I wrote this song
A thousand times
Cause all the messes that I make
are getting difficult to hide
I take my life
I box it up
I light a match and take a breath
and watch the flames do what they want
– “Second Chance,” Mating Ritual
One listen to Mating Ritual’s debut album How You Gonna Stop It? is enough to throw listeners into the deep end of another world – a world of false starts, regrets, nostalgia, self-reflection, introspection, and uncertainty; a world of hope, second chances, opened doors, growth, and hesitant optimism. This is the world of Los Angeles’ Ryan Marshall Lawhon, aka Mating Ritual. As overwhelming as this world may initially feel, when one stops to think about it, it’s actually profoundly balanced. However much we dwell on life’s ups and downs, gains and losses, the overall outcome doesn’t seem to change too much. “It sucks getting old, but how you gonna stop it?” Lawhon sings plaintively in the title track. The album’s name says it all: How You Gonna Stop It?
Released tomorrow, 6/8/2017 via Lawhon’s independent label Smooth Jaws, Mating Ritual’s How You Gonna Stop it? is about transition – or “maybe the lack thereof,” quips the artist. “When the last song [of the record] came in for mix… I realized it was about the same exact topic as the very first song I wrote for it,” he shares. “I was asking almost the exact same question in it, which is, Why am I starting over again? Why do I keep blowing up things in my life, whether it’s relationships, family, or the business… Why do I keep making these same mistakes, these cyclical things?” Written over the course of three years, How You Gonna Stop It? inadvertently captures the circle of life, and so many of the emotions that come with it.
It is this coincidence – a happy accident, shall we say? – that lends Mating Ritual his incredibly relatable perspective, and gives How You Gonna Stop It? the ability to make such a lasting and powerful impression. Tension courses through Mating Ritual’s music, starting at the top and manifesting itself in different ways throughout his record. Opening track “I Wear Glasses” introduces us not only to Mating Ritual’s distinctive sound (as he playfully calls it, “post-genre pop”), but also to his vicious wit and relentless reflection:
You’re not twenty and detached now
Way too easy to push your chest out
Well, I’ve been watching you
From way across the room
I like the way your body moves
They’re pushing like a riot
Acting like you like it
I would leave if I were you
But I won’t let you down
I said that I won’t let you down
Watch: “I Wear Glasses” – Mating Ritual
The vigor of Kings of Leon, the dynamics of Bleachers, the drive of The Strokes; we hear glimmers of those who came before through Mating Ritual, but we also hear a unique energy – this inner brooding, mixed with an intrinsic desire to break free of life’s natural cycles – that can be ascribed to none other than Ryan Marshall Lawhon, the independent mind and unabating spirit who has given his all in developing Mating Ritual’s coming-of-age moment, a fully-blossomed artistic identity that speaks for itself.
“I’d say that overwhelmingly, the record leans toward questions about my existence, and why we tend to repeat things that we know are harmful to us,” Lawhon observes. Don’t miss Mating Ritual’s sensational debut album How You Gonna Stop It?, and get to know the artist and his music through Atwood Magazine’s intimate interview!
Those in the Los Angeles area can catch Mating Ritual performing live on 6/24/2017 at No Matter What, his album release show that has since transformed into a benefit for the local chapter of Planned Parenthood. Tix and more info are available here.
A CONVERSATION WITH MATING RITUAL
Atwood Magazine: Hey, great to meet you Ryan! You're out in LA, right? Is it as sunny there as it it here in New York?
Mating Ritual: I am, and yes – it is very sunny here, albeit pretty smoggy! It’s not too shabby; we haven’t had rain for a couple weeks, so it’s brown and weird.
I was going a little bit deeper into your work earlier - I hadn't realized you were also behind Pacific Air! Big fan of that album. Pretty different sound from Mating Ritual.
Mating Ritual: Is it? I haven’t actually considered the two being too different; I mean, I bridge the gap between the two, and so for me it sounded like a natural progression; but I guess it would sound different, not knowing what was written in between.
I feel like Pacific Air was so much more synth-driven, and with Mating Ritual I feel a very heavy guitar and vocals presence.
Mating Ritual: It’s funny – Mating Ritual has actually probably double the synth tracks on every song that Pacific Air ever had! Pacific Air was just a lot more open, and was mainly organ-driven, so there’s a lot less happening in every Pacific Air song. It was basically some form of organ, drums, and vocals, and some light synth splatterings here and there, or guitar. But this is way more synth and guitar-driven; it basically bounces between one or the other for Mating Ritual.
Maybe because there's more going on here, it's harder to pinpoint exactly what I'm hearing.
Mating Ritual: A lot of that is purposeful; I’ve really enjoyed the wall-of-sound idea with a bunch of these things, so once a sound gets going – and I’ve tried to reign that back in a little bit, but especially for those first Mating Ritual tracks – I was introducing like, five instruments at once. That can tend to be a little overwhelming and difficult to pinpoint what’s going on, which was intentional – but I’ve kind of peeled that back, and tried to introduce one new thing at a time.
It's funny - I was thinking about how this is supposed to be a 'debut' album, but... after putting out a couple albums, does this feel to you like your debut album?
Mating Ritual: It does, very much so, for one reason, and it’s the fact that it’s the first time I’ve ever had vinyl for an LP. I actually just got the test pressings in last night, and so it felt very tangible and real when I woke up this morning. I’ve never really had that feeling before. With Pacific Air, we were on Republic, and it was a big machine there. We did have records and CDs and whatnot, but I never actually saw those; those were just distributed, and I never got any. This feels like the first thing that’s wholly my own, and my own debut album, which is really exciting!
This feels like the first thing that’s wholly my own, and my own debut album, which is really exciting!
Not to mention your own label, your own control over the process...
Mating Ritual: It’s been a long time coming with all of the behind-the-scenes stuff. The music, that’s the easy part for what I’ve found. Music comes naturally; I write a lot of music, and so that’s a lot of fun – and that’s still the fun part, but I’ve had to kind of navigate my way through the industry in a way that feel natural and honest to me. I’m not saying that being on a major label or another person’s label didn’t feel honest, but I was butting heads so much with different ideals. With Spotify and streaming, I can distribute things myself now. If I do it the right way, I can feel real confident, and I can feel a sense of pride that, success or failure, I’ve definitely shared my vision with people.
It's the harder of the two routes, that's for sure, but it's possibly the more fruitful one at the end of the day.
Mating Ritual: I hope so! We’ll see.
I read that you called your alias “post-genre pop.” What does that mean, to you?
Mating Ritual: Actually, my brother came up with that name, but I love it so I ran with it! It’s like a less derogatory way of saying the mono-genre that we’ve kind of moved towards. I know the mono-genre was kind of being shit on from like, 2010-2014, when the “indie world” and pop were colliding and genres were kind of splitting. I feel like the fact that Rihanna covered Tame Impala on that last record… Like, what is psychedelic rock anymore, if it’s now mainstream pop as well? She even mimics Kevin Parker’s voice, so really what are genres now? I feel like we’re in a world where we’re writing after that, and so this is a reflection of the musical world that I was in.
It's definitely difficult for somebody on my end to even talk about music anymore without feeling like I'm coming upon a barrier with peoples' preconceptions of words.
Mating Ritual: Exactly, it’s tough. With so many people just blending everything anyway, why not just move past this phase: It’s post-genre pop, which is really the same thing as saying it’s just pop music, but – I’m kind of reiterating the same point, but – it’s a little fun, and it’s an inside joke between my brother and I, that I’ve hung onto.
I think there's also an intellectual component there too. For me, the stuff that we really call pop music is so simple and mundane that it doesn't take any brain cells to listen to; it's easy to digest, and that's why it's repeated over and over again, because there's a simplicity there. You could argue that, but my feeling about Mating Ritual, listening to your album, is that there's an intellectual component that you refuse to give up.
Mating Ritual: I mean… yes. I think so. That’s not intentional – I’m not trying to “learn” anybody something; I’m just trying to speak from what I find to be reality, and I think that sometimes it’s difficult for me to simplify things in a way that I feel comfortable with – like, there’s some songs on the record that are a little simpler lyrically, but still I find that, without some type of metaphor or depth to a song, I struggle to enjoy music that way. So I struggle to write songs that I feel confident about, that don’t have some layer of intellectualism engrained. But I’m not over here writing Father John Misty’s new record, that is completely, purely satire and commentary on the human race, so it’s not necessarily that, either; it’s some kind of a happy medium.
I’m just trying to speak from what I find to be reality.
I had a lot of fun with that record - but even the name “Mating Ritual,” to me, kind of inspires an idea of this dance.
Mating Ritual: The name actually came to me years ago, before Pacific Air. Pacific Air was actually originally named “Coco,” and Republic wanted us to change the name for legal reasons, and I volleyed the name Mating Ritual, but Universal said no. And so once Pacific Air disintegrated, I went back to the name I originally wanted.
The word your publicity uses to describe your album is “transition.” When people listen to How You Gonna Stop It?, what are the main ideas you want people to take away?
Mating Ritual: I think “transition” is a good one, or maybe the lack thereof. This isn’t a concept record of any kind – I just write songs as they come to me, about whatever situation I feel inspired by, whether it’s about me or someone else’s life. But when the last song came in for mix, which was a single called “Second Chance” – that was the last song written for this record – I realized it was about the same exact topic as the very first song I wrote for it, which is “I’m Just Alright,” which was over three years before it. I was asking almost the exact same question in it, which is, Why am I starting over again? Why do I keep blowing up things in my life, whether it’s relationships, family, or the business… Why do I keep making these same mistakes, these cyclical things? – kind of like a mating ritual! Like, the modern mating ritual… I mean, marriage rates are down for a reason: Nobody wants to commit to anything anymore; it’s easier just to start over, and this record’s kind of about that.
When I was really young
My father taught me
that a fire cleanses everything
A fresh set of your dreams
But now the smoke is filling up my lungs
and I’m, I’m suffocating
I know what you did
I can’t believe you right now
You had a second chance you fucked it up again, oh no
I love what we had
But I don’t need another friend
I got a second chance to make it
I’m jumping off the ledge
Do I dare add, Why am I starting a third band?
Mating Ritual: Yeah. Why is this happening again? That, all of those, weighed on my mind while writing some of these. And obviously, not every song stays in the same thing, but I’d say that overwhelmingly, the record leans toward questions about my existence, and why we tend to repeat things that we know are harmful to us.
I really love the introduction with “I Wear Glasses.” I feel like a lot of the core components of your music are present in that track. Are you of the belief that there’s a certain special aspect to the first track on an album, and if so why did you choose “I Wear Glasses” to introduce this record??
Mating Ritual: I am – I’m very much of that belief – but I’m also of the belief that the sequence of a record is crucially important to your listening experience. Even if you have all the right songs, if you put a song that’s either exactly like the song before it or after, then you get a little bored, or if you put a song that emotionally doesn’t make sense in order, everything kind of goes awry. With the first track… you kind of laid it out for me: It’s almost like an overture. It has elements of the rest of the record in it, without repeating itself. I think it’s a good introduction to what you’re going to hear on the rest of the record, in some form or another.
I’d say that overwhelmingly, the record leans toward questions about my existence, and why we tend to repeat things that we know are harmful to us.
I also feel like How You Gonna Stop It? Vol 1 was a good “mini overture” to give people a taste of what was to come. Really interesting way of splitting the songs up; was that the original concept?
Mating Ritual: My original concept was to put out the record as you heard it recently. And then it was suggested by my manager, with the way streaming works, that maybe a two-EP concept is more fun for listeners at this point of time. It is true – people are listening to fewer and fewer records, and streaming more singles. The model of listening to music is so much different than it used to be, but I tend to be… I hate the word “old school, but I guess, traditional, in really liking to absorb a record to understand the context and where an artist is coming from. When my manager suggested that, it became a bit of a challenge for me to take a record that was already conceived, and turn it into two equal parts that had to be consumed both separately and together, and had to make sense on either end. It was pretty fun, and I actually changed up a couple tracks – I took two tracks off the original Vol 1, and those will be on a bonus addition later with a bunch of demos, acoustic versions, etc.
I'm glad you didn't go fully into the two-EP idea. I like that there is this comprehensive record that tells a story. It's hard though - how do you pick just eleven songs over three years' time?
Mating Ritual: It was really tough! It was like twenty songs, and it had to be whittled down. I forget who said it, but I was reading some piece recently where someone said, “Some of the best albums of all time are eights songs,” and I was looking through and that’s so true! Yes, I have a lot to say and I have a lot of sonic ideas that I’d love to get out there, but a concise idea – especially when you’re looking at Drake and Future putting out five “mixtape” albums with 20 songs or more a year, whatever – the curation behind the art is lost in lieu of streaming numbers so they can get higher up in the charts. I’m not going to break #1 in the charts – that’s not going to happen with Mating Ritual; that’s not how Mating Ritual is designed – so I wanted to curate a definitive idea, so everyone could know exactly what my vision was. I know it’s not 8 songs – it’s 11 songs – but I just wanted to bring it down. I don’t know if these are the best tracks I have; I still have some tracks that I love, that didn’t make the record, and people will hear those someday, I hope, but…
I wanted to curate a definitive idea, so everyone could know exactly what my vision was.
I think that's the difference between the greats of today and the greats of the past... is that both had to make a living, but authenticity is lost... there's something fake about it.
Mating Ritual: I also feel like that says something about us as a society as well. The “pop critics” of society – the Billboards of the world, and everything like that – no one seems to be concerned with artistry as much as a whole, and the discerning listening public values new and quantity over quality, which I think is true with much more than music; it’s just a biproduct of where the world’s headed.
The other thing you mentioned was how artists had only eight songs on their albums, but to rebuke that, I want to say that they made an album once a year or once every two years. Fewer artists took three, plus years to make a record.
Mating Ritual: Exactly. It’s funny because, if I would have have condensed it, it wouldn’t have been three years; it would have been three months, but I worked sparingly on the record. I do a lot of work in TV and film; I write a lot for TV shows and commercials and stuff like that – that’s my day job – and so I would find inspiration for Mating Ritual and work on Mating Ritual songs in-between those times. I highly doubt in-between the next record it’s going to be three, plus years. I had a record ready to go two years ago, and I just didn’t put it out, in lieu of putting out singles at my old manager’s behest. I finally got sick of that, and so… Like I said, the music part has come easy. It’s been the business side that I’ve been learning to find someone who I’m on the right page with. And so, as that moves forward, that’ll continue.
Can you tell me about one or two of the inspirations that you found over the process of making this record?
Mating Ritual: A lot of them happened… Like, I’ll get a pitch from a TV show saying I need a song that sounds like The Black Keys – that’s a really common one – and I’ll have to go in, and I’m not putting my name on these songs; it’s almost like I’m solving a puzzle, helping out for a tv show. I make sure I don’t rip it off, but I kind of encompass the vibe. While doing that, I’ve learned so much about different genres of music and how the modern world is moving past genres. I found a lot of inspiration in learning the intricacies of all these different “hit” songs, and what makes them tick. So I’ll take those and deconstruct them, and try to make them a little bit artier, and learn from it, and that becomes a Mating Ritual tune!
Is it hard to define Mating Ritual by your music, or to identify what Mating Ritual represents musically?
Mating Ritual: Not really; somebody told me once that it sounded like Grimes’ production with The Strokes’ songwriting, and I really like that, so we’ll roll with that. I like both those artists. But let’s say one of my mom’s friends asks, “What kind of music do you make?” In that world, yes – it’s very hard to define. I guess “alternative” works? “Radio“? It’s always difficult to really know what you’re doing through the eyes of others, but I think I’m getting closer and closer to defining a sound that’s kind of something I can call my own. I think my voice doesn’t really sound like many people’s, so that definitely helps!
Somebody told me once that it sounded like Grimes’ production with The Strokes’ songwriting.
How did you go about incorporating Lizzy Land into the mix on “Night Lies” and “Cold,” and what was the inspiration to be telling those stories from the dual perspective?
Mating Ritual: I produce and co-write all of her music as well, so it just kind of made sense. Funny enough, she wrote all the lyrics for “Night Lies.” And “Cold” was directly about the beginning of our relationship, so it kind of made sense to sing it from our perspective – exactly what was going on!
I love “Cold” in particular actually, because I felt like it was one of your most intimate songs, too.
Mating Ritual: Yeah, that makes sense (laughs).
I feel like there are two main lyrical themes that I picked up on - and please let me know your thoughts on this. There's a good amount of brooding on the record, and then that brooding is mixed in with this need to break out, of cycles, as we were saying earlier. Can you speak to that?
Mating Ritual: I mean, I feel like you hit the nail on the head. “Brooding” is a word that I don’t think I’ve ever actually used in anything before, but I understand what you mean by that, and it’s to me this kind of… not accepting the status quo, especially in the relationship aspects. I think more of the “brooding” songs are the more relationship ones; I don’t think there’s one love song on this record – I know there’s not! Not that I have a bad relationship, or anything; but I tend to focus on the aspects that I’m not so positive about in my music. It’s more of a release – I release my positivity in everyday life; I’m a generally positive person, but I need an outlet to let out my insecurities and everything that I’m unhappy about. And I tend to choose my music as an outlet.
I don’t think there’s one love song on this record – I know there’s not!
Which of your new songs are you most excited about?
Mating Ritual: I really like “Drunk” – that’s my favorite song. “Second Chance” is actually my other favorite, and I released them ahead of time because I liked them so much. I feel like those two are on opposite ends of the spectrum on the sonics of the record, but lyrically they’re very in tune with each other. I think that they both are digging deeper than the rest of the record. I tend to value lyrics, especially in my own music, the most, and those two, I feel, represent me the best.
I laid on my back
An echo of silence
Floating on top a shallow pool of self-awareness
Or a lack there of, when I saw your face and I knew
That you were drunk
You were drunk
I laid on my back
An echo of silence
Floating on top a shallow pool of self-awareness
Or a lack there of, when I saw your face and I knew
That you had just come
And you were far away from done
All we want to do is to be something
To be something we’re not
But all we really want is to have someone
To hold us when we’re drunk
When we’re drunk
– “Drunk,” Mating Ritual
You're also involved in some charity work coming up. What have you been putting together for June?
Mating Ritual: So June 24th, we’re doing a day of music: 7 bands, 3 DJs, a couple more onboard that we haven’t announced yet – and everyone’s donating their time for free to the local chapter of Planned Parenthood, Planned Parenthood Pasadena and San Gabriel Valley. Right now 100% of the proceeds are being donated, and we have a donor who will be matching every dollar, so if we sell out, which we’re expecting to, then we’ll be able to raise close to $6,000 to the cause. We also have several artists donating pieces like photographs and graphic design work, and all of that will be donated for the benefit as well.
What was the inspiration, particularly for you, for Planned Parenthood?
Mating Ritual: I’ve always really valued sexual health and sexual wellness, and I feel like the youth isn’t being taught it, especially with the current administration seemingly hellbent on curbing the instruction of sexual wellness. It’s difficult to take money for myself, for an event like this; originally it was just going to be an album release show, but it’s difficult to pocket money when I know that organizations like Planned Parenthood, which helps millions of people every day, is at this very moment, in jeopardy of losing all of its funding. This is something – it’s not huge – but it’s something that I could help out with, and everyone is donating their spare time as well, Hi Hat included. Everyone’s chipping in, and it’s pretty exciting to see a community come together for a cause.
Congratulations! It's an exciting thing to be a part of.
Mating Ritual: Yeah, I hope it goes off well! We have visual artists coming in doing a bunch of exciting things too… It’s just going to be a bigger undertaking than I’ve ever done for a show before, so I’m pretty happy about it. It’s been my baby from the beginning.
What is your goal, moving forward? I can tell, just from our conversation, that there's a special weight that this album holds; that you were really thinking about your past and everything that led you up to this point, which means that you've also been dwelling in the past for quite a while. What's the significance then, for you, of finally releasing this?
Mating Ritual: I’m very much looking forward to having these be a part of everyone’s lives and not just my own, but also it’s really cathartic to say goodbye to a certain period of life that was probably longer than it should have been. It’s nice to really move forward; I don’t know what’s going to come next; I don’t have any plans after this – I’ll start planning when it happens! – but I’m very excited about that prospect!
— — — —
cover © Matt Viscuso