All Things Synthwave: An Interview with Doom Flamingo's Ross Bogan February 14, 2019 15:47
Photo by Nicholas Lintz
Interview by Jordan Kirkland
It's not everyday that you're introduced to an entirely new genre of music. Upon hearing of a new Charleston-based band called Doom Flamingo, I had no idea what to expect. It wasn't long before I learned of Ryan Stasik's (Umphrey's McGee) involvement, as well as some serious Charleston musicians, including keyboardist / synth master Ross Bogan. After hearing Doom's first few releases and getting my first taste of synthwave, I sat down with Ross to learn a little more about the overall vision for this project. Check out the full conversation below, and see below for details on the Doom Flamingo's free live stream from Brooklyn Bowl on Saturday, February 16th via The Relix Channel!
Let's start off with the original idea for Doom Flamingo. What sparked the original idea? How did you guys bring it to life?
Ross: Ryan (Stasik) moved to Charleston a few years ago, as did Vince (Iwinski), who is Umphrey's McGee's manager. Umphrey's was playing a show here that Friends With Benefits, who our manager (Hank Wharton) was putting on. Ryan reached out about putting together a group of local musicians for an afterparty. He and Brendan Bayliss (Umphrey's) have another band, Omega Moos, that couldn't make it. Hank reached out to me with a few ideas for potential band members. I was driving back from Grand Canyon with Amy, my girlfriend. We were driving the van cross country. I remember getting the text and being blown away. Stasik wants to start a band. Amy looked at me and said, "Don't get in a wreck."
I had been listening to a lot of Synthwave at the time. My friend Jon Black had been sending me playlists. I really fell in love with that music, so I pitched the idea to Ryan and Mike (Quinn), and they were on board immediately. Within about thirty minutes, I think we had figured out the concept of the band and the name, Doom Flamingo. We were tossing some ridiculous names back and forth. Ryan really liked the idea of using Doom in some fashion. I wasn't so sure about Doom Flamingo initially, but I rolled with it. Afterwords, things were just starting to warm up, and I was noticing flamingos everywhere.
So we embarked on this Synthwave journey, and it was something we really didn't have much experience with. Just from working with each band member in the past, I know that all we need is a set goal for the show. We'll figure out a way to pull it off. Whether it's an Earth Wind & Fire tribute, Black Sabbath tribute, or even re-scoring The Exorcist, we've been able to pull off quite a few concepts. Doom Flamingo encompasses all of our different skills and puts them into one band. Musically, we're sort of all over the place. Several of the guys are deeply rooted in jazz, as well as funk. I've been in the jam and reggae scenes for a while. It's cool that we're going with this concept.
Synthwave is usually coming from one person. It's interesting to approach this music with six people. We took it into the studio to nail down some tracks for the first show (May 31st, 2018). I had a few demos, and we worked on the instrumental parts. Kanika (Moore) came in and already had three songs completely written. She went in the other room and started singing "F-16" with one of the instrumentals. She really blew us away. We were just like, "Holy shit. This has insane potential." We all saw it then and there. Since then, we've been going pretty balls-to-the-wall with it. Constantly sending each other music and ideas.
It's definitely a unique concept. What do you guys hope to accomplish here in year two?
Ross: As far as goals, the idea is to get as many gigs as possible. We're getting into some festivals to be announced soon. There are some other offers on the table, which we're really excited about. When we were first starting, I wondered how much we could actually play around the Umphrey's schedule. How often would Ryan want to play? He's got two young children now. Seeing how stoked he is about it, and how much he pushes us to try new things. It's been a really cool experience.
It's been amazing to watch this band come to life. I remember hearing about this idea last Spring and wondering what would come from it. Once I heard that first recording of "F-16," I think I had the same reaction that you guys did.
Ross: Oh yeah. It's interesting. I've never dabbled in pop music. When I was previously playing with this reggae band, I was making beats and instrumentals. I took that same approach, and once we got in the studio, the tracks really came to life. Kanika's writing really blew me away. I believe this is the first original project that she has recorded with. It's pretty wild to see what a raw talent she is. I've wanted to get this group of musicians together for a while now. We've all played multiple gigs together. To have all of this come together is pretty phenomenal. I'm really excited and want to play as much as possible.
Watch Doom Flamingo performing in Richmond, VA here:
I would imagine so. I'll be honest, I wasn't familiar with synthwave at all prior to this band. For the sake of anyone else who's wondering what the genre is all about, how would you explain the band's take on it?
Ross: I've heard it described as what 80s synthesizer musicians thought music would sound like in the future. It's kind of retro-futuristic. Obviously, the technology has changed since the electronic scene of the early 80s. We have a few more tools to apply to it. While it does have the 80s reference and aesthetic, it also has a futuristic vibe as well. We've been working with this (visual) artist named Iron Skullet. He has a really nice synopsis of what synthwave is on his site (ironskullet.com). He wraps it up pretty nicely, if you're ever looking to learn more about it. It's really interesting. There are so many genres within synthwave. There's darksynth, which is rooted in heavy metal music, but with synthesizers. There's Outrun, which is sort of driving music. There's dreamwave, which is poppier, dreamy synthesizer music.
There's quite a few elements that fall under the umbrella. Most synthwave artists are rooted in one of those styles. We're trying to tackle all of them, while playing with a live band. Obviously, we're all improvisational musicians at our core. We play gigs where we just roll with it for three hours all the time. That comes out in our live show. You've got Ryan's background with Umphrey's McGee... Those guys are some of the craziest improvisational musicians in the game. The way they play together as a band is pretty special. They're unlike any other band I've ever seen.
That's a fact. They're a freakin' machine.
Ross: That's a great description. It's a machine.
You guys have how many shows under your belt at this point?
Ross: We just did our sixth show in Richmond.
How is the calendar shaping up the band? I know there are some nice opportunities with Umphrey's afterparties. Is there a specific game plan or forecast that you guys have in mind?
Ross: Right now, we have shows around Umphrey's schedule in New York City at Brooklyn Bowl, Nashville at Mercy Lounge, Denver at Cervantes' Masterpiece, and more in the works. We also headline French Broad River Festival outside of Asheville in May, and have more festivals soon to announce... We're trying to hit as many of the major markets as we can. We're going full speed ahead and hope to make it as big as we possibly can. There are big hopes and aspirations for Doom. Seeing the feedback after having 600+ people at a show, it's been pretty mind blowing for all of us.
The way people have been receiving us has been crazy. There's so much that you can do with this concept. I've seen people dressed in Doom Flamingo costumes. It's pretty cool. We have this comic book coming out as well. We just got the script from our buddy Jordan Noir, who we met on Instagram. We're really excited about that. The more the comic grows, I believe we can incorporate more musical characters from other bands and friends. It's such a conceptual thing. There's really no limit to it, as far as creativity is concerned.
You've been releasing the originals as singles thus far. Is that the formula the the band plans to stick with?
Ross: The reason we've been releasing singles is so we could get some initial material out there. Something for people to actually listen to. We had shows in place, and I think people were wondering, "What is this?" We wanted to get some material out there as quickly as possible. I think the single is definitely becoming more common, with people's attention spans dwindling in the music scene. Creatively, we do want to release a full album. Right now, we have an EP in the works which should show more of the overall vision.