Getting to Know... The Strange Boys

Music Features The Strange Boys
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Like it or not, The Strange Boys are probably both younger and more accomplished than you. Since the band's humble beginnings as a duo in 2003, they've shared stages with the likes of Roky Erickson, Daniel Johnston and Black Lips, leaving a smattering of singles, EPs and CD-Rs in their wake. The band's full-length debut, And Girls Club (out in March on In the Red records), is an infectious mix of ramshackle garage rock and polished, Village Green-era Kinks' melodies. When Paste caught up with guitarist/vocalist Ryan Sambol, he was walking along the Colorado River in his band's hometown of Austin, Texas. During our conversation, he made fun of a shoddy music journalism, discussed how he was raised in bars and said the word "shit" a lot.

Paste: I've read contradictory band origin stories in different places about you guys, some claiming that The Strange Boys began as an eighth grade duo and others indicating that the band didn't really come together until sometime in high school. Can you clear this up?

Ryan Sambol: Well, you know, it was around that time that Matt [Hammer, drums] and I started playing. We weren't touring or anything, just playing gigs around town.

Paste: This was in Dallas, right?

Sambol: Yeah.

Paste: When did you and your brother first start playing together?

Sambol: When I was in high school, Philip [Sambol, bass] came back from college and joined, so probably 2002 or 2003. I graduated in 2005, so sometime before then. My last year in high school we were doing a lot different stuff, I guess.

Paste: So, when he came back, it was just the two of you playing?

Sambol: Yeah, it was just Matt and I, then Philip came back and started playing bass, then a year went by and we found Greg [Enlow, guitar].

Paste: Have you and your brother always been very musical?

Sambol: I got turned onto music pretty much through him. We got into music, like Nirvana and stuff, then we just went from there. I guess we always have been pretty musical.

Paste: What brought you to Austin?

Sambol: We met Greg when he lived down here. We were coming down to Austin a lot, three or four times a month and it was getting ridiculous, so we moved.

Paste: What are some of the ways that The Strange Boys of those early days differ from The Strange Boys of now?

Sambol: Our tastes have changed a lot, what we listen to. I think just growing up changed us a lot.

Paste: When you guys started out, you were teenagers. How old are you now?

Sambol: I turn 22 in November.

Paste: So, you basically went through adolescence in a band. Do you feel like it was a different way of growing up than most people experience?

Sambol: I spent a lot more time in bars than a lot of the other kids I know did. By the time I was 16, most of the stuff that happened with learning about people and relationships, I learned that more at bars than school or parties. That was always weird, but it was cool.

Paste: Do you feel like you've aged quicker than maybe you should have?

Sambol: Sometimes it probably made it a little weird, hanging out with kids at school. You gotta learn sometime. I guess I just learned a little earlier. I'd like to be able to say I avoided a bunch of mistakes, but I don't think I did.

Paste: And Girls Club is your In the Red debut. How did you end up working with the label?

Sambol: We got introduced to In the Red through Jay Reatard. We met him in Memphis and hung out. I guess he dug the band a little bit, so he told Larry from In the Red about it. Larry actually went through all his demos and found a record sent to him by us three years earlier. He listened to that finally and came out to a show we played with Jay in California.

Paste: I read the album was recorded in an abandoned liquor store, right?

Sambol: See, that's, like, so messed up. You know that magazine, Dusted?

Paste: Yeah.

Sambol: Well, they fucking suck. [A writer] interviewed me and he had the stupidest questions, and when the interview came out, he got all my answers to his stupid questions wrong. He was asking about this record we made with Greg Ashley, and that record we made in an abandoned liquor store. Now, so many people... For instance, you did your research and looked up things that were already written, you know? And that's on there. It's so weird, man. You gotta change that and write cooler stuff.

Paste: Well, I'll do what I can. That's definitely one of the stories I've read.

Sambol: Yeah, the guy got so much of the stuff wrong. It's weird.

Paste: Tell me about where And Girls Club was recorded, then.

Sambol: That was recorded at our friend Orville's house. He lives in Denton and it was recorded in his garage.

Paste: You've cited the Black Lips as a turning-point influence of sorts for the band. What would you say you learned from them?

Sambol: Well, Greg showed us the Black Lips  about three years ago. When he joined the band, I had never listened to a lot of the stuff he listened to. They just have fun. When you watch them, you can't help but smile. There's just no point in ever caring about anything else but having fun when you're playing live, you know? I was at a point, I don't know, I had never seen that. Everyone in Dallas was so serious. Everyone was so nice offstage, but when they went onstage, they got all mean. I kinda started doing that, and it's stupid. Then when I saw the Black Lips and listened to their records, like, Let it Bloom was their newest thing then, and they were having fun. It was a no brainer, you know?

Paste: And now you're on the same label that that album came out on.

Sambol: Yeah, we've met them since and they're the coolest guys. They're all about just working. That's a big thing, too. When we first met them, they were like, "Just tour. Play everywhere three times and that fourth time, you'll make a lot of money."

Paste: The whole serious thing is an unfortunate pose, I think. Rock 'n' roll can be so much fun and its so much fun to experience, so how come, so often, the people making it look like they're not having a good time?

Sambol: Yeah, the cover of the record was kinda like that: Just don't care so much. And that goes with the whole In the Red thing. With Larry, the way he does business, it's so different than almost every other label in that it's just a whole state of mind. Everything goes into it: your covers, the way you do business, the way you do interviews, the way you talk to people, the way you write songs.

It's like, everyone's sick of My Bloody Valentine and shit like that. Nobody wants that early '90s shit anymore. The world's even shittier than it was then. I think [music] parallels that, when the world's at its shittiest. Think about swing or something like that. It came out when everything was so shitty. The world's going to be such a horrible place. There's gonna be crazy wars and evil dictators and shit, and music's going to be even more important. Or not, and it'll disappear, but it hasn't shown that in history.

Paste: And when someone comes to a show, that's the last thing they want to think about. They're trying to get away from that.

Sambol: Exactly, yeah, I can definitely foresee in the near future that it's going to be more like a Vaudeville thing. There'll be tons of bands on bills and it'll be really cheap to get in and it'll be more out of necessity than cool.

Paste: A couple years ago, I caught you guys opening a show in Atlanta and I bought a CD-R from you called The Strange Boys Will Now Forever Be Known as The Martin Luther Kings. What's the story behind the title of that release?

Sambol: Well, I wanted to change the band name, but it was put to a vote in the band and it didn't get voted in. But I have a band now called The MLKs, and we just started back up... I wanted to name the band that and then we didn't.

Paste: What was wrong with The Strange Boys? Why didn't you like that name?

Sambol: I just kinda wished we had a better name, you know? Names don't really matter that much, so it didn't get me that down. Everyone pretty much thought The MLKs would cause more harm than it would do good. That might've been a smarter decision in the long run. But like I said, I've got a band now called The MLKs with my friend Shane. It's a country thing. We do a Pastsy Cline cover.

Paste: Over the last five years or so, you guys have been pretty prolific, which has me expecting another release. Do you have anything new coming soon?

Sambol: Oh yeah, we have the best one coming out really soon.

Paste: The best one, huh?

Sambol: Yeah, the best one yet.

Paste: Do you have a name?

Sambol: I'm thinking about calling the record... [pause] Naw, I don't know if I'll call it that. I don't know. It's kind of up in the air. It's gonna be released through two awesome labels, one being In the Red and one I'll tell you guys later. It's going to be really awesome. It's going to come out no later than January of next year.

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