that are coming through town and connect the dots between the local bands in town that are rooted in real deal heart, in whatever music they’re doing. We’re happy to be running with the bands that are coming out of L.A. because we do feel like it’s the second go-round of when the Sunset Strip was the Sunset Strip, whatever that means.
And coming from that I have to ask, what did you guys grow up listening to?
JS: I definitely liked the early Sunset Strip rock ‘n’ roll type stuff. Nowadays, we like the Cold War Kids, this new band that we tour with called The Architects, Semi Precious Weapons out of New York, who are doing a similar thing to what we’re doing right now.
JH: I myself grew up listening to what my parents listened to, which was the Eagles, a lot of Julio Iglesias. Recently, I’ve been [introduced to]: people like The Velvet Underground and The Kinks and all these rarities. That’s what Joe Robinson, our guitarist, is really rooted in the ’60s and ’70s, in the Stones: Today, I’m really excited that we have a show coming up with this band called the Japanese Motors, who I’ve been listening to over and over. It’s like catchy, cool vibrant music. And you can tell who their influences are, but they’re doing what we’re doing and putting a whole new spin on it, like The Architects and Semi Precious Weapons. It is cool to be on tour with bands who [makes you go], ‘Holy fuck, I get to sit stage-side every night and see a different show every night and become friends with these amazing guys who are in the trenches, doing what you’re doing.’ It interesting that you can listen to anything you want, and you’re actually wanting to listen to these bands who are undiscovered because you dig ’em. When the world catches up, we’ll see.
And you’re definitely drawing comparisons to bands like The Stooges and the New York Dolls. What was it like to play with such an iconic band?
JS: It was pretty incredible. It was probably the biggest show we’ve ever had – maybe the biggest crowd we’ve ever had as well. We didn’t exactly get to meet the Dolls or interact with them at all, but we did share the stage with them, and that’s what we’re most proud of.
JH: The way they told us to get away from them was – I’ll never forget it. It was funny. Indie 103.1 paired us up on that show, it was at The Avalon, and we’re the nervous punk band. It was the first time I myself, as a frontman, I was thinking, ‘How the fuck am I going to get over that five-foot security gate?’ I’m like stretching my legs – and I don’t like that separation between the audience because you just feel like you have to stay on stage, and that’s totally not our show. So we’ve got all this stuff going on in our heads and there was this huge banner and they announce, ‘Now coming up, The Ringers!’ and everyone is clapping, all six of our fans, and the curtain wouldn’t go up. And we’re standing behind this curtain and I’m trying to go through it and getting wrapped up in the curtain. It was almost like watching a third grader in his first play. It was cool. It’s a good resume builder to just be on the same bill. It’s a legendary thing, getting to open up for a band that is a worldwide phenomenon as far as breaking through in the culture of music. It’s an honor, without sounding too cliche :