Interview: Ellington Ratliff

Who or what first inspired you to start drumming?

When I was younger I would mess around on the drum sets when I went to Guitar Center. One day my grandma was with me and saw that I had a natural talent so she had my mom give me drum lessons. Inspiration after that came from music in general.  My parents introduced me to Led Zeppelin so I would play along with those CDs and also the Alt bands I was into like The Strokes, QOTSA and Arctic Monkeys. If you’re a new drummer play to the first Arctic Monkeys Album– it’ll work you out for sure. 

What has been the most captivating live concert you’ve ever seen?

There have been many over the years, I saw Stevie Wonder at Bottle Rock and played Summer Sonic with Radiohead in Japan, but the first one was Arcade Fire at Coachella, 2011. Their set up was insane and during their song “Wake Up” they dropped hundreds of synchronized light up balls onto the crowd. You can look it up on YouTube. 

If you could tour with any band, who would you choose?

If I could have my way I would start a touring festival, the way Lollapalooza used to be, and primarily bring bands that we’re tight with like The Heirs, New Beat Fund, The Struts, Walk the moon, Cage the Elephant etc. Then headlining I would have R5 (obviously) and maybe Anderson Pakk. Dreaming big I’d pick Paul McCartney. Also, I’d want to have an ultra jam session with all the bands to close out each night. 

What’s the creative process like in R5? Do you guys just start jamming or does someone come forward with a melody and lyrics already in mind?

All musical ideas come up primarily in the studio. Usually our guitarist/producer Rocky will have a demo production that he’s messing with then Ross and I will come up with melodies and ideas and it just spawns from there. 

Anyone who has ever played in a band knows that as fun as it is, it can also be very stressful. What has been the most challenging part about keeping this band going since you began in 2013?

I’d say the only stressful parts of touring now are the literal stresses your body endures while on the road like lack of sleep, rough travel schedules and trashing your body while performing. After so many years of touring, we have better systems and “Road Rules” if you will, to keep us from burning out. 

Do you guys have a pre-show ritual that you always take part in?

Yes but its a secret… I will say there’s a lot of stretching and foam rolling, maybe we’ll discuss some last minute audibles to change up the show from the night before.

At this stage I imagine you have pretty good control over your rider. What kind of things are a necessity for you and your bandmates when you’re touring?

I really wish we were the type of band that asked for weird things on our Rider like 20 white kittens and no brown M&Ms. But usually it just consists of La Croix and maybe some Organic Almond Butter. It’s very LA hipster. 

Grossest or worst part about being on tour for a prolonged period of time?

Depending on where you are, the night life can get a little weird. Sometimes in hindsight it’s a good weird, and sometimes it’s a bad weird. One night we went into a bar next door to our venue that (unbeknownst to us) became a strip bar. Then moms of fans would come in asking for pictures while there was a naked lady on the bar behind us. I’d keep joking with them and being like “We didn’t know” but they didn’t care they thought it was funny. 

How do you guys handle in-band disputes; even things as little as including a secondary guitar part can cause strife in the studio for some bands. Are you the kind of band that talks it all out together, takes some space from each other, or looks to your engineer and your producers for guidance and mediation? 

Honestly, we all individually have a place where we focus our opinions. Rocky, Ross and I do most of the writing and producing. We’re pretty similar in our tastes and we trust each other. So if there’s something I’m not a fan of but the other two are stoked about I’ll let it go unless it’s make or break.  Rydel focuses a lot on our social media and Riker handles a lot of the business and emails. 

What has been your favourite city to perform in, or what is one that you haven’t yet but would like to?

We played in Tel Aviv, Israel, which was an unexpected crazy show. I got my shirt ripped off in Buenos Aires. All South America shows are amazing–they’re so passionate. Someday I’d like to play South East Asia. I hear its beautiful.   

You’ve also done quite a bit of acting, is that something you hope to pursue more when time permits?

Yeah that’d be cool. I just did a weird lil somethin’ in the show “Disjointed” (Netflix) and I liked the studio comedy vibe. I want to do something like “Parks and Recreation” or “Arrested Development” someday. Like, I want to be Jerry,Gary, Larry (Parks and Rec fans know). I think that’d be fun. 

With your latest release it’s clear the band has grown up a lot since it’s inception. In what way would you say you’ve shown the most growth?

I think we’ve evolved the most as producers and song writers. We’ve learned a lot from those we’ve worked with over the years and now were confident in our our own abilities. 

“New Addictions” was produced almost entirely by Rocky Lynch, how did that decision come about and how would you describe Rocky’s style as a producer compared to as a band mate? 

Rocky is very efficient. If something doesn’t sound right he’s going to fix it, even if that means he stays up until 4 in the morning. He’s definitely a hard worker and I think that also shows in his role as a bandmate. Rocky is not one to take the easy road. 

What bands are inspiring R5’s sound today?

While writing and producing “New Addictions” we were listening to Anderson Pakk, Bruno Mars and the Weeknd, amongst others. We like to look at artists that have both Radio success and could play any music festival, usually radio artist and festival artist are not the same thing. 

Who are you currently listening to that your fans would be surprised to hear?

When I go to the gym I’ll listen to Death Grips, which is like an Indie Experimental  hardcore Rap Band. It sounds like a much harder version of Yeezus, I think Kanye and his team were checking them out while making that album. Check Death Grip’s album Exmilitary on YouTube. I’ve also been into the New Orleans Pianist James Booker, he’s amazing as well.

It can be challenging for bands to move into more mature realms, particularly coming from a primarily young audience. How do you handle criticism from fans that “miss the old R5” ?

I see a lot of fans growing with us. Fans that we’ve seen from the beginning are now graduating college. We also have new, young fans which is amazing! So we’re confident that all of our fans, even the ones that may like our older stuff, will join us in our expansion of our musical tastes. I believe the best bands travel through and with music and create something that pertains to everyone, the young and the old, the male and the female and I think that’s where we’re headed. I accept the past, I’m excited for the future and I think our audience should be too. 

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