I recently had the pleasure of interviewing Gary Ramsey and Pekka Loikkanen of the Ramsey/Loikkanen Project. If you’ve never heard these guys, you’re really missing out. And their story is an interesting one. Pekka lives in Finland and collaborates with Gary in the United States via the Internet. Here you have music being made by two men who have never actually met face to face. What does that say about the universal power of Rock And Roll?
Gary and Pekka were nice enough to answer the many questioned posed in the dreaded 10 Questions format.
What made you want to become a musician?
Pekka: When I was about 10 years old I used to hang out with my 2 older friends (13 and 14 years, brothers) living across the street. They had a band. I used to visit them almost every day and I always grabbed their guitar and tried to figure out how to play it [laughter]. We didn’t have a record player/cassette player system back home at that time, only a radio, but these guys had a good stereo system and they had records of Thin Lizzy, Nazareth, Aerosmith, Black Sabbath etc. and it all sounded so cool, so I made up my mind about learning how to play guitar.
Gary: Ya know what…? That’s an interesting question. I dont believe anything “MADE” me wanna be a musician. I think I always have been a musician. It just came naturally to me. I could always hear the music in my head, and I was always coming up with lyrics from as far back as I can remember. But if I actually had to choose a reason, I would have to say it’s the lifestyle that first got my attention. For instance, when I was growing up, the neighborhood I lived in was pretty rough. If you werent a thug or a drug dealer, you were a grease monkey, always workin’ on or talkin about workin’ on cars and trucks. I knew right away that none of that appealed to me. That’s when I noticed that chicks loved guys with guitars. Didn’t even have to play all that well [laughter], just had to look the part at first. Then I started learning how to actually play. So I guess I kinda did it backwards and embraced the image before I got a grip on actual talent, per se’.
Also, I knew early on that I am definately not the 9 to 5 type of regular Joe. I absolutely hated getting up early to go to a job and do hard labor, menial labor,labor period. Let’s just go ahead and clear this up. I was too lazy for anything else except music. It’s the one thing where I knew my strength lay and I knew that’s what I wanted to do. And wanting to do something whole heartedly makes it a whole helluva lot easier to achieve. So I guess my answer, honestly, is… I didn’t want to do anything else but music and be a musician.
What was your first instrument? And how did you get it?
Pekka: I got my first instrument when I was around 11 or 12 years old. It was an acoustic guitar. It was a total piece of crap. Helena-brand Finnish made cheap acoustic guitar that was almost impossible to play because it had the string action too high. I got it from a local music shop with my granny, who paid for it. I wanted an electric guitar but my granny said she’ll only pay for the acoustic, so it was take-it-or-leave-it situation for me [laughs].
Gary: My first instrument was an old Sears acoustic guitar that wouldn’t stay in tune for shit. Later on I got a Fender Strat and a Peavey amp on my birthday (you probably remember that one… I sold it and took off to California… [laughs]). Anyhoo, I started out as a guitar player. I so wanted to slam out those lead solos like Red Bridges. But as fate would have it, in Kings Mountain everybody wanted to play guitar. So when I started actually jammin’ in a band, I had to take up bass guitar, cuz we never could find one. Fortunately, I got pretty darned good at it, and then I got to where I could sing and play as well, and run around on stage like a madman. So I got stuck doing that. Occasionally I still pick up that old acoustic and play some. It’s what I do. A music man with a musical plan. I now have a legion of original tunes under my belt. And then the gods smiled down on me and I met Pekka thru a mutual friend named Sheldon Scrivner. And ya know how that’s goin so far. AWESOME!
Do you think those early instruments influence your style? Any tricks or techniques that have carried through to your playing now?
Pekka: I don’t think my first guitar/guitars have much influence on my style of playing these days. I’m just happy I got better guitars a few years after [laughs]. The old ones were only limiting my playing and my learning to play. Maybe there’s a legacy of some kind of uncertainty left from the early days that I have in my playing due to the bad guitars I had, however I don’t think there’s anything special left in my playing since the early days.
I think there’s one thing worth mentioning here though. I have short fingers, like Angus Young, and I wish I had the fingers of Paul Gilbert or Steve Vai because that gives you the ability to play cool licks easier as you don’t have to work so much to get the notes on a fretboard. Maybe I should’ve become a drummer [laughs].
Gary: No, not really. I do think, however, by playing on those old crappy guitars and managing to make them sound good actually helped when I finally did get my hands on a really good one. And as far as technique… hmmmm… well, I’m more of a play it as it comes kinda player. If I feel a run should be in a part, I throw it in. Sometimes it works. And if it doesnt… well, I tried.
The two of you have collaborated over the Internet. How’s the done? And do you think it’s a good model for collaboration for other musicians to follow?
PEKKA: Yep, we met through a friend (Sheldon Scrivner) on a MySpace website some years ago and that’s how it all started. I had a few songs that needed vocals and Gary agreed to give it a try, so I sent them to Gary through e-mail. Gary did the lyrics to them and recorded his vocal tracks and sent them back to me through e-mail and I mixed the songs. I remember Gary had to go to his friend’s place to record the vocal tracks for the first few songs we did because Gary didn’t have a microphone nor any computer recording software at that time. These days he’s using a cheap PC microphone and a free recording software so he can record the vocals at home in his living room. I hope Gary gets a better microphone some day because the sound he gets recording the vocals with the PC mic needs a lot of processing to make it sound good [laughs]. Sorry Gary!
I think collaborating like we do is an excellent way of making music with musicians all over the world! Actually there are lots of musicians out there making songs like that and I do know the fact that even some well-known bands do songs the same way we do, but in a bigger scale. But they have better gear and bigger files, haha. I do recommend collabbing through the Internet!
GARY: Oh man. I first did a collaboration over the internet via Yahoo.com emails with my friend Sheldon Scrivner. We met through another mutual friend and muscian, T. Roy Taylor, on Mypace. Sheldon sent me some music tracks he had written and recorded and I sat down, wrote lyrics to them, recorded the vocal tracks and sent them back to him, and he mixed them into the original tracks. Those became “Widow’s Watch” and “Dead Love Memories”, and we did a remarkable version of Simon and Garfunkel’s hit “The Sound of Silence”, that Sheldon had revamped completely. And as I said before, thats how I met Pekka. I was commenting on something on Sheldon’s page and I saw a video of Pekka, and it was him demonstrating how beer makes you play better. I knew right away I was gonna like him. [laughter] I sent him a friend request and let him know that I would be happy to write some lyrics to a couple of his tunes if he wanted me too, and from there it just skyrocketed. To date, we are up to twenty two songs and more coming. It’s almost like we were meant to write together, and the songs sound like we’ve been jammin’ together all our lives. We meshed that well.
And Pekka is a mixing and recording genius, I must say, because he knows how to get all those sounds to blend and mix so well. And I do recommend other artist to try this. The technology is here to use, and its a great way for musicians to write and record songs with other musicians they otherwise would not have ever had the chance to record with.
Do you use the Internet to market you music? If so, is it easier or harder to do so than conventional marketing? How do you think artists can expose their music on the Internet?
PEKKA: Well, if you mean marketing my/our music for free in the Internet market, the answer is yes. I let people hear my/our music through the Internet without charging a fee, I don’t know about the conventional marketing scene much because I have no experience about it. Right now, I have an artist account in 4 different Internet music sites to play my/our music. There are more though, but I mainly use 4 of them.
I think artists can expose their music through the Internet pretty easily these days because there are so many different websites for musicians and lots of cool Internet radio stations. I only wish all this could’ve been possible back in the 80′s or 90′s. However the big problem with the Internet music sites is to get the right audience to find them. I personally think that the Web is way too overloaded with different music sites. Less is more, I’d say in this case.
GARY: I think networking in any venue or resource is essential in getting your music out there, and the support of family, peers and other musicians helps to further this goal. It also pays to be nice to everyone you come in contact with because word of mouth goes a very long way. If yer a truly genuine nice person and treat people with respect and dignity, it shows in your music and your fans’ loyalty. If you get the reputation of being an asshole, well, nobody cares if you have new music out.
I personally have several different internet sites for musicians that have my profile on them, and Pekka and I have our project everywhere as well. I think if the tools are there, then ya should definately use them. I know back in the good ol’ days, we had to rely on selling our stuff at gigs we played and the fewer and farther in between they became it became harder to meet and greet. I do believe the internet has boosted the market for independant unsigned artist and musicians. As I said, if the tools there, then use it. It’s up to you to get your stuff heard these days, and networking as many venues you can find and utilizing all the people skills you can helps out a great deal.
What equipment do you use in your set-up now? What guitars? What amps? Effects?
PEKKA: For gigs I’m using a 100 watt Marshall JCM 800 2203 Reissue head, a Marshall 300 watt 1960 bottom stereo cabinet, Xotic Effects BB-preamp -pedal, Behringer tuner pedal, and on my 6 unit Gator rack I have a ADA MP-1 MIDI tube preamp with ADA MC-1 MIDI controller board and Rocktron Velocity 100 2×50 watt poweramp. No extra effects, but I’m thinking of getting a delay pedal some day. I like to keep it simple.
For home recordings I use a Behringer V-amp2 and Line6 POD X3 for guitars, and they go through a Behringer Xenyx 1002FX mixer to my PC. I’ve been planning to mike up my Marshall and ADA at home, but I have to think of my neighbors before doing that [laughs]. I live in an apartment building, so maybe some kind of a speaker isolation booth would do the job and save the peace in the house, not to mention my neighbors’ ears.
The guitars I use are a black Gibson Les Paul Traditional, 2 Fame Forum 4′s, great PRS copy guitars that are handmade in Europe, a modified Epiphone Korina ’58 Explorer, a heavily modified Fernandes strat and a Hamer XT-series guitar. I also have a Fender Squier Jazz Bass for my home recordings. I plan to get me another Les Paul in the near future.
GARY: With The Ramsey/Loikkanen Project, I’m using the gear that I’ve had all my life; my brain, my vocal chords and my mouth. So far that’s workin pretty good. Pekka does all the music except for the track BABY BLUE, which I wrote and recorded myself and Pekka put that awesome lead solo in it for me. Gave the song that character it needed. And in my band here in the states, 13, I am using a custom built bass guitar that my guitarist Dennis Horne built for me. I believe you’ve seen the pictures. And I am using a CRATE tube head with a BEHRINGER 4×12 cabinet for my speakers. It makes yer chest thump when I play it.
Do you have a personal look or style that you try to cultivate? Seems like these days it’s almost an imperative to look a certain way, or to at least have a style that sets you apart. Is that something you give any thought to?
GARY: No. I am actually one of those “what you see is what you get” types.
PEKKA: I guess the only thing that comes to my mind is having a long hair and not wearing a suit, haha. As for clothes, I prefer casual style, like jeans, usually black, and t-shirts, also black and I love leather jackets. I don’t use any jewellery nor rings and I sure as hell don’t use no make up. [laughter] Not at this age.
I’ve been thinking of getting a few tattoos, but so far that’s been only a plan cuz I don’t wanna be a slave to the trend people have these days, you know. Like everybody’s getting tattoos these days. If I wanna do that, I need to think carefully what to get and where, so it won’t be just an impulsive thing like it seems to be to so many people.
I do have to admit that I used to look like Slash or Brian May back in the late 80′s but that was not intentional! [laughs] I’ve never really wanted to look like a rock star but my long hair always made me stand out in this small town I live in. I have given it some thought that the looks has always been pretty important in the music business and if you look just like a regular guy, it ain’t gonna work. But I think the times are probably changing about that.
I’m planning to form a new band and the way the guys look don’t matter to me as much as it used to back in the day. I guess it’s all about how you play.
Do you think too much emphasis is put on appearance in popular culture? And if so, does it put regular musicians at a disadvantage? In other words, if somebody isn’t young, fit and attractive, is it harder to break through to the mainstream? Or is the importance of “image” overblown?
PEKKA: Yep, it sure is. I’ve seen a lot of great players in YouTube site that can play the shit outta some well known guitarists, but they look like monsters. [laughter] Nah, really, they look normal, some of them are pretty old and heavily overweight and that I think is the biggest reason for not getting into the spotlight. That’s too bad, because I’ve seen a few really good players that could easily become stars if the looks and age didn’t play such an important role in the business.
I think that all the average Joe’s should get equal treatment with the good looking young people, depending on the music they play, because the age of the fans of differnet type of music vary a lot and the age or looks don’t matter so much if the audience is older. I don’t know how to put this all into right words but I think you know what I mean.
GARY: Absolutely I do think that the emphasis on appearence has become overblown. The so-called “beautiful people” in the Pop scene, it seems the concern is more about looks than talent. Luckily the real music afficianado sees thru all the smoke and mirrors and they hold on to the love of music more than the so called “eye candy” out there. If you notice, none of the real musicians and songwriters are pretty in any manner. They are the ones that actually play and sing, as opposed to the new lip syncing generation or the crap the Disney machine tries to shove down everyones throat. I think that when yer inner self is beautiful it shines thru no matter what and, true fans and listeners see that.
So what’s next for you guys? Any projects in the works? You’ve had some label interest, haven’t you?
PEKKA: Well, hopefully we’ll be doing more songs in the future with Gary for as long as possible. It’s a shame we live in different countries. Otherwise we’d already have a real band with him. I do have a band project I’m working on right now here in Savonlinna, Finland, like I said earlier. We’re gonna play The Ramsey/Loikkanen Project songs. Gary has already given permission to use his lyrics, however I have a big problem finding a good vocalist here. But I think all the other players are almost ready to rock. I think it’s too early to say anything more about it.
As for the label thing, Morbid Records from Canada has signed us, but I don’t know what that’ll bring. I haven’t signed any papers, so I really don’t know what the deal is. My guess is that it’s only gonna be a promoting thingie. Maybe Gary knows more but I doubt that. I don’t recall any other label contacting us.
GARY: For me,it would be ideal if Pekka and I could eventually get to actually get to meet in person, other than Skype and email. That would be awesome. But for now, I think as long as we can, we will keep writing and recording together. So far we’ve churned out some fairly decent music. Some better than others. But hey, it is what it is. I may be biased, but I like all of our songs. [laughs]
We have been signed as artists to an indie label called MORBID RECORDS, which at the moment is still in the stages of gettin’ off the ground, but it’s still a step forward. They are great folks and they include us in a great many of their promotions.
Speaking for myself here, I have always enjoyed writing and jamming, and meeting Pekka was like a god-send for me. Our styles of writing meshed so well, we couldnt have asked for a better team to work together. And we are also our own worst critics as well. But so far the fans we have accumilated have embraced everything we’ve put out there so far with great reviews and comments, so thats always a plus. Happy fans make happy musicians.
In closing, is there anything you would like to say directly to your fans? What about to potential fans?
PEKKA: To all our fans, potential or not: Keep on listening to our music, tell your friends about us and always give us your honest feedback, because it’s the feedback that drives us in the right direction and gives us more juice to carry on! Thank you all for rockin’ with us!
GARY: I wanna say “thank you” to all of the folks that have liked our songs, joined our fan pages on various sites and the good folks that encourage us to keep making more and more music. We appreciate all of you. I also wanna give a big shout out to all my friends from The Indie Musicians Listing, VRadio, Babylonfm.com, Morbid North radio with Dan MacDonald, Museboat radio with Mary and Andy and V-Radio with Long hair Kev, and Joel of Mr. Spoon, Eric Crawley from the Crawley show, and so many more of those indie DJ’s that are spinning our tunes out to the masses. We appreciate all of you.
Oh yeah, and I want to say a special thanks to all the great artists and musicians I have had the unique pleasure of being able to collab with ya on projects and all the great bands and musicians that have become really good friends over the internet… which, without the Web, I would otherwise never have gotten to meet.