Vintage Synths, Distortion Pedals, and the Legacy of Freedom Rock: An Interview with Ruined Fortune


The music made by Ruined Fortune manages to be looming and subterranean all at once. Thick layers of guitars propel bleary-eyed lyrics that regard the world from a sinister angle; then, that sound gives way to something more surreal: think repurposed technology, keyboards and drum machines interpreting the same aesthetic impulses in a wholly different way. I’d heard Angie Garrick’s work before, via her band Circle Pit; the music that she and Nic Warnock make on Ruined Fortune’s debut LP exists in a constant state of flux, and it’s never less than compelling. I checked in with Warnock over email to learn more.

When did the two of you first decide to start making music together?

In the instance of Ruined Fortune, Angie was asked by a band coming to town if Circle Pit would play a show, Circle Pit wasn’t really active, the band really wanted Angie to be involved with the show so she lied and said she had another band going. We wrote 4 songs and played as Ruined Fortune. That was end of 2011, I think. Early 2012 we recorded the 7” and started working on the LP.  Before that I played in one of the earliest and in my eyes best incarnation of Circle Pit. Actually tied for best with the Harriet Hudson of Miss Destiny/Southern Comfort 3-guitar attack period. It was much more of an loud, falling apart, pre-punk leather rock group at that stage. I didn’t have anything to do with the writing of the songs, in fact I had more to with sabotaging them. I played bass then moved over to Moog Realistic MG1 synth (the one made for Radioshack) through a big muff pedal and one of those little microphones you’d get from a desktop cassette recorder lodged in my mouth, which I’d run through behringer distortion and delay pedals manipulating the feedback to emulate a crude vocoder or Angie’s wah driven guitar solos. This was around 6 years ago.

As someone who might be more familiar with your previous groups, do you see Ruined Fortune as a way to try out something entirely new, or to refine things you’d been doing elsewhere?

Might sound strange to give my two cents on Angie’s approach but I think there’s an “Angie” quality in everything she does but this is definitely a different facet of Angie’s musical language and something she approaches in a different way to other projects. From an outsider’s perspective it would seem Ruined Fortune would seem more in-line with Angie’s other groups than mine, if they know of them at all.  In both our cases we had the urge to make music that wasn’t appropriate for our other bands, not that the other groups were constraining but because they had self-imposed set of parameters or a direction in mind. We realised that these ideas would be best executed outside of pre-existing projects, and would give them more space to roam.

For me Ruined Fortune is definitely a completely different musical dialogue to the other bands I’m in or have been in. There was no ummm-ing and arrr-ing about whether the riffs and ideas I brought to for this LP were Ruined Fortune or Bed Wettin’ Bad Boys or Model Citizen. All but one pairing of riffs I brought to the table were written specifically for this LP, in quite a short period of time. I also revisited some cassette loops made years ago for the track End Of The Day. This is the first band I’ve played guitar in, usually I’ve played the bass and I think grappling with that instrument informed my playing a lot. I think people would be surprised who instigated what aspects of the album, including the contribution of recording engineer/Cured Pink main man Andrew McLellan, and what parts happened collaboratively or kind of organically. The lines are blurred…. I’m less conscious of how this music happened. Sometimes when I listen to the album I think how did it even happen?

You recorded the album in two days; did you have everything written at that point, or were certain parts worked out in the studio?

Angie and I demo’d most of the songs in a very crude manner, just guitar and vocals, which we sent onto Joe Alexander (of Bedroom Suck Records), Daniel Spencer (of Blank Realm) and recording engineer Andrew McLellan (of Cured Pink etc). I think we also made demos and outlined most of the not-quite-songs with Andrew before entering. I wrote a list of accompanying reference points and notes in terms of the “vibe” and general flow of the song. Some were verse, chorus, bridge but there was always level of ambiguity. A few songs definitely only came together the week before. I’m not sure how much attention anyone paid to the list of sonic references I made or anything. I know in that period I was listening to these four things a lot: The Flesh Eaters, feedtime, The Shadow Ring and Call Back The Giants. Maybe the first Alternative TV record too.

Your Facebook page describes you as “freedom rock.” How do you interpret that, stylistically speaking? (My friends’ riffs on this are never likely to leave my brain.)

Wow that video is great! In short we used the term Freedom Rock an open ended approach to rock ‘n’ roll, in the spirit of but not necessarily in the rock formation. In love with rock ‘n’ roll but venturing into other realms. Examples: feedtime, Royal Trux, The Axemen, Alternative TV, Suicide…. I feel all of those groups would identify with the spirit of rock ‘n’ roll, in fact a few of them have songs about it, but aren’t revivalists. They feel like rock ‘n’ roll to me, more than Jet anyway. One thing I think I experienced around the time of really getting to know Angie was investigating guitar music that to a younger me didn’t really fit in the typical punk/“outsider” lineage. Blue Oyster Cult, Alice Cooper, KISS, CCR, small and non-small Faces. Angie was more familiar with this stuff than me. My investigation into what I previously thought of as Uncle Rock was out of dissatisfaction with some of the groups that were being heralded as the modern equivalents of the righteous UK post-punk or US No Wave groups. Same deal with modern noise and extreme metal stuff, the shock and excitement of pure extremity had worn thin and I was ready for songs. Of course I retained an interest in areas of experimental and extreme music which lead to what I think is a really good, balanced approach to music listening and generally seeking out things that fit between any single music tradition. Hopefully I’ll never be tricked by another embarrassing fad again.

After a very dense opening, the album opens up a little bit with the keyboards heard on “Closing Till.” How did the arrangement and the vocal delivery for this come about?

That track is mostly the result of acquiring a Casio CK-500 keyboard, a monstrously crap keyboard that has an inbuilt drum machine and dinky bass line generator PLUS a radio and a double cassette deck. Unfortunately the record function on the cassette deck is broken, fortunately paypal granted me a partial refund. The lyrics are all found text, a collage of resumes I’d collected from my workplace at a record store along with a guide to preparing for a job interviews. The deadpan vocal delivery and awkward dry humoured-ness were definitely inspired by my then (around 2 years ago) newly found obsession with UK group The Shadow Ring and offshoot projects, Call Back The Giants in particular. Their music is so otherworldly, so strange in a way I had never experienced before and I feel a lot of it comes from exploring themes that are surreal yet mundane, the absurdity of everyday life. In a lot of contemporary music you still see the typical “outsider/edge-y” qualities of years past, like people are trying to measure up to the qualities of yesterdays cult music figures no matter how inappropriate it is to their situation. You’re not Marc Bolan or John Brannon or Genesis P-Orridge but you can have an interesting an outlook or imaginative take on your seemingly less romantic existence. I love the suburban and unremarkable, and music being an accessible outlet for those people to make something remarkable. Those people who attempt to ooze that unapproachable rock ‘n’ roll cool without an ounce of humour in 2014 are definitely not cool. I hope people see a big that our playing with rock imagery is partially out of love for it, part tongue in cheek. Also about 30% the lyrics from Black & Red came from me transcribing dialogue from the reality TV show The Biggest Loser. Proof that there’s poetry everywhere.

You had a pair of drummers play on the album; do you have a live lineup set as of now?

Either Joe Alexander or Daniel Spencer played drums on the “rock” tracks on the LP. The recording session was actually the first time we’d played the songs together. The existence of Ruined Fortune has actually been very sporadic and not very band-like, long periods of inactivity followed by intense bursts of creativity.  Sam Chiplin plays drums in the live incarnation of the band and also took the albums cover photo. He also plays drums in Housewives and guitar/feedback/chaos in Teen Ax. John Duncan plays bass and recorded the vocals on the album in Angie’s old bedroom a few months after recording in Brisbane with Andrew McLellan. He also recorded the forthcoming Low Life LP which is highly anticipated in these parts. Ruined Fortune had only played one show before recording the album, which was Angie and I playing over a cassette four track. We put the band together to play with Blues Control when they were in Australia, with Sam and John used the rough mixes of the LP as a reference to learn the songs but of course added some of their own magic. As Sam was away Angie and I played two sets recently as a duo. I think the shows Angie and I have done as duos have been failures but also kind of interesting. From those duo shows we wrote new songs and journeyed into new territory, so even if slightly painful they were still worthwhile. I think Ruined Fortune is entering a new phase of existence, a more band-oriented existence, exploring new ideas with a couple more minds more involved in the mix. More minds, more freedom, less arguing between me and Angie.

Photo: Mel Garrick

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