A Chat with Ryland Blackinton, Ryland Blackinton interview, Cobra Starship

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By day, Ryland Blackinton is known as the guitarist for Cobra Starship, but even before he got started with Gabe Saporta’s gang, Blackinton and fellow Cobra cohort Alex Suarez had been playing in a cheery little pop group called This Is Ivy League. If you’ve heard the Cobras, you should know that Ivy League sounds absolutely nothing like them, instead favoring the icy pop stylings of indie pop artists from Sweden like Kings of Convenience, The Concretes, and Pelle Carlberg. This Is Ivy League have finally gotten around to releasing a self-titled full-length album, thereby presenting us with the opportunity to speak to Blackinton about both his bands. Perhaps more importantly, though, it provided us with a chance to find out if he’s been making the most of the gift Bullz-Eye gave him after our last conversation with him.


Ryland Blackinton: Will! How are you doing? This is Ryland.

Bullz-Eye: Hey, man, what’s up? How’s it going?

RB: It’s going great. We’re leaving for England tonight, so I’m just kind of packing.

BE: Well, I’m glad to have the opportunity to speak with you again. I absolutely love the This Is Ivy League stuff.

RB: Oh, good, I’m glad!

BE: I’m very into the ‘60s pop sounds, anyway, so it was an easy sell for me.

RB: Oh, yeah, that’s my thing, too. I love that.

BE: So do you consider to be your secret identity away from Cobra Starship? Because the This Is Ivy League MySpace page seems almost to go out of its way to avoid making any reference to Cobra Starship.

RB: Oh, really? No, and somebody else asked me that, too. No, that’s not intentional at all. If anything, it’s just that we started Ivy League before we joined the Cobras, and truth be told, we haven’t had much time to really work on it since then, so maybe that’s why it looks that way. I don’t know. It’s mentioned in our press release!

BE: Now, I know you met Alex when you were in high school, but how did you meet? Did you catch each others’ eyes across a crowded highway?

RB: (Laughs) Uh, yeah, no. Actually, I played guitar and Alex played guitar, and we both would skateboard as well, so we just kinda eventually started hanging out with the same people. I remember that I went to see Alex’s band play – they were called Oriole Country, and there was this friend of ours whose parents were serious gamblers, and they would always go out of town to Vegas for weeks at a time, and we would just set up gear in their house and party and play. So that’s where I first met him. And, incidentally, he got me my first job, at this Jewish deli. That’s how we became friends.

BE: Yeah, I saw that, and I did a search for the deli online, and it’s mentioned in every single article about you guys.

RB: Really? That’s funny.

BE: I don’t know if that deli’s still in business, but if it is, it’s getting all the free publicity it can handle.

RB: You know, I quit, and they went out of business two weeks later. Coincidence…?

BE: I think not.

RB: I think not as well.

BE: According to MySpace, they’ve got your influences as Simon and Garfunkel, Bert Jansch, Nick Drake, Neutral Milk Hotel, Chad & Jeremy…several names which would possibly be considered uncool by the kids today. How do you feel about that?

RB: Well, you know, it’s kind of a bummer, but at the same time, it doesn’t really bother me. If anything, maybe…I mean, I don’t think kids know who Bert Jansch is. I don’t think most people know who Bert Jansch! (Laughs) But, hopefully, maybe they’ll hear the music, and if they enjoy it, then they’ll see who our influences are and then maybe want to get into those, too. But I definitely don’t expect…especially the younger people…to know anything about that stuff. Which is cool, because we get to totally rip them off and nobody will know! (Laughs) Kidding!

BE: It’s very Swedish sounding…and I mean that as a compliment.

RB: Yeah, it’s… (Stops as his voice is overrun by the sound of a horn honking) Sorry, someone’s honking right outside my window. (The horn stops) Okay, good. Yeah, lay off the horn, buddy! Um… (The horn starts again) Oops! He’s back! Man, that’s super-annoying. (The horn stops again, this time for good.) Sorry, I totally lost my train of thought.

"Being involved in a band – Cobra Starship – that has so far, at least in the last year or so, been very successful, it takes a lot of pressure off the Ivy League stuff, because we can kinda just do whatever because we already get to produce pop songs in another band. It’s really just therapeutic. It’s just for us."

BE: I had just made a comment about how it was Swedish-sounding.

RB: Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah. When we first formed the band, we were just into this kind of clean Swedish sound that was coming into…I dunno, I guess I was getting it from friends and stuff, all this great Swedish pop stuff. We love the Clientele and the Radio Department, and from the Radio Department, we got into this label called Labrador, and they do this band called the Acid House Kings. And we got in contact with them, and we ended up doing some shows with them. Alex and I, we joke about it, but we’re only half joking when we say that we’re going to move to Sweden, just totally disconnect and maybe try to play out there for a little while. We’ll see.

BE: Well, you’ve definitely got the sound for it.

RB: I hope so. People always think we’re Swedish. It’s great.

BE: It’s really awesome. It’s that harmony-laden soft pop with a folky slant to it.

RB: Cool, thanks!

BE: But that said, it’s kind of out of place with a lot of the music that’s going on today. Were you conscious of that even as you were recording it?

RB: Oh, yeah. We don’t try to make it fit in, though. It’s really selfish, I guess, but we write it for ourselves, for what we’re interested in. Being involved in a band – Cobra Starship – that has so far, at least in the last year or so, been very successful, it takes a lot of pressure off the Ivy League stuff, because we can kinda just do whatever because we already get to produce pop songs in another band. It’s really just therapeutic. It’s just for us. And the funny thing is that I think older people would probably like it more than the younger crowd. My goal is to get a bunch of 50-year-old people to check it out.

BE: Cross-generational. And the demographics go crazy!

RB: We’ll wear grandpa sweaters.

BE: Covering the Arcade Fire’s “Crown of Love,” I can’t decide if that was a creative masterstroke or a desperate bid for commercial success, but I actually lean toward thinking that it started as a joke but turned out too good not to release.

RB: No, actually, do you know what it was? I did that right when the Arcade Fire record was just getting really hot…and I like the Arcade Fire, and I’ve seen them put on some really great shows…and that song in particular, I thought, just had a really good memory. I recorded it myself, and then I gave it to Alex and said, “Hey, I think we should do this cover.” And he thought that the thing that I gave him was the Arcade Fire. He didn’t know any difference. So we just kept it like it was. We definitely weren’t going for commercial success. I mean, you’ve got people like Iron & Wine covering the Postal Service and it ends up on an M&M’s commercial, and then he gets to eat for, like, two years. That was not our goal, but crazier things have happened. I don’t anyone really knows about that song, to be honest.

BE: Actually, when I had the press release E-mailed to me the other day, they included a link to the MP3 of it.

RB: Oh, okay, good. Because I thought we had to take it down for some legality.

BE: I guess they’re spreading the gospel of it again.

RB: I hope so. I think it’s a really well-written song. (Writer’s note: Sadly, the link has since gone dead, so maybe Ryland was right after all.) We’re keen on covers. We like to do covers. We just did another one, actually.

BE: Which one?

RB: A Magnetic Fields song called “You and Me and the Moon.”

(On covering Arcade Fire’s “Crown of Love”) "We definitely weren’t going for commercial success. I mean, you’ve got people like Iron & Wine covering the Postal Service and it ends up on an M&M’s commercial, and then he gets to eat for, like, two years. That was not our goal, but crazier things have happened."

BE: Sweet! Now, given that Cobra Starship are, to put it mildly, serious-ass road warriors, have you been able to do any live shows to promote the Ivy League stuff?

RB: We have, actually.

BE: I know you said you played with Acid House Kings.

RB: Well, when we first started out, we did that little mini tour with Acid House Kings. And after that, basically, anytime we’re home for more than a week, we do a show. We have friends who play in the band with us who just do it for fun, and it’s great. We just did a show at the Knitting Factory, and we had another secret show in Brooklyn that was a lot of fun.

BE: And how is Cobra Starship doing? As you know, I just saw you at the NorVa not too very long ago.

RB: We’re doing great. Like I said, we’re leaving for England tonight for a month, and then we start some crazy road warrior style touring. We do two months in America, and then we do Australia, New Zealand, and Japan. It should be fun.

BE: And you’ve got the Warped Tour this summer.

RB: That’s right.

BE: Let’s also not forget that you guys are media superstars now, too, what with all the MTV exposure.

RB: Yeah, that’s weird. But it’s funny at the same time. It’s cool just to see our faces on a lot of stuff, and it really helps the Cobras out a lot.

BE: Absolutely. I was telling my wife that you guys are about a stone’s throw away from getting your own show a la the Monkees.

RB: Yeah, right? I would totally do that. I’d be the new Monkees, and not even have to write my own songs. That’s the best gig I’ve ever heard!

BE: And I see that Guy Ripley (the fictional BBC reporter Blackinton has played in various podcasts and TV appearances) has been getting a fair amount of exposure as well.

RB: Oh, has he?

BE: So I hear.

RB: Well, I’m sure he’d be happy to hear about that.

BE: Of course, the question Bullz-Eye really wants to know is…wait for it…have you been utilizing your complimentary Bullz-Eye Premium Membership to the fullest?

RB: Oh, you mean my VIP access? Absolutely. Actually, I…this is crazy, but there was a girl I went to high school with, her name was Erica Chevillar, and she’s on the site! I went to high school with her, a very pretty, very sweet girl, and then she started to teach at my school when she was around 21 or 22. But she had done some bikini photos, and some kids in her class found them and brought them to school, and she got fired. It was this big thing in Florida. And now she’s on your site! I was just stunned. I wrote her right away, and I’m sure she thinks I’m a total lurker and a complete creep, but I said, “I saw your pictures on Bullz-Eye, they look great.” Never heard back from her.

BE: Apparently, one of our girls (Cora Skinner) was spotted dating a cast member of “The Hills.”

RB: Really?

BE: Yep. So there’s another 15 minutes of fame for us.

RB: See, you guys have got great quality control. Only the best and classiest broads. Actually, I didn’t say “broads.” Don’t quote me on that. I said “girls.”

BE: How about if I assure the readers that you said “broads” in the most politically correct way possible?

RB: Okay, cool, then I’ll stick with “broads.” I’m always PC.

BE: The last time we spoke with you, you assured us that if we gave you that complimentary Premium Membership, you would mention our site at every show. Can we presume that you’ve held true to that?

RB: I do. Every night. Right before the last hit of the last song, I just scream out the domain and everybody goes crazy. I just go, “Bullz-Eye…hyphen between the ‘Bullz’ and the ‘Eye’…dot com!” Then I yell, “Buy our record! Goodnight!” And that’s it. That’s the button at the end of the show.

BE: Awesome.

RB: Now, I’m going to get a check for that, right? No, never mind, you can just keep paying me in softcore shots.

BE: That’s pretty much how we pay everyone, really.

RB: Yes, boobies are the international currency…

"Every night, right before the last hit of the last song, I just scream out (Bullz-Eye’s) domain and everybody goes crazy. I just go, ‘Bullz-Eye…hyphen between the ‘Bullz’ and the ‘Eye’…dot com!’ Then I yell, ‘Buy our record! Goodnight!’ And that’s it. That’s the button at the end of the show"

BE: Oh, my wife wanted me to tell you that you should be ashamed at yourself for winking at the young girls at your shows. She shoved her way up to the front of the stage at the NorVa, and she saw you.

RB: She did? Are you sure?

BE: She says you did. She says you also kind of gave her a look, too.

RB: That’s bizarre, because I don’t really wink. Are you sure she’s not bluffing?

BE: She may be. She may just be trying to win points with me by trying to make me jealous.

RB: That’s interesting. No, I don’t normally wink. I can’t really wink. Like, I have to move my whole face to do it. Maybe it was some sort of spasmic thing. Tell her that. Don’t break her heart or anything, though. You can tell her I winked at her. But between me and you, I didn’t wink at anybody. I just don’t wink.

BE: We could be safe either way. It’s very possible she may never read this article.

RB: (Pauses) What article?

BE: That’s right: this conversation never happened.

RB: Never…happened.

BE: (Laughs) All right, man, I’ll let you get back to your packing.

RB: Well, I’m alternating between packing and relaxing, but I appreciate that. Good talking to you again, Will. Always a pleasure.

BE: You as well.

RB: And I’ll see you again…soon?

BE: Almost certainly.

RB: Oh, and if you can get hold of Erica and she’s down with it, we can totally do a photo shoot together. Me with my guitar, her in her bikini, on the beach, just hanging out.

BE: Hey, if she’s good with it, we will have a photographer on that in a heartbeat.

RB: Awesome.

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