By Zane Warman
Ambient music projects typically walk a thin line between dull and enlightening. Ricky Eats Acid, however, is helmed by talented instrumentalist Sam Ray, and that makes all the difference. With his intricate compositions, he breathes new life into a genre known to drone on, making it compelling and interesting. Last year’s release, “Three Love Songs,” is exemplary of this. Speaking with WSN via email, Ray discusses the narrative nature of Ricky Eat Acid’s albums, the ever-changing nature of his live sets, and shows a refreshing humility for one of the year’s most provocative young artists on the rise.
WSN: Do you find yourself being more inspired by contemporary artists, or pulling more from classics?
SR: I like to try and connect the dots between who inspires me and what inspires the people who inspire me. Most often I want to get into my influences’s influences. It’s dull to just pick a group or artists to represent a style or era in music; it’s more fun for me to try and find what might have slipped through the cracks.
WSN: What has been the biggest change for you from previous albums to “Three Love Songs”?
SR: Time. I’ve learned to wait as long as it’s necessary for things to sound how I like. Learning to allow time, to plan, to go into writing with a specific vision and narrative, with notes — it’s greatly improved everything, from the production sense to the melodic arrangement to the tone and atmosphere of each song or the full album.
WSN: How do the record’s unique sounds translate in a live setting?
SR: At times, it’s sequenced dance but with ambient or drone sections when it feels right. When I toured for a month in the fall and played almost every night, I never played the same show twice. Some nights, I would play a steady set with no breaks between songs and no percussion at all. Other nights I’d keep high tempo stuff almost exclusively, or I’d mix the two. Sometimes I’d play a ton of live instruments and strip as much as I could down to simple arrangements. It’s fun to keep it engaging and change things constantly depending on the atmosphere in a room.
WSN: The sparse, warped sounds that give “Three Love Songs” movement act almost like set pieces. The stylized titles give the sense that characters or even a plot guide the listener through the album. Did you write the record with that in mind?
SR: I don’t know if I expected anyone to take that away from it, but I’m glad you did! There are two complete narratives behind the record that play off each other. It could be interpreted differently based on either, and I left which was the proper one ambiguous. It’s got this grand, magical realism thing going on along with this concise exploration of loss and the different meanings of it. The entire thing was conceived around this triptych of three poems, which shares the title. I built the narrative off of something very simple there and wrote the entire thing out before I started working on any of the music. I’ve done a similar thing for every album I’ve worked on and a few prior to it.
WSN: Ambient music has been criticized for lacking a climax. Do you think that is an issue?
SR: I don’t know if I would agree with that criticism. I think ambient music’s design is to have no climax sonically and instead have a specific emotional connection with a listener. I’ve always enjoyed listening to film scores out of context more than most proper ambient music, because it’s essentially the same idea fitted to specific moments. In that way, I take more inspiration from scores than I do ambient music, and when I do make something resembling ambient, I like to take cues from contemporary dance music and R&B production, since its purpose is also to play background to something else and give cues to them and the listener. The natural swelling of people in a club or at a show is much more interesting and unpredictable to me now than any image people might associate with traditional ambient music.
Zane Warman is a staff writer. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org