Beginning as just a glimmer in Ryan Lella’s eyes, A Happy Death manages to create a vintage, flower-power homage while still pioneering their modern sound. If their EP makes you want to dance and break shit (…which it will), just wait until you see them live. Their psychedelic tunes drip with reverb, making it nigh impossible not to feel groovy. Although the stoner-rock titans only have an EP out at the moment, they’ve got enough new material to overdose any music-addled mind. I had the opportunity to get chummy with frontman Ryan and drummer Mathieu Lewis-Rolland outside The Tonic Lounge. While freezing on the patio, we talked about their upcoming tour, Jawaiian music and strip clubs. Expect a new album from A Happy Death come January.
(Organist Jaclyn Hardin and bassist Isaiah MacDonald couldn’t be present for the interview at the best worst bar in Portland. They’re still kick ass though.)
Rip City Review: What’s in the works for A Happy Death?
Ryan Lella: We’re going to record a full-length album in January, and in December we’re going on tour.
Mathieu Lewis-Rolland: We’re doing a west coast tour, probably not any farther than San Francisco.
Ryan: Maybe Santa Barbara area, and then we’re coming back around through Reno and Idaho area.
Mathieu: We have a ton of stuff coming up in Portland though. We’re playing The Agenda Nov. 24th and at the Firkin Tavern Nov. 30th. Thats gonna be a fun show, but after that we’ll be taking off. Then we will be back at the end of the month, Dec. 28th with a show at Slabtown.
Ryan: In January we will focus more on recording.
RCR: Do you have a lot of material for your January album?
Ryan: We have a ton of stuff, we only have a four song EP out right now.
Mathieu: When Ryan moved to Portland a little over a year ago, with the original lineup, we since have had to restructure. We left the original drummer in New York. We found a new drummer here, and then they had a fallout, then I joined the band. The organ player and bass player decided they want to pursue other stuff, so we just got a new bass player and a new organ player. Jaclyn, the organ player, is brand new. This carnation of A Happy Death has only been together for about four or five months. I was counting earlier today, and we’ve played like 31 shows since I’ve joined the band.
Ryan: Half of those have probably been in the last two months. Kind of just getting everyone comfortable. Jaclyn was never in a band before but she’s a classically trained pianist. She’d been playing piano since she was like 6 or 7. She got married and stopped playing music, and then got divorced and started playing music again. It’s been great, but it’s totally new for her.
Mathieu: She’s kind of green, but she’s having a blast. The new lineup works great, chemistry wise we just have a lot of fun. There were a bunch of songs that were pretty much formatted and well put together. I think that since there are different people playing the parts, so a lot of it has been reshaped a little bit. When we write stuff together, the stuff comes out pretty easily. So basically, we have enough of stuff in the works for about two albums.
Ryan: It’s hard having a bunch of stuff you want to play, but not having money. It’s fucking expensive. It’s a lot harder than you might think to record an album. I found in the past the best is just to set an idea and a goal and go with it and make it happen. Since it’s a new lineup of people, we’re just setting new goals for ourselves. The whole point of the band was to play these songs that I wrote and finish the EP. And it changed a bit when i moved out to portland.
Mathieu: It’s been a fun summer. We’ve basically taken every show that comes our way. I think we played six or seven in a month. Almost twice a week in some cases. In just the end of October we played three shows in a row.
Ryan: We have a lot of fun on stage, a lot of energy. It’s not even like playing a show, it’s just like raw energy. In this band everyone is really into it.
RCR: None of you guys are actually from Portland originally, so how do you feel about the Portland music scene?
Ryan: It’s one of the coolest things I’ve been a part of definitely, there is so much going on here. Everyone is itching to perform and meet other like minded people. There is a really receptive audience here that’s interested in hearing something different. It’s also kind of competitive, there is a real saturation of talent here.
Mathieu: It’s pretty inspiring to be a part of it, I’m not originally from Portland, but I’ve been here for ten years, and I’ve seen the scene sort of morph. When I first got here there was a lot of sort of screamo-metal, and then it changed almost sort of exclusively to indie-pop. Just in the past, maybe three years or so, it’s morphed into all different sounds. Part of it might have to do with iTunes and digital distribution available to everyone. There are bands like Red Fang or Sons of Huns that are almost doing stoner-seventies metal type things. There was definitely a section of time where it was sort of a niche scene for The Killers type shit. It’s exploding into a lot of different stuff. There’s a ton of shit going on in Portland now.
Ryan: Compared to what’s going on in Portland to where I’m from, Long Island has like the most shit music scene on the planet. I mean, bands have to pay money to play at a bar down the street at some shithole dive bar that nobody is going to go to and pretty much give away tickets, and that’s the standard there.
RCR: If you had to make a musical love child with another Portland band who would it be?
Ryan: Black Pussy.
Mathieu: We definitely have a few bands that we would just love to play with Sons of Huns, or
Guantanamo Baywatch again.
RCR: What are some inspirations for your sound?
Ryan: Future of the left.
Mathieu: We just saw them at Backspace, it was awesome. We fucking love that band. That band is literally like a sister band to the direction that A Happy Death is going in. They’re a little bit more modern sounding, and we’re a little more vintage sounding. We probably would have put someone in a dumpster and ended their life to play that show.
Ryan: I’ve been a huge fan of Mclusky, and that is big inspiration. The “no-bullshit, fuck you, I’m gonna do what I wanna do, I’m gonna tear the shit out of the stage, make you uncomfortable” attitude, I’m into that.
Mathieu: We went to Seattle once, for a really small show. At one point in the night Ryan grabbed his camping guitar and started dancing and singing on the street while Jaclyn was hocking records to people. We started singing to these two random people, probably homeless. We were pretty drunk. All these cops started showing up, we just kept on going crazy playing. We were going nuts and sirens were blaring and we were singing making up this weird fucking song. It’s an analogy for how the band operates. Just embrace it and go wild.
Ryan: As far as like other influences go, I would say that The Black Angels and The Kinks, and Black Sabbath.
Mathieu: Me and Ryan have totally different musical background. I lived in Hawaii growing up, so my exposure to music was really limited. You basically have Jawaiian music, which are covers of classic songs, like “Brown Eyed Girl” but redone with a ‘hawaiian vibe’. Thats the music scene in Hawaii, with the really small exception of kids who are exposed to different kinds of music. No bands come to Hawaii unless they’re huge. Rage Against the Machine and TOOL came out, but other than that you don’t get that huge variety that people who grew up on the 48 states get.
RCR: Aside from the music scene, what’s the best thing about living in Portland?
Mathieu: Progressive politics, for me the fact that people are so forward thinking here. There’s not something you can be in Portland and not be accepted. I guess unless you’re a jock or something.
Ryan: I’d say access to drugs and strip clubs.
RCR: We’ve got the most strip clubs in the country.
Mathieu: per capita.
Ryan: Sassy’s is my favorite.
RCR: Any final words?
Mathieu: It’s a dangerous question for me, I’d talk forever. Buy our shit. Being a band is expensive. But I mean five dollars for a record, that’s cheaper than a beer at a bar.
DO YOURSELF A FAVOR and see them LIVE:
11/28: Dantes w. Brain Capital, Manx. FREE! 8pm.
11/30: The Firkin Tavern w. The We Shared Milk. FREE! 9 pm.