Interview – Ryan Patterson of Coliseum

Ryan Patterson(pictured above on the right) is the vocalist and guitarist of neo-crust titans turned noise rockers: Coliseum. On top of that he pulls his own as a graphic designer, an active member of not one but two side projects(Whips/Chains and Black God), and co-owner of online merch and record distro Shirtkiller. Earlier last week I caught up with Ryan about the upcoming Coliseum record Sister Faith; fan reactions to their Temporary Residence debut, House With a Curse; his design inspiration and how he remarkably manages such a full schedule.

A few years ago you guys released House With a Curse which took Coliseum into pretty different territory. I know that there was at least little push back and some trepidation from fans about the change. Now that a few years have gone by, an EP has been put out and you have done some touring do you feel that you have maybe proven something to those skeptical fans?

It’s hard for me to know what overall fan consensus or reaction is to anything we’ve done, every person has a different relationship with music and with the various records a band releases through their career. I’ve met a lot of folks who tell me that House With A Curse is their favorite Coliseum record, it certainly received more accolades than anything we’d done prior, but I’m sure there are also people who prefer our earlier material. I think that’s great, all of our records are out there for people to digest and enjoy if they want to do so. In the couple of years after No Salvation was released there seemed to be a general vibe that people preferred Goddamage to what we were doing then, we actually felt like No Salvation was somewhat of a failure at the time. Then House With A Curse came out and suddenly it seemed like some people were giving No Salvation more reverence and appreciation. People are sometimes slow to embrace something that’s new and there can be an attitude of “I liked you better before.” I don’t think that’s the overall thought or opinion, I just think that’s occasionally the loudest voice or the attitude that’s easiest to cling on to, especially for some folks who might like to temper things with a negative slant. It’s not our concern and not something that’s ever hurt us or affected us either way, we focus on making the best music we can and putting on the best shows we can. It’s not our position or desire to prove anything to anyone, we’re a band who moves forward and always looks ahead. I’m very happy and content with who we are and the music we create and I truly appreciate everyone that digs what we’ve done over all these years.

Last time you toured almost exclusively on the new material: playing the whole record live. Can we expect the same this time around?
I don’t think we’ll be playing Sister Faith in its entirety on tour. There’s always the temptation to do that because those songs are the freshest for the band and it’s the material you’re most excited about at that point in time. You always feel like your newest album is your best and if you don’t feel that way you probably should hang it up. When House With A Curse was released, we went on tour the week it came out and did three weeks on the Eastern half of North America playing the entire album and then one song each from our first LP, Goddamage, and No Salvation. It was fun and interesting and we’ve had a surprising number of people come up to us in the years since to tell us that they really appreciated it and that it made that album more meaningful for them. At that time that’s what we wanted and needed to do, it was part of our relationship with that record and those songs. While we certainly think that Sister Faith is our best album, we also don’t feel the need to go out and play it from start to finish every night, although we will be playing a lot of the songs at the shows. All you can ever expect from us is that we’ll put on the best show we can and do what feels sincere and honest to us. Hopefully that translates to an experience that’s not only fun and entertaining, but also powerful and moving.

Last time I believe your starting point for writing was in the rhythm section, have you taken that same approach or was there some other inspiration for the new record? Did the personnel change have a big impact on the writing process?
I still started most of the songs by writing for the rhythm section, but you can generally tell depending on how riff-based the song is in the end. Sometimes I’ll start with a strong riff that I like and grow from there but I like the strong interplay between the three of us and I think it make us a much better and more powerful band when the bass has something to do outside of just following or supporting the guitar. I see it like building a house: you need a foundation before you can start the framing. The demos I write are blueprints then the three of us each build upon those ideas to create the finished song. I think a little more than half of the album was written when Kayhan joined the band but we hadn’t really gotten into the full focus of the record yet. I’d written a lot of demos and we had a handful of songs somewhat worked up but progress has been really slow in the few months before he joined and the songs weren’t at the point where I could visualize them as a cohesive album… Once Kayhan joined we were finally able to really dive in and work quickly, we were able to get the songs to a point where we could evaluate them and rearrange them and actually collaborate on things. Carter brought in some music he’d written, we disassembled a few of the demos I’d written, and it became a very focused record. We actually collaborated much more than the band had in many years, maybe since the Goddamage days. It was a really productive and creative time and I think the it’s obvious in the final outcome.

Listen to “Black Magic Punks” from Sister Faith due out on April 30th.

The new record will boast a few guest spots with members of Boris, Sebadoh, Jason Farrell, and J. Robbins who also produced the record. Did these guest spots just kind of “come together” or were the songs written with some of these people in mind?

I don’t usually write songs with specific guests in mind, there might be a part that I think needs a certain voice or musical texture that either we couldn’t do ourselves or might be cool to hear done by someone else. Sometimes it’s simply having someone involved that is meaningful to us. We recorded House With A Curse at home in Louisville and had friends playing accordion, violin, cello, and doing quite a few additional vocal parts. Since we recorded Sister Faith in Baltimore we were outside of our usual musical community and reached out to some people who mostly contributed via emailing tracks. Obviously J. was there and was producing and recording the album so it’s easy and natural to have him add vocals or guitar or keyboard if he has an idea or if we suggest he try something. My long-time friend Elizabeth Elmore, who was in the bands Sarge and The Reputation, lives in DC now and she drove down one afternoon to add her wonderful voice to “Late Night Trains.” A few days later Burning Love was passing through on tour and Chris Colohan dropped by to sing a couple lines. From there we emailed tracks back and forth with Atsuo and Wata of Boris, Sam Velde from Night Horse, Jason Farrell from Swiz/Bluetip/Retisonic, Jason Loewenstein from Sebadoh (who produced and recorded our first album and the Goddamage EP). It’s mainly something that’s fun for us, just to hear these people as part of our record, it makes things more interesting and exciting for us and hopefully for the listener as well. Of all of the guest contributions on Sister Faith, I suppose Wata’s was possibly the largest. She wrote and recorded an entire keyboard and guitar introduction/segue for “Love Under Will,” which we then ran through a Leslie speaker and gave some extra texture. It was a very cool piece to receive and was a very different sound than we would have created ourselves.

Also, you are a busy guy. With two other musical projects, shirtkiller, and your graphic design work, is scheduling a nightmare or do you thrive on being so busy and having so many different options? Is there anything else you are up to?

It can be a bit overwhelming at times, sometimes I have to force myself to stop working and take time to decompress. Coliseum has always been my top priority musically but Black God and Whips/Chains are really fun and rewarding side projects that have quick bursts of activity when everyone’s schedules permit. I co-own Shirt Killer with a partner who very graciously handles most everything himself when I’m out of town and I’ve managed to always balance my design work and art deadlines with the band schedule. I guess I’m kind of an obsessive person, so when I am working on something I dedicate nearly all of my attention to that. I’m always multi-tasking to a certain extent but I like to mainly focus on one major project at a time. I’ve done a couple of art shows in the last couple of years and both times I’ve been nearly completely focused on that for the months leading up to the opening and I’ve been the same way when working on writing a new Coliseum album. I suppose I’m the most productive that way and I think that level of focus and immersion helps my creative process. I like to always be productive, honestly I would love to not have to sleep so I could spend even more time creating things or experiencing things. I’m also very lucky to have a wonderful wife who is incredibly supportive. Having that stability and support makes everything better and easier.

Speaking of your graphic design work, you recently took commissions from ten different bands at a lower price point than you typically charge. What gave you that idea? What kind of requests did you get?

I have seen things change over the last few years in terms of bands and labels having less and less money to afford to hire designers for album art or t-shirts. Records are selling less and there are more and more people out there doing designs for bands, so I’m not quite as busy as a designer as I was a few years ago, although I’m lucky enough to continue to have consistent work. I’ve been doing design work for a long time and my charges had grown accordingly but it seemed like I was getting a lot of requests from bands who couldn’t afford even a discounted rate. So, I thought I might try out a project of offering ten commissioned designs at $75 each, it would hopefully help some bands who would like to have designs done by me but couldn’t afford it otherwise. The response was instantaneous and very enthusiastic. Once I’ve wrapped up all of those designs I might do another similar offer in the future.

Tell me a little about your inspiration and your influences. You have a pretty unique style. What informs that? Do you have a lot of ideas and apply them to the right projects or do you take your inspiration from your client and try to tailor to their aesthetic?

My design style is very much informed and influenced by the classic cut and paste punk style mixed with collage art, also usually a “cut n’ paste” style of art. I’m influenced by tons of artists and designers, many of my peers as well. I have a type of color blindness and part of my style grew from that, I stick to generally monotone or duotone images because of it. Each design is approached differently but at this point most of the people that hire me know my aesthetic and want a design in that style, which is great and I’m happy that I’ve gotten to that point. I do take inspiration and general art direction from the client, at least in terms of their likes and dislikes, then I build from there. In a way a lot of my design work is almost like a puzzle where I search for a the various elements and pieces then they finally fit together in a way that seems visually exciting and interesting. I’ve been doing a lot of very fun and challenging work lately, which has been great. I’ve also been doing a ton of Coliseum work getting ready for the new album, in addition to all the record design there are the new shirts and posters and all of that stuff. It’s always really fun to dive back into designing for Coliseum, it’s probably the truest and most unfiltered design/art that I do so it’s a blast to try out different things and continually build on our imagery.

See more of Ryan’s design work.

Last question: Have any tour plans in the works once the record drops? Any chance we’ll see you in North Carolina again?

Definitely touring after the record is out. Putting it all together now and NC looks to be on the routing.

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