Ryan Paul Plewacki may be best known for his long stint in Minneapolis jam band God Johnson, but he's since left to try out less patchouli-scented sounds. While Ryan Paul & The Ardent's debut album, 2009's La Vita Nuova, was pure neo-Americana, don't expect a repeat performance on the follow-up. The group, which will take the stage at the Turf Club Feb. 4, is currently working on its yet-untitled sophomore album—and the new material sounds suspiciously like power-pop. The A.V. Club got in touch with Plewacki to talk about the shift in style, why it's cool that his dad is in the band, and how the world's biggest Cracker fan made his time in Buffalo, N.Y., a little more bearable.
The A.V. Club: What was the thought process behind your change in sound?
Ryan Paul Plewacki: Americana was uncomfortable when I went at it. I had never done it before. For me, it was new territory. I was totally satisfied with it at the time and scared by it. When Jaim Zuber started playing steel guitar for us, I was floored and practically peeing my pants at the same time. I had never seen one of those that close before. But now I'm done with that. So I am pushing to go wherever this head goes. Every single time I sit down to play, I have no idea what is going to come out. I record it. If it's trash, I file it away and possibly pull it out later because maybe it wasn't trash. Maybe I wasn't ready, but it has to be uncomfortable. It's not possible for me to progress if I'm comfortable and I'm not spending time on a spinning planet while I'm sitting still.
AVC: Are your albums going to be all over the map like, say, Ween, or is this a more natural progression?
RP: As much as I love Ween, I can't quite go that far out. I have no idea how Zappa sang songs like "Catholic Girls" with a straight face. There is obviously an element of humor in what Zappa did, and Dean and Gene do. I, on the other hand, am very serious about what I write. These songs are about relationships. These songs are about expectations. These songs are about struggles, triumphs, losses. I understand that Zappa's "Why Does It Hurt When I Pee?" was very epic in its own right and is certainly a real-life issue that people deal with on a daily basis, but I am looking a little deeper.
AVC: How did your dad come to be in the band?
RP: Well, The Ardent was just supposed to be one gig. I just had to get it out of my system. So I picked the best musicians I know. You know, like an end-of-the-world party. From a practical angle, Pops is one of my favorite guitar players. From a mushier angle, Pops is my hero. No matter how much I didn't want to admit it, I always wanted to be just like him. He taught me how to play, off and on—I wasn't the easiest student. We dropped off because of my life decisions. He couldn't stand by and watch me doing what I was doing. I called Pops in the middle of the night from Buffalo, begging for a plane ticket back home. He not only flew me back, he flew me back first-class! When that kind of thing happens, there is a weird bond that solidifies and becomes nearly unbreakable.
AVC: You were in a lot of trouble with drugs, right?
RP: Huge! I mean, it wasn't really drugs as much as it was drinking. I was throwing up due to nerves before a gig at Five Corners, which is now The Nomad, and one of the other guys said, "You're supposed to do that after." When I explained I wasn't drunk, he said, "You know, there are ways to calm that down." It happened really, really quickly after that. I didn't sit with the beer for very long, I went almost immediately to whiskey. It got to the point where I was drinking all day. I'd get to the venue to do sound-check, finish, go find another bar, drink myself stupid, and come back and pass out. The only thing that can wake you up from that is cocaine. It became "Well, this will wake me up [for the show], and then I can drink for even longer afterwards." I went to rehab and I drank the day that I got out. Then I started running. New York was the bulk of it, which was awesome—hanging out on people's couches until they started asking for rent, then I'd move on. The final place I ended up was Buffalo, New York. My idea was that I was going to go up there and dry out. All people do up there is dip food in bleu cheese dressing and drink. That's it, there's no industry, nothing. It was the absolute worst place for me. I couldn't leave my apartment because there was, like, 45 feet of snow outside. I got to a point where I was going three weeks without a shower and not leaving the house to do anything.
AVC: Does Buffalo have any redeeming qualities?
RP: There is only one thing I can think of: There is this bar called The Old Pink. That's what people call it. It doesn't have a name on the building. For whatever reason, you can totally smoke in there. There is a bartender named Drew. He will tell you anything you ever wanted to know about Cracker. I'm serious—anything. He will spin Cracker bootlegs his entire shift. It's amazing! I'm a pretty mediocre Cracker fan, but I am a fountain of Cracker knowledge after bellying up to Drew's bar.