Wild Pink earned plenty of acclaim for its 2017 self-titled album, a collection of slow, whimsical indie-rock highlighted by frontman John Ross’s intricately detailed lyrics and gut-wrenching (yet often hilarious) storytelling. But it was 2018’s more ambitious Yolk in the Fur that floored many of us at Blocland.
In his write-up in our Best Albums of 2018 feature, our esteemed correspondent DFrye summarized Yolk this way:
“Album number two finds the improbable Brooklynites largely jettisoning the melancholic slowcore and in-jokes for a richer, more nuanced and earnest take on heartland ennui and anxiety and delivering a low-key masterpiece. Compositional acumen, brilliant sequencing (this album flows like a gentle stream), and airtight performances coalesce via one of the best sounding records of the year.“
Blocland caught up with Ross about life on the road, pop culture fascinations, how Wild Pink got its name and the making of Yolk in the Fur.
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Blocland: How did you feel when you heard you were the #12 album of the year on Blocland.com?
John Ross: Feels great! I liked the line drawings of all the albums in that article.
Blocland: You mentioned how fond you were of Eastern Oregon. I wouldn’t call that a “traditionally” beautiful place – it’s very dry and expansive and kind of desolate. What draws you to that kind of region?
Ross: It looks like another planet there – super desolate and very little trash on the ground.
Blocland: Any other place in the country in your travels that’s really drawn you? Or a place you’re most excited to visit again?
Ross: I love Maine a lot – excited to get back there at some point.
Blocland: What do you guys listen to on tour? Do you and T.C. Brownell and Dan Keegan have similar tastes or is there fighting for the aux cord? I’m just assuming here you don’t have some gargantuan tour bus.
Ross: We’re in a minivan with a very short aux cord. We listen to Comedy Bang Bang and Office Hours with Tim Heidecker a lot. On the last tour we also listened to the new Foxwarren record quite a bit.
Blocland: I am a massive Tim Heidecker fan! Have you seen On Cinema, At the Cinema? Honestly one of the most brilliant shows I’ve stumbled across in the last few years.
Any other albums you’ve been really into lately?
Ross: I haven’t seen On Cinema yet, I gotta get on that. As far as other albums lately: Bluebird by Emmy Lou Harris and Trio by Dolly Parton, Emmylou and Linda Ronstadt.
Blocland: How’d you come up with the name Wild Pink?
Ross: It was an inside joke with a friend whose nickname was “shrimp.” I saw a can of Wild Pink Shrimp at a grocery store and thought it’d be a funny band name. I probably would have thought of a better name if I knew we’d be around several records later.
Blocland: That’s hilarious, and I think it’s a great name. Kinda sounds like how Iron & Wine got his name.
Ross: Yeah it is! Proud to say the store Sam Beam came up with Iron & Wine was in Tallahassee.
Blocland: I saw you’ve written music for commercials, like promos for “The Office” and a Miller Lite ad. How do you get into that? Are you especially proud of any of those compositions?
Ross: I started out writing music for student films in college and eventually found a music company willing to hire a super green composer on Craigslist several years ago. That’s how it started. It taught me how to produce my own songs which made any unfavorable writing assignments more tolerable.
Blocland: There’s a big difference in the sound and production between the self-titled and Yolk in the Fur. Like, the self-titled sounds more like rough-around-the-edges indie rock from the early ‘00s and Yolk sounds much more pristine and shimmering and clean.
Ross: We made both records at the same studio with the same engineer using mostly the same gear. I think one reason Yolk sounds more focused is because I obsessed over every detail of the recording for more than a year before we got into the studio. We also gave ourselves another day or two to track and mix.
Blocland: You have a lot of characters in your songs with very particular experiences. One of my favorites is the “sweet old man” at the bar listening to Kim Carnes on “Love is Better” (I want to know more about this guy … who’s the friend getting that new smartphone?). Are these inventions, extensions of you and your experiences, a mix, something else?
Ross: I’m drawn to non-fiction so all these characters are based on real people to some degree. Those two friends listening to Kim Carnes were at a bar in Long Island.
Blocland: Your lyrics have specific references to technology (smartphones, Tumblr) and lots of references to nature, the earth and the environment. I’m not really sure what I’m trying to ask here … but I find it interesting. It’s like connecting to nature is just as essential a part of the human experience as connecting to each other. Would you consider yourself an environmentalist?
Ross: I wouldn’t consider myself an environmentalist though I think it’s psychotic the way we as humans treat the planet. Also, impossible to deny how beneficial it is to be out in nature.
Blocland: Do you have a preferred location, environment, etc. when you write songs?
Ross: I think about songs at all times so it really doesn’t matter where I am though I do feel particularly inspired traveling in cars/on trains.
Blocland: What’s the best piece of pop culture you’ve consumed lately?
Ross: “Escape at Dannemora” rocked me. First time I enjoyed watching Paul Dano. Patricia Arquette and Eric Lange were incredible. “The Ballad of Buster Scruggs” was great too, I’ve watched it a handful of times now.
Blocland: Never heard of that one, but I love Paul Dano and Patricia Arquette. Will have to look for it. “Buster Scruggs” was wonderful … speaking of humans destroying the planet, the story where Tom Waits plays the prospector was agonizing. Seeing him scar the environment like that.
Ross: Tom Waits was so good in that, holy shit. “It didn’t hit nothin’ important!”
Blocland: What do you hope for the band in 2019?
Ross: I’d like to record another full length and do some more touring. Hopefully go back to Europe at some point.
Blocland: Did you tour in Europe or just visit? Any memories that draw you back?
Ross: We went on tour in EU/UK with Ratboys for a month. (Editor’s Note: The tour was in May of 2018.) It was an amazing experience. Would love to go back with them especially.
Blocland: To end this line of questioning … tell us a joke.
Ross: What’d the pirate say when he turned 80?
Blocland: What did he say?!
Ross: Ay matey.
Yolk in the Fur is now available on Tiny Engines, and the band will tour the West Coast (with Strand of Oaks) this April.