A QUICK TALK WITH RAMONA FALLS ABOUT … Kanye West, Marty McFly, and the Uncertain Future of Menomena

By Arye Dworken

As 2009 comes to a close and critics compile their year-end lists, one record seems destined for the sorely-overlooked pile: Ramona FallsIntuit LP. The stellar solo debut of Menomena‘s Brent Knopf hit stores a few months back and hasn’t left our side since, proving that this particular side project is anything but.

Hey, at least Kanye noticed…

self-titled: So, let’s get into it, shall we? Are you writing Menomena songs now?
Yeah, but some nights there is a flow and some nights, I spend like three or four hours looking for one chord. I had a couple moments like that when I was doing Ramona Falls. I knew there was a puzzle piece there somewhere.

I saw your video for “I Say Fever” posted enthusiastically on Kanye West’s blog the other day. That’s pretty odd.
Yeah, that was strange. I’m pretty sure he found it on this site called Stash DVD.

If he calls you up, are you down for a collaboration?
Sure, why not.

Auto-Tune is the one thing you needed on your record.
[Laughs] What makes you think I’m not using it already…?

The album illustration for the album is also great. Tell me about that.
That would be Theo Ellsworth. I saw his artwork at a gallery and when it came time to do the album, I just emailed him to meet up. It just happened that way. That’s what happens on the west coast; it’s not that way in New York. [Laughs] We had several conversations about the cover before he started working on it. He used the vibes of the demos and asked me random questions like, “If I could be any animal which one would I be?” And I told him, “An elephant, an owl, or a mole.” So he incorporated that. I also spoke about Ben Franklin and Mary Poppins and how they were both on my mind throughout the recording and he put that in there, too.

Random! Let’s talk about the theme of the record, because it feels deeply personal. Something is ending and I wonder if you’re willing to discuss it.
I’ll try but I’m going to try and avoid one specific allegory. I would hate to ruin other people’s interpretations.

Let’s start with “Clover” because it’s my favorite song right now.
“Clover” is about feeling stuck in a situation that isn’t working and being:.um, exasperated. This girl:she’s somewhat kind of new age-y, and she mentioned that we were all dreaming one another.

Is the song about trying to choose a different consciousness than the one you’re in?
Well, suppose that there’s some dysfunction caused by me–how can I get out of that? How can I change that? Since I recorded the songs, my perspective has shifted somewhat. Not every problem:the two parties are not always equally responsible. I didn’t want to accept that. I kept pointing this laser beam of scrutiny at myself. What can I do to make everything better?

Did you find this album cathartic?
Some of the Menomena stuff has definitely been cathartic, but this album was definitely something more than that. Writing the lyrics and singing those lyrics are all part of grieving. There’s always this assumption that it’s about a particular person, though, and it’s not like that at all. I often try to have compassion. Let’s say if I’m treated poorly in a way I didn’t like. I try to think about it in the context that I may have treated someone poorly too at one point. That helps me put things in perspective.

Did you feel differently after the album was done?
Definitely. For sure. Once the song was done, it was like I solved a puzzle. As I felt differently, certain lyrics would lose their meaning on stage. It was like Back To The Future, when Marty is holding that photo and they’re disappearing from it.  That was happening to some of the songs–I had to remind myself what they were about.

So can we get into specifics about what pushed you to write such a personal and evocative album?
To hinge my own sense of value from other people’s opinions:this was my chance and my way to reclaim it. I am going to record my own song and this is what it’s going to sound like, and I want it to sound this way.

It became your opportunity to not be in Menomena, to not have to deal with the democratic process of selecting songs.
I wasn’t after control, per se, but I was after movement. Not feeling stuck. I didn’t want to control every note:it was more like I wanted to explore these songs, and I didn’t want to risk losing them.

“Comparisons to Menomena are unavoidable and in most instances, undesirable.”

What’s the game plan from hereon now that you’ve had the taste of what it was to record on your own?
Well, we’re trying to finish this next Menomena record. I just want to keep creating.

What’s the status with you guys? Let’s talk real talk.
That’s my least favorite question right now. The status:hmm:I can only speak about myself right now, but I’m working on the record just about every day. I’m working hard on it. It’s going to happen. It’ll be a…um, process.

Are you getting together at all?
No, not really. Not at the moment.

That’s unfortunate. You know that therapist from that Metallica movie is available. Danny came with you on tour with Ramona Falls, right?
As the bassist. Yeah. It reminded me of Menomena’s first tour–given that it wasn’t the next hot new project, or that it wasn’t Wavves–I had a blast and it was a good first tour. Some of the audiences were incredibly small but they were all very, very warm.

One particular reviewed praised your album as one of the year’s best, but also mentioned that Ramona Falls isn’t considered high profile. What do you think it means in this day and age to have the reviews but not the ‘buzz’?
Comparisons to Menomena are unavoidable and in most instances, undesirable. Menomena has an established fanbase and trajectory, and for the time being, I don’t. I think it’s something that I can change with more touring and more releases. But, you know, I don’t think what I’m making is so different and so challenging. I think it’s a little more accessible; maybe a little more forthcoming:music that affects me is music that is sincere. That’s just what I gravitate to and that’s the kind of music I want to make.

I remember as a kid reading magazines at the year end. My favorite lists were the best albums you didn’t hear. It’s not like that anymore with crazy downloading and blogs and constant access. There aren’t any of those undiscovered gems any more.
But it also works against us. Some of us get lost in all that noise.

Well, let’s hope that changes. If Kanye can recognize, I feel like everyone else should.
[Laughs] I don’t know. I’m holding out for Jay-Z.