Prepare for a retrospective journey as Little King’s musical career is put on full display for all to see. This interview provides in-depth analysis going over all works created by the band Little King. One will find much insight throughout this interview and will receive a complete history lesson in the key of Little King.
J Rae: Shortly after Little King formed in 1996, the band released its first demo CD in 1997 titled ‘Transmountain’. What was the idea behind this record and how did this first project help kickstart the career for Little King?
Ryan Rosoff/Little King: Good afternoon, James. Great to be able to finally catch up with you. Life intrudes, for sure. All love…
As I am diving headfirst into the past, I am playing through each of Little King’s albums on guitar. That’s how I speak…with my hands, and the thoughts are just like notes. Those notes then trigger memories specific to each of those mileposts along the Little King timeline. I am starting at the beginning, with Transmountain from 1997, and I haven’t played most of these songs in 25 years. I’m truly riding a Nostalgia Superhighway from my hands to my brain and heart.
El Paso, TX, circa 1995 is really where all of this starts, at least with writing songs and attempting to have a career in original music. I mean, way earlier, if you wanna dive into growing up in Seattle in the late 70’s and all the of the 80’s. THAT was a good rock scene! But I was in El Paso from 1992 to 1997, and then again from 1999 to 2008. I went to college at the University of Texas at El Paso (aka “UTEP”) and graduated there with a Creative Writing degree. My kids were born in El Paso, I have recorded 7 albums there, and while Seattle is always gonna be the OG “home,” El Paso is where I cut my teeth and became a big boy.
I met a girl in 1991 in Tucson where I was pretending to attend two years of school at the University of Arizona. She was from El Paso, so I eventually followed my heart down I-10 (which became a song title on Transmountain) and moved to EPTX in May of 1992. After a stint as a suit salesman at my Uncle Albert’s department store (I had never worn a suit in my life, as info), The Popular Dry Goods, I went to college at UTEP from 1993 through 1997 and waited tables at Chili’s.
I was impetuous, defiant, and impatient…and then married at age 20! It’s been said that I was the first one to get married from my high school class of 1990, and I won’t fight that. But as a young married dude trying to finish college, I had to do something that would pay a decent amount and afford me the flexibility to finish school AND start jamming a little more seriously. Waiting tables was the answer, and the skills I learned (patience, quick math, customer care, and teamwork) pay dividends to this day.
I met Shannon Brady, the world’s SECOND biggest Rush fan, while working at Chili’s. He was BOH and I was FOH, but that didn’t matter because we both LOVED Rush. Every song, every note, every word…hero-worship at its finest and weirdest. I think Shannon and I all told went to 15 Rush shows together over the years. Anyway, I mention all of this because Shannon had a band with Scott Marestein (Little King’s on-again off-again drummer and current Trapman) called Skittle De Bop Du Wop. They were wicked, man. Played like a Zappa, P Funk, Rush, Beatles mix of goodness. I LOVED them, and their guitar player was a dude named Rick Puente. Dope player, for sure. But Rick quit and I think moved to LA for work, so Shannon called me in a panic in late 1995. He told me they had a gig the day after Thanksgiving, and could I learn 12 songs in 4 days? Yes, yes I could.
I wood-shedded hard, as those songs were complex and in a style I was not used to playing. The gig rolled around, and we really pulled it off! They asked me to stay and play, Scott then changed our name to Tweed Quickly (as that is one of Shannon’s 12,359 nicknames), and off we went. It should be said now that Scott has taught me so much, especially in those early years. First, he emphasized “the up,” or 2 and 4, and he taught me that chromatic climbs were cool and not lazy. Also, with Scott, the swing is the thing, and that bounce propels his drumming into rarified air.
Tweed played for a year, but like so many good things, the band came to an unceremonious end. Shannon departed for Full Sail Recording school in Florida, Scott joined another popular EPTX band called The New Texicans, and from there, I was band-less.
That SUCKED…I was just getting started! Obsessing about how to move forward as an original musician, I got proactive. A well-placed, hand-drawn flyer at Danny’s Music Box (THE legendary musical instrument shoppe in El Paso…if you know, you know) connected me with some really good players/people who just wanted to play and create. As of 2024, I still keep in touch with a bunch of the guys who “didn’t work out.” Thankfully, I did find two dudes who clicked, and Little King was born.
“Little King” is the Gaelic translation of my first name, “Ryan.” Yes, it was also an inside joke…but I swear I’m not a tyrant. Ask my bandmates! I didn’t intend back in 1996 to be the ONLY songwriter. I would have happily kept to a contributing role rather than the dominant one. But because I am who I am, and the irrefutable FACT that the drive and talent of many musicians are not compatible, Little King became my train to conduct. Fine…I’ll do it!
Transmountain is the proverbial First Effort. All ambition, minimal tactical acumen. I mean, Alex (Lizarazo, drums), Mike (Esparza, bass), and I had diligently rehearsed and gigged, so we had a pretty decent handle on those songs. Even prior to that, I had played a couple of the new songs with Tweed Quickly as well (“Drop The Dime” and “Tripwire”).
I made a friend named Billy Townes and hired him to engineer the demo, and he was an invaluable resource of experience and talent, albeit a little unfamiliar with making a rock record. BT is an El Paso jazz recording and performing legend, and he was the first guy I knew with a Roland VS-880. That machine was state-of-the-art digital recording tech for the mid-1990’s! Portable and 16bit (I think?), it was “good enough” to make a demo/record, so we did just that at his home in Northeast El Paso.
As I sit here and search for the right notes and chords to Transmountain, I can see the roots of what Little King would become quite clearly. I remember having a VERY pregnant wife, finishing my education, trying to figure out where to make a dollar, and having a new passion for music that I had NO HANDLE ON. The arrangements mostly make sense, the words are raw and true, but I was still finding my voice as a storyteller. It certainly was not the way I wanted it to “sound,” and I was not a REAL singer by anyone’s estimation, especially my own. That took a long time, and I still hate the sound of my own voice most of the time. But it was an honest effort, and that’s all we can do, right?
Most of all, though, I feel the progression within the record that would set up the next one. “I-10” is in the current set Little King is preparing for 2024, so at least one of the songs has made the cut 27 years later!
Not that many local bands had a CD available. That we did probably trump the fact that it was pretty amateurish. I mean, MAYBE the spirit and some of the performances were redeemable, but overall, it’s a tough listen for me now. Somehow, though, we found a little press attention because we had SOMETHING, and that elevated our standing as a regionally known rock band in the Southwest. Soon enough, though, Alex moved to Utah with his wife, Mike moved on, and I was left with a free range of options to move forward into the next album.
J Rae: Your college degree in creative writing certainly came in handy on the next release titled ‘Time Extension’. Released in 1998, this concept album was based on the story of a fictional man’s life. How did this concept come into fruition and how did the storyline play along in your head before and during the making of ‘Time Extension’?
Ryan Rosoff/Little King: Transmountain was always meant to be a demo. I mean, yes, we wanted people to hear it and buy it at shows. I knew it wasn’t radio-ready, though. From the performances to the mixing and mastering, that album just didn’t sound right. But it served its purpose, which was to get our name out there, get some studio time under my belt, and to set the stage for the first “real” record.
I relocated back to Seattle in 1997 after graduating from UTEP. Little King had played dozens of shows regionally in the Southwestern US, but I wanted to be closer to my childhood home and for better opportunities in and outside of music. Seattle promised that, not only because of the boom that Microsoft started there in the 90’s, but the city was also on the very tail-end of the Grunge Movement.
It’s funny…I moved to Tucson from Seattle literally months before Grunge exploded in 1990. Sweet timing, right? But I was desperately looking for some more action and a bigger music scene than El Paso could provide. Seattle was familiar, my folks were still there, and as a new dad and husband (at the ripe old age of 25), it was a move that made a lot of sense.
While I absolutely love my hometown, the weather is GODAWFUL. I don’t mind rain down here in the desert because it always comes and goes within a couple days. Not in Seattle. It’s really like living in a dome from about October 30 until July 15. The Pacific Northwest is a lovely area with mountains and water and trees and food and art, but that constant gloom is NOT FOR ME.
I had a badass little 4 track Tascam tape recorder and had started to jot new ideas down on tape even before Transmountain was done. With the birth of my daughter Maddy in 1997 and having also just turned a quarter century old, I was spending a lot of time thinking about, well, Time! I had a creeping sensation of how much more quickly time passes as one gets older, and I flipped that notion into a simple equation I call “The Spiral Of Time” that works like this:
If you are 5 years old, a year equals 20% of your entire life.
At age 25, it’s 4%. At 50, it’s 2%…and so on.
Time is a relative human construct in that we all view it through the lens of what we’ve already experienced. So OF COURSE, the older we get, the more quickly it seems to pass. That’s why the summer seemed to last forever when we were little (cue Bryan Adams).
The aforementioned Billy Townes started a record label called Shade Records with another El Pasoan named Steve McKagan. Total characters, both of them. They signed me because they liked my writing, and they believed that I was serious and trying to be a pro. Plus, I was making inroads with my last record into press and radio and venues, so they thought I was a good bet to keep on keepin’ on and hopefully recoup their investment. I had 12 songs ready to go, so back to El Paso I went in August of 1998 to rehearse and track Time Extension.
I love the old Rock concept pieces like Darkside of the Moon and 2112. Because I spent so much time reading and composing fiction in college, the marriage of my two artistic passions (fiction and music) seemed to merit the idea of creating my own concept album. I decided to tell the story of an Anonymous Man (It’s NOT ME) on his deathbed who has been found in the desert after consuming peyote and presumably has had a heart attack. Each song thereafter is a snapshot into his life as he is looking back at the things that he regrets and might want to go back and change. That’s the theme of the album…he’s been granted a “Time Extension” to make those changes.
The first song, “Take It Back,” sets the scene with some frantic medical personnel in the ER, beeping EKG machines, calls for an “Epi One Amp Push,” and a thumping respirator. I wrote a little script with some advice from a doctor who had consulted on the show “ER,” and a couple actor friends played it out with me in the studio.
As that song concludes, the lyrics are “Watching as the years rewind/To all the places he could find/Fault with how he spent his days/Just in time to change his ways…”
“Take It Back” bleeds right into “I Didn’t Ask,” which takes our hero back to the beginning of his existence. I sing “I didn’t ask to be thrown to this world, I didn’t ask to be born.” The angst! But really, a linear story CAN start at the end, skip immediately back to the beginning, and then progress again to the end which was also the beginning. Alpha, Omega, Infinity…it loops forever. Got that?
I was feeling my “useless” English Degree, bigtime! I love clever wordplay, and there are anagrams in five of the twelve song titles. The last track is called “Topeye,” which is an anagram for “Peyote.” The other four anagram song titles come from the final lines from “I Didn’t Ask,” which reads:
Some advice is lent = “Voices Made Silent” (this is track 4)
Mine’s for keeps = “Smoke Spin Free” (track 5)
Listen to your dad = “Laid Out Stone Dry” (track 6)
Go back to sleep = “Pet Black Goose” (track 7)
This really was a message to my baby girl who at the time WOULD NOT SLEEP without a car ride. So yes, Maddy…”go back to sleep.” In fact, the next song on the album, “Madeleine,” is an imagined acoustic guitar lullaby to send my daughter back to dreamland.
The protagonist has some choices to make. As he (and I, of course, as I am writing the words) reflects, there are moments of selling out, wasting time, not speaking up, working while the world was sleeping, and sweating the small stuff. These are some of the themes that populate Time Extension.
Shannon Brady, aka “Tweed Quickly,” was back in El Paso after finishing school in Orlando. We loved playing songs together, as jamming was the only productive thing we really cared to do at that time in our lives. Uncle Shannon heard the demos and agreed to play bass on the album, and we recruited a local legend named Jim Hargrave to play the very difficult arrangements on the drums.
I had tracked all 12 songs on my little Tascam, but at that point I wasn’t rehearsing with a metronome. Poor Jim and Shannon. Those songs are complex and jump around to odd time signatures throughout. I was a bad bandleader for not making demos to a click track, and I admire the fuck out of Jim for nailing his parts in the studio. Really, Jim only had about 7 days to rehearse before we laid his drum tracks down, and he did a fantastic job.
The material on Time Extension was better than Transmountain and the playing was WAY better. My first studio experience had broken the ice, and I knew that being rehearsed and prepared was paramount. But most importantly, this time I had true audio professionals in my corner and the ability, through Shade, to mix the record for 2 weeks out at Village Studios in Tornillo.
Village Studios is now known as Sonic Ranch, and it is massive and legendary in the world of residential recording studios. Hidden amongst acres of pecan orchards in Tornillo, Texas, Sonic Ranch is about 40 minutes east of El Paso and about a mile from the Rio Grande and Mexico. It was built by the enigmatic Tony Rancich, and he has lovingly and meticulously constructed the most brilliant studio complex. It is now, I believe, the largest residential studio in the USA.
We brought in Mike Major to mix along with Robert Manning. Mike went on to produce and mix a bunch of popular bands and is an amazing musician with a discerning set of ears to match. Robert was great as well and had a local band called Diesel who we had gigged with. Total pro, great guy, and between these two gents, I got an education. Our music, through their hands, in that place…well, Time Extension was 3 steps up from Transmountain in every way.
Having said that, TimEx has A LOT of warts. I can’t sing properly just yet. I get lucky in a few places on the record, for sure. It’s been called “charming” by the great Terry Brown, aka “Broon,” who we will get to in a bit. But there are out-of-tune tune vocals and guitars, and the playing is very loose at times (and not in a good way).
The mastering is LOUD, and it suffers from digital distortion throughout. Bzzzzzzzzzzzz. But there are undeniably some great ideas and moments! While I have no regrets in real life but many in music, I don’t regret a word of those lyrics. It’s ME and US at that moment in time, 1998, and I am satisfied with it.
Shannon Brady played bass and also helped engineer and mix, as he was fresh out of Sound School. We spent 10 days in the pecans and eventually finished a record that we were proud of. He soon moved to Seattle so we could gig and tour with a drummer I had met in Redmond, WA. I remember SO VIVIDLY when we got Time Extension in the mail. He had just relocated, and it was a shitty October day in the great PNW. We hopped on I-90 and headed like a bat outta hell towards Snoqualmie Falls. When the 59 minutes and 50 seconds were up, when the hero expires in the ER, when the “Time Extension” is up…he looked at me and I looked at him, and I said, “Shannon…if they don’t like it?” And Shannon said, “Fuck ’em.”
J Rae: ‘Virus Divine’ is the third installment for Little King and was released in 2004. The story of a fictitious man comes into the picture once again on this album and have to ask if this is the same character portrayed on ‘Time Extension’? Going off of this, what is the thought process like when forming characters and stories for potential material?
Ryan Rosoff/Little King:
Ha! So, the short answer is Different Dudes.
Shannon moved from El Paso to Seattle to be in Little King full-time in late 1998, I believe. As soon as we finished Time Extension, I returned to Seattle and found a guy named Devan Stovall to play drums for us. Nice dude and a really dexterous and well-schooled drummer (I think he has a degree in percussion from U of Northern Colorado.)
I love Shannon and pretty much consider him my best friend, and I have since around this time up in Seattle. For the dream of Little King, he put his audio engineering job search on hold and moved to Seattle to try and make it work, and I was pretty much the only person he knew up there when he moved. Bigtime bro move, and he even lived at my mom’s ex-husband’s house for a few months. Disaster…bad fit. Also, hilarious if you know them both!
But make no mistake about it…Shannon can be a royal pain in the ass. He is PROUD of that. But being in a band with him was difficult for a few reasons. First, he and I mostly got along, but our drummers Devan and Wes Kahalekulu DID NOT get him. Shan can be a little, um…Passive Aggressive. Wes, who played drums on Virus and toured with us from like 2003-2006, is a very large and direct gentleman of Hawaiian origin. He did not suffer Shannon gladly after a while on the road, and eventually, in rehearsal or just hanging out.
Devan allowed Shannon to move into his place after a bit up in Redmond. His wife, Stacey, NEVER liked Shannon, who can be a little, um…Foul? She was kinda prim and proper. Uncle Shannon at that time was a crusty bass playing bachelor with some personal hygiene habits that were tough to deal with for all of us!
Where is all of this going? Okay, so the protagonist in Virus Divine was based LOOSELY around my musical and life experience with Shan. The opening track, “All I Need,” reveals our anti-hero tethered to a couch watching TV on April 20, 1999. For those unfamiliar, it was a fateful day in American History where a couple deranged fuckers killed a bunch of kids at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado.
What can one person do? At that time, Shannon did not have much ambition beyond daily creature comforts. Maybe he secretly did and I’m being unfair, but we all loved to party and he was, as the song “All I Need” says, seemingly “content to just be alive.” Shannon actually knew it when he heard the demo for “All I Need”…”Hey, that’s about me bro, huh?” Kinda, Shan.
I latched onto the concept of what a “reborn” and motivated consciousness might do in the world in a fight for kindness and love over greed and lust. Our Couch Surfer is infected with the Virus of Love watching the coverage of Columbine. He is inspired to go forth and make a difference in the world…no longer “content to just be alive.”
Virus was supposed to be a more nebulous and less linear concept than the last record. The songs deal with betrayal by my ex-wife (!), finding love again, solving problems with one’s head and heart instead of a gun, finding the fire within to battle the forces of evil, and finally, with “Paso Del Norte” a plea for my beloved EPTX to wake up and be the change it wished to see.
In 2003, Shannon and I flew to Toronto for the SARS Festival. If you’re not familiar with the history of that concert, look it up! There were 480,000 people at Downsview Park for a musical lineup that included Rush, AC/DC, The Rolling Stones, Justin Timberlake, The Guess Who, and more.
I had been doing publicity for a few bands since 2000, and one of my clients named Kurt Kuthe (who had a Stoner/Sludge band called Elektrik Mistress) introduced me to a gentleman named Terry Brown. For the uninitiated, Terry aka “Broon” was the producer on the first 10 Rush albums, right up through Signals in 1982. As I mentioned, Shannon and I are huge Rush fans, and so we used that trip to the SARS Festival as a chance to meet the legendary Terry Brown for dinner and drinks. And drink we did!
I tried my level best not to fanboi too hard. We wanted to be taken, ya know, seriously. At least as musicians, anyway. Terry is everything you’d want one of your heroes to be (I mean, he fucking produced 2112 and Moving Pictures, for crying out loud!) He is funny, self-effacing, and serious about making art and doing a great job no matter who he’s working with. Somehow, probably through force of sheer will and attrition, I convinced him to mix our new record. I COULD NOT believe he agreed to do it, but that meant that Shannon, Wes, and I had to make a killer bunch of tracks.
Enter Eddy Garcia, aka “Grandpa,” “El Diablo,” or “Eddy Razor.” Ed and I had known each other since 1995. He and his brother Danny had owned a club in El Paso called The Attic (which later inexplicably changed its name to Debut Records). Little King played there a TON in 1996 and ’97, and we even hosted our CD Release Party for Transmountain there on May 17, 1997 (also the day I graduated from UTEP, and one day before my 25th birthday!)
The Attic was an El Paso icon, as it was the only small club at the time that consistently devoted its energy to building an original music scene in El Paso. While Danny ran the day-to-day of the venue, Ed was devoting his time as the founding member and driving force/drummer/songwriter for the Texas groove metal band Pissing Razors. Know this…Eddy is a force of nature and a legend in El Paso and around the world of drums and thrash. He is an absolute beast of a musician, has great ears, and is an even better human being.
Eddy was very good friends with Shannon, as they had lived together at Ed’s place for a couple years. Shannon also ran sound for the Pissing Razors when they toured, which was a LOT in the 1990’s. Ed had a studio at his house in the Devil’s Triangle in El Paso, and we met up and chatted about the possibility of making a record. He eventually agreed to engineer Virus Divine, and that began a friendship and musical partnership that has covered 5 albums, 4 with him as the drummer. I love him, he’s another brother, and we’ve created a legacy of music and art since 2003 together that I am quite proud of.
Wes was a drummer without drums! I had a rental house in West El Paso I was living in that was kinda empty, post-divorce, so I bought a kit from our buddy Dan DeVoe. Wes rehearsed like crazy with me on that kit while Shannon was out on a cruise ship running sound. That kit was cool…sparkly purple, and Eddy was able to coax some good tones as an engineer. We recorded the drums first, then rhythm and lead guitars and vocals, and then Shannon on bass at the end (which is a little out of order!) There were some definite frustrations with file management between Ed and his Digital Performer system, but we eventually worked it out and finished the tracks in the Spring of 2004.
In July of 2004, I took the hard drive with our raw tracks to Terry in Toronto. I got to sit with a true legend and revel in the fact that he was putting his creative and professional energy into one of my albums. As a practice, I try to stay as humble as possible while still maintaining self-confidence. That balance can be hard to find, but Terry has that down pat. We would have dinner in the evenings over two 7-day sessions that summer, and it was great to see how many people knew him and honored him as a friend. He was always so funny and humble, as if he really didn’t care about his exalted place in rock and roll history. Certainly, working with Terry was one of the great experiences of my life.
After a LOT of tweaking and digital brawling, and with mastering by Terry’s friend Peter J. Moore, Virus Divine was completed and then released in late-2004. As I listen back, there is real passion there, but also the execution and technical team are superior to TimEx. Wes is a power hitter on that sparkly purple kit. Shannon plays so well, too…articulate and adventurous when the song calls for it, and holding it down in lockstep with Wes when need be. Those guys really created a unique and cool rhythm section that will never be duplicated, and that is part of the charm of Virus. So is the snare drum! It was a CONSCIOUS CHOICE, but I STILL go back and forth as to whether it works. It IS unique, though, and that is good enough for me.
You also asked me about my thought process for creating and expanding on characters and stories. This changes from album to album, but I should say something specific about Hard Work. I get the muse from time to time, and it’s always received as a Major Blessing. No doubt, some of what I think is my best stuff comes from that rare Muse Moment. But most of the time, Little King tunes are born from having a plan to just Sit Down and Write. I make notes, make letters, make phrases, rinse and repeat. Over 27 years, I have learned that there just is NO SUBSTITUTE for hard work.
I find so often in the creative process that I’ll have a fairly firm concept of what I want to write about when I sit down. But, as I flesh it out with the judicious use of a thesaurus and rhyming dictionary, the message and theme of the song changes. The concept slowly morphs and then crystallizes, and I am also grateful for that moment when my brain realizes that the thing is not really THE THING!
That freedom to recalibrate in the middle of my process allows me to explore topics that I can steer back to a theme or sentiment for which I have a true passion to better understand. That fresh understanding, in turn, hopefully gives a unique perspective to my art. I rely on this process to keep me original, and that target – an unvarnished snapshot of ME – is what I aim for every time I create art.
J Rae: The fourth album release for Little King is called ‘Legacy of Fools’ and seems to tackle many issues. With heavy themes of deep and heartfelt relationships to pressing political matters, what was the thought process going into this particular record? What are you most proud of when it comes to your overall work and time on ‘Legacy of Fools’?
Ryan Rosoff/Little King:
From 2000-2006 I owned a music publicity and promo company called, of course, Little King Productions. That business started because I was having some success pushing my own art, so invariably some talented musicians who had no aptitude or desire to do the heavy lifting of promoting started to contact me. It was an easy transition for me to quit a SHIT JOB as a paralegal for a PI firm in Texas and go into business for myself as a publicist, and later, as an overall Music Consultant. Pimp myself, pimp others, make a decent living, and not have to work for The Man? All in…
As my daughter grew older and I met another female partner (who had a daughter of her own), my desire to be home and present for them grew. We were expecting in November of 2006, so while the Music Biz hustle was fun and exciting, it wasn’t always consistent. File sharing had fully changed the landscape of music between the six years I was working as a promoter. In addition, 2006 is when I called it quits, and that was just before FB launched and again changed the nature of music promotion. Yeah, Myspace and Napster were IT. There was no Apple Music, Facebook, IG, etc. to promote. So, I was caught in limbo, and I decided to switch careers.
My degree in Creative Writing was not as limited as I thought it would be when I graduated college in 1997. As a “trained writer,” the lack of understanding of the conventions of writing for most people in the business world was and is astonishing. I intended to be a fiction and lyric writer, but I transitioned pretty quickly into whatever writing was needed by whomever, hence the 2 stints as paralegals (once in the Seattle area in 1998, and then again in El Paso in 1999-2000.)
A few people who knew me well, most notably my mom and dad, suggested around this time that teaching might be a stable, rewarding, and somewhat flexible (“You get your summers off!”) new career. English professors had impacted me bigtime; maybe I could use a high school English classroom as my bully pulpit AND provide some stability and security to my growing family? It seemed like a great adventure and a way to contribute something to society.
I snaked my way through a local Alternative Teaching Certification Program and interviewed at a couple high schools. JM Hanks High School in East El Paso offered me a job after a quick interview, and the English Department there was headed by a guy named Andy Halatyn. Andy is ANOTHER of the world’s biggest Rush fans…so yeah, I took the job with him as my direct report. When he heard that Broon had made my last album, he kinda flipped!
I didn’t really know how to TEACH, though, which seemed kind of important. Fortunately, an old UTEP cohort named James O’Keeffe took me under his wing and made me confident that I was gonna be competent. “Just be yourself and the kids will follow,” James assured me. He was right!
The first school year as a “Junior English Teacher” was a whirlwind. My son, Asher, was born in November of 2006, which was just 3 months into my new career. I was lesson planning on the fly and creating curriculum from scratch. I think I had it in the back of my mind that teaching was TEMPORARY; I had bigger goals and financial needs than what a teacher’s salary in El Paso could afford.
Knowing that, I felt free to create content and teach what I thought might REALLY help those Hanks Juniors. Life skills, honesty, gritty art, empowerment, education, and job planning…ALL of these things are an English Lesson if you read, react, and write about them. I loved that freedom, and I turned my 35-minute commute to school every morning into A LOT of (life-) lesson plans.
I absolutely love literature, even if I slack on my reading lists. I DO slack. There’s only so much energy, right? Instead, I choose to read more easily digestible material rather than invest myself back into novels and non-fiction. But what I love more than consuming literature is the act of writing. Everything about the process appeals to me. From the brainstorming to the writing and incessant self-editing, it’s an addiction that I must feed. And, when that muse hits…that dopamine release for me is unmatched by any external substance.
As a teacher, I was now creating AND teaching others how I did it. It seemed like an ideal lifestyle, but the financial constraints were real. It’s too bad, really. I think I am cut out for that gig. Just couldn’t make the numbers work, so I eventually moved on.
There was no shortage of fodder for lyrics, mind you. I was watching the youth of ‘Murica marching off to the Middle East (AGAIN) and fighting a war that was, quite frankly, disgusting to me. El Paso is a big military town, and a lot of kids matriculated into the Armed Forces as a career. In essence, I knew a not-insignificant percentage of my students in 2006-07 would end up in Iraq. I didn’t enjoy that thought.
My world was evolving, and I knew I had a small window to preach from the mic AND a classroom, so I decided to take this opportunity to explore what the term “legacy” meant to me. Aside from the political songs “Prodigal Son” and “Collateral Damage,” I recount a tale of 4 generations of Rosoff men (from my grandfather, Leonard Rosoff, Sr., on down to my dad, me, and finally to my at-the-time-newborn son), sing about betrayal (“War and Betrayal” is my fave mic phrase live), and have a little message to my students with the song “202,” which was my classroom number and the final track on the album.
I think the writing is exceptional and elegant, humbly. To me, the evolution from Virus Divine to Legacy of Fools is noticeable after 3 years of refining my craft. The ideas were more abstract on Virus, while Legacy is dominated by my own experiences at that time. Not saying it’s all auto-biographical; I am a FICTION writer, after all. But I did lean more heavily on my own timeline for Legacy, because I really was LIVING a more interesting timeline. So it goes…
The continually shifting lineup on Little King records continued with Legacy. Mike Esparza came out of “retirement” to play bass, and he served his parts well. I wish he’d been more adventurous on some passages, but on others I think his pocket playing really enhances the songs. I especially love his lines on the song “Legacy.” Eddy mixed the bass a bit low, so perhaps there’s more there than I am hearing and it is just a bit buried.
We added Ruben Gutierrez on keys for seven of the nine songs, and Legacy is the only Little King album to feature keyboards prominently. Ruben is THE BEST musician I know, but he was really there to add some atmosphere and textures, and he does so splendidly on the record. Check out his lines on the outro of “Domino”…very tasty!
Most notable, though, was the addition of Eddy Garcia as the drummer for Little King. Quite simply, Ed has helped me define my last 20+ years as an artist. His drumming is so fucking good, he is such a talented and cool dude, and we share a friendship and professional bond that has created a very productive environment. His drumming has elevated Little King since he sat down and played the first song on the record, “Prodigal Son.” Check out his rolls on “Collateral Damage,” the flourishes on “202,” the nuanced performance on “Mea Culpa,” and the 4/4 stomp on “Internal Smut” (an anagram for “Instrumental”)…his playing shines throughout the album.
J Rae: I noticed you took a six-year departure from music after the release of ‘Legacy of Fools’ due to a business venture. Can you explain this moment in time for you and how it affected you and changed your life? What was it like to not record music for six years and were your creative juices still flowing during this time?
Ryan Rosoff/Little King:
As much as I loved teaching, it just wasn’t viable financially, at least long-term. My son was born, I was taking care of my daughter 50% of the time plus paying child support, and I had my partner’s daughter as my responsibility as well. So, three kids and another adult to take care of equaled Time To Make (Another) Move…
I was born in California. My grandparents lived in LA most of the time I was growing up in Seattle, and we visited them often. My dad grew up in Westwood and went to Fairfax High in the 50’s. Also, my brother has done two long stints in San Francisco over a span of about 30 years. After 2 years of teaching, I felt a strong draw to uproot and take my chances in Cali.
I packed up the fam and split for San Jose in July of 2008, just before the Great Recession. In fact, we listed our house for sale in El Paso and it took 18 months to sell, ultimately to the aforementioned James O’Keeffe. I took a job in event entertainment in Silicon Valley, basically booking bands and DJ’s with a few other add-ons for weddings and corporate events in the Bay Area. It was…different. Boss was crazy and a lot to deal with, and I eventually left and moved on to a job in Fremont (the Southeast Bay, for the uninitiated) that changed my path forever.
There was an event entertainment center in Fremont called City Beach. I had been there a couple times with my kids and had worked with them a few times supplying entertainment for massive Graduation Night lock-ins that they hosted for local high schools. A job opened up there and I decided to bolt and become their Director of Sales. And Marketing. And Business Development, eventually.
It was a decent gig, but what really caught my attention was the 100 or so Team Building programs they hosted every year. They were fun, not totally cheesy, 90 minutes or less, and effective in bringing Silicon Valley corporate groups together in the name of competition and teamwork. I LOVE sports! Competition is endlessly fun, and it inspires greater effort and creativity, I believe. This was all new to me, and I watched and learned how it was done at City Beach for about 18 months.
Eventually, I split from City Beach with a couple colleagues, and we went into business together on June 1, 2011. TeamBuilding ROI was the name we agreed on, and from there we built it SLOWLY. I had been all over the Bay Area for 3 years promoting and hosting corporate and social events, and it felt natural to go back to those venues and promote, well, US! It took 5 years or so, but we ended up with a very large footprint in the Bay Area hosting upwards of 300 team building events per year.
(I have officially exited TBROI as of January 1, 2024…so it’s off to new ventures, most notably music and music production/promotion. I am stoked for the new chapter, I am not a broke kid anymore, and things are opening up on so many levels. It’s same as always…I’m fucking DRIVEN as a North Dakota snow drift. Make stuff happen, see?)
I never stop creating and noodling on the guitar, regardless of the gap between records. Playing guitar is as natural and routine a part of my day as is eating and sleeping. Legacy was released in 2008, and the San Jose years ended in 2013. From there, on my way back to the East Coast (Dela-where?) to live in a place I’d never been, the next Little King release was inspired and then recorded.
J Rae: Little King happily returns with an EP, titled ‘OD1’, released in 2014. What was that initial feeling like to be back and making music again? What was the meaning behind this record and any new sounds or styles being incorporated this time around?
Ryan Rosoff/Little King:
It was NECESSARY! I had a lot of pent-up anxiety from my time in Cali, mostly relationship-based. Alcohol “fondness” didn’t help matters, either. Moving to Delaware was a leap of faith, and it was entirely based on my desire to “keep it together” for the kiddos. My brother Matt had moved back to SF in 2009, so we were seeing a lot of each other’s families, and that is really a lasting memory that I will always appreciate. We are close for sure, and it sucked having to leave them behind.
Also, as anyone who knows me personally even a LITTLE BIT will tell you, Raaaaaaaaaaaaiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiderrrrrrrrrrrrrrs. I had season tickets in Oakland, and I had to leave them behind as well. Although, I gotta say…that team has taken years off my life with very little ROI in the last 40 years, pun intended.
In late 2013, as I was packing up and driving from San Jose to Delaware to join my brood, I had 3 songs ready to track. Instead of waiting and finding a band, writing 5 more tunes, and going through a longer process, I decided to just do a short EP. Eddy would again engineer and play drums for the 3 tracks, and my old buddy Brian Ramos played bass. It was so fun to work with those guys, but I felt little joy at that time. Memories are better now, I think. I needed to get that music out of my system, and Bri and Ed were perfect for that release amongst close friends. Scott Marestein was also in town, and he helped produce and make suggestions for a couple of the songs.
The enduring song from OD1, “Happy Home,” was inspired by the trouble in my relationships, both with myself and my partners through two abject failures. It’s a pretty honest look at how I felt…despondent, defeated, self-doubting, and sort of lost. When it was released, my dear friend and mentor Frank Goldstein actually texted me and asked if I was okay. Yes, Frank, I was…but thank you for checking in.
The first song on the EP, “The Leaded Beatdown,” was my old friend Mike Rayton’s (known him since 1976) term for alcoholic stupor. I empathized, and the instrumental captures that off-kilter dance that only comes from warm Bombay Sapphire gin. The intro riff is like Metal Klezmer or something…probably homage to all the Bar Mitzvahs I had to manage in my time in San Jose. Finally, “Black Hole” is a buzzed tribute to the Silver and Black and all of the brain cells lost in time in Lot A of the Oakland Coliseum. It’s an embarrassing song, in retrospect, primarily because I was DRUNK & MISERABLE when I sang it. Just a mess, really. That dude, you know?
The title OD1 has a few meanings. First, because I owned a TeamBuilding company at the time, Organizational Development (or “OD”) was on my brain. OD is the umbrella that team building falls under, also referred to as Experiential Learning (tactile…you learn by DOING). “OD” can also be tied to OverDrive, OverDose, and maybe even Old Dad…
J Rae: Little King’s sixth release was titled ‘Occam’s Foil’ and recorded in the summer and fall of 2019. The theme on this EP is a play on the theory “Occam’s Razor”, which is a problem-solving principle. The Skope Universe would love to know more about this fascinating theory, so you could go into more detail about “Occam’s Razor” and the meaning behind ‘Occam’s Foil’? Relationships, social norms, the opioid crisis, religion, and politics are all touched on and wonder how all of this material came to be for ‘Occam’s Foil’? The response for this five-track EP was immense and what do you think the main reason was in regard to people majorly connecting with ‘Occam’s Foil’?
Ryan Rosoff/Little King:
Delaware saw the rapid disintegration of my relationship with Asher’s mom. I foretold The End in “Happy Home,” and it became reality almost as soon as I settled back east. Just like that, I was a single dad again, and my son would go back and forth between my apartment down by the ocean and his mom’s house out in the country. It was lovely, at first. All new to me, and green year-round, which was cool. Snow and cold? Not so much, but for a few years it was “quaint.”
Music took a backseat to being a present dad and running a business from 2500 miles away. My business partner Jay and the rest of the TBROI team building staff were out in the Bay Area, but because I primarily handled sales and marketing at that point, I was able to work remotely. As in 3 hours ahead…so my workday usually didn’t start until about Noon. That was dangerous for a burgeoning drinker, by the way.
After a couple years assimilating in Delaware, I met the irrepressible Manny Tejeda in a mostly-lesbian bar called The Pond. We both were living in Rehoboth Beach, which is a tourist enclave, particularly for the LGBTQ community. Lovely, progressive, and a lot of fun if you love to party. And Manny and I loved to party…
Manny is from the Dominican Republic and has a pretty thick accent (except when he sings, which is fucking trippy). He is also a very intuitive musician and has a huge voice and personality. I thought he would fit right in with my El Paso team of Eddy and the Degenerates, and boy was I right! (Manny is clearly an honorary El Pasoan after all our trips there making albums, playing shows, and waking up in his own vomit.)
The concept of Occam’s Razor is defined by Oxford Languages as “the principle (attributed to William of Occam) that in explaining a thing no more assumptions should be made than are necessary. The principle is often invoked to defend reductionism or nominalism.” This principle is often used in medical diagnoses. For example, a person in the ER in 2020 with shortness of breath, high fever, respiratory issues, and congestion PROBABLY had COVID-19. Or did they?
I challenge the notion that the simplest explanation is usually the correct one. The tacit acceptance of that simplicity pervades our modern society, I think, and it discourages closer and more objective analysis of important topics. If you believe and do as you’re told, in the end, are you really living YOUR life?
In literature, a “Foil” is usually the counterpoint to the protagonist. Maybe the foil in Time Extension is Time itself…maybe in Virus Divine it was Apathy. I loved the concept of the foil to Father Occam and his Godly treatise as an angry counterpoint, whatever the topic. That’s probably why Occam’s Foil seems, I don’t know, kinda PISSED.
Per the now well-established routine, in the summer of 2019 we tracked with Eddy down in El Paso. Manny and I got there the first night and got absolutely LOADED at Ed’s house. His band Pissing Razors (brothers of mine for like 30 years) were rehearsing, and Manny got sucked into their vortex of raging liver treatments. El Paso greeted our Dominican bass player kindly, but the next morning was clearly not as kind. EPTX 1, DR 0.
In El Paso, Manny and I saw migrant detention centers filled with children separated from their parents by the government, and the vibe there was angry and chaotic. We left our first tracking session with Ed in June of 2019, and the next month a miserable bigot shot up a Walmart in central El Paso and killed 23 people and injured 22 more. These events furthered our angry, raw musical vibe, and that especially pervades the first song on the EP, “Hate Counter.”
I have made no secret of my distaste for 45 on the last couple records, and “Hate Counter” is a call to action against what I was seeing in my adopted hometown, and really, across the country. “A real man feeds on love and hope/Clean it up…it’s not too late” was what I wanted to manifest, but the rest of the lyrics are pretty dark.
The inevitable disintegration of my relationship with my son’s mom happened 5 years prior to the recording of Occam’s Foil. “Happy Home” had documented that impending split, and it was time to put that chapter to bed with the song “The Skin That I’m In.” “Skin” is one of my favorite all-time LK songs, and it hits just right sometimes when I’m driving home. That guitar solo rips, and it was one take, Ed as my witness!
“Forgotten Mile” is a peace-out to Delaware, as that’s the name of the area of the beach where my son and I lived for 3 years; it’s a very isolated small strip of land between the ocean and a large bay where you can witness mass tortoise migration across a busy highway. Crunch! So sad…
“The Foil” is song 4, and that is kind of a cynical look at how my immediate surroundings appeared to me in Delaware. It isn’t how I feel now, as my memories have softened with time. But in 2019, I was DONE there. This song references the heroin epidemic that still plagues the area. I know the opioid crisis has infected every corner of this country, but damn if Sussex County, DE hasn’t seen the worst of it. Problem isn’t going away, either, as fentanyl has now ripped a bigger hole in the fabric of society. What fresh drug hell is next?
“Nerve #8” is a fun instrumental that just doesn’t quite work for me the way the rest of this record does. I hear what I want it to sound like now, but I feel like we cut corners a bit on the mix. Same with “The Foil” and “Skin,” too. There are moments that could have been clearer, boosted, edited out. But overall, there is a fucking GRITTY and opaque vibe to the whole record. I am happy to this day with almost all of it, really. And the middle solo on “Nerve” still shreds…that was also one take! I had a cool pedal in the background called a Melo, and it created that choir-sounding pad that kind of sets off the emotion of that solo.
J Rae: The next installment for Little King is titled ‘Amuse De Q’ released in 2021 and I am very curious to know how the album title came about? With topics such as: the joy and pain of enforced isolation, a battle with sobriety, the protests across the USA and domestic violence, there is certainly plenty to chew on here. What was the thought process going into this project and what are some of your fondest moments during the recording of ‘Amuse De Q’?
Ryan Rosoff/Little King:
We were feeling some positive momentum after Occam’s Foil was released in November of 2019. I hired a couple new publicists and promoters who were doing a decent enough job, and press started to roll in like never before. It was almost uniformly positive, and you could tell that some of those reviewers and interviewers had ACTUALLY LISTENED to the record. Believe me, that’s not always the case. And that’s really what any artist wants…for the art to be seen and heard. The opinions thereafter are secondary. Won’t you just listen? Then, you’ve earned the right to judge to your heart’s content!
I don’t need to belabor the obvious too much, but the Covid-19 Panic changed the world on an infinite number of levels. Consciously, we were isolating, canceling our normal routines, fearing death for ourselves and our families, and generally living in a world of very little (and often totally conflicting or just out-and-out bullshit) information. Public trust issues still exist because of the pandemic and probably always will, and while social media and Conspiracy Nation have teamed up lovingly, the government wasn’t always telling the truth, either. Call it a perfect storm of fuckery.
Just prior to the End of Days in March of 2020, Little King had about 150 inquiries out to festivals and clubs for a tour in the summer of 2020. The record was doing some decent numbers on Spotify and YouTube, and Ed and Manny were willing to go out for a month or two and see what kind of statement Little King could make in front of festival crowds. Alas, the best laid plans of mice and men…our tour plans went kaput, along with countless lives and livelihoods.
Like most people in the USA, I think, I got caught up in the doomscrolling in March and April of 2020. We were pretty much on lockdown in Delaware, and other than my son going back and forth between his mom and me, I wasn’t seeing anyone or doing much other than exercising. Prior to 2020, I drank too much too often, and I was on the wrong end of a horrendous DUI in December of 2019, so I was in self-enforced sobriety while in isolation. Honestly, that made it easier to stay sober, and I still am as of today (January of 2024). Point is, I was watching a shit-ton of CNN and other news, counting the death toll along with the rest of the rubbernecking public, and generally waiting my turn for someone I knew to die.
This…wasn’t healthy. It would have been easy to sit around and bemoan the complete loss of momentum for Little King, but that seemed a small and narcissistic lament in the face of what so many were dealing with, so I buried that feeling of self-pity. Instead, I picked up a classical guitar and sat in my bed and wrote. And wrote and wrote…
I bashed out the entire musical arrangements for “Bombs Away,” “Keyboard Soldier,” “Set It Down,” and “Melpomene/Amuse De Q” in about 2 weeks. In Little King, I always write the music first and then the lyrics follow, so the next step was to SOMEHOW get with Manny in May of 2023 and start the process of fine-tuning the tracks. Because of the “Q” (for “Quarantine”), we were reluctant to hang out and rehearse at my house, which had been the usual arrangement. But over a week of me sending him videos, he picked it up quickly (Manny always does…that’s maybe his greatest strength as a player, his ability to find it FAST) and the only logical thing to do was brave the Scourge and jam.
Masked and eager, we sat down for about 5 days and hashed it out. I also had most of “How Could You?” and “Omega Son” finished, so we worked through those and made some changes that really helped finish the album on a high note. 7 songs, all killer no filler! Or so we felt at the time…I mean, we loved Occam, but this collection of songs was already more polished and rehearsed. And, the subject matter seemed so vital at the time that there was a sense of urgency to be FIRST with a Pandemic Anthem. Morbid, no?
Isolation in Delaware was arduous, as I had no family within 2000 miles (not including Asher, of course, who was 13 at the time). The fact that I could live anywhere, really, and still run my half of TeamBuilding ROI, allowed me to finally muster the courage to pull the plug on the 7-year East Coast Experience. Asher was ready to leave Delaware and the dysfunction of his other parent’s life, and as we discussed leaving for good, I asked him what the most important thing was about a possible new destination. His answer was simple: “Weather.”
I had lived in Tucson from 1990-92, as I left Seattle after high school and went to the University of Arizona for two years before relocating to El Paso in May of 1992. My mom, who is single and is in her late-70’s, moved to Tucson permanently in 2000, so I have a lot of familiarity with the “Old Pueblo” and its surrounding areas.
We were ready for change and really ready for some WARMTH! Sunshine feeds my soul, and my son feels the same, so we resolved to move to the desert. I sold my house in Lewes, Delaware, and on August 17, 2020, we bounced for good.
I packed up a 6×14 trailer with all of my remaining worldly possessions and we hitched it to my SUV with Manny as the driver. I got hosed by the DMV in Delaware and instead of having the luxury of an interlock (the breathalyzer you hook up to your ignition, for you non-degenerates) for 3 months, I lost my driver’s license for a year. MY BAD for sure, but the rules were NOT EXPLAINED to me before I pled, and that still chaps my hide.
Before Manny drove Asher, me, and our stuff to Tucson, we detoured to El Paso to make Amuse De Q. We felt so good about the new material, and I think we both knew that Eddy was gonna destroy the songs on drums. Manny was a more confident studio musician, too, and we were stoked to get out of Delaware again (permanently, for Asher and me) and make the best album of Little King’s catalog.
I brought in some familiar guests in David Hamilton and Christina Hernandez, who have played cello and violin on the last two Little King records, respectively. Dave writes fantastic string arrangements, and he and Christina are great players and kind people. I loved recording with them and eventually playing a few shows live as a full ensemble.
The song “How Could You?” was written in honor of my friends, mostly female, who were experiencing abuse at the hands of their partners during lockdown. There are too many toxic and abusive relationships in the world, and the intensity of those brutal and awful encounters was magnified by the enforced constant co-habiting in isolation. Like all day, every day. I had to find a suitable female singer to deliver that story, and Jessica Flores stepped up and really owned the message. She sings with us live, too…I’m in awe of the talent in my band, honestly. They’re ALL better than me.
“Bombs Away” references the doomscrolling addiction, and after I moved to Tucson, I teamed up with a badass videographer and human being named Nicci Radhe. We filmed a video in an airplane museum, and it was SO MUCH FUN! I got to display my well-known fetish for NBA jerseys, too…win-win for sure.
“Keyboard Soldier” is a fuck you to that warrior on Twatter/X etc. who is so brave and self-assured IN ANONYMITY. Homage to the Orange Disgrace as well on this one, and the video during the bridge really kind of brings that sentiment home. Great job by Vien Nguyen on that vid by the way…very pleased with it still.
“Set It Down” is the obligatory Sobriety Song, I guess. “Please take my keys…” indeed. Don’t be an asshole like I was, folks. Driving drunk is stupid, reckless, and evil. I am still ashamed of myself, and I probably always will be, but it will also continue to compel me to not drink ever again. That’s my penance. My sober brother Mat Lynch (also the phenomenal guitarist in Pissing Razors) coined that phrase as we were talking about quitting booze. “Sometimes, you’ve just gotta set it down, bro.” Indeed, Mat.
“Melpomene” is an intro into the title track, “Amuse De Q.” They both feature beautiful string arrangements from Dave, and his cello performance on “Melpomene” is sublime. Finally, “Omega Son” may be the heaviest Little King song ever, and I think it really is about the best thing we’ve ever recorded. It’s one of the rare moments on record where I listen and think, “Damn, is that really US?” Manny had a good hand in polishing “Omega Son” sure, as it tends to a heavier style of music in which he is very well-versed.
When we finally left El Paso for Tucson, I was so pleased with the raw mixes. It all flows so well, and there is a strong unity as a set-piece, but each tune maintains its individual message and integrity. We hired Daniel Salcido at Command Space Audio in LA to mix after reviewing a few different candidates and their versions of “Bombs Away.” Daniel nailed that very complex mix, and he would be the one to take the rest of the tracks to their best place. I think he GOT us from the beginning.
Amuse De Q was released on September 3, 2021. I think, in retrospect, it’s Little King’s finest moment on record. But there was so much!
J Rae: After the release of ‘Amuse De Q’, Little King went on tour in 2022 performing shows in Southwestern USA and this just happened to be the first set of live, full band shows in years. What was that feeling like to be on stage with a full band performing for a live audience considering it had been years since doing so? Also, what kick-started this idea to do live shows once again in 2022 and what was the energy like from the crowds?
Ryan Rosoff/Little King:
You know, a REAL band plays live. I love the studio and I relish the song-creation process probably more than anything else in my professional life. But making records doesn’t mean that I am ANY GOOD AT ALL. Seriously, with the staggering number of fast fixes available in the digital recording realm, almost anyone can make a good-sounding album. Yeah, the songs might be silly or simplistic, but Taylor Swift sells A LOT more records than Rush. Most people don’t care…they just wanna sing along. So, the true test of a band is whether or not they can pull it off live (and WITHOUT the use of backing tracks, I might add!)
Most of the songs since Legacy of Fools was released back in 2008 had never been played live until 2022. That’s not what I ever aspired to, like Steely Dan in the 70’s after Pretzel Logic, but it just happened that way. Keeping a band together in adulthood is hard enough; keeping a band of adults together for extensive touring, especially when they are spread out around the country like Little King, can be impossible. Financial ramifications aside, just rehearsing is difficult enough. It really cannot be done remotely. Yes, you should know the songs forward and backward by the time you step into any rehearsal situation (rehearsal is NOT the place to learn the tunes), but the magic that can only be captured by repeat rehearsals and live performances is elusive with a “remote band.”
I rented a studio space in downtown Tucson in February of 2022. The entire plan was to first NOT SUCK, and then to become competent playing guitar and singing these complex songs at the same time. My ULTIMATE GOAL was to objectively be able to say, “Yes, I would pay money to see that band do their thing.”
That’s a lofty goal. And I am BRUTAL on myself, to the point of not playing out enough because I have issues with my performance. I don’t have stage fright AT ALL…that’s not it. I just don’t meet my own standards a lot of the time, and that makes me woodshed too much and not play out enough. I’m working on it…
We did it, though. It DID NOT suck, and I have video from the Rockhouse in El Paso from September of 2022. The whole show wasn’t perfect by ANY MEANS. It was literally our second show ever as a unit! But there are some great moments and it actually, finally, renewed my faith in MYSELF and that Little King as a musical entity has SOMETHING TO SAY. Hopefully, we are saying it in a way that resonates and makes people think more succinctly about the world around them and how they fit in as a positive contributor. If I can do that with words and melodies, that’s all I could ever want as an artist.
J Rae: Carrying on the momentum of the live shows in 2022, Little King also recorded a show in El Paso, Texas AND released live video for four tracks. The Skope readers would love to hear more about this overall experience for Little King and what were some of the highlights?
Ryan Rosoff/Little King:
Yeah, as I just mentioned, Nicci (Radhe) and her husband Ruben came to Texas and recorded our homecoming show. It had been 16 years since we had played live in El Paso, and honestly, our fans are all old! Or close to as old as me, anyway. You HAVE TO tour and play live to build a truly loyal following. And the fact that so many people came out to see us after all that time, well, that made me feel good. It also enlightened me to what COULD BE if I could find a way to play 75 shows a year. Or more.
I am watching and listening to those live tracks right now. I think we were playing at a high level, mostly. The songs are FAST! Eddy is an adrenaline junkie, and he is pushing tempos like crazy. I think the energy of doing it live in front of our EPTX familia was driving the bus. I’m really pleased personally with my guitar playing…I worked so fucking hard at it, man. Like it or not, that video is the final judgment of those efforts. Listening back, I can tell that I practiced!
The strings and Jessica Flores joined us as well. That’s a vision I’d had for such a long time…having that instrumentation live makes Little King a really fun hour-long set. I know we have achieved that level of being able to hold our audience’s attention. There are enough dynamics, instrumental passages that are challenging, twists and turns, and funny stuff to last a good solid hour plus.
J Rae: After the tour, Little King recorded and released the single “Silver Tongue”, which celebrates 25 years of Little King music! Congratulations on reaching the quarter of a century mark when it comes to the history of Little King! What sparked the idea for “Silver Tongue” and how did it feel revisiting some of your previous releases?
Ryan Rosoff/Little King:
Thank you! I’m pretty satisfied with WHAT I’ve accomplished throughout the last 25 years, and I’m even more grateful for WHO I have accomplished it with. I have been able to make my music with some of my best friends…awesome people who have become lifelong brothers and sisters.
I basically taught myself guitar by playing along to Rush albums and looking at a chord/tab book. I just wanted to be able to play the intro to “The Trees” and “Closer to the Heart,” honestly. To now make records and have other people willingly contribute to laying them down for posterity? I’m overflowing with gratitude.
When I was writing the music and words for “Silver Tongue” in 2022, I had the idea to reprise some of the themes from Little King’s back-catalog. If nothing else, it was satisfying for me to listen back and find some nuggets that I had, quite honestly, tried to block out! Upon further review, I was forced to confront some of those note choices, production choices, and overall ambition vs. talent for the early days.
Bless my heart! Certainly, there are a lot of things I would go back and change, a la Time Extension, but overall I am thrilled to even HAVE a back-catalog. The fact that much of it stands the test of time to my HYPER-CRITICAL ears is probably the most surprising thing about my musical journey.
“Silver Tongue” is the only Drop D guitar song Little King has recorded, I believe. I tracked it with the Rockmore Guitar (a modded. no-brand name axe that my friend and the world’s biggest Pantera fan, Jamz Rockmore, tweaked in El Paso…I used it for Amuse De Q, too.) It’s also the first time Little King released a song as a single without a forthcoming EP or LP (although we did do a single for a Christmas Album for our record company back in 2000 called “Charity”.)
There are some subtle and then abrupt changes throughout, and I particularly like the heavier pre-chorus that happens after the dynamic breakdown. “When you are running on the back end of your time/Falling down, then back up on the climb.” That symbolizes my career as a musician, and really, my struggles with motivation and self-doubt on a day-to-day basis. Get back up and DO IT AGAIN.
Lyrically, it boiled down to “I am still doing this, and I am not going anywhere without a fight.” Yes, I can be a better man, I can be a better musician, and I aspire to be both of those things. But the journey is the thing, and I must center myself to that philosophy daily. ”A pound of patience and presence” is how I sing it into existence in “Silver Tongue.”
Manny and Ed again are stellar as the rhythm section, and they were kind enough to navigate all of the silly time changes with me. I mean, it is a retrospective song, right? Had to throw some odd signs in there. Daniel mixed again, and it hit Spotify hard. I found some more competent promoters for the streaming push, and it just kind of took off from there. I am grateful that people put up with me for 6 minutes and 20 seconds, for SURE!
J Rae: “Amber Waves (Goodbye)” is your most recent single and I was lucky enough to get a chance to review this song. I simply loved the track due to its infectious melody! It is said that Little King took a detour from the older sound & style and ventured into new & exciting territory on “Amber Waves (Goodbye)”. Can you explain some of these major differences on the new release and what motivated Little King to head into another direction musically?
Ryan Rosoff/Little King: Ah yes…”Amber.” Well, the lyrical content of the song seemed to match what I had been working on musically at the time. I had been intending to use my oldest surviving possession, a Washburn dreadnought acoustic that my dad gave me for Xmas in 1988, to track a new song. Once the Amber Breakup happened, the words flew out immediately, as did the rest of the melody.
I bought some decent enough multi-tracking gear and set down the guitars and vocals for “Amber Waves (GoodBye).” In listening back, the song changed very little between that initial raw (and angry) demo and the final version I tracked with Daniel back at Command Space. It all came together quickly and easily, and I felt strongly that a bouncing bassline that would continually fall behind and then playfully catch up was a good idea, but drums were NOT in my vision for the song.
Daniel had only mixed our music at that point, but he was confident that we could get great acoustic tones and make a cool little song to keep up the momentum from “Silver Tongue.” Manny was in the throes of welcoming his third child into the world, so Daniel’s friend Matt Daugherty contributed bass. Matt is a wizard, by the way. Editing and vocals and creative parts…dude can do it all. Daniel is great, too. We really work well together and it’s not a lot of nonsense. He really has great ears and cares a ton, but just as importantly, he has full command of his software. Watching him work in real-time as I fed him ideas and instructions was impressive.
Lyrically…I was pissed, I was hurt, but I wanted to heal that at the end of the song and create a climax of empowerment and forward motion. “I reserve the right to feel like anybody would” is how I have taught myself to come around, and that’s almost an incantation to validate my own emotions while snapping back from existential dread.
We are not the center of anything except our own tiny, limited universe. Humble yourself to that. “I feel guilty for these words about my state of heart/When every morning is a win, and the big picture is a work of art.’” Yes…tomorrow is a gift, and I choose to TRY and embrace that feeling every day.
J Rae: What are some fun & interesting facts about Little King that people may not know already? Anything that isn’t on the band website/Bio page would be considered fair game here and maybe even provide Skope an exclusive SCOOP!
Ryan Rosoff/Little King:
Okay, the current lineup of Scott, Ryan, and Manny all have an Ex named “Amber.”
Eddy’s dad is 93+ and still going strong, and he was a POW in the Korean War.
I chopped the tip of my middle finger off as a 5-year-old by hanging on and toppling a water basketball hoop at the local swimming pool. It’s like a club…makes it very hard to fingerpick, so I’ve developed some workarounds.
I have been a vegetarian since March of 1995. Haven’t had alcohol since December 17, 2019. My body still hurts, just the same.
I’ve never done cocaine. Ever. Scared shitless of it.
I ride a motorcycle almost every day on my regular commute from the Catalina Foothills north of town to my little studio in downtown Tucson. Got into it because of my time working with Eddy, and now I own two Kawasakis (a 2018 Vulcan S and a 2002 Meanstreak).
I saw Rush over 30 times live.
Eddy played bass for Ministry on tour and played drums for Overkill.
Shannon is a sound guy in Vegas and works with acts like Elton John, Celine Dion, Jerry Cantrell, and so many more. He has a legit celebrity contact list.
I’d rather be a tortoise from Galapagos or a span of geological time than be living in these dog years (RIP, Professor)
J Rae: Ending on a positive note has become a reoccurring theme for my interviews and so here we go! Can you offer people out there some words of encouragement and helpful advice on how to deal with life in this day and age? How does Little King roll with the punches and what kind of positive reinforcement do you recommend?
Ryan Rosoff/Little King:
I referenced it above when we were talking about “Silver Tongue.” Forward motion, just a little bit, is my MO. I am NOT as aggressively driven as I was, as the passage of time has given me some more perspective on the grind and what it really means.
One of the best pieces of advice I’ve been given was to Be Honest With Myself. That sounds so simple, but in practice, it can be a very daunting and sometimes deflating task. It’s so natural and normal to not like what you see when you shine the spotlight in reverse. You can’t hide from yourself, and as much as you try, there are deep places in EVERY HUMAN that intuit exactly where the truth intersects with bullshit. Own that intersection and grow from it.
Once you’ve achieved a level of constant evaluation and true self-checking, only then can you truly develop meaningful and lasting relationships with others. This can apply to family, romance, work, or just within your band. There is so much power in publicly standing up and owning your own mistakes and fallibility… “I missed that note. I could have played that solo better. I didn’t remember the cue.”
What is your motivation? Daily, hourly, minute-to-minute…how often do you question the Why? Is that counter-productive for you? It’s a reflex for me, now. I think that helps me keep the big picture in focus while lending extra meaning to day-to-day grinding on tasks that might not seem so important at the moment. It might be that those LITTLE THINGS are the reward, or that the discipline and the drive you’ve learned along the way are enough to render your opinion of the end result less meaningful.
Keep it real with yourself, let that translate to how you deal with others, and firmly believe in your purpose. If you can invest into that ethos, I think the sky is the limit for personal happiness and a lifelong growth mindset. And, perhaps most importantly, HAVE FUN WHILE DOING IT! I know I have…
By Jimmy Rae