Luke MacMaster of the Romany Rye is something of a throwback. Where most new bands get a PR firm to conjure up a media-friendly back story, release an ultra-limited 7″ on an ultra-hip label and stick some quirky cover tunes on YouTube, MacMaster is happier tinkering with his Harleys and avoiding the musical rat race altogether. But that hasn’t stopped the songwriter, guitarist and singer, together with his collection of supporting musicians from making a beautiful, laid back, on-the-money classic rock album – Californian style. Quicksilver Sunbeam feels like how music making used to be. Or at the very least how you imagine it used to be. The sunshine grooves of the Romany Rye really could have emerged from 1974 just as easily as the present. And if you haven’t heard of them yet, it’s because without a marketing machine in sight, it’s going to be word of mouth that brings this band to the public. So if you like your hazy Laurel Canyon grooves and music made the old fashioned way, the Romany Rye may well be the best thing you hear this year.
Firstly, what’s the current situation with the band, in terms of line-up and plans for the near future? How long has the current line-up been together and is that a settled group of musicians?
There has never been a settled line-up. Playing with only one group of musicians is bad for creativity. It can grow stagnant and out of the thousands of bands that spanned time, how many are still together? Not many. And why? Because it is not healthy to spend that much time in such close quarters. I learned from people like Bob Dylan, Neil Young, etc, not to confine myself any one thing. I remain free to shape-shift as I please that way. The songs are gonna shape-shift depending on who is playing them. Sometimes I want it mellow and sometimes I want to blow the doors off. Plus, I can be hard to get along with at times.
You’ve said in previous interviews that you started late as a serious musician, did you play guitar much as a kid or was it something you realised you had a gift for belatedly?
I got my first guitar at 22, I think. 22 or 23. And really it was just the company I kept. If you hang out with bad kids you’re bound to do some bad shit. I was hanging with amazing songwriters and musicians, and like anybody would, I tried to write songs. And now I am doing an interview about my songs. Trip out, right?
You spent some time in art school where you previously said you spent a lot of time developing musically. Creatively are you totally committed to music now or do you get a chance to explore other avenues of creativity still?
I have not touched a stage in six months which has given me time to work on a couple of old Harleys. Other than that, it’s just music.
Where do you derive your greatest inspiration from, both in terms of music and life?
My friends and surroundings, mostly.
You’ve said before about how important lyricism is to you and how that differentiates pop from more substantial creative artists. Did you always write creatively or only when you started writing lyrics, does it come naturally, and are you one of those lyricists who writes down snippets and pieces it all together like a puzzle?
I have always been a sucker for the written word. Me and my old roommate would do writing exercises sometimes, but mostly it is just writing lyrics and a healthy diet of good books.
The new album is currently only available as a download, is that something that was a choice, have there been offers to sign deals with any labels or are you happy to grow things organically under your own control?
Man…if i could afford to have records I would. That’s my dream – to see my album on a 12″ record. Digital release is just cost effective for kids like me with no bread. If the right person came along and wanted to help, I would let them, though I have passed on a thing or two.
The album has a very Californian feel about it, it sounds very sunny and has what I guess you’d call that old Laurel Canyon spirit about it. Did you write and record the songs in that kind of setting?
Yeah, I guess that is just my vibe. Everybody at work calls me “classic rock Luke” ’cause I am always listening to Van Morrison, Neil Young, Crosby Stills and Nash, etc. I don’t try to be like that, it’s just sorta magnetic to me.
Word of mouth is starting to pick up on the band with “Quicksilver Sunbeam” being released but you’re a very hard band to find information on. Is the self-marketing side of the business something you enjoy or is it just a distraction from the real business of making and playing the music?
Man, I don’t know. I just have better shit to do than sit around on the internet all day talking about myself. I’ll leave that to the assholes at Pitchfork, or whatever other blog psuedo music intelectuals feel is on trend for the moment.
On a similar note, would you rather be a musician making your music in the ’70s, pre internet and pre-piracy, or in the modern age where you can perhaps get your music out there more easily but it seems even harder to make a living out of it?
I’d rather play music in the future, when all the major labels collapse in on themselves. When the lunatics are running the asylum again. When Rolling Stone finally admits to being a gossip magazine, and quits pretending to be a music magazine. That is when I wanna play.
You’ve spent some time touring with and being part of the circle of groups that specifically includes Dawes and Delta Spirit, as well as Deer Tick and Middle Brother. Those bands seem to have very strong identities and represent a spirit of independence, how was it spending time with those guys and did it help you develop your own band?
Matt (Vasquez), John (J McAuley III) and Taylor (Goldsmith) are some of the most talented songwriters around. It would be impossible to not be influenced by such great talents. I’ll take a bullet for any of those dudes.
What did you think about Adam Duritz covering “Untitled (Love Song)” on the Counting Crows covers album, what do you think of their take on the song, and have you noticed more people discovering the band off the back of it?
It’s cool. Their version is good. Adam is a good dude, and he digs music. I am flattered.
There’s a very free and loose sensibility to the band and your dynamic seems very much based around that. Do the songs evolve from that jamming band dynamic or does it evolve live long after the songs are written?
It just goes back to that earlier question. There is no right answer other than allowing yourself to shape-shift. Sometimes smoking a joint and jamming is the right thing to do. Sometimes playing the recorded version is. Who knows…
What changed between “Highway 1, Looking Back Carefully” in terms of the development of the band and your songwriting and was there any great change in how you went about the production side of things for the first album proper?
Really there is no difference. Other than who mixed them. Both the EP and full-length were recorded, produced, and played by Kelly Winrich and myself. The third record will be different because Kelly moved to New York.
If you got the opportunity to work with any producer in the future is there anyone in particular who you’d like to collaborate with?
I am kind of ignorant to that side of the game, so maybe I would choose one of those old rockers that turned producer. But honestly…I can’t think that far ahead.
“Brother” and “(Untitled) Love Song” are sensational songs. Was revisiting them on the album proper after they featured on “Highway…” a no-brainer for you, or did you have any doubts about the decision?
No, I knew they would be on the full-length. What most people don’t know is that “Highway 1…” is an EP. I just had some personal problems in between those to projects that set back the release of the full length.
People are just beginning to discover you in the UK, are there any plans to do any touring in Europe in the next year?
That would be cool, man. If someone had the dough to bring me out I for sure would!
Quicksilver Sunbeam is available through iTunes and Amazon on digital download.
Photograph by Lauren Ward