Can you first introduce the band and give us some background to how it all started and what brought you all together?
Hey there, the pleasure is all mine!
Yes, currently Little King consists of Manny Tejeda (Bass and backing vox), Eddy Garcia (Drums), and me, Ryan Rosoff (Guitar and Vox). This is about the 11 millionth line-up for Little King in the last 23 years, but hopefully this is static for a while. Eddy has played drums on the last 3 records (Legacy of Fools 2008, OD1 2014, and Occam’s Foil 2019), so at least there’s some consistency there.
I started Little King back in 1996 when my previous band disintegrated. I was playing with a band called Tweed Quickly with two guys who are STILL among my closest friends (Scott Marestein and Shannon Brady.) In fact, Shannon played bass on Time Extension (1998) and Virus Divine (2003), and Scott and I have collaborated and toured many times in the last 25 years. But when Tweed went RIP, I had a bunch of songs that I had already written that we were gonna record together, so instead of folding up my tent, I found a couple other dudes and we went hard at rehearsals and on the road. Eventually, Transmountain was born (1997). It was, um, fun? Still can’t really bring myself to listen to is, but one song called “I-10” is still probably gonna make the cut for the live show.
How have those experiences impacted on what you are doing now?
Yeah, Scott was the main writer for Tweed Quickly, and he definitely had (and still has) a very eclectic approach to songwriting. We both share some primary influences like Rush and the Beatles, but he also really introduced me to Zappa and Parliament Funkadelic when we first starting jamming. Scott’s playing just SWINGS…and everything he writes is based on the up, so finding the one was a different experience with him. He also is not afraid of the chromatic, and I was new to that. I always considered it to be kind of a songwriting cop-out, if you will. I mean, anyone can slide up a scale one half-step at a time, but he really emphasized how that can lend drama or levity to a musical passage.
What inspired the band name?
After Tweed went AWOL, I had those songs and I needed a name. I’ve always been into hip-hop, and it seems like there are a thousand “Lil'” this and that in rap, so I thought it was kinda funny. And, of course, the name “Ryan” is translated in Gaelic to mean Little King, so that fit as well, as it was always meant to be a vehicle to showcase my songs and make records and tour with my friends. Here we are, almost 24 years later!
Was there any specific idea behind the forming of the band and also in what you wanted it and your sound to offer?
I was never interested in playing in a cover band. I did it for a minute when I was like 16 in a high school band called Green T’s (as in the first toke…get it?) We butchered some Police and Zep covers back in the day, but my heart wasn’t in it. I didn’t sit on my bed with my guitar for 10 hours a day to try and sound like someone else…I wanted to BE that someone else.
There are so many different ways to make an artistic statement. I have a college degree in Creative Writing, so I certainly appreciate novels and poetry and I’ve even written a couple screenplays. I love to draw and I’m not half bad (I actually illustrated the cover for the first album, Transmountain, back in 1997…mostly because I was too broke to pay someone to do it.)
But music called to me. It was the synthesis of words and melodies, which satisfies my right brain, and the counting and carefully planned measures in the songs to make a maximum impact…the left brain. Like Neil Peart wrote about on Rush’s album Hemispheres – The Heart and Mind Collided! I love that making records involves so much art, including the cover art, which of course I’m always active in producing. I am very proud of all of Little King’s album art, and the newest album (Occam’s Foil, 2019) is probably my favorite of all of them.
Do the same things still drive the band when it was fresh-faced or have they evolved over time?
That’s a wonderful question…thank you for asking it in such a way.
It’s always been about a creative outlet, but when my first album came out, I was 24. I’m almost 48 now, so that was quite literally half a life ago. When I was starting out, I just wanted to see if I could do it AND if people would like it. I Could and the Did, although the first effort and a half were pretty uneven, so to speak.
As I aged, had kids, and thought more deeply about the passage of time, the goals changed. I wrote the lyrics for Time Extension (1998) at age 25, and it’s basically a concept album where the protagonist is on his death bed and is looking back at his life and wishing he could go back and make some changes…every song is one of those points in his life. So even at a relatively young age, I was acutely aware of the passage of time.
As I went on, it became an obsession about leaving a legacy…for my kids, their kids, and the universe in general. As I said before, the creation of an album appeals so much to me on so many levels, so this is my chosen medium to make my statements to the world. Not sure who or how many people really give a shit, but I do! So the album Legacy of Fools came out in 2008 when I was teaching English in high school down in Texas, and I was very much thinking about the legacy I would leave as a teacher as well as a father (my son had just been born as well.) That concept, a wilful legacy of words and music, carries me forward to this day.
Since your early days, how would you say your sound has evolved?
Without question, I am a better writer, arranger, and singer. I was not classically trained, so as a self-taught player and writer I think there is a lot more trial and error. Mostly error at the beginning!
I am a fan of conceptual albums that tell stories, even if they’re not completely cohesive. Again, the melodies, lyrics, production, and artwork all combine to leave a milepost on the spiral of time. So one thing that I’ve always tried to do is play up diversity within those albums. Key changes, different tempos and time signatures, and evolving lyrical themes all within the context of a 3 piece band…that’s been the goal. On Occam’s Foil, and really on most of the records, there are a few special guests (the violin and cello arrangement written by David Hamilton for “The Skin That I’m In” is STUNNING). But the ethos of reproducing live a faithful representation of what you hear on the record is important to me, perhaps more than ever now after making 6 albums.
Has it been more of an organic movement of sound or more the band deliberately wanting to try new things?
Forgive the dodge, but a bit of both, I think. “Organic” may be an overused word in this context. It’s organic that I want to take some different directions. Is that forced? No. But maybe that’s a better word. I know what I am and what I’m pretty good at. I always have a notion to stretch out and try different things, but somehow it always ends up sounding like Little King!
Presumably across you guys there are a wide range of inspirations; any in particular which have impacted not only on the band’s music but your personal approach and ideas to creating and playing music?
I have gone on ad nauseum in other interviews about how much Rush has influenced me and how much I admired Neil Peart’s brain, work ethic, and dignity, so I will leave that as it is and talk about some less obvious influences.
I love Vivaldi and Mozart as much as I love Iron Maiden and Tupac and Peter Tosh. That really runs the gamut, doesn’t it? I am drawn to equal parts of passion, skill, and intelligence. those things transcend genre, for sure. So those guys all are in rotation in my car.
Is there a particular process to the songwriting?
It’s music first for me. I am the singer and guitarist, but not necessarily in that order! Little King songs are not all in 4/4 and are not all in the same key, so I have to really make sure I have the playing of each of them down to absolute second nature. That takes time and patience and practice. The goal is to be able, of course, to be able to sing and play them at the same time.
My songs are dictated by what I like to play FIRST, and then I fit the words to them. If a song makes sense to me in structure and melody without any words, then I feel like I can’t fuck it up by writing lyrics to it. Sometimes, though, the music is enough. I don’t ever really set out to write instrumentals, but sometimes when I fall in love with a riff or a song; it just makes sense to leave it as is. This also gives my voice a rest in a live setting! But I have 3 companion instrumentals from the last 3 albums called “Internal Smut” (Legacy of Fools), “The Leaded Beatdown” (OD1), and “Nerve #8″ (Occam’s Foil) that are just too much fun to play…so they didn’t get words. Poor, neglected instrumentals! Oh…””Internal Smut” is an anagram for the word “Instrumental.” I’m a massive dork.
Where do you, more often than not, draw the inspirations to the lyrical side of your songs?
Parenthood, current events, the squirrel invasion in my backyard, global pandemics, or just a failed relationship…they all make their way in, somehow. We recorded 4 little videos this time discussing with my friend Ashley Ruark each of the lyrical themes for the songs on Occam. I think they’re worth watching.
Give us some background to your latest release.
Occam’s Razor is a famous theory that originates with wise old Father William of Ockham, an area in Surrey, around 1300. He believed and preached that the simplest answer is usually the correct one absent of extenuating circumstances or additional information. I’m paraphrasing, but the Razor is a popular enough theory that it’s still regularly used, particularly in medical diagnoses, almost 700 years later.
My argument is the “Foil” to good Father William. The counter-argument, if you will. I think the Razor discourages deeper thought, healthy discourse, and it makes it less like that one will spend the requisite time to research and find an answer to a problem that may be much more complex that it would be at first blush.
Each song deals with that counter-argument in some way. But in a world of social media pontification, bellicose posturing filling the void of intellectual rigor, and instant gratification, I was compelled to address the Razor in my own way…through my music.
“Hate Counter” deals with the separation of migrant children and the border as a policy enacted by our current administration here in the USA. I always record Little King albums at drummer Eddy Garcia’s studio, Krank Studios, down in El Paso, Texas. El Paso is on the border, and these disgusting camps were front and center in July of 2019 when all of these lyrics were written. They were also sandwiched around the mass shooting at Walmart by a fucking racist from Dallas that killed 20+ people. I was pissed, and that music fit the bill to write an angry song.
“The Skin That I’m In” is my response to the song “Happy Home” that I wrote in 2014 as I was getting divorced and moving across the country to a place I’d never even been. It was a dark time, but I came out so much better 5 years later. “Skin” is my “marked safe from the shitstorm” song, and it deals with infidelity, paranoia, substance abuse, and triumph over these things.
“Forgotten Mile” is about turtles. Sort of… It’s also the name of the area I lived in when I wrote these songs. “The Foil” is sort of the title track and also references religious douchebaggery and also the Opioid crisis in Delaware and beyond.
Are you a band which goes into the studio with songs pretty much in their final state or prefer to develop them as you record?
The arrangements are DONE when we get in there. Eddy learns them on drums pretty much on the fly, although I send him demos beforehand. I don’t know how much he listens to them, though, and I don’t really care. The dude is INCREDIBLE, and his playing is so on-point and creative that I don’t care how much he has worked out ahead of time. I like that he brings spontaneity to arrangements that are otherwise meticulously crafted. The other things I totally improvise are the guitar solos. I am absolutely at my playing peak by the time I get to the studio to record, so I love to just unleash live, no rehearsal, and see where that takes me. Again, it’s cool when juxtaposed against these arrangement. The solos for “Hate” and “Skin” I think are the best I’ve ever done, especially “Skin” – and they were both in one take!
Tell us about the live side to the band, presumably a favourite aspect of making music?
Stay tuned, friend…all will be revealed soon. I can say that I’ve never performed with this particular line-up and I am beyond thrilled to be able to get this to the masses someday very soon.
It is not easy for any new band to make an impact regionally let alone nationally and further afield. How have you found it your neck of the woods? Are there the opportunities to make a mark if the drive is there for new bands?
Sure! How good are you? How willing are you to make sacrifices in time and money? Do you care enough to evolve? What DO you really care about? Is it money, fame, or just sharing your art? I think that there are a million different avenues to promote your music, but I would like to think that the best promoted band isn’t always the one who “Makes It.”
I still hope we live in a world where the cream rises to the top. Hope springs eternal, right?
How has the internet and social media impacted on the band to date? Do you see it as something destined to become a negative from a positive as the band grows and hopefully gets increasing success or is it more that bands struggling with it are lacking the knowledge and desire to keep it working to their advantage?
Again, it is what you make of it. If your music is shit, you may have a nice short run of people close to you who love it and fill your head up with platitudes. It’s cool to feel good about yourself, but it’s fleeting. How does one have lasting power? I think it’s evolution of the craft and a willingness to work hard, both creating and promoting. I grew up in an era of paper flyers for shows in parking lots. As that old meme goes, “You never flyered a show at a Walmart in the 90’s and it shows…”
It’s great that the playing field has been somewhat levelled. It’s certainly easier for bands to distribute their music and have it promoted and streamed for free. You can’t make a fucking living doing that, which sucks, but we never did really anyway. Maybe a few of us did, but not much of a living (I just got a check from our distributor today…let’s just say in HELPED pay for toilet paper that I need during the pandemic.)
Once again a big thanks for sharing time with us; anything you would like to add or reveal for the readers?
Please just go visit www.littlekingtunes.com and have a poke around. Hopefully you can get a sense of why I’m still doing this after almost 25 years. And I APPRECIATE IT SO MUCH…you can’t imagine how gratifying the reception to Occam’s Foil has been. Manny, Eddy, and I worked so hard on this record. Thank you for caring!
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