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Someday I | Ref 4 | interview | John Meredith | alternative | rock | Lollipop
:Ref 4 (Owned & Operated)
An interview with guitarist/ vocalist John Meredith
by Tim Den
There is no adequate description for :Ref 4. There is no clever tag line, no easily-categorizable sound, no "marketable traits." There's only the bewilderment, emotional exorcism, and complete vulnerability it instills in the listener. These sounds... these words... the torment... spewing from the speakers like a fly-on-the-wall's tale of self-destruction, depression, and nihilism via napalm-sized guitars... There's no time to even think about what you're hearing, never mind describe it. :Ref 4 is the audio manifestation of all our fears and inner battles: What are we supposed to do with our lives? Are we living "successfully"? And if not, does the disappointment of our parents and our empty bank account render our existence meaningless? As we grind our teeth through guitarist/vocalist John Meredith's journal entries/songs, we feel his uncertainty toward life and "career" because they are our fears, too. And as we listen to him struggling to stay afloat living in the basement of his parents house, working 14-hour days, we quietly beg for the redemption that finally comes with his screaming "I can never quit" at the end of the album. :Ref 4 is not simply a record: It's the psyche of the rebellious American, fighting against the mainstream despite all of the financial and societal strains that come with it. It's an almost-collapsing faith that we all still hold dear, hoping somehow we withstand every bounced check and broken dream with nothing but our conviction by our side.
We hear you, John. And we're right there with you.
I met you when you were filling-in on bass for Wretch Like Me a few years ago, right before you began writing :Ref 4. A lot of the lyrics are almost word-for-word copies of some of the emails you wrote me during that period.
A lot of the stuff you wrote me ended up in the lyrics too. It was a rough time. I had accomplished everything I wanted up to that point (after the release of the debut, Look Up and Live). We toured, some people liked us, that was all I had hoped for. After that, it wasn't going anywhere, and I was getting... old. I started thinking about "growing up": Getting a job, get a wife, whatever. I went through a midlife crisis. But I got over it.
As evident in the your yelling "I will never quit" at the end of the album.
That's the pinnacle of the frustration on the album. It's actually not "I will never quit;" it's "I can never quit." Even though I want to do something else, it's the only thing that keeps me alive.
On with the geekier questions... I heard you remixed the album five or six different times in order to get everything perfect?
We tracked it a year ago April. I spent over a year writing the songs. The initial mixing only took a few days, but I wasn't happy with it. When I listen to something, the production is the mood. It effects what kind of an album it is.
We ran the drums through an effects processor and fucked with it. So we had two different drum tracks in the mix, running in and out. One of my favorites on the album is "Not OK Computer." It starts with a palm-harmonic thing. Part of the song has both real and electronic drums. I sequenced exactly what Damon (Smith, drummer) played, the fills and everything, beat for beat. We layed the electronic drums underneath the real drums, and it's just the sweetest drum sound.
Sounds like a painfully crafted effort.
There are four different songs on the record that play like two sets when you line them up.
Yeah! The whole "repeating motif" thing: The ending - or a random bass fill - of one song resurfaces later as the main riff of another.
When you have an "album" to work with, I think that's how it should be (one large composition). I grew up listening to a lot of classical music; (movements) are all parts of a whole. You can have great albums that are just a collection of good songs, but it's not really a cohesive thing. I tried to make it not repetitious, just cohesive.
One song's lyrics link with another song's riff; one song's bridge becomes another song's center point... It's like the album uses dozens of combinations to make its point.
It's funny cuz it's so self-referencing and self-deprecating that it almost makes it meaningless. (laughs) After we recorded it, I was feeling pretty good about it. But I thought "no one else is ever going to like this personal, stupid thing." But Allen from Shiner made me realize that even though the album's intensely personal, it represents experiences a lot of people have had.
Have you ever thought about conveying these emotions - depression, frustration, failure - through a non-guitar heavy format? Radiohead and Low are good examples...
I think they do that "sulky" thing way better than I ever could. I know our stuff's less accessible (because of the heaviness), but that has never been a concern. Our stuff's a lot more aggro. It's more angry and frustrated. Without the screaming guitars, it wouldn't be what it's supposed to be. I'm a rocker. But :Ref 4 definitely makes allusions to softer things too.
You rock out when you take in new music?
It depends. I also listen to Sarah McLachlan a lot. DJ Shadow's new one is fucking awesome. That guy's the best thing ever. He was a big influence on my writing during :Ref 4. All the sequenced drum parts are pretty much DJ Shadow rip-offs. Him and DJ Dimitri (from Deee-Lite). Dew Drops in the Garden is one of the most underrated records ever. I just got Thin Lizzy Jailbreak, which is pretty rad. I totally skipped classic rock cuz I started in on metal, but I've been trying to educate myself.
The "rock revival" shit sucks, though. Not much good coming out of it. Most of it is just crap. Like The White Stripes: I hate that band. Third-rate Stones with horrible drumming.
The "rock revival" isn't about reviving music. It's about ironic, tongue-in-cheek, "retro-cool" fashion bullshit.
I thought the whole underground/indie/ alternative music universe was supposed to be about the music.
A band like Black Flag wore shitty t-shirts and cut-off jean shorts cuz they were poor kids from Orange County. Now it's the "early hardcore" look. There's a look for everything these days: The "rocker," the "rockabilly," the "emo," the "Buddy Holly"... Everybody's so busy "reviving" old fashions that I wonder if this generation will ever produce anything original. Will we be remembered as "the people who turned nostalgia into the death of creativity?"
A friend of mine joked about starting a fashion 'zine. That would be the funniest: "What's IN this season for hardcore?" You guys should have a fashion section in Lollipop.
We include it in our reviews by thoroughly bashing everybody.
That's one of the things I enjoy most about Lollipop. (laughs)
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