The Ukiah Drag is that rare thing in music these days: a rock n’ roll band. Their most recent LP on Wharfcat Records In The Reaper’s Quarters is full of heavy guitars, fuzzy distortion, and hard-driving drums that make you want to, dare we say it, bang your head. In describing an earlier single, Noisey said “You are slowly drawn in by it, hypnotized, as it hangs heavily over you.” That also applies to Reaper’s Quarters, which Pitchfork rated a 7.2.
After wrapping up a tour, we caught up with Ukiah Drag guitarist and singer ZZ Ramirez to talk about his dad’s biker gang, why there is no more mainstream rock, and how the band ended up in Rhode Island.
Playboy: How has growing up in Florida influenced who you are and the music you produce?
ZZ Arrington: It is just coincidence that I grew up in Florida. It’s kind of a “if you’re at the bottom of the barrel you can only look up” deal. I grew up in Florida, I found music and art. When your reality doesn’t quite sit right in your soul, you seek your own.
Playboy: Your dad was in a bike gang that got into a conflict with the Hell’s Angels. What happened?
ZZ: I think it was just a territory thing and they had enough of a stronghold in the south of doing what these organizations do that the Angels didn’t really come in.
My dad would take us to bonfires and cookouts with all his buds and they’d get all wasted and fight and rev up their bikes and just get rowdy as hell. It’s their weekend. They all had pretty straight jobs. After mostly everybody got busted, killed or permanently damaged, they just wanted to cherish what they had: family, friends, and their bikes. I ask my dad about stuff every now and then, sometimes the stories skew but the base is there. The man has a lot of tales.
Playboy: Did your dad play music?
ZZ: No. When I got my first bass he’d always pick it up and just dick around on it. I’d tell him he was going to bust it, and he’d just tell me to fuck off because he bought it.
Him and his crew would follow the Allman Brothers around. They were all pals or something. For an entourage of burley biker dudes just looking for a good time, what better platform than rock ‘n roll gigs across the country?
Playboy: What was it like discovering punk music in Tampa?
ZZ: I spent 24 years in a couple different regions of Florida. It’s a vast state, not just geographically but culturally. I grew up between a lower middle class and relatively trashed out urban beach town filled with pregnant teenagers with speed freak boyfriends and junky parents and then in a rural town that was a lot of swampland and cow pastures, dead ends and not much hope. So when I discovered a bunch of outcasts on a similar page, it just clicked and was obvious this would lead me to the things that I desire, the path I shall tread.
Playboy: Why do you think that connected with you? And what made you think, “I can do that?”
ZZ: I would hang out at this record store called Sound Idea in the 'burbs of Tampa run by Bob Suren, who really introduced me to a whole new world of music, art, etc.—an all-encompassing alternative to things I couldn’t gel with. He would have shows at the record store where I met some of my closet, dearest and most influential friends. Our bands would play together; we would form other bands/projects together; we would geek out over movies, music all things that kept us away from everyone else. True individuals sharing secrets, hymns of outsiders. One of the most sought out things in my life, the delicacies from outside the herd. Playboy: When Ukiah Drag came together what did you want to do that was different from your previous bands?
ZZ: Have it last, have something that can grow to places I wouldn’t expect them to go. I’ve been in so many bands that fall apart, they move with significant momentum and friction just disintegrates them. After American Snakeskin (my band right before Ukiah) broke up I had a decent amount of songs written and ideas brewing. I just needed to find the right crew to write them with hence me moving to Boston to live on a couch for a very tedious year. We have come into something I am sincerely grateful for and have a pretty healthy enthusiasm to see where it will go, muting a lot of expectations of life and just keeping my focus around that. I don’t really have much else to live for, life is a hole and this is what occupies mine.
Playboy: How would you define Ukiah Drag’s sound?
ZZ: A mirror melting, every lie you ever told being repeated at the same time as you drive away leaving everything behind. Forced exile.
Playboy: Why did you guys move to Rhode Island? How has that changed the way you guys make music?
ZZ: It was a logical and affordable move from Boston. It’s a weird, spooky, trashy, affordable city to live in. It’s a city artists come to to not show their art but to work on it. So many creative minded people live in this city, generations of them. It makes for a pretty inspiring atmosphere. We are kind of on our own tip which is a thing that’s very welcomed in this city.
Playboy: Why do you think American rock n’ roll gets so little mainstream attention these days?
ZZ: Man I am really out of touch on what is mainstream. I think [rock] doesn’t belong there. It’s been outmoded. “Rock n’ Roll” is more ritualistic, or at least the rock n’ roll I follow. There’s a show but it’s primal, kinetic. It’s something to be felt not just shown. The mainstream by nature is superficial, digestible. Rock-based music is better in pockets, in its own circles to be pursued by actual enthusiasts. Playboy: How did you get into making 'zines? How many have you done? What do you like about that creative outlet?
ZZ: It always been a thing where I have a notebook full of drawings, collages and random bits of writing and wouldn’t know what to do with it. I would just compile it all in a semi-cohesive manner and print it up and that would be a zine. I have done a handful and don’t have any of them, so I couldn’t give you an exact number. I love making them because it gives purpose to exercises like drawing and writing, things that really keep your bearings greased.
Playboy: What is the band going to start working on next?
ZZ: The road.
To purchase The Ukiah Drag’s “In The Reaper’s Quarters” go to wharfcatrecords.com