Pond’s Shiny Joe Ryan returns with solo record ‘Shiny’s Democracy’: “Making this album was more about letting the magic happen”

The multi-instrumentalist’s first album in seven years draws from Guns N’ Roses, Gough Whitlam and his own musical community

Today (July 23), Shiny Joe Ryan has shared his second solo album ‘Shiny’s Democracy’ via Spinning Top Records.

Arriving seven years after his debut under the moniker, the album sees the singer, songwriter, producer and multi-instrumentalist further exploring the outer reaches of indie-pop, psychedelia and vintage rock. It’s a momentous release for Ryan, who’s having quite the busy year – his band Pond are preparing a new studio album, ‘9’, while his day job as a Tame Impala roadie is set to resume in the latter part of 2021.

Even when he takes NME‘s Zoom call, he’s on lunch break from another project: recording a local band in a studio space out the back of Fremantle’s Victoria Hall. “There’s no use holding onto any of the wisdom we’ve gained,” reasons Ryan. “You’ve gotta pass it on, and share it with those that are coming up who were in the same position you were.”

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While NME has the prolific Ryan on borrowed time, he’s asked about the ins and outs of making ‘Shiny’s Democracy’ – starting, of course, with the most important question.

First things first: How much of an influence was Guns N’ Roses on ‘Shiny’s Democracy’?

“In title alone, unfortunately, my friend. [laughs] When I was a kid growing up I was mad for Gunners, though, so they’ve definitely had an influence on me. How about we say I’m mirroring Slash when I play any guitar solos on the album? [laughs]

“I had the title in my back pocket for so long, and it’s been seven years since my last album – it became like this self-fulfilling prophecy. [Pond bandmate] Jay Watson came up to me one day, and was like, ‘If you don’t do this now, then I’m not talking to you again!’ [laughs] ‘I’m sick of hearing about it! Just record it!’”

Have you ever actually listened to ‘Chinese Democracy’, out of interest?

“I have, actually – just the once. We were in Italy, I can’t remember if we were with Tame or Pond, but we had the day off so I was just walking around listening to it. I ended up skipping most of the tracks – and I found out that Slash wasn’t even on it!”

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Speaking of democracy, can you speak a little on how Gough Whitlam influenced the album cover?

“There’s this photo of Gough, just after he was dismissed, on the Parliament steps. It’s such a striking image to recreate. Also, there’s no better way to get all of your friends on an album cover. That was such a lovely day – we went down to the local football oval in Fremantle, and we set up on the steps that lead up to the clubhouse. I was so impressed at how well all my friends dressed up for it – they looked great! I was wearing a suit I got in Adelaide, while I was on tour with Tame. I think it was two for $40 in this random Rundle Mall shop. It was this perfect, sunny day – didn’t even matter that [AFL team] the Dockers didn’t get up that arvo. [laughs]”

How much of the album was an out-and-out solo endeavour? Is calling ‘Shiny’s Democracy’ a solo album simply a matter of semantics?

“For all the demos, I tracked out most of the instrumentation. It changed a little when I was teaching the rest of the band the songs, though – someone would do something while we were rehearsing together, and my ears would just prick up: ‘Whoa, what was that? Do that again!’ I let the band really add their own style to the songs when we were recording. I never want to be too dictator-ish to them – as long as they’re playing the right chords, really.”

You mentioned the seven-year gap between ‘Shiny Joe Ryan & The Cosmic Microwave Background’ and ‘Shiny’s Democracy’. How far back did the process for making this record go?

“It’s been about two years now. I wrote all these songs, we went to a friend’s studio up the road and recorded all the instrumentals to tape. I went off to America after that, then the pandemic hit. Luckily, we got back just in the nick of time.

“As WA’s restrictions eased, I’d bring in more people to work on the record. You can have one person over? I’d get someone to come around to do guitars. You can have three people over? Three-part harmonies! You can have up to nine people over? Let’s get the full band back in! Let’s do group vocals!

“I do feel for my housemates – they must have heard every part on that record 100 times or more. [laughs] I used to live with [singer-songwriter] Peter Bibby, and one day he came in so annoyed at me for playing a track over and over. I cheered him up when I got him to sing on a track, though. [laughs]”

How many of these songs were brand-new, as opposed to leftovers from ‘Cosmic Microwave Background’?

“I’d say 60/40. 60 per cent were newer songs that had been brewing up; 40 per cent were throwbacks that weren’t fully formed around the time of the first album. Surprisingly, though, a lot of it really came down to the wire. I work well towards a deadline – otherwise I just faff around. Having to set a date to record it meant I really had to know what songs were going on. Between this, Pond and Tame, I’ve been incredibly busy the last few years.”

You certainly seem like you’ve always got something on the go – is the multitasking mentality one you work well in?

“I think so – it keeps it interesting, for sure. Having said that, maybe I haven’t ever really known anything else. I get a bit antsy if I don’t have a few projects on the go. The mixing for this record, for example, was happening just as Pond were starting to record ‘9’. That was all happening out of the same studio.”

Pond America's Cup
POND. Photo credit: Matsu.

How would you compare and contrast the process of making those two albums back to back?

“With Pond, every time we do a record we try something a bit different. It’s just as much for variety’s sake as it is our own sanity. This time, it was a lot of spontaneous, weird jams. We’d fill up a 30-minute reel of tape, go through and find something we liked and built a song out of that. It was about putting in a lot of information, and then condensing it down to just the gold.

“With my album, the songs were already pretty fully formed. We had a few takes of every song, though – with a dozen people in the studio, it was inevitable there’d be a mess-up every now and then. Making this album was more about letting the magic happen in the studio. It felt organic – we had a road map of sorts, but if we hit on something we’d go with it. There was definitely an urgency there, too – I mean, I haven’t worked properly since last March, so I couldn’t afford too many days in the studio. [laughs] We got the three days, so we made a point of pushing on.”

So much of what you do is based on community – bringing friends in on the album, playing on one another’s records, being part of the so-called ‘Impalaverse’. It must be a very important thing to you.

“Community around here has always been such a warm, inclusive thing. It’s never felt like there’s ever been any ego at play, ever since we were kids. The eastern states were so far away, and it didn’t even matter because triple j would never pick us up. We just made music to impress ourselves and our friends. Our mates came to every gig, so if they saw us last week we had to do something new this week. That sense of community has always been a big part of what makes the Perth music scene so unique and special.

“It still feels that way now – I love going down the road to the bar, seeing a young band you’ve never heard of and watching them slay. They’re building their own crowds the same way we did. It’s awesome to see that continuing.”

Shiny Joe Ryan’s ‘Shiny’s Democracy’ is out now via Spinning Top. The official listening party takes place 5pm today at Mills Records in Fremantle

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