Interview: Strange Ranger

 Photography by Luke Leasure

Photography by Luke Leasure

Isaac Eiger & Fred Nixon are chillin'. Burgers in hand with beers on the table, we meet up with the two core songwriters behind Strange Ranger at the dive bar of their choice. It's an early October night—slightly too cold & damp to spend our time at the outdoor tables, so we stay inside. All of the classic rock hits from the 70s are playing through the bar speakers & there's a handful of good ole boys cursing & hollering at their buddy playing Big Buck Hunter HD behind our booth. The atmosphere is a bit raucous at times for the interview, but it pairs well with the cheap beer.

At this point, the Portland-via-Bozeman group's sophomore record Daymoon is only a few hours old & the pair seem both grateful + relieved to have it out for the world to hear—and for good reason. The band has dealt with numerous changes since Eiger & Nixon started playing together under the name Sioux Falls in high school. Along with the name change, they've relocated to Portland, sifted through members & gradually shifted from loud, abrasive emo stylings to a much more contained, lush, layered lo-fi indie rock on Daymoon. 

Daymoon is one of this year's most exciting albums within the genre. It won't attain the top tier levels of publicity that you'll find from the likes of emo titans TWIABP, or lo-fi heroes Mount Eerie & Alex G, but their side-step away from prototypical, angst-driven songs has solidified a likeness to these artists blurring the lines between the scenes. With Daymoon, Strange Ranger have created a shambly, weak-kneed monument to the frightening side of love & the endearing parts of fear—a bleary-eyed, earnest attempt at making sense of growing older. It's worth a listen—especially if your mid-twenties terrify you too.

We hang out for about an hour drinking beer & talking about Daymoon, the strange reality of growing older + our mutual obsession with Modest Mouse. 

 

hope: When did you decide to pursue music as a career?

Isaac: I think when we were in high school we wanted to. It was kind of always the plan.

Fred: I remember specifically the first time we had the conversation... I ran into Isaac in a grocery story in Bozeman & he had talked to my girlfriend at the time about wanting to play music & she had been like “Yeah Fred totally wants to do that too.” Then Isaac kind of brought it up, like “Dude, we could like start a band.” Then we just went from there—both of us just kind of wanted to play music rather than go to college. 

Isaac: Being in school always kind of felt like going through the motions. Neither of us really had plans to pursue college after high school—we just wanted to be in a band.

hope: Did your families support that decision?

Isaac: My family was pretty not chill about it for some time. They are very much in the college world. Now they’re supportive, but at first it was definitely a thing. 

Fred: My family is super supportive. My mom definitely thought that it was just a phase—that I’d go be in a band in Portland for a couple years and then go to college. I think that she still thinks that I’m probably going to go to college soon.

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Isaac: Yeah, I’d love to take classes & shit, but it’s just not really realistic right now with touring.

Fred: My parents are funny. They’re very loving & supporting but they don’t really understand what everything entails or understand the significance.

Isaac: Especially right now when we’re making such a small amount of money that it doesn’t seem smart to be doing this.

Fred: Yeah we’re not making money from it, but it’s still very important to us. You can’t really go to college & also do this.

hope: As a band you’ve gone through a lot of changes over the past 5 years or so: Multiple drummers, a name change, more band members ... Did all of these adjustments set you back at all?

Fred: Everything worked out in the end, but we definitely had a few hurdles to jump over when we changed things around. Now, as a live band, I think we sound better than we ever have in the past. 

Isaac: Creatively, or whatever, everything that happened had to happen. We wouldn’t have wanted to make Rot Forever again, so this has been absolutely our intention.

Fred: It’s been a lot of fun too—figuring out how to be a five-piece band, & arrange the songs & everybody’s parts.

hope: How did your relationship with Tiny Engines come to fruition?

Isaac: They hit us up after Sunbeams Through Your Head came out. We got an email from Will Miller after the single had come out. We like a lot of the bands on the label—so we were psyched about it. When we were making Daymoon we were sending them mixes & they were psyched. We’re really happy to be a part of what they’re doing.

Fred: They do a great job & they do it like all by themselves.

Isaac: They work really fucking hard. We both feel really lucky to be on board. 

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hope: How did the writing & recording process of Daymoon compare to Rot Forever?

Isaac: Rot Forever was recorded really quickly. It only took like 10 days or so. We kind of figured out exactly how the songs went, we went to the studio & we just played them & added on guitar overdubs afterwards. For Daymoon we recorded of the course of like 3 months.

Fred: The writing & recording process was a little more… Synergized.

hope: How so?

Fred: The songs were all written, but everything was basically at the point where we could track the drums. From my personal experience of playing bass & keyboards, half of the songs on the album we arranged with me on bass & the other half had me playing keyboards. We tracked the keyboard parts & I was like “Oh, okay now I have to play bass to this song & I’ve never played bass to it before.” So I was kind of writing certain parts while we were recording the record.

Isaac: We definitely had the arrangement of the songs set. But a lot of the keyboard parts & bass parts weren’t really figured out until we tracked it. It was a really intense, weird experience. It was the kind of thing where we had practiced everything to where we could track drums & then I would just come home from work everyday & track guitars, vocals & some other shit, then Fred would come home & do his things. We were kind of on separate schedules...

hope: So you did the whole record at your house?

Isaac: Yeah we did everything in our basement. 

Fred: It was weird because once we got to the real recording stage of things we kind of stopped working together. 

Isaac: Yeah, we just like did our own thing… 

Fred: We would each go down to the basement & record our own parts to the songs. I’d get home & Isaac would be like “Hey I just tracked the guitars & vocals for these songs, you should check it out.” Then I’d go downstairs, check it out & work on my own keyboard or bass parts.

hope: Was there any editing going back & forth between y’all?

Isaac: Definitely. 

Fred: We did a lot of shit on this album where we’d play parts & then be like “Naw, that’s fuckin’ stupid actually, let’s take that out.”

Isaac: But yeah, I’d go down & track a bunch of shit then show it to Fred & he’d tell me what he thought. Then he’d go down & track a bunch of shit & I’d tell him my thoughts. Then we’d take it to our friend Garrett Linck & he would mix it. Then we’d listen to the mixes, figure out what would need to be changed & go to his house. He’s a good friend of ours & he lives like two blocks away from us. So the whole album was made within a few blocks.

hope: I feel like Daymoon is definitely a lot more lush & complex than Rot Forever—there’s a lot more experimentation & layers…

Isaac: It’s definitely a lot more layered than Rot Forever. With Rot Forever there were like a couple guitar overdubs on each song & that was it. We kind of had a rule where we weren’t going to have any keyboards & we just wanted it to be like our live band playing the parts. 

Fred: After Rot Forever, people would tell us stuff like “I don’t know if this is a compliment or not, but your live sound sounds exactly like the record.” That’s exactly what we did—we had the songs the way we’d play them, then we just recorded them that way & that was it.

Isaac: With Daymoon we needed more people to accomplish it in a live setting.

Fred: The songs on Daymoon have these auxiliary melodies that are crucial to the songs & they would really suffer without them. 

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hope: I gathered that a lot of Daymoon is about growing older & the all encompassing fear that comes along with it. The early/mid-twenties are kind of a strange age to be, right?

Isaac: Getting older is sometimes scary. Being close to people is cool, but also weird. The dumb depressive thoughts that preoccupy you when your life is lame also tend to preoccupy you when your life is better. It’s sad.

Fred: I think that the early twenties are a weird time because, for me, it’s the time in my life that I’ve noticed that I’m getting older. My body doesn’t recover as quickly as it did when I was twenty, but parents will always be like “Just wait for 20 years from now”. I can’t just like party til 4am & then go to work at 6 or 7 in the morning like when I was in high school. Now I just can’t. Little things like that.

Isaac: The feeling of being a loser or a failure, just kind of get more acute with age. When you’re a teenager you just haven’t become a fuckup yet.

Fred: Like, you’re still a fuckup, but you have time to change…

Isaac: We’re pretty locked into this thing now… It’s weird to have friends from high school that are now living like upper-middle class lives. It’s a totally different thing from what we’re doing. We wouldn’t want to be doing other shit, but it’s impossible not to think about that stuff—especially when you’re writing music.

Fred: Also, like 5 years ago I wanted to be doing what I was doing. But I had the thought that maybe I’d do it for 5 years then go to college or whatever. Now I’m at the age where I could have graduated college. When you’re young, before you’ve done whatever you do, you feel like you can do anything. 

hope: As far as the writing on Daymoon goes, did you have certain exercises that you were working with or are most of the songs biographical?

Isaac: Lyrically, it’s the same shit that I’ve always done. When you just kind of spit stuff out, a lot of it’s really dumb, but some of the time you end up with some stuff that gets to the core of an experience. If you approach a song from a linear or analytical way, you might not get to the meat of feeling. Then again, I edit shit all the time, but I tend like the first thought more than following thoughts.

hope: “Everything Else” kind of reminds me of a twisted lullaby. You paired lyrics like “Go down on me” directly with “Your mom got sick, she’ll die” What was the inspiration here?

Isaac: It’s starting out about being in love. It’s not any sort of linear path—It’s more of an emotional arrow than rational. There’s no causality, really. I’d be thinking about one thing & then something else would happen phonetically, or another word will come up that seems to relate back to the initial thing & I’d kind of go from there.

When I do that, I often times end up with these really strange contrasts—like sex & the death of a parent. It isn’t necessarily intentional, but all of these things are on my mind. I just try to be open when I’m coming up with lyrics & this is the kind of stuff that comes out. To me this is the most satisfying way of writing.
 

hope: I think that in this specific instance it was really beautifully done.

Isaac: It’s really cool that it means certain things to different people. To me, it doesn’t really make all too much sense.

hope: Your Audiotree session is great. Where did the opening song, “Leona”, come from?

Isaac: That’s a new song. That’ll be on the next record. It’ll be a lot different than Daymoon. Lyrically it will be just as morose as ever, but it’ll be more of a pop record.

Fred: It’s funny because coming into Daymoon from Rot Forever we thought it was going to be a little bit more pop. But when we were trying to figure out what the singles would be we were just like “There aren’t any pop songs on this in the way that you want them to be.”

Isaac: "Leona" is very much so about a loved one. I think that love is so complicated & oversimplified by culture. Whenever one of our songs is about love, I try to make it have the good stuff & the scary stuff all at the same time. All of my favorite art involves  the highs & the lows of an experience. When you pretend that being in love is great all the time & not terrifying in a very primal way it feels like a lie. I think that it’s more respectful & authentic if you’re thinking about the entire breadth of an experience like love. Love is also the coolest thing that happens.

hope: What’s your take on the music climate of Portland, OR?

Isaac: I think that the bands are really good. I think that some of the best songwriters are coming from Portland — a lot of them are our friends. But there doesn’t seem to be much support from larger entities.

Fred: As far as the DIY community that we are involved with, it’s not always endorsed or supported by local press. 

Isaac: Everybody that comes to our shows are like under the age of 25 & we know most of the people. The “Portland Bar Crowd” is not aware of our band or our friends bands at all. 

hope: It’s strange because growing up I had always viewed Portland as somewhat of a haven for indie music….

Isaac: I think it was..

Fred: In certain ways it still kind of is. A lot of people view it that way. There is this bubble of music that is popular in Portland—the PDX Pop Now! Circuit—but the scene that we’re involved in is definitely different. 

Isaac: It very much so operates under the radar.

Fred: We definitely have more fans nationally than we do located in Portland. We have a scene here, but it’s not really spotlighted.

hope: Strange Ranger is always going to draw comparisons to Modest Mouse. Let’s talk about that. How’d you get into them?

Isaac: I feel like now that we’ve made an album that sounds less like them, we can be more upfront about our past obsession with them…

Fred: When we met we were both 15 or 16 & we were both in that teenage period of discovering Modest Mouse. I knew them as the “Float On band” until my friend gave me a mix CD that had “Dramamine” on it. I was like “Woah, this is the best song ever”. I discovered a lot of their other songs just by listening to their songs on YouTube & clicking the ‘Up Next’ button. 

Isaac: One of my most important memories ever was sitting in my friend’s living room when I was like 15 years old & hearing The Lonesome Crowded West for the first time. I was just like completely floored. It was a life-rearranging type of experience. I had never heard anything like it before & I had never heard anything that resonated with me to that extent. It was like hearing something that was exactly what you were looking for, but also surprising & different. 

Fred: It’s like when you can’t describe what you wanted to listen to, but then when you hear it you’re like “Yeah, this is what I was looking for.”

Isaac: I have a really bad memory. I don’t remember that much stuff — especially from growing up. But that memory is one of the real things that I think about when I think about growing up. Hearing “Teeth Like God’s Shoeshine” for the first time & just being like “Fuck. This is so beautiful”. 

Most of my memories from high school are just associated with different bands. Memories of walking around at night listening to “Alameda” by Elliott Smith & albums like Either/Or felt really important at the time. 

I wish I could erase it all from my brain & go back to having never heard it. I feel like most of the really good music kind of filters down to you in highschool when you’re young & it determines your taste. Listening to all of that music for the first time when you’re young & impressionable — That’s the most special shit ever. 

hope: I think it’s definitely monumental to the type of person that you are going to become. You have these in depth, complicated emotions attached to the albums that you listen to. 

Isaac: It’s definitely the reason why Fred & I are friends.

Fred: Yeah, when we first started playing music together we’d essentially just play “Dramamine” for like an hour in our friends basement.

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hope: Pick one: The Lonesome Crowded West or The Moon & Antarctica?

Isaac: The Lonesome Crowded West. I think I actually even like Long Drive... more than The Moon & Antarctica. I love that album so much. It’s basically as good as LCW.

Fred: The Lonesome Crowded West. There are definitely songs on Long Drive... that I like more than LCW. It’s all awesome, but LCW just works best as an album.


hope: Those two albums are so comparable because I feel like during that time period Modest Mouse were just trying to fit as many songs onto a disc as possible.

Isaac: We were just talking about how CD’s & the vinyl resurgence have changed the way that albums are made…


Fred: We were listening to this old Oasis album & every song is 5 minutes long when it could really be 3 minutes long. But this was the CD era — so rock was still cool & extended guitar solos were still cool & CD’s were still the main format. It presented the perfect format for making 70-minute rock albums.

Isaac: There are so many hip-hop albums from the 90s that are super long too — like 16 tracks. But songs like “Truckers Atlas” would be cut from any album today because you don’t really want to press 2x LPs.

hope: One last thing about Modest Mouse… Is “Everything All At Once” a Modest Mouse reference?

Isaac: No. How would that be a Modest Mouse reference?

hope: On the back cover of Interstate 8 there is some text that reads: “Close your eyes and you’ll see nothing at all or maybe it’s just everything at once.”

Isaac: Woah. That’s so cool! I wish that was a reference but it’s not.

Fred: Let’s just rewind this a few minutes. That’s definitely a reference. [Laughs]

 

Strange Ranger play Burlington, VT, on Monday, October 30th with Bison & Jessica Rabbit Syndrome at Pine St. Studios. Entry to the event is $5-10 // RSVP to the event here.

- hope all is well