Interviews

Ramallah Singer Rob Lind on Their New LP, Drug Addiction, Learning from the Past + More

Ramallah (Photo: Bruce Bettis)

Founded in the early '00s by Blood for Blood vocalist Rob "White Trash" Lind, Ramallah released an EP (But a Whimper in 2002) and LP (Kill a Celebrity in 2005), and toured extensively throughout that time, before closing shop in 2007. The reason for the split was Rob's struggle with substance abuse. More on that later.

Ramallah returned in 2015 with the Back from the Land of Nod EP, and have returned yet again with The Last Gasp of Street Rock N’ Roll, a new full-length that finds Rob partnering with  Boston-area producer and guitarist, Jason Eick, and a new lineup.

In this No Echo exclusive, I spoke with Rob about the new LP, his battles with addiction, Blood for Blood, and much more. I'd like to thank him for being so candid throughout the interview.

The title of the new album is certainly an intriguing one that will undoubtedly be asked about a lot. Are you talking about a very specific sound and scene, or does “street rock ’n’ roll” represent more of an attitude kind of thing?

There’s a story behind this record that I haven’t been able to tell until now. I mean that quite literally. Until recently, I was both unwilling and unable to speak about the record for legal reasons. Because of this, we did zero promotion for this record of any kind. We didn’t even allude to it on social media. Not one word, not even on the fucking day it came out.

Even now there are aspects which I am bound not to discuss or disclose. But I appreciate this interview because I can tell the story behind the music. And I would very much like to, since I wanted to tell it all along. And hopefully it will answer your question.

No problem, it's my pleasure. Glad we could help clear things up a bit.

A few folks were taken off guard by the seemingly sudden swerve in sound and style on the new record. Make no mistake, I understand completely why this might’ve been the case. We went from skull crushers like “Just One Shot” and “For All My Dead Girls," which are harder than a fistful of coffin nails, to songs like “I Seen You Crawling” and “The Last Gasp of Street Rock N’ Roll," which are anthemic, melodic, almost bittersweet, street punk/ street rack type of tunes. 

On the flip side, I recall one dude saying “What’s with all this hardcore punk and street rock shit?” I kind of wanted to reply, “Well, I was in this other band called Blood for Blood, which kind of held down that entire style and sound for 15 solid years…"

And that’s core of this whole shebang. Last year was the 20 year anniversary of the Blood for Blood record Livin' In Exile. The new Ramallah album, The Last Gasp of Street Rock N’ Roll, is my own personal response to this anniversary and a whole lot more.

How far back did you start putting the new album together?

Throughout 2018, Jason Eick and I were working on a new Ramallah full length. Jason is Ramallah’s guitar player and the producer I’ve been working with exclusively for the last couple of years (he’s also one my closest friends). In the middle of working on that record, an old contractual obligation popped up that we had to deal with.

So, we needed some new music but we didn’t want to raid the full length or just throw something together last minute. I’d already been working on a couple songs with Blood for Blood in mind, not because anything was going on with Blood for Blood, but simply because I hadn’t written any music like that in a while and I missed it.

Someone mentioned to me in passing that 2019 was the 20 year anniversary of Livin' In Exile, and that I should think about commemorating it is some way. Obviously, Blood for Blood ain’t around, but I did have this record I had to do for Ramallah.

Ramallah (Photo: Danielle Dombrowski)

Since you mentioned them, how do you feel about celebrating album anniversaries, and that kind of thing?

I am not sentimental or nostalgic by nature. People get all hung up on the “good ol’ days." I tend to keep a very clear accounting of my own past and, for me anyway, the “good ol’ days” weren’t all that good. So fuck the good ol’ days. The only reason I would ever revisit my own past would be to change it dramatically. I’m interested in the present and the future.

And like Jello once said “Retro is poison." I agree with that. Living in the past is a form of cowardice. Look at the fucking Fox News crowd: trying to hide in a past that never actually existed because the world is a scary place and they don’t want to face it. Pissing in their adult-diapers over statues of people who died 150 years ago… while their fellow countrymen are being murdered right now, both by the police and by a virus their Orange Faced Emperor dismissed as “fake news” for two solid months while it ravaged the country and world.

However, you can learn from the past. And creatively, you can always take any style or sound that you love and make it relevant and vital again. Retro is about style and aesthetics over substance. It’s about putting on a costume and playing dress up on stage. It’s usually a commercial endeavor aimed at cashing in on some fad. Fuck all that nonsense.  

I went and listened to Livin' In Exile for the first time in a long time. I tried to do it with fresh ears. Musically, Exile was always my favorite Blood for Blood album. I started to think about who I was when I wrote that album and everything that had transpired since.

So rather than a homage or, God forbid, a pastiche of something I did in the past, The Last Gasp of Street Rock N’ Roll turned into a musical reflection on the past 20 years. Musically, it was like coming home. It just felt right.

I can appreciate that.

Lyrically, I tried to account for the 20 years since. During that time I’ve buried a lot of friends who were there back in the day. During that time I’ve lived through a lot hell and was fortunate enough to come back from it.

So, musically there’s a couple of tunes on The Last Gasp of Street Rock N’ Roll which might have made it onto a new Blood for Blood album, if one had been recorded in 2019, in an alternate timeline, of course [laughs]. But it ended up being a whole lot more. Though I was deliberately reflecting on many of the sounds and styles I’ve messed around with over the past 20 years, it was done with today in mind.

Lyrically, it is all entirely in the moment as well. I’m not the same person I was 2 years ago, never mind 20 years ago. I not only can’t be those people again, I wouldn’t even want to try. However, I have to admit there ended up being a bit of a sentimental vibe to the very first and last tune! 

Granted, those two songs are literally about lost time, dead friends, and all the other faces long gone. But it still surprised the hell out of me. Maybe I am not as ruthless and cold-hearted as I thought after all [laughs].

Your vocals haven’t sounded this crisp and clear on any other record you’ve been on before. Your vocal approach has definitely evolved through the many years you’ve been doing this. How comfortable are you with singing in the studio at this point? 

It’s funny, but I never wanted to be a singer in any way. When I was 11 or 12 and picked up my first beater, Honda guitar for $60, I just wanted to be Slash or Tony Iommi or maybe just [Rocket from the Tombs and Dead Boys guitarist] Cheetah Chrome [laughs]. Even when we started Blood for Blood, I didn’t mind yelling back ups now and again but I didn’t want to be a “singer." However, it reached the point where I was coming up with parts that no one else could do, so I had to learn to do them or forgo them.

Back then, it would take me 2 hours to lay all the guitars on an entire album. It’d then take me three days to lay vocals. I’d make so many mistakes and hit so many clams, that we’d end up having to track almost line by line.

Now it’s the complete reverse. Now I can sing as easily as I once played guitar and my guitar playing is now as tenuous as my vocals were back in the day. It’s because I now only pick up a guitar to write music or because I feel like singing something.

Ramallah in the studio in 2018. (Photo found on Twitter)

Tell me a bit about the new lineup of the band. At least to my ears, the material on the new album packs a bit more of a traditional hardcore sound into it than past Ramallah records.

Me, Jason, and Bert are now the core of the band and have been for the past couple of years. Both are monster players (Jason on guitar and Bert on bass). Both are in the bands Your Pain is Endearing (which is a frightening tight progressive death metal band with lethal, 1-percentile musicianship) and The Quiet City Screams (which is a catchy-as-fuck pop-punk/emo band).  

So they can both play and sing. The latter is especially important to me because there’s so many vocals with Ramallah (both the old and new stuff). This is something I’ve always needed, especially live, but rarely had access to.  

Jason is effectively my musical co-conspirator. Without him the new record would not have come together the way it did. I wish I had a hundred more Jason’s in my life!

As far as drummers go, we seem to have contracted the Hatebreed syndrome where we can’t keep a drummer for very long.

BeelzeBob Falzano was with Ramallah for the longest stretch and was the best drummer the band has had. But when his daughter was born, he had to bow out for familial obligations. He is missed!

Your lyrics have never pulled any punches, whether they’ve been about your own life, or other topics. There’s obviously much to write about right now in the world!

Well, as I described above, the lyrics on this album were mostly more personal and reflective than the stuff on But a Whimper and Kill a Celebrity. For a while (since Back from the Land of Nod and on songs like “Just One Shot” and “For All My Dead Girls," etc.) the lyrics were intensely personal because of what I was dealing with in my own life.

I’d also drifted away from politics over the past few years since I started doing my podcast/video series, White Trash Rob's Nodcast. It’s largely about addiction and recovery, mental illness and mental wellness, and all the batshit crazy stuff I’ve done and witnessed while living within the midst of those things and while running around the country and the world with music.

Even though I’m regularly asked to sound off, I’ve avoided politics on the Nodcast because politics are divisive and many of the existential issues I grapple with on the videos (addiction, suicidal depression, etc.) are so all-consuming and potentially lethal to those afflicted, so I didn’t want to drive anyone towards the door if I could help it.

There’s plenty of videos on YouTube for political proselytizing but there aren’t too many for people attempting to refrain from destroying themselves. So I maintained a boundary there.

But all of that stuff was prior to the recent meltdown we call the year 2020. Things have changed greatly. Jason and I have been talking about doing another short, nail bomb of an EP of straight skull busters targeting the recent insanity. It is not a time to be silent.  

You’ve famously dealt with substance abuse problems throughout the years. How has the COVID-19 lockdown messed with your psyche? 

I don’t mind discussing this kind of thing at all. It’s precisely the kind of thing my podcast/ video series deals with pretty regularly. I am what I am and we don’t choose our natures. We can only choose what to do with our natures.

If I happen to be in a position where I can reach people, and if by sharing my own experiences, I can help someone trying to navigate the same kind of hell and abyss that I’ve been through, then I am glad to do it. Besides, I’ve always charged head on at things that many other people would duck or avoid.

I’m about a year and 8 or 9 months clean again after my last, and hopefully final, relapse. Prior to the relapse in 2018, I had been clean for 10 years.  

Has it been tough to not fall into old habits getting through this madness we've all been experiencing in the last few months?

I haven’t had any problems staying clean over the past few months. First off, I am so reclusive and dissociative that my daily life has barely been changed at all. And for me, the battle is entirely internal. If my internal landscape is tolerable then the world can go all gotterdammerung around me and it won’t make me want to get fucked up. 

But if my internal landscape is looking like the wind-swept ice-planes of Norse Hel, then I could be living in Bill Gate’s favorite mansion with strippers feeding me peeled grapes all day, and I’d still want to get messed up.

I’ve also been occupied. I’m finally close to finishing the book which I’ve been blowing hot air about for the past 20 years or so. I started in January with a will and have worked on it between 6 and 14 hours a day since. It’s given me something to focus on. Perhaps, I’d have found myself in a worse place without it. And even though we’ve been locked down, Jason and I have continued recording whenever possible.

Photo: Bruce Bettis

Your lyrics are vocal approach are packed with so much attitude, but how would you describe your personality outside of the band? Are you the life of the party, or are you more of an introvert?

I actually have severe anxiety in general (there was a reason I smothered my cerebella in grain alcohol for 15 years and then spent 3 or 4 years sticking a needle in my arm). People find it hard to believe that I have brutal social anxiety after they see me on stage in front shitloads of people, carrying on and talking shit and cracking jokes. But when I’m on stage, it’s on my terms. I control the rules of engagement. If, however, you were to take me off that stage and stick me in that crowd of 600 people, I would flee immediately or fall apart.

In the past, when forced into a social situation, I’d usually be the “life of the party” guy, making everyone laugh and holding court and shit. But again, it’s similar to the stage thing: it was a function of me controlling the exchange. I also had to be liquored up to do it.

Now I only interact with other people to play shows or work on music. Otherwise, I can go weeks without laying eyes on anyone other than the people I live with.

I’m not antisocial per se. I’m not hostile to other people. I guess I’m asocial. I am almost pathologically incapable of “hanging out." I remember “hanging out” with friends and shit when I was younger, but I can’t recall why I did it. I certainly don’t do it anymore. And the only thing that bothers me about it is that it doesn't bother me [laughs]. I want to want to be more social.  But I don’t.

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The vinyl version of The Last Gasp of Street Rock N' Roll will begin shipping on July 17 via State Line Records and can be pre-ordered today. It's also available digitally on Bandcamp.

Ramallah on social media: Facebook | Twitter | Instagram 
White Trash Rob on social media: Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | White Trash Rob's Nodcast on YouTube

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Tagged: blood for blood, ramallah

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