Interview by Lucy Hell
for Mystery Island Publications
July 4th, 2008
Lucy: You know, one of the things I really like about Dead Kennedys is that you can walk into a party and know it’s the DKs right away—without hearing a vocalist. You guys have one of the toughest sounds in punk rock—while maintaining a great rhythm—and your guitar is the driving force inside that good noise. What kind of guitar do you use and why?
Ray: I use Fender style guitars with humbucking pickups. I like the twang of a Fender and the oomph of the more powerful pickup. There’s an equipment list on my MySpace page, myspace.com/eastbayray1.
Lucy: Is it wrong of me to hear a little Dick Dale in your overall bag of tricks?
Ray: I didn’t listen to surf music directly, but I was born and raised in California so I couldn’t help but hear it. There were a lot of cool older kids in the neighborhood I grew up in and they listen to all kinds of good stuff.
Lucy: I don’t want to insult you by calling you a guitar hero or something hokey like that, but we figure you’re up there in the top six-pack of punk guitarists (and therefore in the top six-pack of guitarists in general), but who makes you happy (or crazy) when they play guitar?
Ray: I guess my favorite electric guitar players of all time are Syd Barrett, Muddy Waters and Jimi Hendrix. Acoustic, I like Spanish style like Jorge Oraison, Joaquín Rodrigo.
Lucy: Did you ever carry a metal lunchbox to school when you we’re a kid?
Ray: Nope, my lunch was in a brown paper bag.
Lucy: Ah, H.R. Pufnstuf or Land of the Giants would have been good for you.
Is this business of making recordings for sale a drag? I mean, what’s the pressure and conflict like of having to be both a musician and a business man?
Ray: I’m a renaissance person, I can do both. The current art and music scene have a hard time with people that can do both, they like to simplify things and classify people one way or the other. But that may not be necessarily true. I create what I like to listen to and am fortunate that other people like it.
Lucy: You guys played a few gigs with the Pop-O-Pies, right? Any DK/Pie stories you’d like to share?
Ray: More than likely, but I can’t remember at the moment. But I have known Joey Pop-O-Pie for a while.
Lucy: The DK song that brings you the most joy is:
Ray: “Holiday In Cambodia,” “Moon Over Marin” and “Police Truck” because the guitar parts are fun.
Lucy: When you were a little kid, what did you want to be when you grew up? An astronaut? TV star? Musician in a punk rock band?
Ray: My mom wanted me to be an architect, and she and I both loved Frank Lloyd Wright. I studied architecture in school but it was too constricting creatively so I’m glad I found the guitar.
Lucy: What’s the scariest thing that’s ever happened at one of your shows?
Ray: Not going to say because I don’t want no copy cat crazys.
Lucy: Who should be the next President of the United States?
Ray: Obama, he looks like the likely nominee. McCain’s so-called experience is just going to be more of the same and look where that has gotten us, the world is definitely worse off. George Bush is probably going to go down in history as one of the most incompetent presidents. It’s interesting how peopled are fooled by his so-called “decisive” tough talk, but look at the incompetence in New Orleans, Iraq, the current economy, etc. He’s a serious loser hard head. Gerald Ford or Jimmy Carter could have done better. Despite the Republican’s pet theories that they pay lip service to, in reality the economy historically generally does better under Democrats.
Lucy: Is there anything decent to listen to on the radio or did that format truly vanish back with the 80’s corporate takeovers?
Ray: There’s still college radio, but maybe most folks now days get most of their music from downloads and friends and listen to the radio less? Technology has changed things.
Lucy: This is sort of an old school question, sorry if it’s been asked too often, but what was the story behind “MTV-- Get Off the Air?”
Ray: Back n the early 80s, MTV was just starting and it became easier for big record companies to promote mediocre music by making expensive videos that dazzled the easily amused.
Lucy: What about “Nazi Punks Fuck Off”? That’s just a great-great song, but exactly what is a Nazi punk?
Ray: The way I interpret it, it is a person in the punk scene who is very closed-minded. And that includes left-wing fascists as well as right-wing ones. Dead Kennedys were about getting people to think for themselves, not telling them what to think.
NAZI PUNKS, FUCK OFF!
Lucy: You guys have done some of the best covers I’ve ever heard: “Viva Las Vegas” and “Rawhide” … Any other retro covers in the works?
Ray: Maybe, but that would be telling.
Lucy: Now, despite the change in vocalists, Dead Kennedys (with all the other original members) are still going as strong as ever, and still playing kick-ass shows. What’s the latest scoop? New album? Tell us everything, Ray. We love you.
Ray: Well amazingly enough, “Give Me Convenience or Give Me Death” has been certified Gold in both the United States and the United Kingdom and “In God We Trust, Inc” has also been certified Gold in the United Kingdom. This is amazing because the recordings were released on independent labels. The Sex Pistols, Ramones and the Clash were all on majors. It hasn’t been easy, but we did it ourselves and the music wasn’t compromised.
But looking forward, I’m working on some things with Skip, the singer from The Wynona Riders, who were on Lookout Records. We’re doing two new songs live in the current tour, and they are going over extremely well.