Unbeknownst to some, Utah has a happenin’ music scene, and Ransom Wydner is a huge player. This guy is everywhere: singer of alt-band King Niko, rapper with BassMint Pros, and host at The Royal’s Karaoke. He has most recently joined Camden Chamberlain’s project – Cavedoll. Camden started this project back in about 2006 and since has released 12 full albums. Their new EP, Late Nights/Bad Decisions, is somewhat of a departure from their previous “grit-pop” sound due to the additional creativity of Ransom, Stephanie Webb and Eric Stoye. Late Nights/Bad Decisions situates the listener in an apocalyptic, sexy and sugary sweet, synthesized sphere. You can go ahead and file this EP between Panic! At The Disco and CHVRCHES, with occasional glimpses of Prince and Nine Inch Nails.
Ransom Wydner V, the last of five “Ransom Wydner”s of which the first 3 died “horribly violent deaths” (more info here), willingly subjected himself to our sometimes informational but usually odd questions. Learn about the inspirations for the EP, the (literal) vision of Cavedoll’s futuristic world, and Ransom’s worst late night, bad decision.
Ransom: MAN! After I watched Drive for the first time, the first of a lot of times, I just couldn’t get it out of my head! The themes, the abruptness of it, the gorgeous soundtrack–especially the track by College–it just stuck with me. It maybe didn’t consciously affect the direction that we went with this EP, but definitely subconsciously.
Cavedoll has always had a bit of that aesthetic, though. Back in 2008, long before I joined, NPR described the album “No Vertigo” as a “hip-shaking burst of feel-good energy, inspired by ’80s synth pop, electronica and punk” and compared Cavedoll to The Cure–kind of “dark neo-new-wave.” “Late Nights/Bad Decisions” represents my first work with Cavedoll in a serious capacity (I’d worked on covers and remixes, but nothing original) and I think that what I brought to it was a little bit of sugar. It’s dark and gritty pop music and I just maybe sweetened it up a touch.
GGG: If you were to imagine a world (like a club, or a scene in a movie) where this EP would fit, how would you describe it?
R: Blade Runner meets Adventure Time? Something apocalyptic–you can hear themes of urgency, armageddon, etc. Maybe the kind of world where there’s a meteor coming and we can’t do anything about it but it’s still, like, 50 years off. Definitely the kind of place where you could fall in love with a robot or an alien. Or maybe a pool party inside of a big glass bubble with waterslides where it’s always summer and always daytime. The bar is underwater and you have to swim to it, but there’s air in there–like an air pocket. I drew a picture, see addendum A. In fact, why choose? The nightclub waterside park is INSIDE of this dystopian future hell scape. Final answer.
GGG: Did this project start with just you and Camden? How did it come about?
R: Actually, Cavedoll has been Camden’s baby for years. I first heard Cavedoll in maybe 2006 when I moved to Salt Lake. I was a huge fan of “No Vertigo” in 2008 and basically Myspace stalked Camden for a solid year, trying to be his friend and work with him. After 2 years and a few kind of hum-drum bands, I joined King Niko and played a show with Cavedoll. Cavedoll was one of the headliners and King Niko was on, like, during the daytime, but Camden came early to check it out and we became really good friends. I don’t even know how long Camden’s been doing Cavedoll, but it’s been a good while and he’s had a lot of really talented collaborators. In past Cavedoll incarnations, Camden has always been the primary lyricist and vocalist, so when he asked me to join I was flattered but when he asked me to write lyrics and basically be a full partner in the band, I was blown away! Cavedoll is up there with The Brobecks and Form Of Rocket for me–a real formative band that sort of inspired me to be a musician in the first place. So here we are, Camden and I for the past 2 months have spent every weekend just working all day and all night until we got about 20 songs hashed out. Stephanie sang some songs, co-wrote a few and then recommended Eric on drums. Eric nailed his audition, we brought him in and then decided that Stephanie was a perfect addition. Cavedoll has always featured male and female vocals so it was a good way to add continuity to this new incarnation.
GGG: 12 albums and 1 EP (is that right?) in how many years? Whoah. How were you making so much material in such a short amount of time?
R: That’s all Camden’s obsessive nature and the fact that this has been his day job for, like, 15 years. He runs a recording studio and has been a pro musician for about a decade and made about 20 albums all together in that time–not counting his weird projects for his publisher, like a hawaiian themed record of nothing but ukeleles and stuff. He’s prolific, that’s for sure.
GGG: Let’s talk about “Just Tonight”. I love that song. It sounds Prince-esque, a slower jam. Great vocals. Can you tell me about the inspiration behind this song? What were you going for?
R: First of all, thank you! Prince is one of the greatest of all time, a golden god of musical genius. The comparison is maybe the nicest thing anyone’s ever said to me. I remember the first time Camden played me the instrumentals he’d written. We were driving to Heber City because he was playing bass in a hip hop group called “Pat Maine and A Goddamn Bear.” He had “Heartbeats” by The Knife on his mind, and you can hear that influence. It sounded romantic and kind of longing to me, so I thought I’d make the lyrics about one of the oldest themes in poetry–the alba. An alba is any piece about two lovers who have to leave each other in the morning. It’s a universally accessible theme–I mean, everyone from Shakespeare to Eagle Eye Cherry has an alba–but I wanted to make it a bit edgy. One night stand meets actual, genuine attraction. I won’t go into sexy, unfit for print details, but I know the feeling.
GGG: How do you balance King Niko, Cavedoll, and all of your other projects?
R: I just don’t have a whole lot of free time, and I’m fine with that. This is what I love doing! I actually toured with a hip hop group this summer called BassMint Pros and we play together almost as frequently as King Niko plays, so that’s 3 groups. I host karaoke and do session vocals for a production music company, as well. It’s all of my hobbies, it’s all that I do. Lots of people have a job, a hobby, a pastime and some other things they enjoy doing–music is just all of those for me. Well, it isn’t my full time job YET, but it will be with any luck. That’s my goal for 2013–to make music my full time job.
[Go here to hear our interview with King Niko.]
GGG: I hear you host karaoke every Wednesday at The Royal. What’s your go-to karaoke song?
R: I sure do! In karaoke, we call that your “bouquet song.” If you suck at singing, you usually have at least one song that you do pretty well, and that’s your bouquet song. For me, that song is “Nothing Compares To You,” which is a Prince song, but Sinead O’Connor made it famous. I auditioned for American Idol with that song, I auditioned for The Voice with that song, I’ve sung it thousands of times and I still love it. I could be blacked out drunk and have a raspy voice and still nail that song, that’s why it’s perfect for karaoke!
GGG: What was your worst late night, bad decision?
Ransom: Oh wow. I’m a very decisive night owl, so I make LOTS of late night bad decisions. Plenty aren’t fit for print, and very much not safe for work. Camden and I have had a ton of late night adventures that might be considered “bad decisions.” I was chased by a homeless man once and then, maybe 2 hours later, completely naked except for a fur jacket and sunglasses on top of a building in downtown Salt Lake. Any time I’ve decided to cut my own hair it’s usually really late and REALLY bad.
Thank you Ransom!