Music marries art to conceive Ragni

"In some of the early demos where, you can clearly make out what Jake is saying and it's nothing close to what I'm singing. I think it is gold! I think it's priceless. It's like, 'These two guys are singing something completely different but you can obviously tell they're trying to sing the same thing.'"

- Dara Hakimzadeh

posted May 21, 2007

Music marries art to conceive Ragni
     When talking about their debut EP, keyboardist Jakub Zapotoczny and vocalist/guitarist Brenden Fletcher of Ragni say that combining art, whispers and their classical training into an album isn't so far from center that it's not accessible to mainstream ears.

     "It sort of combines pop sensibility with what I'd like to think is an intellectual bent," says Fletcher of Ragni's self-titled EP.

     "We're both naturally inclined to write pop songs despite our best efforts not to. We prefer to channel the melodic elements of pop into arrangements and structure that are unorthodox," says Fletcher.

     Stylistically, the St. Catharines, Ontario, group says it's often compared by fans to Pink Floyd and Sigur Rós. It's a comparison they don't mind, considering they're fans of BBC radio.

     "When we were in England, the BBC would play a rock tune and then a classical tune and then a jazz tune. If there were stations over here like that in Canada, I'd be all over that. Hearing Nickelback ten times in an hour isn't my idea of fun," jokes Zapotoczny.

     "Radio here is segmented by genre and it's never going to change. Thank the Lord we have streaming Internet radio and we have podcasts and music blogs. That's where people our age and younger are finding new music – outside of the mainstream," says Fletcher. "Most people, who aren't music fanatics like us, find their music through MuchMusic and MTV and listen to a lot of Hilary Duff, God bless her. She's really cute, but musically it's so vapid."

     To break through the mediocrity of music marketing, Fletcher approached elementary school friend and DC comics artist Karl Kerschl to create a black and white graphic novella sold with the EP.

     "In some of the early demos where, you can clearly make out what Jake is saying and it's nothing close to what I'm singing. I think it is gold! I think it's priceless," says Fletcher. "It's like, 'These two guys are singing something completely different but you can obviously tell they're trying to sing the same thing.'"

     Conceptually, Kerschl only got through one third of the album before the comic had to be produced in preparation for Ragni's European tour in 2006.

     "Karl listened to our record ad nausea for about three months. He listened to it before it was even mixed. He actually made a few suggestions that we took to heart. He influenced a little bit of the album and we obviously influenced what he brought to the package," says Fletcher. "He needed to stretch his legs and do the artsy-fartsy shit that's close to his heart and he loves this music."

     As friends, Fletcher and Kerschl followed a similar artistic path. As undergrads, they were both enrolled in the University of Windsor’s visual arts school but were eventually kicked out.

     "He was kicked out of the whole university; I was kicked out of the arts school," says Fletcher with a chuckle. "He always has to do one better than me. As we were growing up and going through school, we were very competitive in terms of visual arts and I kind of had to throw my hands up and say, 'Hey buddy, you're a genius. I can't keep up.'"

     Fletcher kicked his drawing habit and replaced it with music. Meanwhile, Kerschl is drawing for DC's Teen Titans series.

     So far, Ragni has relied on touring, Internet press, and word-of-mouth to highlight its EP and there are no immediate plans for a full-length release until the band members secure government-administered music grants.

     "We're doing it all ourselves. We don't have a manager. We don't want a record label yet; we don't want any of these things. We want to go through these experiences and learn as much as we can. But, because of that, we spend our days on the phone, on MySpace, emailing and learning the business end of it and trying to further ourselves," says Fletcher.

     "We've got for years struggling to do things. We're very fortunate to have friends who know people who can help us," he says. He points out that Kerschl's contribution, along with mixing by Joseph Donovan (The Dears, The High Dials, Sam Roberts Band) and mastering by Dave McNair (Stevie Ray Vaughan, Bruce Springsteen, Aerosmith, Willie Nelson), helped Ragni tremendously.

     In September 2006, McNair even stopped working on Switchfoot's “Oh! Gravity” to do Ragni's EP.

     "I thought I was going to die," laughs Fletcher. "I could see some record executive bashing his door down and saying, 'Who are these goons? Turn this melancholic shit off!'"