Choose Your World or You’ll End Up Living in Theirs – An interview with Michael Ralston of The Materialistics

Mastering the art of a captivating opening track is no small task. The stakes are high; the first 30 seconds of an album must be engaging and compelling enough to convince the listener to continue listening. Most of my daily musical intake revolves around a perpetual fear of missing out on something great, so I have a tendency to listen to music quickly, often at the expense of spending time with canonically “classic” music and discovering more about the music through multiple listens. I’m normally fielding new music recommendations from my Instagram feed but I have a few different sources I turn to for the newest tracks. Over the years, I’d like to think I’ve developed solid judgement on if I’ll like what I’m hearing within the first few notes of the opening track. Which brings us to one morning in April, when I was tapping through Instagram stories and noticed a new album cover reposted multiple times.

A red-ish, pink cover with illustrations, I assumed it was a new punk release and decided to investigate. Thankfully the release was on Apple Music, so I saved it to my library and queued it up on my next drive to the grocery store. What followed was nothing short of musical nirvana. I hit play on the first track The Design and nothing prepared me for what followed. Instantly, I felt I needed more. The track opens in a shower of celestial bliss. Listening to the twangly, pick style guitars and the bass line that could easily have been plucked from an R&B track, I felt lighter, ascedent. I would liken the sound to the feeling of a Petra Collins style photograph: a Vaseline-smeared lens distorting and blurring rosy, warm, lights in photos of subjects in motion, draped in gauze. The perfect music for driving through the city on a summer night. (Author’s Note: Music should always be listened to in order. If you are someone who shuffles a new album, I highly recommend putting an abrupt halt to this egregious practice.)

Illustration by Cori Thompson and logo by Gil Sayfan for The Materialstics

I think The Materialistics have discovered the perfect formula for song composition. With catchy vocal melodies, twanglin’ guitar riffs, and grooving bass lines, they’re on the verge of producing timeless summertime tracks for generations to come. In light of the release of their newest EP Choose Your World or You’ll End up Living in Theirs, I wanted to catch up with vocalist and guitar player Michael Ralston to discover where the magic comes from. 

Please introduce yourself, what your role is within the band and where you guys are from.

I’m Mike, the guitarist/singer. Our current live lineup includes Ari Finkel on bass, Freddy Torres on keys/backing vocals, Hardy Alegria on lead guitar, and Darien “Ron” Downey on drums. For me it’s a dream because the band started as a solo project only a couple years back and by now, we’ve played a handful of shows and everyone in the band brings something unique to the table. Historically it’s been pretty hard to get every member in a room together consistently due to all of us living very busy lives, but when we have been able to get together it feels right. I was already friends with everyone who ended up in the band, except Ari, who I met when I moved to NY from Boston by randomly becoming his roommate. We all currently live in Brooklyn, except Ron who recently moved from Brooklyn to CT to work on a farm. Rehearsals have been on hold throughout this lockdown, but songwriting has been in effect.

Were the songs on this EP written for this project or were they a combination of new and old material?

All of the songs on Choose Your World were written with the intention of being an EP.  That being said, two of the songs were mostly premeditated and the other two were a bit more spontaneous. The latter two were basically created through jamming together, which is new for Materialistics.  Hardy, Ari and I recorded the instrumentals to all four songs together in one session with guitars, bass and drums.  They were recorded at Black Lodge studio in Brooklyn and it’s so close to Ari and I it was a no brainer.  The keys and vocals were done by Freddy, Ari and I at various times and the vocals were done at home.   

Originally I had wanted to do a flexi 7″ so I began writing songs with that in mind but eventually that idea fell to the wayside and I set out to release the songs any way I could.  In June we’re going to do a tape with DDM that will hopefully come with a few surprises, so that’s exciting.  Physical formats in music are one million times cooler than any online streaming service.

Picture by @taoantrim

Was there a general theme or mood for writing this new material?

The inspiration for the lyrics all kind of came from different moments, memories and places.  The best part about recording vocals at home is writing lyrics and recording them soon after.  Each song to me has a different attachment to something specific but generally I try to culminate long periods of thinking into a short burst of writing.  Sometimes I come up with lines by just playing and singing for a while to see how the song feels and sometimes i just write words.  On this one, I asked my friend Chris to come up with some lyrics for a song as a fun project and he wrote lyrics for “Bluebird” and sent me a voice memo of him singing over a shitty unmixed demo.  It changed slightly but he sparked the idea and came up with the lyrics.

What are the main influences for the music? Are you guys all pulling from the same source(s) or is it pretty broad and diverse?

To be honest I think we all kind of like the same stuff but we don’t necessarily all have the same taste or approach.  Hardy plays in a chaotic and cathartic style.  He bases the songs around a theme and plays loose variations of that theme each time we perform.  It’s so much fun and he sounds great.  Freddy isn’t primarily a keyboard player, but he holds down the lines we have and adds vocals to the mix, and he actually helped produce an older track of mine.  Ari is a great bassist who understands his instrument and also makes incredible electronic music.  Ron is one of the best drummers I know.  Hits hard, but subtly, and he knows how to groove.  I’m primarily a drummer, so I think my guitar playing has a percussive style to it, but I try to be melodic or at least conducive to melody.  

Is there anything you’d like the listeners to take away from your music?

Speak up about what you believe in.  Pick a side.  Take chances, listen to people, believe in yourself and try not to hurt others along the way.  Appreciate your surroundings and try to keep your head in the present.  

You can listen to Choose Your World or You’ll End Up Living In Theirs on all streaming platforms but you can support them directly on their Bandcamp.

You can follow Michael on Instagram here


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