Exclusive: Red Ribbon's New Album is a Swirling Dark-Pop Soundscape
Emma Danner knows we’re all just waiting to die. Sounds brutal, sure, but it’s true, so she’s making the most of it. That’s why she’s a part of Red Ribbon, a Seattle-based band who are probably best described as genre-bending rather than rock or pop or folk. Together, Red Ribbon craft otherworldly soundscapes dripping in melancholy, jamming hard together and practicing happiness in the dark corners of their lives. A few days ago, the group dropped their debut album, Dark Party, a swirling collection of eerie pop-tinged gems you’ll get lost in.
Dark Party opens with “Your Car,” released last month as the record’s lead single. It’s a mesmeric introduction, buzzing with synth and shining a spotlight on Danner’s dreamy vocals singing that confrontational hook, “I won’t die from loneliness but if I do, I’ll blame you” atop a base of relentless percussion (both pulsing and shimmering). Next comes “Talking To Myself,” a fleeting track undergoing an existential crisis. It begins with sweetened vocals delivering a honeyed drawl over a subtle surf-rock rhythm before moving towards a more erratic arrangement beating with desperate percussion, frenzied vocals, and searing synth wails towards the end. As Dark Party progresses, you’ll see that this duality is part of Red Ribbon’s prowess.
On “Destroy,” we’re treated to a haunting instrumental composition. It’s only three minutes long but it’s transformative and cinematic in its sinister heartbeat, ghostly trills of flute floating above a tender guitar line while other details creep among the soundscape. Following it is “Seven Months,” another piece haunted by ghosts. Here, an orchestral arrangement thrums consistently, comprised of deep percussive beats and the gorgeous vanishing of strings. The vocal component is minimal on this track, drifting in and out to briefly stun but ultimately allowing the eerie instrumentation to take the lead.
“Use My Head” comes next, a shadowy attempt at sonic hypnosis, thick distortion and heavy-hitting percussion spinning around dreamy vocals like a black hole. On “Freaks Only,” we get more of Red Ribbon’s signature spellbinding soundscapes, this time featuring the slow slap of drums and the resounding drone of organ, looped endlessly for a tango with Danner’s breathy wisp delivering her own version of affection: “You’re an idi-idi-ot, you’re an idi-idi-ot…” Following this is “Alright,” one of the more expert tracks on the record in terms of production and multi-instrumental camaraderie. There’s a lo-fi vibe here, awash in searing neon synth mashed with some degree of garage-rock treatment in that full percussive landscape and bass lick.
The second-to-last song on the record is “Idiot Orange,” a deliciously addictive slow-burn. A choir of what we can only assume are ghosts provides mesmeric harmony above lazy pulses and key shimmers before the arrangement plummets into a swirling orchestral composition, chiming and wailing and booming with the kind of urgency that might be summoned once the clock strikes midnight. The flute moves the rest of the arrangement onwards into a more ethereal melodic line, in and out of that rich orchestration like something out of a haunted dream sequence. Dark Party ends with “Overdrive,” curiously named as it’s less of a peak and more of a comedown. Everything is subdued now, finally, not driven with the intention of haunting us or threatening us, but this time just sort of gently showcasing Red Ribbon’s collective talent. We get the distant synth buzzes, an expert bass line, and unassuming percussion all teaming up to build a base for an impassioned, slightly edgy vocal delivery, a laidback (but complex) conclusion to a whirlwind of an album.
On their debut album, Dark Party, the members of Red Ribbon deliver a magnetic journey into the depths of darkness where they have kindly shined a flashlight. All about crafting in-your-face soundscapes as the platform for breathy vocals getting real (really real) about love, loss, and cavernous loneliness, Red Ribbon successfully plunge listeners into a phantasmal world of dark-pop ballads soaked in synth and shimmer, the result being an otherworldly album that grips its claws (there’s a layer of gloom to it that suggests it must have claws) into you with no plans of letting go.
The Music Mermaid: First, can you tell The Music Mermaid a little about yourself and your music?
Emma Danner: I want to connect with people. I know we are gonna die. I am excited about what we can do with music. I’m really happy.
TMM: What’s the music scene like in Seattle and how has it influenced your work at all?
ED: The Seattle music community is very strong. I notice people want to support each other and lift each other up. I think compared to other cities it values roughness and doing things yourself, so a polished project tends to fall flat here… which kind of makes me want to polish something up real shiny…
TMM: Can you talk a little about the production process behind your debut record, Dark Party?
ED: Dark Party was recorded by Randall Dunn, this legendary metal producer. He’s worked with many other genres as well, but his work in metal, [specifically] with Earth and Sunn O))) [is] what he is known for, but I wanted to make a pop record with him. I knew he’d treat things less delicately and more intensely than other producers and engineers I’ve worked with. I had to ask him for several years to make this record before he agreed to do it.
The players are the best players I know. Just brilliant really. Veronica Dye on flute, Natasha El-Sergany on guitar, Monika Khot on keys and guitar, Pat Schowe on drums, and myself on guitar and bass. We made this record in Brooklyn last September.
TMM: What I love about this record is how ghostly it is -- there are these little moments of grandiosity (like those strings in “Seven Months”) but everything moves at a slow burn. It’s fascinating. What sounds, emotions, and thoughts do you hope to evoke with this album?
ED: Well thank you! I am so happy you like it and can hear the ghosts! Well you know, I think just general concepts of loss and urgency drove the record — I hope people draw some happiness and hope from it.
TMM: What is the songwriting process typically like for you?
ED: Each song is different, but for the most part I start with guitar, or sometimes keys. Robby Krieger [of The Doors] told me to always start with guitar, and that’s not why I do it, but I should probably listen to his advice.
TMM: Which song off Dark Party do you feel closest to and why?
ED: Hmm… you know that changes all the time! "Seven Months" I probably have the most complicated relationship with because I wrote it so long ago and have been playing it for about seven years now.
"Overdrive" was the complete opposite — we wrote that in the studio. I was freaking out because we were running out of time, Natasha had to catch her plane, and I had these lyrics and chords I wrote on a little synth a while ago. I kind of spazzed out and everyone went to grab some snacks or something and I was feeling a bit desperate and was thinking ‘Oh please, just please, let a chord come!’ I found this really nice chord on guitar I’d never played, and built the song around that. It was real sad sounding. But then when Pat and Natasha came back from the snacks, they gave it some life, some levity. It’s a disco song now! Monika added enough lushness on keys to fill a swimming pool. I love it.
TMM: Who are your biggest inspirations, both musically and personally?
ED: I’m a big Elliott Smith fan. See? I’m such sad sack!
TMM: What has been your most memorable music moment so far?
ED: Making this record was pretty amazing, because before, for so many years, I was just writing hundreds of songs out of context and not organizing them. Dark Party is a real complete thought, so I’m grateful for that. But the flip side to recording is touring, and I want to be on the road as much as possible. I love to be somewhere I’ve never been and to connect with people through music. I hope we can meet someday.
The Music Mermaid: Finally, what’s next for Red Ribbon?
Emma Danner: I’m ready to make a new record, and I’d like to do it in Texas when the time comes, but between now and then we are going to tour a lot. We’ve got some West Coast shows set up with our friends and labelmates Low Hums:
Oct 3 - Portland @ Liquor Store w/ Plankton Wat
Oct 4 - Ellensburg @ Old Skools w/ The Of
Oct 5 - Boise @ Neurolux w/ Sun Blood Stories
Oct 6 - Missoula @ Zootown Arts Community Center w/ Worm Womb / Jupiter Beat / Perfect Blue
Oct 7 - Oakland @ Octopus Literary Salon w/ Matt Ribodoux / Shutups
Oct 8 - Carlsbad @ Lhook Books w/ Gift Machine
Oct 9 - LA @ Harvard & Stone w/ TBA
Oct 10 - Chico @ Naked Lounge w/ Sunny Acers
Oct 11 - Arcata @ Miniplex w/ Opposum Sun Trail
Oct 12 - Bend @ J&M Tsavern w/ Helga