A Q&A with Little King
Little King, out of El Paso, playing hard prog since 1997 – here’s a chat with singer, writer and guitarist Ryan Rosoff…
Where are you from?
El Paso, sorta. I have lived there off and on since 1992, and every Little King album has been recorded there. Graduated from college, had two kids, two doomed marriages, and taught school there. But I grew up in Seattle, live in Tucson now, spent the last six years in Delaware, and lived in the Bay Area for a long time. I’m some kind of gypsy boy, I guess. Eddy is the drummer and founder of Pissing Razors, a thrash metal band in El Paso for the last 25 years. He has also played with Overkill and Ministry, so he’s something of a rock star. Manny and I met in Delaware, but he’s originally from the DR. We have a pretty varied background, collectively, and I think that works to our advantage.
What’s the name of your latest release, and what does it mean to you??
‘Occam’s Foil’ was released in late 2019, and that was a fun ride until every festival and club in the world shut down. We had shows and plans, but they all disintegrated in the blink of an eye. But the EP did so well on college radio and our fans and the press seemed to LOVE it, which was gratifying. I am not used to expectations… I have always done things on my own terms and without regard for what comes next. But it would be foolish not to try and capitalise on the success of Occam, so when the quarantine hit in March and it became apparent that we were not hitting the road in 2020, I decided to write. And write and write and write! There certainly was enough inspiration as the world came apart. So, the new album is in the works now, as we just left El Paso after completing a good chunk of it. The title is Amuse De Q; inspired by and amused in Quarantine. I don’t wanna give too much away, but we all lived some common experiences during the last six months, and I am distilling those things into songs that should be easily relatable. Isolation, missing family, mental and physical health concerns, alcohol consumption, the BLM movement, and more. Q is for quarantine, but it also represents things like asking Questions, the silliness of QAnon, KLAQ (local El Paso rock station that has been incredibly supportive of Little King for a long time) and Quality, which is something I hope we are striving for and achieving.
What was the hardest part about putting this release together, and why?
Hahaha… ask me in six months when it’s released! It’s been fun and easy so far. We have great continuity from the last record to this one, as for the first time in Little King’s 23-year history, the line-up will remain the same from one album to the next. Although my son is playing piano on a song called ‘Set It Down’ this time, which is a dream come true for yours truly. Traveling to El Paso from Delaware with all of my shit in a trailer was a trip, though. Literally. Manny drove my SUV, a 6 X 14 trailer, and my son and me the whole way. My license is, um, in limbo… so he had to make the whole journey down with us and then fly back. So that was a challenge, but ended up being really fun. He and I are such good friends that it just brought us closer and allowed him to really get to know my son.
What do you enjoy the most about producing your own material?
I always produce Little King records, but at this point, Eddy might as well be considered a co-producer. He has a specific approach to recording that is a nice counterpart to me. Ed brings a no-nonsense approach and is quick to tell me to “do it again” or “I don’t think that’s working” and I really appreciate that. After 17 years of making albums together, there aren’t a ton of surprises left. This is really the first time Manny has seen us work together from the start, and both of my kids spent a lot of time watching us as well. They got to peek behind the curtain, so to speak… I think they were surprised at how efficient we are. I have entertained the idea of bringing in a new mixing engineer several times for Amuse De Q. I love Ed’s mixes, but it might be fun to have a fresh set of ears this time. We have a couple pretty heavy hitters who are interested, so time will tell as to whether or not that happens.
What do you want the listener to take away from hearing your music?
We strive for a dynamic listening experience. The ability to touch on a lot of genres and moods is paramount to Little King’s sound. I DO NOT feel the same all the time. Neither does the listener. If I can hit those moods and keep it interesting over a 30-minute album, I feel like people can come back to it over and over and find something different, and that notion pleases me. The challenge is always to keep it diverse but still sound like a cohesive release. But I think we have achieved that since Virus Divine came out in 2003. That album was mixed by Terry Brown who produced the first ten Rush albums, and he taught me a ton. It sounds like one album, but the material is dynamic enough to hit those moods. I have tried to improve on that over time, and I think we have done it. This album expounds on that ethos, for sure.
How does a track normally come together for the band? Can you tell us a bit about that process?
I always write the music first. Little King songs are deceptively complex… playing and singing them live is a challenge. I want to make sure I can play them live without thinking too hard. Only then will I write the vocal melodies and start rehearsing them as such. Words and music are equally important to me. I have a degree in Creative Writing and I was a high school English teacher for a while. These songs and albums are my legacy, and I’m sure as fuck not gonna mail that in. So, the process of writing and editing and scrapping and re-writing is real. It basically consumes me, and I won’t release any lyrics that don’t have 100% buy-in. Nothing is extraneous, and they have to fit the mood of the music, too. But I avoid clichés as best as possible, use metaphors and imagery to paint pictures, and try to touch on universal themes with my unique life experience and perspective.
How would you say that the sound of your band has changed over the last year?
If anything, leaving only about 10 months between recording has brought a sense of confidence and cohesion that I’ve never experienced before. In listening to the faders-up mixes, a couple things jump out, though. First, Manny is PLAYING HIS ASS OFF! I think he is way more up front in his composition and attack, and that makes these songs better. I pushed him hard to find his unique voice on Amuse De Q, and dude is so creative and such a hard worker that he took it to heart. His playing on the last album is great, too, but I think his comfort level this time around pushed him to another level. I am thrilled. I also think that Eddy is always a monster, but the synergy between he and Manny is at the best level ever. I am trying to match that, as as the composer, that makes me even better. No one is gonna listen to this album and say that it sounds like it was thrown together or that the playing is just okay. These guys tear it up… but not in a gratuitous way. Rather, they play their asses off within the context of these compositions, and it shows from front to back.
What bands/artists have influenced you the most since you started your own band/project, and why?
Over 23 years, the list is ridiculous. The usual suspects are Rush, Steely Dan, Zeppelin, Floyd, Maiden, The Who, Talking Heads/David Byrne, Megadeth, Peter Tosh, Tupac, and by extension the Pissing Razors and Pantera. But I love classical music as well, and my son has reintroduced me to a lot of stuff like Vivaldi and Drescher etc. As I said earlier, I don’t operate at one speed. Metallica sounds good sometimes… but not always. Same with Toots and the Maytals (RIP), Snoop, and The Police.
When the world is back to normal, where would you really like to tour, and why?
That’s an easy one… the East Coast of the US and all of Europe. We have so many fans there who have never heard us live. I think anyone can make a good-sounding record in 2020. Protools and Confusers (computers) and the advances in technology make it easier to sound competent. But… can you deliver live? I’d like to think that we are entertainers to the core. Manny and Eddy are for sure, and I am pretty confident myself. But our music is complex, so we can’t throw it together and expect to wow people. Prog-ish rock must be super tight or it sounds like a fucking trainwreck. I look forward to that challenge. Been too long! Europe always seems to consume my music in healthy quantities, but I have never been there as a musician. With things as weird as they are now with COVID, I don’t know when it will all open up. God willing, 2021 will see us over there making new friends and fans. We will certainly try hard.
If you could only pick one track for our reader to listen to, to get a taster of your music, which one would you go far, and why?
This answer changes day to day, but I am currently feeling the first song from the last album, a track called ‘Hate Counter’. I think it has everything a good and proper Little King song should have… heavy in parts, dynamic, a fun guitar solo, and lyrics that require your attention. Who knows, but if you listen to it and don’t care for it, we probably aren’t for you.
Where do you see your band in five years’ time?
Passed out on your lawn.
For more info on Little King visit: littlekingtunes.com