“And I’m hearing you say, not enough is OK. Well, its not…I’m with the Painted People,” quips lead vocalist, Christian Dryden of NYC-based, The Ritualists. Dryden, who fronts the band and writes the songs is something of an anachronism; A multi-instrumentalist who relishes the performance aspects of a live show, while also challenging his audience with lyrics that reference 19th Century Romance poetry & musical arrangements flush with ornate, art-rock sensibilities. After a few years paying their dues, finding their unique voices and garnering both notice and respect from the NYC Underground community, The Ritualists completed their first full length album, and with it, seek to test the boundaries of the current Rock-n-Roll landscape.
“Things have become something of a bore. The danger is missing.” opines Dryden. On their debut album, released by Out of Line Music in (INSERT MONTH?) of 2019, the band provides an unflinching combination of post-punk echo, arena-ready choruses & psychedelic freak-outs. “Fear is the death of this genre,” explains Dryden. “In some ways, I believe its a fear of being called over-indulgent and pretentious. I would argue that this type of music, in its truest form, unabashedly straddles the line between grandiosity & sincerity. I’d like to believe The Ritualists very consciously acknowledge this balancing act, and in so doing, invite the listener in on this delicate struggle, pushing and pulling between grandeur and raw emotion.”
“Ice Flower,” the first single off the debut record, seems to encapsulate this tension. The entire track, based around a repetitive bass groove,swims in a sea of ethereal guitar lines which answer the pleading vocals. The chorus then rips through these spacey textures and frantic tones, as Dryden stretches his voice, octave-jumping and navigating the listener through this controlled chaos with an impassioned, melodic hook, the likes of which Mr. Stardust himself would’ve seemed very comfortable asserting. “Last song Ice Flower, hear my endless cry. Words thaw, Ice Flower, melting your disguise.”
“Of course heartbreak is a motivating force on this album,” recalls Dryden. “But for me, love is not a light switch. I can’t go from ‘I love you’ to ‘I hate you’ in a flash, like so many others. I try to avoid the love/hate dichotomy with relationship-related songs. I’ve been told I’m awful at letting people go.” There are a good number of lyrics on this record that suggest a struggle to let go, which Dryden acknowledges. “Some of these songs, at first, ended up being personal meditations on love. That can be nice and all, but the goal was to pinpoint why I’m feeling this way and are there maybe some universal truths to which my emotions are speaking. So, the idea is to take the personal and see if it can act as the seed to a grander concept that might speak to something bigger than simply, ‘I’m upset because someone hurt me.’ And, the final test is, do these feelings lend themselves not only to striking words, but a memorable, emotive melody.”
Dryden actually started out as a singing drummer, then picked up a bass. He explains, “my instincts as a drummer are always prevalent in the songwriting. Most of these songs were written off a bass-line groove. Bass allows me to emphasize the rhythms, while still establishing notes and melody. Of course, the center-piece for me, with most of my songs, has to be emotion in the chorus.”
Melodic, hook-laden choruses are not a rare commodity on Painted People. “With this record, I’ve specifically tried to be anthemic,” admits Dryden. “I’ve always loved going to shows, where immediately after the performance, and even on the ensuing days after, you just can’t help but remember and sing the songs you’ve just heard. Its almost like a higher form of communication. The ability to massage the listener’s brain in such a way that you’ve left some type of pleasurable imprint, maybe even a slight feeling of euphoria that they enjoy revisiting. This, to me, is much more impactful than say, reciting a wordy essay or even simply playing some interesting chords or complex modal structures.”
This combination of dark, deep pocketed verses juxtaposed with flashy, big choruses is also a key element to tracks like, “She’s the Sun and “Rattles.” With the former, The Ritualists embrace their inner 60’s Love Child, but temper the psychedelic introspection with a healthy dosage of dark aggression. The combination is rather unique, as the sounds and textures take the listener on journey through eastern deserts and defiant lovers, climaxing with an exuberant, symphonic hook. “With the outro I was really trying to go somewhere new. I’ve always loved songs that ended with a repeating melody, distinct from the earlier parts of the song, breaking the whole verse/chorus formula,” explains Dryden.
“Rattles,” something of a love-letter to the non-conformists of the world, captures the listener with Pat Bennett’s hypnotic drum line and a methodical keyboard hook introduction, which is also revisited later in the song, acting as somewhat of an exclamation point to the verses, which are sung in a falsetto-full voice hybrid. In them, Dryden bemoans “The Gray” who “define,” and further promises to “lead the freak attack.”
On the title track, “I’m with the Painted People,” this similar theme is evident. However, in this instance, it is much more of a celebratory tone. “I wrote that one about my experiences on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. Growing up and feeling a kinship with these larger than life characters, Bowie, Simon Le Bon, Bryan Ferry and Marc Bolan, was a blessing and a bit of a curse. In the one sense, it was magical and transformative to imagine these people as your sort of musical soul mates. Sadly though, it also seemed to engender feelings of loneliness, as there didn’t appear to be anyone else who shared this vision. And that is how I felt, until I started to frequent the venues and clubs of the Lower East Side.” It was here that Dryden found some kindred spirits. And it was here that he found the comfort to fully realize and express his creative vision. “Every time we do that song in NYC, I dedicate it to my audience and I truly mean every word of it.”