INTERVIEW: RainForest Ray Woods

By Jett Black

Chain Border

Rainforest RecordsTechnology affords musicians more options today than any one source can count. How is it done by the DIY label and artist today? Responses to that question will certainly vary as individuals make their own rules based on differing needs and differing resources.

Today, let's open the door on the subject of DIY music production with RainForest Records' Ray Woods. Truly an independent label, RainForest Records, with nearly 3 dozen releases on vinyl, cd, and cassette, offers music from a wide assortment of cutting edge underground musical groups set to break ground as national and internationally recognized touring and recording artists.

Emanating directly out of Portland, Oregon provides for strong environmental perspectives and community support represented by RainForest Ray Woods. Oregon is without a doubt a magnet for pro-active ecological support. Somehow, I don't believe that this has anything to do with the music itself, but it is nice to work with people who exhibit principles I admire and respect. And the multitude of micro brewery beer selections in Portland keeps me pretty happy, too.

Rather than delving into the many fantastic attributes and advantages of living near Portland, let's switch gears and listen in as RainForest Ray Woods responds to a few brief questions.

How does Written in Ashes fit into your productions?

Ray: Greatly. In that I absolutely love the band and they are the next big release/project. Written In Ashes is priority #1 right now. We are all excited about their new album, which is going to build on everything they've done before, but now with even more savvy and firepower behind it. It is going to dig its beautiful teeth into the underground scene worldwide. Of course, Epiphany is also going to be the first release on the new goth/darkwave division of RR, so it has even more dimensions to it. WIA's music could've been released on the original label (Rainforest Records), because that label's identity is sufficiently diverse, but we felt it would be even better to market it under its own specialty, and create a whole new label for it (Raincloud). As such, Written In Ashes is going to spearhead a whole new legion of releases. After this we (Kev and I) plan to select and release a compilation of goth/darkwave music, bringing more bands into the fold (a loose confederation of gods and goddesses) and hopefully, creating a new symbiosis. First though, is to put out Epiphany; as WIA's latest/greatest (third overall) album, #33 in the overall catalog, and first in a new millennium of dark music.

How did you initially meet and begin working with Written in Ashes vocalist, Kevyn Hay?

Ray: I fucked him. ;-)

Just kidding. He'll kill me for that. No, really, it was like this (although I'll spare you the whole damned story); Kevyn had already formed an early version of WIAshes here in Portland, and I dug it immediately. I've always been into this kind of music, my dark side, I suppose. I got a copy of Eternal (WIA's first glorious CD) and I loved it. Really, still do. I went to see the band live a number of times. That was it, really, for quite some time. Then the whole orbit began to spin tighter. We have many mutual friends and associates. Kevyn made it clear that WIA would be willing to work with my label this time around (we both saw the advantages and potential) and I suggested that we start a whole new division, with him in charge. That allows me to continue to work on my other RR projects, and he pulls the sword from the stone; (like Merlin and Arthur, perhaps) both of us get the benefit of putting our many talents and connections to work. I guess we each made each other "an offer we can't refuse". ;-)

Why do you choose to work with independent musicians rather than other available options of employment?

Ray: Because the big corporations won't hire a maverick like me. Fuck them. No, really, it is because this is where the action is. This is where the creative people are, finding each other, making things happen; it is limitless...

What have you and Kevyn cooked up for Written in Ashes in the next few weeks and months?

Ray: I have to wash and vacuum the van, because those fuckers are about to hit the road... Wish I was going... No really, quite a bit. We have a bunch of different (but related) things brewing in our caldrons: We have CD release shows here in Portland, and other events around that like the listening party at Bar of the Gods, and In-Store appearances, etc. Kevyn has the WIA/Western States tour booked (although dates are still filling in). And then we have the album itself, which will be sent to radio, press, and internet media. We want to make an immediate impact here (Portland/the NW) and also turn the lights on (off !?) around the world. The bloody work never ends, ya know. ;-)

What does Rainforest Records plan to accomplish by year's end?

Ray: A complete resurrection. Rainforest Records (which is of course, mainly me, but also everyone that contributes to its mission, especially the artists) has always been about survival, about getting music made and heard that might not otherwise happen. So this enigmatic band with an underlying other-worldly/immortal quality (WRITTEN IN ASHES) is a great part of the new era for my humble label. There will be much more from WIA, and RR in general, because right on the heels of this is Lava deMure, in the studio now for their first national/international release (will be on Rainforest Records). I also hope to put out some of the great archives of The Gone Orchestra (the Northwest's finest avant-garde music collective); that is in process already. And hell, there is much more, but that is the primary agenda for 2000. Just wait until 2001, and we will really be on a roll (again).

What does Raincloud have planned in terms of upcoming releases?

Ray: Kev is the General Manager of all that, so it'd be best if you asked him. But I outlined some of it above; WIA, then the comp(s), then possibly more of both and even other bands' full lengths maybe. Kevyn is taking on a role as Executive Producer for all that (WIA included), so I will just take care of my own shit until he is ready for the next thing. Then we will drink a few bottles of wine, roll around on the floor choking each other nearly to death and come out of it with some decisions made. That is how we plan and do stuff, it seems to work. Mutual respect. Ha!

Please tell our readers about the origins of RainForest Records.

Ray: Rainforest Records was founded (by yours truly) in 1990, here in the Portland area. I had just moved up to Oregon from Los Angeles.

What did you do prior to 1990?

Ray: I kicked around in many bands, here and there (and NY, where I am from) and decided to try my hand at production.

How do you like working with independent music projects?

Ray: Fuck the majors, DIY is the spirit man!

What experience do you bring to production and marketing?

Ray: Besides a degree in engineering (although it was not audio), I had some experience with college radio, Cable Access TV, as a journalist (rock critic for various mags) and with indie label marketing (worked briefly for Restless, Enigma, Braindrops). So I was brave and bold (and of course, ultimately naive) and took the plunge.

What release launched RainForest Records?

Ray: The first release on RR was a punk band from NY (recorded by my brother in his garage studio). The second (and first CD) was by Wammo (Texas slampoet/rock n roll icon); also my first studio credit as a (co-)producer. The label took many twists and turns, and could be best described as an eclectic indie, delving into any/all genres. Along the way were the first national/international releases ever by New Bad Things, Jesus Presley, Land of the Blind, LoveNancySugar, McKinley, Tree Frogs, Sylvias Ghost, Naked Violence, The Brainwashers, and more. I'm very proud of that; I am sure I contributed to many artists' careers. Some of the recordings are produced (or co-produced) by me, some are self-produced or involve other indie producers. Whatever works out.

RaincloudWhat hats do you wear in the production process?

Ray: My role is production and/or marketing; helping a band advance further by combining forces (knowledge, resources, etc.). The motto of the label has always been "Explore Music!" and that is what I live by too.

How have things progressed so far?

Ray: At this point, the label has released 30 some odd CDs, LPs, and 7"s. Current active artists affiliated with Rainforest Records include The Brainwashers, The Gone Orchestra, A nat Hema, ObscuredByClouds, Written In Ashes, and the newest project - Lava deMure.

You are also a musician yourself. Tell us a little about what projects you are involved in now.

Ray: I currently play keyboards in both ObscuredByClouds and The Gone Orchestra. I co-founded OBC (my "big rock" side project), but I have only been in the Gone Orch for the last two years of their illustrious ten year history (so far). The Gone Orch released a CD on their own before hooking up with RR for marketing support (for the next two albums, still essentially self-released) and now are preparing a pair of CDs for official release on Rainforest (these newer ones include me on keyboards). I've been playing live with both bands for the last year or so. OBC has yet to release an album of our original material (we have a CD, but it's mainly demos of the band's specialty - Pink Floyd). The Gone Orchestra is a most challenging band to describe... Part Debussy, part Twin Peaks/David Lynch, part Zappa, part Sun Ra, part Squirrel Nut Zippers, and an arbitrary part John Cage.

What other projects can you tell us about?

Ray: I played bass in Young Turks, who put out the first 7" on RR, but by that time, I left the band (to pursue producing and label ops); I put it out anyway, with the newer bassist. Then, I wrote a bunch of songs for The Refreshments (RR#03), a silly garage surf/pop band that I used to play around with in California. Actually, what it was was that they continued to play those songs live (and record them) even after I moved north and was replaced by another guitarist.

Any other releases?

Ray: I released a compilation CD (RR#17) that included music by H.E.A.D., my "Eno-esqe throbbing crimson" electronica side project.

Parting thoughts? Suggestions?

Ray: Thank you for the opportunity to discuss all this. Music lives and breathes because people are willing to do something about it, with their own sweat and blood. I get passionate about it, and so do you. It is us that keep it alive. Don't depend on anyone else, because even if they do it (case in point, major labels), a lot of times it is either shit, or some fucked up deal. We fuck up too, but so what. We are taking the chance. I give everyone credit that is out there humping gear and putting their music in front of people. It has been the same since the beginning of time. Music is a cosmic celebration; it is about community and the rhythm of the stars, the planets, and ourselves. I hope I don't sound too 'out there,' but I've learned a lot about life and music (and how they are essential and relate, especially to kindred spirits), mostly the hard way. I wouldn't trade it (bad with good) for anything. It is an adventure. I've also learned how ultimately impossible the music business is, but I accept it. Do it on your own terms, and the less you depend on it the better. I just mean keeping things in balance. Seek, but don't destroy.

So there you have it... a peek behind the darkened glass of DIY music production as seen at RainForest Records. Darkly inspired, RainForest Ray Woods and associates will continue raising the curtain on many new releases and DIY gothic and darkwave projects under the sinister guise of RainCloud. Stay tuned to this excellent source for new music news as we're certain to hear more from RainCloud in the coming months.

Meanwhile, explore the latest RainForest and RainCloud news on-line and via email.

Contact Information:
Ray Woods
Musician/Producer/Gen Mgr

Rainforest Records
PO Box 14627
Portland, OR 97293 USA

(503) 238-9667

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