The Ropes
On Their Past, Present & Future…
April 2010
Questionnaire: Steve Bateman

When I heard Love Is A Chain Store by The Ropes playing on NME Radio, it turned out to be one of the best chance hearings I’ve ever had! Because as soon as the track had finished, I checked out the group’s MySpace page only to discover a sheaf of songs that matched its breathtaking quality. Then, after clicking on The Ropes official website, I found that the band has uploaded their entire back catalogue – including an LP and multiple EPs – which can be generously downloaded for free, with voluntary donations also welcomed.

Sonically, the group cook up classic dark and brooding alt.rock, or anthems for outsiders, that splice delicacy with savageness and neatly dovetail with Sharon’s exquisite, icy-cool and powerful vocals – who delivers lyrical themes that one writer called, “Musings on isolation, individualism and anti-romance.” Hailing from New York City, The Ropes are a duo – Sharon Shy (vocals / bass) and Toppy (multi-instrumentalist) – which was reportedly “born out of necessity,” as they “stopped incorporating other musicians in their live show in early 2008, feeling that finding permanent members who reflect their ideals was unrealistic. Describing their past experience with band members as ‘a living hell’.”

Some of my favourite tracks, include the glacial Too Cool To Love, the sparkling Kitty Get Down, the thumping Be My Gun, the electro Clubs In Europe Forever, the reverberating Professional Outsiders, the epic Alien Rubbernecking, the reflective Robot Now, Human Later, the widescreen Love Is A Chain Store and the all-encompassing Civil Lanterns. But then there’s also the pondering A Lot You Can Learn In A Room, the mercurial I Miss You Being Gone, the chiming Addicted To Morals, the euphoric What They Do For Fun, the thrashing Cry To The Beat, the lilting Let On, the starry Street I Never Lived On, the baleful Dead And Well and the angsty I Don’t Like To Get Dirty. Which is just for starters, as the production, melodies, rhythms, textures and ideas on almost 30 available songs are all equally impressive!

So without further ado, please allow R*E*P*E*A*T to ‘show you The Ropes’, by introducing you to this fabulous duo who have brains, beauty and beats…

Lucy: Your band have been quite quiet for the last few months. Are you looking forward to playing gigs again?
Katie Jane Garside: I think I give very obtuse ans

1.For music fans who may not yet know much about you, could you give us some background information on your musical pasts / how you both met?
Sharon: “We met while interning at a record label in NYC. While most people seem to bond over things they both like, I think it was a very long shared list of dislikes that kept our initial conversations going.”
Toppy: “Very true. Most people talk about what they love, especially concerning music. I recall talking to Sharon about what I hated about music and the million bands I had seen or played in… things I wished existed that didn’t, what I thought was missing. She seemed to understand and unlike most everyone else, she didn’t tell me I was crazy or try to sell me on what music I should listen to in order to fill the void. When she mentioned that she could sing, it occurred to me that perhaps we could fill the void ourselves instead of hoping someone else would.”

2.Are you self-taught as musicians, and when recording, do you prefer analogue or digital?
Toppy: “I taught myself initially and later because of my nature I became interested in more technical things. I know a great deal about music theory, however the most important thing that I have learned is to generally avoid anyone who enjoys talking too much about music theory and technical proficiency in regards to songwriting. They are always the worst songwriters and often very angry people. Technical knowledge and skill are not prerequisites to good songwriting. As far as recording goes, I would love for The Ropes to do something analogue. However, under our current circumstances at least 90% of our recording is done in my apartment and it must be digital by necessity.”
Sharon: “I am completely self-taught. That bit of naivete I think is an important element for the type of music we make because conceptually what we talk about is a combination of something very visceral, but also very contemplative and thought out at the same time. We both have strengths and weaknesses that add a good balance to what we do. That being said, I have a very strong aesthetic sense of what I want The Ropes to be and it has become more focused with time.”

3.As you’re based in New York, what are some of your favourite things about the City?
Sharon: “The anonymity, the 5,297 languages and the many trains that go to other places. I like escapes. And I have terminal wanderlust.”
Toppy: “I prefer to stay inside, so I have never quite taken advantage of the location. I try to force myself to go out on occasion or to talk to someone, but the results are always disastrous and I realize that there is a reason why I stay inside in the first place.”

4.When I first heard Love Is A Chain Store on NME Radio, it instantly stopped me in my tracks. What was the last song that had that effect on you?

Toppy: “Thank you for the compliment. “Suzanne” by Leonard Cohen had that effect on me long ago. I could probably count on one hand the songs that have.”
Sharon: “"The Boy Wonders" by Aztec Camera has always had an effect where it made me feel like there are a lot more corners to the world than I thought there were. I would like there to be more. The same applies to "We Could Send Letters," although I am generally very anti-love song. I found that I was often drawn in more by a sound than what was being said, quite the opposite of The Ropes, where it is our aim for words and music to be equally important.”

5.For you personally, what have been some of the most important albums from the last 50+ years, and if you had to pick a favourite Decade for music, which one would it be?

Sharon: “The most important albums for me were all of the vintage French ye-ye albums I loved listening to as a child. I would definitely say that the 1960s are my favorite musical decade. That doesn't just apply to music. I have always been enthralled by the look and style of the 1960s, from the newspaper fonts to the soap dishes.”
Toppy: “I don’t have a favorite decade or a favorite album. My love of music has been unrequited. I have been moved by bits and pieces of things… a handful of songs, sounds, and lyrics… certainly never full albums, and I am most definitely not fulfilled the more I learn about the people behind the music. Like life in general, it’s always a disappointment. However, the amount that I have been moved by such a small number of things was strangely great enough to make me still want to make music my life.”

6.Which one of your songs do you feel contains many of the hallmarks commonly associated with The Ropes’ sound, and which song do you think is the most surprising / untypical?
Sharon: ““Love Is a Chain Store” is very close to the aesthetic that I ideally want The Ropes to espouse. The yet to be released tracks we are currently working on conceptually and aesthetically expand further into the direction where we both want the band to go. As for surprising or atypical, maybe “Sleepy Rock and Roll” would fit that description. We wanted to focus that song completely on the lyric, so a cappella accompanied by only static was the direction we decided to go. Every time we tried using actual instruments the message of the lyric seemed to get lost.”

7.How would you say your personalities and musical ideas blend together, and what’s the story behind your name The Ropes?
Sharon: “The story behind the name is very simple. It comes from the phrase to “know the ropes,” as in “I know the ropes.” When we started the band I ironically didn’t realize how much more I needed to learn in order to truly deserve that name, but believe me I know them now. I think our personalities and musical ideas are one and the same. We write about the things we think about and talk about, so I don’t know if there is really any distinction that could be made.”

8.What inspires you outside of music?

Sharon: “Eavesdropping, airports, understanding, not understanding, concern, indifference and No Exit.”
Toppy: “Courage and selflessness.”

9.Are your songs evocative of the time in which they were created / do they continue to reveal themselves to you over time i.e. lyrics and themes?
Sharon: “The songs are evocative of the time in which they were created, which is the same time as now, yesterday and tomorrow.”
Toppy: “Over time you begin to see what concepts you have done justice and which have been failures. That’s when it is time to try again and approach the idea from a different perspective.”

10.On a similar note, do you have any favourite rhyming couplets – from your lyrics as well as from lyricists / songwriters who you admire?
Sharon: “From us, perhaps “Civil Lanterns.” “When things are artificially bright I run for my life.””
Toppy: “It doesn’t rhyme or fit the definition, but “It’s a Fine Day” sung by Miss Jane has a nice moment that comes to mind. “I remember how we were going to sit in this field but never quite did… rain or appointments or something.””

11.What does it mean to you to play your songs live, and do you have any interesting tales from your time on the road over the years?
Sharon: “It is a massive responsibility to have to embody a song onstage, which is what playing live should be about. The best music surpasses humanity, and your best ideas will always be better than you.”
Toppy: “While touring the Midwest in 2008 we kept hearing a clanking/scraping sound underneath our van. It was getting worse as the tour went on. We didn’t have any money to take the van in or get it fixed, so we crossed our fingers that we’d at least make it through until the end of the tour. We figured that after the tour was done we’d save up to repair the problem. We did make it to every show and we felt very fortunate. However, after the final show of the tour, as we started driving back to NY, the sound was getting very intense and much louder. While on a highway in Ohio, the van flipped. For better or for worse we survived. To this day I now notice every little sound that any car I’m inside makes, no matter how tiny. It drives me mad.”

12.If you could choose a fantasy set list for a favourite artist / group, who would it be and what would you select as their opening and closing songs?
Toppy: “It’s not something I’ve fantasized about before.”
Sharon: “Nothing comes to my mind either. I’m also still waiting on a favorite artist, so the list will have to be put on hold until then.”

13.Are visuals important to you – artwork, photographs, promo videos etc. – and as parts of your music have a strong cinematic quality, if you ever had the opportunity to compose music for a film soundtrack, is this something that you would consider trying?
Sharon: “Visuals are important because in today’s world there is so much visual stimulation that there is really no option but to try and marry the music with some type of visual aesthetic. In some ways it’s a shame because I think the music suffers greatly. Today the visuals often become more of a focus than the music because it’s an easy way to seduce an audience and get their attention while downplaying the poor quality of the music. Not just with pop music, but with so-called indie music as well. We have met scarce few like-minded visual artists with whom we have wanted to collaborate, however we are certainly open to exploring videos and other visual areas in more depth in the future. As for soundtracks, absolutely. We’d definitely consider it for the right film.”

14.What has been the most valuable lesson that you have learnt from writing and recording songs + do you feel that giving away your music for free over the Internet, has benefited you in the long-term?
Sharon: “We think of our catalogue like a library. People can check it out and if they feel the need to own it they can buy it, or they can donate if they want to show support. I suppose the lesson is that music has a different value to everyone, both emotionally and fiscally. No one who cares about art or believes what they are doing is important is in it for the money. You do it because you have to. Cliché yes, but true.”

15.Lastly, this is a long-running question for fun, which would you choose out of chips (french fries) or cream buns (pastries)?

Sharon: “Fun?”

A very special thanks to Sharon + Toppy, and to Brandon @ B23 Management, for all of their time and help.

“I wouldn’t be caught dead in love
‘Cause love is a chain store”


Upcoming dates:

1 Jun 2010 20:30
Madame Jojo's London, England, UNITED KINGDOM
2 Jun 2010 21:00
229 London, England, UNITED KINGDOM
3 Jun 2010 22:00
Hippodrome with Chapel Club Kingston, London, England, UNITED KINGDOM
5 Jun 2010 11:30
Gallery13 Event Center (SUMMER SIDE SHOW FEST) Columbus, Georgia , US

wers to questions...It's never about looking forward to it. Actually maybe I should change the
script, maybe we are looeir musicm the 3rd album?